Expert advice on making a big wedding feel cozy and intimate—without shrinking your guest list
Put Things in Order
"An organized bride with 400 guests can do just as well as a bride with 200," says Joseph Borbély, the director of catering at the Garden City Hotel on New York's Long Island. Create an itinerary of the entire day, including every detail from who should be in the bridal suite to what time the band will play its last song. Bring a few copies of the timeline, as well as all vendor contact information and seating charts, with you to the wedding.
Get Up Close and Personal
Special touches like placing a handwritten welcome note on each reception table will create a sense of intimacy. Soften the room—and minimize the expanse of tables—by placing lots of votive candles all around. Borbély recommends dimming the overhead lights and suspending pin lighting from the ceiling to spotlight your centerpieces.
Remind Yourself Size Doesn't Matter
Whether you're having 50 or 500 guests, you're going to need a venue, photographer, florist, and other basics. These essentials are constants. "I never felt any more stressed than my friends who had smaller weddings," says Marissa Levy of Chicago, who celebrated her July 2003 wedding with 400 guests. Although costs for catering and invitations will inevitably escalate as guest lists grow, certain fees (such as your dress, the bouquet, and clergy services) will be unaffected by the rising numbers.
Create Great Spaces
Though hotel ballrooms are popular big-wedding venue options, investigate less traditional spaces that may provide a warmer feel. Wedding planner Debi Lilly, owner of A Perfect Event in Chicago, suggests museums, art galleries, and large restaurants. Luxury tents define a nice, smaller space within parks, golf courses, and gardens.
Make More Memories
"Extra cameramen are the answer," says event planner Mary Krystoff, president of Fanizzi & Co., in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Also consider adding an hour of shooting or filming time. Marissa hired two photographers and two videographers to document her large number of guests. She says, "They captured every little thing that was special about the night—even those I didn't notice at the time."
Take It Down to Two
It's easy to forget, but you and your groom are there for each other. Ride alone to the reception or schedule 15 minutes after the ceremony so the two of you can catch up in a private room before joining the party. After all, says Lilly, "This is what the entire day is about."
Bride-to-Bride Survival Tip
"Our wedding was in a huge outdoor space, so staging the ceremony at twilight with candles and white twinkle lights adorning the arbor made the setting feel much more intimate: The whole effect was magical."