Photo by boutwell studios the knot
20 easy ways to decorate your wedding reception
20 Easy Ways To Decorate Your Wedding Reception The Knot

20 Easy Ways To Decorate Your Wedding Reception The Knot 20 Easy Ways To Decorate Your Wedding Reception The Knot

Whether they’re modern wrought-iron chandeliers, antique crystal ones or chandeliers wrapped in greenery, ballroom-appropriate lights hung over a few dinner tables make for an elegant ambience.

Depending on your venue contract, there might be a few restrictions when it comes to the type of décor you can bring in or alterations you can make to the space. For example, a museum or historic wedding venue probably won’t be okay with altering or damaging their walls in any way (think: using nails to hang signage).

Give a blank canvas space a fabulous treatment with a little shine. Crystal curtains hanging along the walls, dangling from centerpieces or scattered on the dinner tables can give a plain space a fresh look. Or go the metallic route and deck out the tables with sequin table runners.

Round tables are classic, but you can totally change the flow of your reception by playing with the shape of your tables. For example, mix round and square tables for an eclectic look, or choose all long banquet tables for an intimate family feel.

Think flowers are just for your tables? Think again. Suspending lush arrangements a few feet above your guests’ dinner plates is a fun way to create a more intimate space. (This tip is especially handy if you’re not so fond of your venue’s carpeting—just keep people looking up!)

You worked hard on figuring out that seating chart, so get the dinner conversation started by showing guests how they’re connected. Create a sign that shows the relationships between the guests who will be sitting next to each other—it’ll help break the ice for those who haven’t already met.

From: A Romantic, Vintage Wedding at Carondelet House in Los Angeles, California

From: A Rustic-Glam Barn Wedding at Olympia’s Valley Estate in Petaluma, California

Grab guests’ attention as soon as they arrive at the cocktail hour by having drinks and hors d’oeuvres displayed on colorful trays or even placed along the shelves of a makeshift bookcase-turned-bar. Or, have a fleet of waiters standing at the entrance, drink trays in hand, ready to greet guests at the door. The message will be clear: It’s time to party.

Revolutionize your venue with creative lighting. Project falling leaves or snow to add drama to a boring, beige wall; add a funky geometric pattern or your monogram to the dance floor; or get basic up-lighting for the perimeter of the room to instantly transform the space. Your guests so impressed.

Rather than printing out your escort cards and menus, take the design one step further with calligraphy. There are different scripts for every type of affair, like traditional copperplate for black tie formal or something more free-hand for farm-to-table chic. If your budget doesn’t allow for 200 professionally calligraphed place cards, invest in young talent—post the job in your local college’s art department and test out a few students for the job.

All eyes will be on you, so it’ll be a huge shocker when you go from a classic wedding dress for the ceremony to a shorter, flirtier dress at the reception. Whether it’s a cocktail dress you bought (but couldn’t find an excuse to wear) or a sparkly, white dress that’s just too short for the aisle, have fun with it. If you honestly can’t imagine changing out of your wedding dress, make other changes: Let down your hair, switch your shoes, or add a few new pieces of jewelry.

Your guests won’t be expecting any drinks until the reception, so give them a pleasant surprise by setting up a table of light beverages on the way into the ceremony. Just don’t serve anything too strong—try mimosas or fruit-infused iced teas they can sip before taking their seats (and don’t forget to have nonalcoholic versions too). Have your caterer or ushers collect any stray glasses to make sure the space is tidy before the processional begins.

Create a stunning focal point that doubles as a photo backdrop. Layers of different colors and shapes give guests different elements to marvel at. Think about materials that are easily customizable like tissue paper tassels, balloons, garlands of greenery or paper flowers.

(Psst—still trying to figure out what your wedding style actually is? Not to toot our own horn or anything, but The Knot All-In-One Wedding Planner app includes a Style Quiz that’s not only fun, but refreshingly accurate. And it does way more than discover your wedding vision—it keeps track of everything from vendor contacts to day-of to-dos, all in one place.)

From: A Winter Forest Elopement at Woodlake Country Club in Vass, North Carolina

Come up with a wedding exit that’ll get guests talking. Maybe your car-obsessed uncle would be willing to play driver for the night in exchange for showing off his ridiculously cool Mustang. Your oversized clunker from high school might actually look pretty cool decked out with streamers and a “just married” sign. Even your bicycle adorned with fresh flowers would create a memorable exit. 

If you’re planning on shuttling your guests from the ceremony to the reception, make the journey part of the fun by renting some seriously cool mass transportation. Take wedding transportation to new heights with a hot air balloon ride. Or, if it’ll suit your wedding style, get nostalgic with some charming yellow school buses. And for extra flair, customize the ride by playing fun music or decking out the bus with a sign that reads, “Sarah and John’s wedding or bust!”

From: A Rustic, Vintage Mountain Wedding at Blue Ridge Mountain Club in Blowing Rock, North Carolina

Think of your wedding favors as an accessory to your reception. Want a packed dance floor? Distribute kazoos, maracas, or even rally towels for a good time that just won’t quit.

Instead of pouring your entire reception décor budget into the centerpieces, consider using part of that budget to rent extras like colored glassware—it’ll make your tables pop in an instant.

Let guests know that it’s not just the wedding party that’s special to you—let everyone stand out with their own corsage or boutonniere. Ask your florist about setting up a make-your-own-flower station: Put out some sturdy blooms like spray roses or mums, supply lots of colorful ribbons and pins, and add labels with easy-to-follow instructions.

We know—paper lanterns are nothing new. But multiply the number of lanterns you usually see hanging in a reception space by 100 and it’s a totally different story.

How could your guests not take a picture of that? Find the right cake baker and go nuts with your groom’s cake for a unique photo op that also happens to be delicious. We’ve seen everything from elaborate guitars to football stadiums to armadillos to library book cakes. Other non-cake ideas: a table decked out in donuts, an ice cream bar, or a giant Rice Krispies Treat cake.

From: A Kate Spade–Inspired Beachside Wedding at Sanderling Resort in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina

From: A Beachfront Fiesta-Inspired Wedding at Las Casitas Bonitas in San Francisco, Mexico

Want something original for your table labels? Think about number presentation. Display your table numbers or names on unique vessels like wine bottles, lanterns, moss topiaries or festive pennant flags.

For a fresh twist on the hot photo booth trend, rent a video booth where guests can record a quick on-screen message for you. Ask your videographer to edit some of the best clips into your wedding video. Then, post your other favorite video “confessions” on your wedding website and encourage guests to check them out in your thank-you notes.

If your venue is a large ballroom or loft, consider staying away from the typical round tables and dance floor arrangement. Instead, set up a lounge area, outdoor seating and a zone of cocktail tables (these can be separated with draping), which will make the space seem cozier (and completely different).

If it’s an outdoor wedding, create custom signs as pointers for guests (“this way to the cocktail hour” or “wedding this way”). For a more formal wedding, make beautifully scripted table numbers, monogrammed cocktail napkins, and even bathroom-door labels that read “ladies” and “gents.”

Chalkboards are a great way to decorate an entrance or jazz up the cocktail bar. Personalize it by thrifting an old frame and spray-painting it to match the rest of your décor. Drape with greenery or a flower garland and chalk away!

From: A Romantic, Fairy Tale-Inspired Wedding at a Private Residence in New Market, Virginia

Sure, a string quartet is nice, but you’ll blow guests away with a jazz trio or a Spanish guitar player. To get the party going during the cocktail hour, look into hiring a mariachi band, a bluegrass group, or even a barbershop quartet for some seriously memorable melodies.

It’s amazing what a little fabric can do. Keep it formal and elegant with white fabric, or if you’re after a fun vibe, opt for a bright color like yellow. Bonus: Take this approach and you can go light on the table décor and still get the same decked-out reception look.

From: A Romantic, Garden-Inspired Wedding at Calamigos Ranch in Malibu, California

One of the most effective ways to instantly make over a space is with gorgeous allover lighting. Expert planners love amber or pink uplights—the warm glow is inviting and can make even the simplest room feel chic and stylish. Plus, this kind of light is super-flattering for all skin tones.

From: A Modern, Colorful Wedding at Colony 29 in Palm Springs, California

From: A Colorful DIY Wedding at the Historic Rice Mill in Charleston, South Carolina

From: A Colorful, Whimsical Wedding at Station 3 in Houston, Texas

Just because your reception space is a rented hotel ballroom or a plain white industrial loft doesn’t mean you can’t revamp it and make it totally your own. Whether you want to give your venue just a touch of your personal style or a total overhaul, these 20 ideas are a good place to start.

If your reception venue has wallpaper or paint that will clash with your wedding décor (or even if it doesn’t!), you can create another world within the room with draping. Choose a fabric that matches your wedding colors, or pick white for a clean, classic look. Bonus tip: Draping just the ceiling can also make the space feel totally different, and it’s cheaper than covering the entire room.

From: A Luxe Wedding at Hôtel Chateau d’Esclimont in Bleury-Saint-Symphorien, France

Not a flower person? No need to splurge on a bunch of centerpieces. A patch of moss, a romantic terrarium, candles, a few blooms and a succulent or two and you have a perfectly rustic tablescape. 

You may already be planning to have your ushers escort guests to their ceremony seats, but consider having reception ushers. These “live escort cards” walk guests to their tables for an upscale restaurant experience. Ask your reception venue or caterer if its waitstaff can do this double duty, or assign a few ushers to the job.

From: A Modern, Industrial-Chic Wedding at Rail Yards Market in Albuquerque, New Mexico

From: A Classy, Romantic Wedding at Inn at Mount Vernon Farm in Sperryville, Virginia

From: An Elegant, Country Wedding at Cross Creek Ranch in Dover, Florida

When paired with some dramatic uplighting and luxe fabrics, the addition of tall taper candles turns your space into a magnificent scene of dancing lights.

From: A Formal, DIY Woodland Wedding With a Bohemian Spin at a Private Residence in Sebastopol, California

From: A Charming Fall Wedding at Woodlawn in Alexandria, Virginia

Think beyond the typical guest book. One creative idea we love: Create a jigsaw puzzle of your photo and let guests sign each piece. Or put out silver trays with engraving pens so guests can carve a lasting message on a useful keepsake for you.

Not sure where to begin with your wedding planning? Take our Style Quiz and we’ll pull together a custom wedding vision and vendors to match, just for you. After that, create a free, personalized wedding website to keep your guests informed (and excited!) about your plans, and a time-saving Guest List Manager to organize your attendees. Even better? You can sync your Guest List Manager and wedding website to update everything at once. 

For an easy conversation starter, create a wall of family wedding photos. Devote a row to your partner’s family, one to yours or just mix them all up. Alternative idea: Showcase your (new!) family tree.

Take a few dance lessons before your wedding, but instead of the standard waltz, kick it up a notch by learning a sultry tango or a high-energy swing routine, and then surprise everyone during your first dance. For an unexpected surprise, get your dad or even your grandpa in on the act. Imagine the looks on your guests’ faces when you and your pops break into a hip-hop routine mid-father-daughter dance.

From: A Romantic Old-World Wedding in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

If you’re looking to save on the flower budget, let your florist know you’re okay with lots of greenery. All you really need are a few fresh blooms to add some color. Eucalyptus, seeded eucalyptus, dusty miller, ferns and lemon leaf are all great options to create lush arrangements.

Look for modern table décor inspiration, like this patterned table runner. Rather than having several big floral centerpieces, space them out in smaller bud vases to span the length of the runner (and show off the pattern). This colorful detail will make your rental china pop.

Instead of clear glassware, an unusual shade like black, red or cobalt will add instant personality to your table settings. Plus, the little splashes of color throughout the room can have a big impact.

You can hang more than just chandeliers and lanterns from the ceiling—try strings of flowers, paper cranes or colorful ribbons.

Hire a babysitter (or two) and set her up in a room so your youngest guests have a place to go when they tucker out. If it’s possible, pick a room near your reception location so parents can stop by to check in on the tykes and then return to the party easily. Stock the room with snacks, games and a portable DVD player to keep them entertained, and make sure there’s a soft sofa and blankets for those inevitable naps.

ReceptionWeddingDecorations + AccentsStyle + ThemesWedding Ideas + Etiquette

Once the room itself is lit, highlight a few spots within your reception with smaller lights to bring even more drama. For example, shine a monogram gobo light on the wall behind your sweetheart table, or aim pinspots at the cake table, escort card table and guest book display.

From: A Timeless Summer Wedding at Lowndes Grove Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina

We’re not saying you should spend a gazillion dollars on a 20-foot-tall floral arrangement, but first impressions are important, so take time to think out the entrance to your reception. Add a couple flower arrangements to the escort card table or have your stationer create a stylish seating chart display. A table topped with your engagement photos, your parents’ wedding albums, and any other from-the-family artifacts would make meaningful additions.

From: A Rustic, Romantic Wedding at Shady Canyon Golf Club in Irvine, California

If it’s too difficult to bring in large installments to decorate your space but you want to add a little flavor to the walls (or cover up some less than ideal wallpaper), look to tapestries. They’re easy to transport and require very little setup. 

Instead of a paper card that’ll get lost or thrown away, upgrade your escort cards to something worth keeping (or eating). Try personalized cake pops with guests’ names and table numbers written on them in icing (or on a cute tag), or engraved martini glasses that double as favors.

Your first dance will be one of the highlights of your wedding, so add this extra-special touch to up the entertainment factor (and make for some serious photo ops). If your song is slow and romantic, have fresh flower petals instead of confetti dropped from the ceiling. Your rental company and florist can work together to make this happen—and don’t forget to make sure the reception waitstaff will be standing by to clean up.

Create height on your reception tables using table lamps. Tip: You can skip flowers altogether if you want, but surrounding the lamps with flowers or greenery is an easy way to hide cords.

If you have a lounge area in your reception space (or made one with some rental furniture), get yourself to a housewares department for some pillows. Find them on sale (IKEA-style) and cover them with your favorite patterned fabric for a few low maintenance pops of festive color and pattern.

Chiavari chairs are a wedding staple, so choose something more unexpected for a new look. Rows and rows of eye-catching seats, like brightly colored vintage chairs or clear ghost chairs, can completely change the style of a space.

Flowy, feminine and just what love’s made of with a luxe look

Transform your venue’s columns or tent poles from annoying distractions into artful décor by wrapping them in strings of lights, greenery or colorful fabric.

Ready to find a wedding style that suits you? Take a look at these awesome, out-of-the-box wedding ideas for inspiration, then take our fun Style Quiz for a truly customized wedding vision, plus the right vendors in your area to help you bring it to life. From tricked-out transportation to mouthwatering midnight snacks, here’s how to make a lasting impression at your wedding.

From: An Enchanted Elegant Wedding at Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC

Make your guests feel like VIPs with welcome bags that go beyond a map and a few snacks. Stuff personalized tote bags with mini bottles of bubbly or a six-pack of a local microbrew, a gift certificate to your favorite local coffee shop and an individual “Welcome!” note from you.

Skip the standard white linens and choose tablecloths, runners and napkins in bolder hues to create eye-catching blocks of color on the tables.

Don’t forget: Get the green light from your planner or venue manager before paying for any big installations or décor pieces. You don’t want to get told the day of that the light fixtures cannot be hung on the rafters or the fabric draping is against fire code. 

Special thanks to Amy Nichols of Amy Nichols Special Events in San Francisco; Josh Brooks of Fete in New York; Thomas Bui of Thomas Bui Lifestyle in San Diego; Melina Dreyfuss and Dawn Van Dyke of DM Events in New York; Vicki Grafton of My Simple Details in Washington, DC; Emilia Jane of Sweet Emilia Jane in Los Angeles; Kristen Jensen of Sugar Rush Events in San Francisco; Lauren Knuepfer of LK Events in Chicago; Claudine Ursino of La Belle Soiree Event Planning in Seattle; and Claire Weller of Big City Bride in Chicago

There’s strength in numbers, and that goes for décor too. Any piece of decoration, from hanging lanterns to a custom monogram motif, has more visual impact when shown off en masse.

From: An Elegant Barn Wedding at a Private Residence in St. Helena, California

Or maybe minimalism is your style and you’re just not into the idea of a ton of décor, but you still want to personalize the celebration. Here are a few wedding decorations that are totally low maintenance, but beautiful and impactful. 

From: A Whimsical Garden-Inspired Wedding at the NoMad Hotel in New York, New York

From: A Whimsical Spring Wedding at Bonnet House Museum and Gardens in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Start the party long before your wedding day with a brilliant wedding website (computer science degree not required). Get your guests involved with live tweets or an Instagram feed, so you and your guests have a record of the day just as it happened.

If you’re choosing between plastic tables and chairs versus wood, go with the natural option. You can still opt for folding chairs for a lower price point, but wood has a way of looking so much more polished.

Borrowed from the world of interior design, a few stylish vignettes (grouped décor displays) can bring serious personality to your reception. For example, set up your guest book table with a few floral arrangements, framed photos and family mementos, or display pieces of antique furniture topped with vintage props.

From: A Rustic, Southern Charm-Inspired Wedding at Camarillo Ranch in Camarillo, California

Having a photo booth is a surefire way to capture memories a photographer might miss. For an extra-special touch, outfit your booth with themed props (snorkel gear and an under-the-sea backdrop for a summer wedding, opera masks and monocles for a formal affair, etc.) to get your guests in the mood; then be sure to send them a copy of their photo in your thank-you note.

If you play it right, your ceremony exit will be one of the most heavily photographed moments of your wedding, so forget the rose petals and birdseed. Jazz up your exit by passing out small bags of colorful confetti, paper airplanes, mini beach balls, or even lavender buds for everyone to toss your way. Even better: Stage your own mini parade by passing out parasols and noisemakers for your guests to escort you to your getaway car.

Just because you’re having a formal wedding doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun with your décor. Add herbs like rosemary or lavender for a fragrant touch on the place settings.

Work with your florist to bring in small trees to break up the dinner tables, or wrap a pergola with vines and greenery to make your head table stand out.

Lots of chandeliers, lanterns or café lights hanging from above can change the atmosphere of a space from feeling empty to intimate—especially if your venue has lofty ceilings.

From: A Glamorous Indoor Garden Wedding at the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, North Carolina

From: A Garden Party Wedding at Chicago Botanic Garden in Chicago, Illinois

Keep your guests comfortable all day by thinking ahead. Out of town guests will appreciate a custom scented soap so they don’t have to rely on the standard hotel samples. Planning on dancing until the next morning? Put out baskets of flip-flops (in your wedding colors, of course) so guests can take their shoes off. Having an outdoor reception that might get breezy? Make sure guests keep warm by offering up some cozy pashminas. And for a summer outdoor ceremony in the afternoon, provide a station with spray-on sunscreen and a stack of inexpensive sunglasses.

Instead of having an escort card table, create a bulletin board of seating assignments and display it near the entrance of the reception space. Bonus: You won’t have guests squinting at tiny tented cards, trying to decipher their table number.

If you really want to turn your venue into another world, choose a strong theme and carry it through all of your reception décor. For example, go all out with a Western motif, complete with horseshoes, rustic wood elements and woodsy colors. For an Asian-inspired style, hang red lanterns, use gold  accents and pick tall, exotic flowers. Or even embrace a fall theme, with autumn hues and lots of fall foliage.

From: An Elegant Tented Wedding at Pebble Hill Plantation in Thomasville, Georgia

If you want to save on flower arrangements for the table, add a few elements that will draw guests’ eyes upward. A simple garland of greenery or a few hanging lanterns will fill the space and no one will notice smaller centerpieces. 

Simple-yet-sophisticated with playful nods and unique accents

Send guests home feeling taken care of by having your valets place small favors or end-of-the-night snacks in guests’ cars before handing over the keys. No valets? Set out baskets of the gifts, such as soft eye masks with notes that say “Sleep tight!” or even hangover kits (filled with Aspirin, water and snacks) for guests to grab on their way out of the reception venue. If you’ve arranged bus or shuttle transportation, have a favor waiting on board for guests.

Just when everyone thinks the fun is winding down, liven up the party with late-night snacks tha’ll leave everyone ready for an after-party. Think about it: crinkle French fries, fresh chocolate chip cookies and milk shooters, a fully loaded taco bar or doughnut truck.

Add more votives than you think you’ll need and fill the room with candles—we’re talking hundreds of pillar candles, luminaries and tealights mixed together for an enveloping, flickering glow.

When it comes to flowers, variety is the key to a wow-worthy look, so work with your florist to create a mix of tall and low centerpieces.

Make toast time delicious by letting guests customize their champagne. Dishes full of fruit purees, lavender sprigs, citrus twists and flavored ice cubes that can be spooned into glasses of bubbly will make the toast that much more fun.

Give guests a place to mingle between dance breaks by creating a lounge area at your reception. Fill the space with couches or chairs and plenty of pillows to sink into. It’s the perfect way to keep everyone in on the party even when they’re resting. Really want to wow ’em? Close off the area with curtains to create a VIP vibe.

Instead of just hitting the bar next door when your reception venue closes, plan a true postwedding bash for you and your hardest-partying guests. Book a space with a completely different vibe from your reception (like a relaxed patio bar or a karaoke club to offset a formal ballroom) to keep the party going.

A big and bold custom party backdrop featuring your monogram, a big panel of fabric that matches your wedding style or even a faux greenery wall filled with candles can provide your reception with a fun focal point. Bonus: One of these can double as a background for your photo booth.

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