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These days, weddings are all about showcasing your personal style. There are numerous ways to do that—personalized vows, non-traditional dresses, out-of-the-box venues—but what makes the most immediate impact is the décor. “Décor ties your energy together as a couple in a tangible way,” says D.C. event designer Sugar Taylor. “It’s a manifestation of your love, and visual proof you’re at a celebration. It communicates the joy of being together.”
Meet the Expert
Sugar Taylor is a D.C.-based multimedia designer who focuses on event design, branding, and interiors. She has over ten years of experience creating one-of-a-kind weddings and events.
If you’re feeling like the ante has been seriously upped in recent years, well, you’re not wrong. “In the past, wedding décor was considered more ‘cookie-cutter,’ but I think things were purer, more focused on the couple, back then,” muses Taylor. “While still based on the same things, weddings today are more so artistic masterpieces because more people are watching. Given the introduction of social media, I think we’ve naturally been more prone to focus on how things look and wanting them to be different.”
Whether you want to go unexpected and elaborate or simple and traditional for your wedding décor, there are certain elements you’ll want to consider when planning the overall look of your day. Make decisions based on wants, tastes, and, most importantly, budget, and you’ll plan a day to remember fondly for years to come.
Read on for our ultimate wedding décor checklist—including tips on what’s trending and where to prioritize your spending—but remember: There are no hard rules here!
Though it’s the most important part of a wedding day, the ceremony is the space where your guests will spend the least amount of time—so this is not the place to blow your budget. “It’s essential that something frames the couple,” says Taylor. “Whether that’s a backdrop or two large aisle arrangements, that’s the moment where [your guests] are like, okay, this is about the people in front of me.”
Altar décor should be prioritized, but if you’re looking to further jazz things up, you can also adorn the path down the aisle, choose interesting benches or chairs, and sprinkle in personalized elements such as a welcome sign and ceremony programs. Newer trends in ceremony décor include hanging elements over the aisle, which, Per Taylor, “look luxe and grand compared to floor petals,” as well as circular floral arches and asymmetric floor installations at the altar.
Ceremony Décor Checklist:
- Altar décor
- Aisle décor
- Ceremony seating
- An aisle runner
- Programs (these can be individual handouts for guests or one overall sign)
- A welcome sign
- A card and gift station (this can also be included in the cocktail hour)
- Bouquets for bridesmaids and bride
- Boutonnieres for groom and groomsmen
- Flower basket for flower girl
- Ring pillow for ring bearer
- Additional signage (unplugged ceremony, etc.)
Cocktail Hour Décor
“Cocktail hour is when the most mingling happens,” says Taylor. “Focusing on how your guests are going to interact at this time is a great way to bring in décor.” To that end, Taylor focuses the cocktail hour décor budget on what guests will be drinking and doing. The bar or drink station comes first—jazz it up with florals, signage, unique wraps, and more—then fun cocktail napkins and drink stirrers. Ready to get next-level? Splurge on edible paper covers, branded ice, or an equally beautiful non-alcoholic beverage station.
Interactive activities for guests—be it lawn games, a photo booth, or even something as simple as signing a guest book—are additional opportunities to incorporate your wedding theme, and so is your seating chart or escort card display. “There are so many fun things you can do to help your guests find their seats in creative ways,” says Taylor, who, whenever possible, likes to have escort cards double as favors for guests.
One place to minimize spending in the cocktail hour décor budget is tables and seating. A few high-tops for guests to rest their drinks work great, but no need to go overboard. “I keep high tops pretty simple,” says Taylor. “I love including trivia cards or something that [encourages] interaction, and a small centerpiece.”
Cocktail Hour Décor Checklist:
- Bar décor
- Signature drink signage
- Custom cocktail napkins
- Drink stirrers
- A seating chart and/or escort cards
- A guest book table
- A card and gift station (this could also be included at the ceremony)
- A memory table (typically a display honoring lost loved ones, but it can also include photos from your parents’ or grandparents’ weddings)
- Lounge area (this can also be part of your reception)
- High-top tables
The reception is where your guests will spend most of their time, so it makes sense for it to take up most of your wedding décor budget. You’ll want to focus the majority on tabletop décor (more on that in a moment), and how you allocate the rest depends largely on how many people will be attending.
“If you have a high guest count, spend on gorgeous linens and lighting,” says Taylor. “Those things will make it feel more special and intimate.” Like lighting, draping can also go a long way to making a reception venue feel more intimate and luxe. It’s also very versatile and can be used to cover up plain walls, hide things, or separate spaces.
Candles always emphasize the romance factor, and can make even the largest celebrations feel more intimate. But they’re not necessarily a cheaper alternative to florals, especially when used in large numbers.
Other big reception décor moments include hanging installations—floral chandeliers are always stunning, but balloons, paper lanterns, and string lights also make a statement—and, Taylor’s personal favorite, the dance floor. “Even if your décor is super simple and understated, it makes your wedding look immediately grand if there’s a gorgeous design on the dance floor,” she says. Though monogrammed dance floors were trending hot for a bit, Taylor prefers to wrap them in a complementary pattern or special illustration.
Other fun reception décor trends include neon signs—“Use lyrics from your first dance song!” suggests Taylor—custom backdrops behind the couple or sweetheart table, and, for luxury weddings, printed tent fabrics.
Reception Décor Checklist:
- A tent (for an outdoor wedding)
- Dance floor
- Hanging décor or installations such as chandeliers
- Backdrop for the head table or sweetheart table
- Bar décor (if your bar is not the same bar used during cocktail hour)
- Wedding hashtag signage
- Cake and/or dessert table décor and signage
- Cake topper
- “Just married” signage and décor for the getaway car
- Lounge area (this can also be part of your cocktail hour)
Dinner is the longest your guests will remain in one place at your wedding, so where they sit should be stunning. “I focus on what’s going to be at eye level,” says Taylor. “We start budgets where your guests are going to be spending most of their time and make sure that’s where the magic happens.”
For Taylor, that means prioritizing the place settings, which she elevates with unique linens and tabletop rentals. “If you walk into a room and see basic white plates and silver silverware, it doesn’t spark your interest,” she explains. “But if you see a pink plate, gold silverware, and a dope patterned napkin, it’s an automatic difference.”
Florals are a must for Taylor. “I don’t mind mixing other stuff in, but [tables] do tend to look a little bare without flowers,” she says. She recommends mixing high and low arrangements throughout the room for dimension and visual balance but has a rule on exactly how high and how those high and low arrangements can be. “Centerpieces need to be below the chin or above heads,” she explains. “Otherwise, they don’t make sense for a social event where people want to talk.”
Want to save money on tabletop décor by swapping large centerpieces for smaller bud vases? Make them look purposefully minimalist with flowers that look amazing alone, such as orchids, anemones, and certain lilies.
When it comes to taking table décor to the next level, Taylor is all about personalization: personalized cheese plates at every seat, chargers laser-cut with guest names, or, for a less expensive option, menus with guests’ names written at the top.
Table Décor Checklist:
- Table linens
- Place cards (use these if guests will have assigned seats at their tables)
- Drinkware (water goblets, wine glasses, etc.)
- Dishware and chargers
- Dinner menus
- Table numbers
- Chair décor for the marrying couple