Fantasy homes, wedding settings are available for hire

An at-home wedding, for instance, doesn't have to take place at either your own home or your parents' place. Across the country, elegant old mansions, restored to their original beauty, are popular venues for both ceremonies and receptions. Some offer catering and other wedding services; others are part of historical parks that simply lease the space and may require special permits for their use.

Bride's magazine listed a few "homes" that are a cut above in terms of prominence:

*The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Mass., which was Nathaniel Hawthorne's inspiration for his novel, is a 17th-century building now open as a museum. The formal gardens, which overlook the Atlantic Ocean, are available for tented weddings. Call (508) 744-0991.

*Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, was home to J.R., Sue Ellen and the rest of the Ewing clan during the long run of "Dallas" on television. Now you can hold your nuptials in the mansion itself, in one of two ballrooms on the property, or in tents on the lawn. Call (800) 989-7800.

*Inn Scarlett's Footsteps isn't Tara, but "Gone With the Wind" fans will find this Concord, Ga. antebellum home close in looks to the Twelve Oaks residence of Ashley Wilkes. The white-column verandah is just one of several potential ceremony sites, and receptions may be held either indoors or on the lawn. Call (800) 886-7355.

Closer to home, check with a wedding consultant, the local or state visitors bureau or even the local historical society for a list of classic mansions that may be used for your wedding. There are many popular sites in the Bay Area, including Dunsmuir House and Gardens in Oakland. Some even offer a house tour for guests during the celebration.

If you're craving a nautical nuptial, consider renting a boat or yacht. In Edgewater, N.J., for instance, a company called Binghamton's offers a ferryboat with Victorian decor, private outdoor decks and a spectacular view of the New York City skyline from its mooring on the Hudson River.

If you prefer terra firma, train stations may be a perfect setting. Many have magnificent architecture, beautiful views and halls that will hold as many guests as your future in-laws can come up with.

For the ultimate view — with a Vegas theme — there's the Little White Chapel in the Sky. This Las Vegas-based company holds weddings in balloons over the Nevada desert. The guest list for the ceremony will, of course, be small, but how many couples can boast of having "a marriage made in heaven"?

Fantasy makes up such a large part of the wedding experience that for some brides-and grooms-to-be, it just seems appropriate to exchange vows at the ultimate home of fantasy, Disney World. Imagine being driven in Cinderella's coach to the new Victorian-style, glass-enclosed Fairy Tale Wedding Pavilion. Built on its own island, the pavilion looks out to Cinderella's Castle.

These are just a few suggestions to spur your imagination. There are, however, several things to keep in mind if you veer from tradition:

*Is there a wedding consultant and/or caterer on-site? If so, what services do they provide? Are you required to use them or can you hire someone outside?

*Will special permits be necessary? Depending on zoning regulations, liquor licensing and other local ordinances, the beach, park or museum you find perfect for your celebration may require a little bureaucratic hoop-jumping before you can send out the invitations.

*How much of the space at the site is available and how many guests will fit comfortably?

*Will you have the site exclusively and, if not, how will your party's privacy be protected? Are security guards necessary?

*Are there restrictions on when the event can take place? A public place like a train station may impose time restrictions because of train schedules. Museums or art galleries may insist on after-hours celebrations only.

*Is one time of year better than another to hold the wedding? There's never a guarantee about weather, but some seasons may be an invitation to disaster due to rain, extreme heat or high winds. Likewise, if you are booking a place because of the spectacular gardens, find out when the blooming season reaches its peak.

*Have potential problems like excessive noise, poor lighting, insects or other irritants been considered in your decision? Beaches and parks may be lovely locales, but the party won't be any fun if you are swatting at mosquitoes all evening. On the other hand, good planning can resolve potential drawbacks.

Finally, here are the questions that brides and grooms must ask no matter where they choose to be wed: How much in advance do you have to book the site? What are the costs and terms of the rental? What kind of equipment is provided?