Shine a Light
Lighting is an amazing tool. You can highlight your favorite parts of the venue while hiding the less-appealing things. For instance, if you love the Gothic columns throughout the room, placing a light at their bases will emphasize their details. Hate the floral rug? Project a pattern on the ceiling to draw eyes upward, or call guests' attention to the dance floor by shining your monogram or motif onto it. You can also totally change the mood of the space with color washes. Intense ambers and reds let guests know it's time to party, while cool blues and purples set a soothing, sophisticated vibe. Most venues don't provide lighting, so you'll need an outside lighting designer. It can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on how many effects you want, but if your space isn't up to snuff, we promise: It's totally worth the expense.
Up the Flower Power
Yes, your centerpieces will go a long way to help personalize your space, but don't limit buds to just the tables. Hang single blooms in a line from the ceiling to highlight long, rectangular tables, or scatter them around the room for a "raining" effect. Dangle pomanders around the dance floor's periphery, or decorate the windows, doors and chandeliers with clusters of blossoms. Using flowers in surprising ways saves you money; centerpieces can be simpler when there are blooms around the room.
You were sure that hosting a reception in a museum was the way to go. Bet you didn't count on that weird-looking sculpture of a naked dude decorating the dance floor! Fortunately, it's nothing that a well-placed Ficus tree can't hide. Bringing in free-standing props, like plants, oversized vases and artwork, can fill out a bare room or cover those elements in the space that you wish weren't there. Just don't go overboard: A cluttered venue may look worse than one with nude stone people. And test out the items' stability before you sprinkle them around the room. They should withstand the force of dancers bumping into them.
Surprise! Simply varying the shapes and sizes of guests' tables can drastically alter the room's overall look. A space full of basic rounds is fine, but mixing in a few long, banquet-style tables, or just one as your head table, looks especially chic. If the tables are usually positioned around the dance floor, consider putting them all on one side of the room and then dancing on the other. You won't even think you're in the same venue once you've made these changes.
Set Up Stations
From photo booths to cigar bars, adding mini parties around the room can make a ho-hum space exciting. You don't think about the mall parking lot surroundings when a carnival comes to town, right? Another idea: Consider trading a plated dinner for a culinary tour around the world. With your guests traveling between themed food stations with appealing displays, they'll be up and about instead of forced to stare at the not-so-hot wallpaper.
Close the Curtains
Maybe you booked a space for 300 guests but only 125 are coming, or the hall's small room wasn't available on your date. Strategically placed curtains or screens can make a wide-open area seem cozy. It's also an easy way to work your colors in: Get fabric that matches your scheme and hang it over dividers.
Move the Music
Your venue probably has one logical spot where your band or DJ can perform, but if there's enough space somewhere else in the room -- and some electrical outlets -- why not shift them there? Guests who have seen the hall will feel like they're in a whole new place; their perspective will be so different with the musicians' new location. Before you make the switch, though, check out the acoustics. There may be a good reason why no one plays in another part of the room.
If the standard parquet wood dance floor isn't doing anything for you, then bring in a new square -- or a circle or a triangle. Unexpected shapes can make your space more modern and maximize the dancing area. Don't stop there: You can also change the floor's color and design. A checkerboard floor is the perfect accessory to a black-and-white reception, and a light-up one goes well with a South Beach- or disco-themed party. Love our monogram-in-lights idea? Stick to a simple dance floor in that case.
Raise the Roof
Now that you've changed the floor, you can update the ceiling too. Hang chandeliers to add formality to a space or bring in paper lanterns to tone down the stuffiness. If high ceilings are proving to be more cavernous than dramatic, try draping fabric from the ceiling to make the space more intimate. But you'll need to check with the venue manager first because many places, especially historic ones, forbid attaching items to the walls or ceilings.