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Wedding Receptions: 17 Ways to Spruce Up Your Site

Photo: Sophie Maher

Want to know a little secret? Weddings aren't just about getting married -- they're about showing off your style. Flowers are certainly the easiest and most dramatic way to perk up a room fast. Rule one: sweating the often overlooked small stuff -- a pathway, for example -- will make your site something special. It's big-ticket embellishments tied together with often inexpensive details that really put the sizzle into your space. Read on for more of our favorite reception decorating ideas.

1. Match the mood

First things first: Whether you're a city sophisticate or a laid-back beach bride, your site will influence most of your design decisions. If you haven't yet decided on a decorating scheme, look to elements of the room for cues. A historic mansion is perfect for an all-white wedding; a wood-walled ballroom calls for 1920s elegance. You get the idea.

2. Create a common chord

Many brides shudder at the word "theme," but we like to think of it as a subtle touch of style -- a repeated design element that will make a lasting and personal impression on the space. Don't get stuck on Chinese food containers and lanterns. A theme can be as loose as your color palette -- a chic, natural way to unite a site. Plus, it will give you a great focal point to start your planning.

3. Make everyone look perfect

Carefully conceived lighting will brighten any room -- and give your party a dramatic glow. Hire a lighting designer to focus guests' attention where you want it (on the cake table, off an ugly dance floor). Trust us, it'll be worth it. Colored gels will alter the intensity of the light stream to create a softer, more natural look. Think Cameron Diaz looks that good under halogen lights?

4. Look up

Stuck with an unsightly ceiling? Cover it up! Try draping hundreds of tiny white lights, swags of greenery, or coordinating fabric. Or go for the gusto and look into renting chandeliers. They'll distract from the ceiling and give your room added radiance.

5. Look down

Don't let a brown shag carpet dissuade you from booking your dream space. Hide that floor with ground-sweeping linens. Or cover it with a nice rental carpet, or a rented parquet wooden floor.

6. Furnish a spare space

An all-white, empty loft space may seem like the perfect blank canvas to work with, but keep in mind you're starting from scratch. So yeah, it's going to cost. Here's a hint: Hit up tradition and go for something borrowed. We know one bride who used antique furniture from the shop she works at to fill the space with historic flair. Look to a movie prop company for cool finds like mirrors, chaise lounges, and filled bookcases.

7. Toil with texture

Think you've got the touch? Interesting materials and nature-driven accents are helping to turn boring ballrooms into designer showcases. How? Adding texture is one way: Faux fur, grapevines, and branches are just a few ideas. Huge kissing balls, tall trees adorned with lights, and bamboo shoots also help satisfy the senses.

8. Call for the wild

Brides are really warming up to outdoor weddings -- probably because Mother Nature has taken care of the decorating budget! Take note of the surrounding wildflowers and choose your wedding blooms accordingly. Keep the carefree outdoor vibe in mind when styling your flowers -- a tightly packed modern centerpiece might look totally out of place.

9. Think outside the space

We're crazy for alfresco accoutrements like clothesline escort-card holders, mason jars filled with candles (collect them from garage sales throughout the year), hanging flower baskets, and 4-foot-high twig chandeliers. Here's how: Bundle about 10 large sticks per chandelier, bind them together with wire, and string tiny twinkle lights all around them -- you'll turn a traditonal space into an enchanted forest.

10. Make a good first impression

Impress your guests with a grand entrance. Floral wreaths on doors, colorful candles (votives are great) atop every table, hurricane lanterns hanging from trees, luminaries lining the walkways, and other beautiful embellishments will give guests a lovely welcome to your event.

11. Monitor the hall

A real detail-oriented to-be-wed will even make over the hallways. Potted plants, trees, floral garlands, and trellises help to create a big impact on your space. There's a trend for small, dramatic flower arrangements placed on the ground. One idea from an actual wedding: arrange huge amounts of tightly packed pansies to line the hallway leading to the bathroom.

12. Beautify the bar

Chances are the bar will be the hot spot at your wedding (you'll have the bill to prove it!). So why not dazzle the rowdy revelers with colorful rented barware? Or go for over-the-top opulence and construct an entirely new bar -- add bamboo, tropical parasols, and frozen drink machines. But whatever you do, don't disrupt the bartender's duties. Flowers on the bar will just get in the way.

13. Size up your tables

Peace-loving brides are turning to long banquet-style tables that evoke a more family-style feeling and lessen seating arrangement stress (a bit). If your room is more Marilyn than Twiggy, go for a mix of square and round tables in various sizes. Eclectic table arrangements allow you to seat groups of people much more easily because you're not stuck with 10 to a table.

14. Take care of the chairs

The challenge: oh-so-blah burgundy chairs. The solution: chair covers. There's nothing new about this idea, but funky fabrics are a great way to bedazzle a room. You could even dress your chairs with silk flowers, tulle, or leafy swags. Just make sure the seats are still comfortable to sit on!

15. Liven up the loo

Give bathroom-bound groups something to talk about. The restrooms will need a little attention, but you don't have to go overboard. Think subtle sophistication: A centerpiece-evoking flower arrangement (like bunches of sweet-smelling lavender in small vases or wildflowers bundled in baskets), heart-shape soaps, or monogrammed hand towels will go a long way. Spruce up the women's stalls with antique perfume bottles filled with your favorite scent, or a fragrance reminiscent of your bouquet.

16. Don't get lost

If your reception site will also be home to the ceremony and cocktail hour, make sure there's a natural flow between the spaces. Try to walk around with a partygoer's eye. You may need to design cute signs that direct guests to where they need to be or to point out the restrooms. Here's an idea: Attach your signs to a stake and stick them in big pots of darling wheatgrass for inexpensive, fun -- and funky -- markers.

17. Mind your manners

Much more than crumb-catchers, napkins are an easy way to add that extra little something to your reception tables. Using your wedding-day palette and choosing personalized napkin rings will definitely enhance the design, but we're hooked on the art of folding: From a springlike tulip fold to the more difficult pocket fold that holds your menu card, origami cloth treatments equal elegance.

Contributors: Nicolle Sellers of Mother of the Bride Wedding & Event Coordinators in Minnesota; Jennifer Goubeaud of Princeton Event Consultants in Pennsylvania.

See More: Wedding Reception Ideas , Wedding Planning Basics