If you’re looking for a way to make your wedding ceremony feel fresh and memorable, consider one of the first things your guests will see once they arrive: their ceremony seats. Instead of the expected straight rows of fold-out chairs, why not switch up your ceremony seating plan?
"A unique layout can often add an additional layer of detail to your ceremony site," says Mindy Rice, a California-based floral and event designer. "A meandering path, a side entrance, or even multiple aisles will give your guests a little surprise, a twist on tradition!"
Meet the Expert
Mindy Rice is a California-based floral and event designer with nearly three decades of experience. Her background in fine art and fashion informs her work with clients around the globe through her namesake firm, Mindy Rice Floral and Event Design.
Further, rearranging the chairs into interesting shapes—like squares, semi-circles, and even spirals—can make your ceremony feel more intimate and inclusive. You can really mix things up by using unexpected seats, like benches, logs, or picnic blankets.
Before you decide on an unusual arrangement, there are a few things you should consider. "Be mindful of floral and prop placement," says Rice. "Make sure the guests seated along the aisle don't have to adjust the décor. You want them to focus on the ceremony celebration, not the lit candles at their hemline."
You'll also want to ensure your guests have easy access to their seats. If the rows are too long, they may not be able to fill each one with ease. "It's difficult to crab-walk down 20 chairs in a formal dress."
Be sure to leave enough space for your wedding party at the altar so they don't get lost in a sea of chairs or hover over guests.
The upside is that you can experiment with your ceremony seating regardless of your venue. "There really isn't a 'best setting,'" says Rice. "You can apply your creative ideas to absolutely any setting." As long as you’ve accounted for the number of guests and made certain that everyone has a good view of the ceremony proceedings at the altar, anything goes!
Below, find some of the most creative ceremony seating arrangements we’ve seen.
In the Round
Arrange your seats in a circular pattern so you're literally surrounded by your loved ones—it’ll make everyone feel included in the ceremony, instead of just looking on. We love how this couple chose translucent ghost chairs to keep the focus on the spectacular view.
"A wedding in the round can be so intimate and warm," says Rice. "Just realize you won't have that photo of just the two of you. There will always be people in the background."
A circular seating style works for more intimate ceremonies as well. Arrange the seats so that you’re encircled by your guests; you could also add lush garlands of fresh greenery and flowers to help define the center space. Be sure to leave an aisle (or two) to help with traffic flow. "An aisle shouldn't be too wide or too narrow," notes Rice. "Make sure you account for the décor as well as the number of people side-by-side."
If you’re planning to exchange vows beneath a large ceremony structure, like a chuppah, arrange the chairs in a square-like fashion so that they surround the structure. This way, your guests will have better views of the ceremony all around.
Make an outdoor wedding a bit more intimate by setting up chairs in a spiral. This will create a dramatic, winding aisle—plus, how amazing will it be to see each and every guest as you circle your way to the center? A spiral works best for small-to-moderate guest lists; setting up 250 chairs in a spiral is not realistic.
For an outdoor wedding in the woods, at a barn, or in the mountains, line up several rows and columns of rustic wooden benches facing the altar. "We have done weddings in fields and under trees, where we had to work with nature's obstacles," says Rice. Benches are great for grassy, uneven ground since the weight of multiple people will keep them in place.
For a dramatic entrance, use chairs to create a curved pathway toward the altar. This layout works great for a small guest list. "Some of our clients request a longer walk down the aisle—time to savor the moment," says Rice. "With few guests, this can be difficult. A meandering path is the answer! Not to mention, it's a way to incorporate more beautiful floral."
Instead of arranging your chairs in a semicircle facing the altar, consider this uncommon setup. The chairs begin right next to the bride and groom and arch out to the side so guests are facing each other, but still have sight of the couple. With this intimate arrangement, there's not a bad seat in the house.
Long and Narrow
If you're getting married oceanfront or on a dock, long, narrow rows are the way to go. The setup is still somewhat traditional, but instead of the usual wide rows, arrange the chairs in sets of two to four and extend the aisle further back.
Make sure you, your partner, and your officiant have microphones so those in the back can hear you say "I do!"
Tradition With a Twist
Personalize the classic aisle by mixing up the type of seating. At one outdoor wedding, says Rice, "A combination of chairs, benches, swings, and poufs were combined to fill the space. The guests enjoyed the options, while the look was quite whimsy!" It's a modern take on tradition that your guests are sure to love.
Logs Around a Fire
This seating arrangement is perfect for the outdoorsy couple. Set up tree stumps in a circular fashion around a bonfire at your forest or campground wedding. Great for smaller groups, this super cozy option is guaranteed to leave your guests with a smile. Just make sure they wear bug spray!