How to Turn Unexpected Inspiration Into an Executable Wedding Theme

They say inspiration comes from all over. Here’s what to do with it!

Updated 07/12/17

Courtesy of Shannon Leahy Events

Whether or not your wedding will have a distinct theme, it will have its own style—and that style will have to come from some underlying inspiration. It might be the season, your favorite colors, or something that fits in with your venue. (We see your rustic weddings in barns and blue-and-white weddings in Greece!) But wedding inspiration can be even more than that, from a beautiful piece of wallpaper to your favorite pair of shoes. So how do those ideas that don’t seem wedding-related at all become your wedding-day inspiration? We asked Shannon Leahy Rosenbaum, founder of Shannon Leahy Events in San Francisco, to walk us through this crazy creative process.

Courtesy of Shannon Leahy Events

What are some of the more unexpected sources where you or your clients find inspiration?

“We find inspiration everywhere,” says Rosenbaum. “For me, architecture, interior design, fashion, and art are my biggest inspirations. I also find so much inspiration when I travel to new places because you are seeing things through new eyes.” She and her team have also designed weddings based on some less-expected sources: “We’ve been inspired to design by anything from a certain color of nail polish to a tile mosaic on the street and even an installation in a Nike store!”

Ari Simphoukham 2016

Ari Simphoukham 2016

When looking for inspiration for a wedding theme or design scheme, what should brides-to-be keep an eye out for? Where should they look?

When you’re first looking for design inspiration, start with your wedding’s venue. This will help give the theme or design a sense of place. “This is especially true for a destination wedding, but really, we can be inspired by any venue," says Rosenbaum. "When you are touring the space, look around to see what colors make up the venue. Look at the paint, furnishings, the artwork, the carpet color if it's inside, or the environment if it's outside." You should also keep the season in mind, since that will change how your venue looks when your guests arrive.

“We designed a wedding in Big Sur around the color of the Pacific Ocean views, incorporating sea glass into the decor to echo this theme,” Rosenbaum explains.

Courtesy of Shannon Leahy Events

Shannon Leahy Events

How can you turn unexpected or less-traditional inspiration into an executable theme? What are some more out-there ideas you've turned into cohesive looks, and how did you do it?

So you’re in love with the pattern on a pillow or the color of the cups at your favorite coffee shop. Now what? Rosenbaum recommends identifying the element that you love, from shape or color to pattern or texture, and seeking it in decor items that you’ll use for your celebration. “For a wedding in France, we were inspired by the ornate architecture of the venue," she says. "We worked with our stationer to incorporate architectural motifs from the venue into the paper, and we even used actual millwork accents for the escort-card display.

When planning a wedding at the Mission in Carmel, we were inspired by the Spanish style, so we incorporated Spanish tile throughout the wedding and used elements like wrought iron and terra cotta to hint at this theme. We used a certain Spanish tile pattern on everything from the paper to the cake to the dance floor.”

Is your inspiration more broad, like an era or art movement? The bottom line: Find the iconic motifs and mix them in wherever you can. “We did a wedding in Palm Springs that was inspired by Hollywood Regency style and Dorothy Draper in particular. We incorporated a bold color palette and used Greek key accents on the custom light fixtures, on the aisle runner, and throughout the paper,” Rosenbaum describes.

Courtesy of Shannon Leahy Events

Courtesy of Shannon Leahy Events

If the location is what inspired you, stay true to it! “For a wedding in Jamaica, we wanted to highlight the local flavor," says Rosenbaum, "so we sourced all the flowers locally for a tropical palette and used mini pineapples in each place setting. We used materials like sea coral, raffia, and baskets to drive home this feeling.”

And if you’re drawn to a certain culture (even if it doesn’t perfectly match your venue), get creative with ways to help bring everything together. “For a wedding in a modern warehouse in San Francisco, we were inspired by Japanese design, so we did the flowers in an Ikebana style (a very stark and streamlined floral style) and created a Zen garden for the escort-card display," says Rosenbaum. "Names were calligraphed on smooth stones and placed in a large trough of sand with little bonsai trees, and guests could even rake little patterns into the display!”

What about inspiration that doesn't seem to fit together? Any tips for taking ideas that sound all over the place and combining them into something that really works?

Even if your ideas aren’t so cohesive, you can use them together. Just find things that can bridge the gap. "Determine the materials and color palette you’ll be using, then apply those guidelines to anything you want!” says Rosenbaum. “For the Carmel wedding with the Spanish theme, for example, our clients wanted to incorporate their quirky style. So in addition to the Spanish tiles and wrought iron, we had mad-lib cards for guests to fill out, and we printed them using that same color palette. The couple also wanted a doughnut display, so we nixed the usual Easter palette and instead set the doughnuts out on large, rustic wooden bookshelves to fit the theme.”

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