30 Small Wedding Ideas for an Intimate Affair

Intimate wedding reception table

 Ryan Ray

Overwhelmed by the thought of gathering 200 of your “nearest and dearest” together for your wedding day? Eloping may have crossed your mind, but that’s not the only way to avoid the crowd. Instead, have all the fixings of a wedding, but on a much smaller scale. We’re talking 10 guests, 20 max (your actual nearest and dearest), and all of the things that will make your wedding feel like, you know, your wedding: invitations, dinner, a white dress, cake, and any other detail important to two of you.

Shrinking the event down to a cozy, intimate size guarantees you’ll love where your money goes, and it creates the opportunity for great memories with every single guest. But there’s more to it than decreasing your guest list. There are planning changes to make, details to consider, and (hooray!) a proportionally larger budget to work with.

Ahead, we've rounded up 30 wedding planner-approved small wedding ideas to consider for your big day.

01 of 30

Strategically Plan Your Guest List

Intimate wedding reception table with white draping

PHOTO BY O'MALLEY PHOTOGRAPHERS; Planning by Valley & Company

A small wedding is only so if the guest list is as small as possible. “Look through your text messages and calls, and only invite those you’ve spoken to within the last three months,” says Jove Meyer of Jove Meyer Events. “We speak to those who matter most—it’s that simple.”

If you're having a hard time narrowing down your guest list, consider if you would take this person out for a several hundred-dollar dinner or have them as a guest in your home for the weekend. "Thinking about how close your relationships are will help ensure you are truly comfortable with those you surround yourselves with on your wedding day,” says Aleah and Nick Valley of Valley & Company Events

02 of 30

Send Handwritten Invitations

Wedding invitation with gold lettering and seal

Anna Shackleford

With fewer guests on your list, it's much easier to send handwritten invitations with beautiful hand-lettering, rather than printing hundreds. Or, you might even skip the formal invitations and opt to call each of your guests instead.

03 of 30

Send a Wedding Announcement

Invitation with wax seal and feather

Photo by Laurken Kendall; Stationery by Cara Plena

Of course, everybody will want to know that you've tied the knot. For those who were not included on your small guest list, consider sending a wedding announcement or handwritten note. “Make a list of those who will want to know the big news, and send out a wedding announcement after the fact,” suggests Luke Wilson of Luke Wilson Events.

04 of 30

Consider a Restaurant Venue

Restaurant wedding table

Red October Photography

Fewer people on the guest list means the world is your oyster when it comes to choosing a nontraditional venue, and a restaurant may be the perfect fit. “They're unique spaces that have everything you need in one place,” Meyer says. Consider a spot that you and your partner love to frequent. Just be sure you love everything about it, from the style and the menu to the existing décor, as restaurants often have restrictions on decorations.

05 of 30

Use a Family Home

Couple exchanging vows in front of orange floral display

Heather Kincaid

Consider using the backyard of your family house for an intimate venue. “Family homes can pose many challenges for events with a large guest list, but work well with a smaller group,” Wilson says. “I love the sentiment of having an intimate affair in a place that is meaningful to the couple.”

06 of 30

Choose an Airbnb

A Tuscan villa Airbnb wedding reception

 Airbnb

Choosing an Airbnb venue may be the perfect fit for your needs. Tiffany Rivera of Simply Breathe Events suggests looking into beautiful private homes (that aren’t your own), which give you the flexibility to move between spaces and make your wedding day really cost-efficient.

Be sure to check with the host of your preferred Airbnb before booking. Some properties do not allow gatherings such as weddings.

07 of 30

Find a Small Space in a Large Venue

Wedding in the Courtyard at Boston Public Library

 Photo by EMILY WREN; Planning and Design by The Catered Afffair

Traditional venues are full of unexpected spaces that are perfect for smaller celebrations. “Consider areas that are often overlooked, like the library of a large historic estate,” says Francie Dorman of 42 North. Courtyards, theaters, or smaller galleries are also great options.

08 of 30

Get Creative With Seating Arrangements

Reception table with peach linens and pink flowers

Sanaz Photography

If you're planning a smaller wedding in a large venue, it may be time to get creative with ceremony and reception seating arrangements. “Making a large space feel intimate can be so fun, as you have the opportunity to get really creative with seating and table layouts, as well as adding things like a lounge or creative bars and food stations,” Meyer says. “Consider an extra-large round table for 20 to fill more space, or mix up how the venue is usually used by having the ceremony where others might have dinner and vice versa."

09 of 30

Gift a Welcome Box

Wooden welcome box

Ryan Ray 

Whether you're hosting a destination wedding, a weekend-long celebration, or an intimate evening party, a welcome box is such a personalized touch to put together for your small guest list. Incorporate items that you and your partner love, or bring in influences from your wedding's locale.

10 of 30

Make a Day-Of Timeline

Wedding day program written on a mirror

Lauren Carroll Photography

No matter the size, having a timeline for your wedding is something you won't want to forget. “So much thought goes into the details of a wedding, whether large or small, and a good timeline provides a framework that helps tell your story,” says Nick and Aleah Valley.

11 of 30

Hire a Day-Of Coordinator

Wedding cocktail hour with palm trees

Ryan Ray 

Wedding planners or day-of coordinators aren't just for large weddings. “It’s also a great idea to hire a wedding planner, even if it’s only for day-of coordination,” Rivera says. “You’ll want someone there to facilitate the flow of the day so you can enjoy it instead of worrying about whether alcohol is running low.”

12 of 30

Be Thoughtful With Activities

Lawn games at wedding

Ashley Caroline

As you’re determining the details and activities, decide what is important to you and your partner and skip the things that don’t matter. “Many couples opt to forgo some of the traditional dancing at a small wedding,” says Nick and Aleah Valley. “Know your crowd and replace it with an activity everyone will enjoy, or keep it in the timeline if your loved ones love to dance.”

13 of 30

Hire a Live Band

Couple dancing at wedding

Heather Kincaid

If you do love dancing, you may way to splurge for a live band, but be sure to keep the band’s size in mind. “If your band has an equal number of players to your final guest count, it will feel really overpowering. Instead, hire a smaller group of musicians so you can have the formality of special dances without a crowd on stage,” Wilson advises.

14 of 30

Invest in Your Photographer

Wedding Photographer

LEO PATRONE 

A fantastic photographer is a great investment, no matter how many guests will be in attendance, but a smaller guest list may mean more opportunities to capture intimate moments. “With fewer people at the table, your guests will really relax, creating an intimate atmosphere,” Dorman explains. “Hire a trusted photographer who will capture the laughter, the tears, and the clinking glasses, since those are the moments you’ll treasure most.”

15 of 30

Elevate Your Escort Display

Planted escort card display

 LAUREN FAIR PHOTOGRAPHY 

Creating an elaborate escort display is such a fun way to include guests in your big day. "Go hyper-custom," says Meyer. Opt for an escort display with handwritten touches, or even items that double as a favor.

16 of 30

Detail the Space

String lighting over long reception table

Photo by Pablo Laguia; Planning and Design by Paloma Cruz Eventos

A smaller wedding means that you can go all-in on the details. “You can make each item really detailed,” Meyer says. “Remember to design the space, not just the tables—consider lights, plants, fabrics, and anything else that will create an ambiance.”

17 of 30

Create a Lounge Area

Beach lounge seating

Paige Jones Photography 

Think about ways to keep your guests interacting with one another. “Guests will be sitting to catch up instead of cutting a rug, so create a lounge area where everyone can relax after dinner,” Wilson says. This is a great space to host a cocktail hour as well.

18 of 30

Splurge on Dinner

Fresh fig bruschetta

 Photo by Kelly Brown; Catering by Contemporary Catering

If you're not feeding a huge crowd, you have more room for a detailed menu. Whether you're wishing for a seven-course meal with expert wine pairings, an elaborate buffet, or a fun food truck on-site, the options are infinite with a smaller wedding. “With a small group, you can really personalize every detail of the menu,” says Meyer.

19 of 30

Opt for a Long Estate Table

Long reception table

Erich McVey

A long reception table can be such a fun way to make everyone feel included. If you have a smaller group, it's easier to say goodbye to traditional round tables spread throughout the room. "This will make everyone feel like family," says Wilson.

20 of 30

Consider a U-Shaped Table Set-Up

Courtyard wedding reception

Paola Colleoni

Depending on your space, setting up a U-shaped table may be the best way to facilitate dinner conversation. This is a great way to work within a space, while still making guests feel connected.

21 of 30

Play With Place Settings

Place setting with blue plates

Eric Kelley

Design a really beautiful place setting for each guest if you're hosting a seated dinner. This is such a great opportunity to go all out with a stunning set-up. But you'll want to be sure they have the basics, too. “Make sure your guests have enough elbow room at their place settings and easy access to the essentials (water, wine, and flatware),” says Nick and Aleah Valley.

22 of 30

Personalize Place Cards

Oyster shell name cards

Heather Waraksa

Place cards offer so much opportunity for customization, and with a smaller guest list, there are fewer to make or buy. Opt for a personalized touch with hand-calligraphed place cards for each guest. Make them even more special by writing on something that ties into the theme of your wedding.

23 of 30

Go Bold With Plenty of Florals

Fuchsia Flowers Wedding Centerpiece

James and Jess

You may find that you have more room in your floral budget than you thought. Why not go all out on the tables? Nick and Aleah Valley suggest covering the table in an abundance of low, ultra-lush flowers and candles for a vibrant display.

24 of 30

Utilize Table Linens

Tablescape with blue linen

Pat Furey Photography

Don't be afraid to go all-out with a stunning tablescape. Adding elements such as a bold table linen can give tables a more anchored, intimate feel.

25 of 30

Consider Hanging Arrangements

Hanging greenery over small reception tables

Photo by Branco Prata; Planning by Jeannette Tavares of Evoke Design & Creative; Florals by Areias do Sexiof

A smaller wedding may mean more opportunities for guests to chat and connect, and you'll want to leave room on the table for conversation. Britt Cole, also of 42 North, suggests lifting the flowers up and installing an overhead arrangement of florals, moss, and soft lighting. This can also help a larger room feel more intimate.

26 of 30

Use Handwritten Menus

Menu featuring script placed on table with flowers

Bella Wang Photography 

If you're hoping to add a special handwritten touch to your tablescape for dinner, doing menus on your own is a beautiful idea. With fewer guests, there won't be as many to write.

27 of 30

Add Hand-Painted Touches

Handpainted macaron

Ryan Ray

Who says you can't add hand-painted touches just because? Little embellishments like hand-painted macarons will make each and every guest feel so special.

28 of 30

Plan a Smaller Cake

Small white wedding cake with greenery

PHOTO BY LAUREN FAIR PHOTOGRAPHY; CAKE BY MAZZETTI’S BAKERY; FLORALS BY GAVITA FLORA

With fewer guests, you'll need less cake. But that doesn't mean you can't have the dessert of your dreams. Chat with your baker about sticking with the tiered approach if that's what you love. Your baker may be able to accommodate with smaller cake rounds while keeping the same traditional wedding cake look intact.

29 of 30

Incorporate Family Heirlooms

Silver candle on wedding reception table

PHOTO BY MELISSA OHOLENDT PHOTOGRAPHY; Planning by Mother of the Bride Weddings

Adding in small, memorable touches is much simpler in a more intimate space with fewer guests. Consider incorporating family heirlooms such as vintage china or silver to make the day that much more special.

30 of 30

Add Super-Personalized Details

Custom cocktail napkins with cats

Rebecca Yale

If fewer guests means freeing up more of your budget for additional details, then why not go all out? Including items like a custom cocktail napkin is a cute way to showcase what you and your partner love as a couple.

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