Ideas for Decorating Wedding Reception Tables

Think of your reception tables as blank canvases to be painted with ideas and creative accents

Your guests will spend a good deal of the reception seated, making the tables an essential element of wedding decor. A little creativity goes a long way toward making a table look lovely.

Choose Stylish Staples

"I try to create layers of objects on the table," says event-design guru Preston Bailey. "As you sit, you discover the different items." For Bailey, the layers begin with the linens. Because the tabletops will be visible as you look out over the room, use that surface to establish the color scheme you've chosen. You can choose almost any shade you like, in a variety of patterns and textures.

In contrast, Bailey recommends using high-quality napkins in neutral white or cream. Set the napkin out on a charger, and tie it with a flower that echoes the centerpiece. A clear glass charger can be quite elegant, though a number of styles are available. For a clever surprise, Bailey recommends setting a clear charger on top of flower petals, so they are visible beneath it. He also occasionally uses flower petals to create table runners.

Ask your event planner or party-rental company about the styles of china, stemware, and flatware they have to offer. You may be able to choose from several china patterns, but often white or ivory dishes with simple accents of silver are the most versatile choice for your table.

Carefully Consider Extras

Paper products at the reception—escort cards, place cards, and menu cards—should be of the same quality and style as the wedding invitations. To avoid a table cluttered with ten or more discarded menu cards, Bailey recommends only two on each table, propped up on small easels.

Nothing beats candlelight for giving a room a romantic, intimate look. Votives, pillars (square or round), and tapers are a lovely addition to any table. Use white or ivory candles and set them in decorative candleholders if you'd like a more dynamic look, though, simple candlesticks in clear glass or silver are good for understated elegance.

For rich-looking centerpieces, choose one or two types of flowers as opposed to five or six. Lush blooms like peonies, roses, and hydrangeas are best for an extravagant effect. A few long-stemmed, sleek-looking flowers like calla lilies or orchids are great for a more minimalist look. Depending on the season or location of your event, fruits and vegetables can also be an elegant addition to the arrangements.

Unique vessels—crystal, porcelain, or even wooden vases—can add another dimension to the table. Bailey often covers flower-filled vases with more fresh blooms for a dramatic effect. He also touts the simplicity of clear glass vases: "A clear vessel shows off the flowers."

Be Seated

At many venues, the chairs may be less than spectacular. Covering the chairs in solid fabric can give the room a heavy look, so try using sheer organza covers, or wrapping them in beautiful ribbons, tied with flowers, that complement the wedding colors. And, naturally, "The bride and groom's chairs should be a little more special," Bailey says.

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