How to Design Your Wedding From Top to Bottom

Personal details win over Pinterest trends every time.

wedding reception

Photo by KT Merry, Planning by The Lynden Lane Co., Floral Design by Oak and the Owl

Linens, flowers, stationery, escort cards … with so many details going into the overall look of your wedding day, it’s easy to get overwhelmed—and, sometimes, to even figure out where to begin. The good news? It’ll all be worth it in the end. 

“Making your event more personal makes it more memorable,” says event designer Laura Ritchie. “And the minute moments of discovery during the planning process will become part of a grander story of who you are.” 

Meet the Expert

Laura Ritchie is the founder and lead planner of Washington, D.C. event design firm Grit & Grace. Grit & Grace has been named a top event planning outfit by Martha Stewart Weddings and Washingtonian Weddings magazine. 

More good news: If you’re thoughtful, deliberate, and organized while seeking out and whittling down inspiration, the wedding design process will be significantly easier to manage. Read on for Ritchie’s expert tips for moving through the experience from start to finish—and a few of the design trends she’s most excited about right now. 

Where to Begin 

If you’re someone who hasn’t kept a secret Pinterest board of wedding inspo—and hey, no shame either way—it can be tempting to open up the app, see what’s trending, and let that guide your initial choices. Ritchie, however, advocates for a more inward-focused approach in these beginning stages. 

“It’s important that the event actually feels like the couple,” she says. “Where you shop, what you like to do, and what you participate in are all great jumping-off points.” 

Take inventory of your closet—do you wear a lot of florals, stripes, or bright hues? Those could all lead to color palettes or design motifs. Another question to ask yourselves: What joint hobbies or date night traditions do you have? Maybe you love playing tennis together or go out for gelato every Friday night. These small details of your love story also make great fodder for your overall wedding experience. (Think: a tournament-bracket seating chart; a surprise ice cream cart as a late-night snack.) 

Sentimental components of your family histories can also be an excellent place to begin. If you’ve always loved your mother’s blue and white china, why not make toile the dominant pattern of the day? Or perhaps your fiancé(e)’s late father loved to sail—what better way to honor his memory than with a nautical theme and on-the-water venue? 

Wherever you begin, make sure the inspiration point is uniquely yours. That way, when your big day finally arrives, your guests are guaranteed to say “that’s so them.” 

How to Find—and Refine—Your Inspiration 

Even as recently as ten years ago, the options for wedding design inspiration were significantly more limited. You might tear out and save pages from a wedding magazine, or mentally tuck away details from celebrations you attended IRL. These days, however, ideas are absolutely everywhere—particularly on Pinterest and Instagram. That can be both a good and a bad thing. 

“Social media can be overwhelming,” says Ritchie. “You can objectively say you like everything, but what do you like for you?” That’s why she recommends a more edited, intentional approach to these apps. Instead of saving everything from bouquets to “ab workouts for brides” in one catch-all place, Ritchie suggests creating separate folders or boards for different categories.

Save everything and anything you like at first, but when it comes time to meet with your vendors, whittle down to five or seven photos that best represent your vision in that category. “That way, it’s not just a stream of consciousness of random things, but a more curated peek into the exact kind of tablescapes you like, or the arch you want for a ceremony,” Ritchie explains. 

As you pin, leave comments on each photo about what specifically attracted you to the shot. This will help ensure your vendors incorporate the correct parts of your inspiration into your wedding design.

Another good thing to know: generic wedding style terms, such as “glam,” “boho” or “preppy,” mean lots of different things to lots of different people, so when you type them into a search bar, you’re going to get lots of different results. Instead of wasting time wading through irrelevant options on Pinterest, click into an image that catches your eye, and then scroll down to explore the “More like this” photo options—they’ll likely be much closer to what you’re after. 

Tips for Designing Your Wedding 

Be smart about your venue. 

The spaces where you hold your ceremony and reception will have the greatest influence on your wedding design. Not only will they impact the overall vibe—a romantic, all-white wedding, for example, just won’t work in a modern hotel ballroom with a colorfully patterned carpet—they’ll also dictate what parts of your Pinterest wedding vision you can—and can't—bring to life. (i.e. those confetti cannons you wanted to use at midnight during your New Year’s Eve wedding, which could be against venue policy.)

“Choosing a venue that works for you aesthetically, that matches your budget, and will carry your theme and design through without having to cover the whole thing up in drapes is super important,” says Ritchie. “You don’t want to be ‘venue-poor’ and not have money left over for other things.”  

All that to say: choose a venue where you feel comfortable leaning into the style, and you’ll find it significantly easier to incorporate your inspiration. Or: Let your venue guide the way! Find a place that meets your location, size, and budget requirements, then start gathering inspiration with the look and feel of the space in mind.

Hire a professional. 

“You can absolutely go to Target and decorate your home with everything off the shelf,” muses Ritchie. “Would it look more thoughtful and refined if you hired a professional interior designer? Sure.” 

She’s not wrong. If you have the budget, bringing in an event planner and/or designer—someone who spends their professional life sweating the small details and knows what’s actually available in your area and on your budget—is the best way to bring your wedding design dreams to life. 

“Having a planner also gives you the breathing room to enjoy the process, because they provide the structure of what needs to be done when,” Ritchie adds. With their help, you’ll have someone else worrying about staying on task and on deadline—which means you can devote your energy to the more “fun” activities, such as selecting cocktail hour apps or stationery.

Rethink what you know about color palettes. 

One of the most common questions you’ll be asked after getting engaged—right after “Can I see the ring!?”—is “What are your wedding colors?” While weddings circa the early 2000s and 2010s had tight, specific color palettes (navy and fuschia, yellow and gray), palettes these days are much less confined. “You’re not picking colors, but a spectrum of tones,” says Ritchie. “That gives people the liberty to feel like there are lots of choices at their fingertips.” 

It also allows for more flexibility—which is clutch as spending starts to rise. If you’re open to a wide range of shades from the beginning, it’ll be easier to compromise on elements as your budget requires.

Rely on your vendors. 

Floral designers, rental companies, stationers … they’re called wedding “professionals” for a reason, and a large part of that reason is their ability to create something unique and special for each of their clients. So, once you’ve shared your inspo photos and discussed the specifics of what you love in each, trust your vendors to do their job—and know that means they likely won’t be creating a perfect carbon copy of the pictures you provided.  

“Your wedding is not going to be found in someone else’s,” Ritchie says. And by giving over a bit of control to the vendors who are just as invested in creating something beautiful as you, you’ll likely find something even better. 

Invest in elements that serve multiple purposes. 

The “wow” moments of your wedding design should either be things that guests will directly interact with (the escort card display) or spend a good amount of time surrounded by (their dinner table setting). Items that make only brief appearances (bridesmaid bouquets) don’t need to be lavished with as much attention—or money.

Think like a magazine editor. 

A “well-designed” wedding is a “cohesive” wedding. Meaning: From start to finish, all the elements feel like they are part of the same day. That’s achieved in two ways:

  1. Repeat certain motifs. Maybe the font on the invitation also shows up in the dinner menu, or the pampas grass surrounding the base of your ceremony arch also features prominently in the floating installation above your head table. For an overall connected look, pick a few elements and weave them into multiple points of your wedding. 
  2. Edit, edit, edit. When designing, Ritchie often thinks of a wedding in a highlight reel. “If you had only 20 photos to show, what are the elements that say ‘this is the whole wedding?’” she says. “That way, you’re not going to go completely crazy in between, and you’re also not going to miss the opportunity to jazz up something important.”

At the same time, if a detail you love feels completely out of step with the rest of the set—like, say a pour-your-own beer tap wall at a Parisian-inspired wedding—this editing process will help amplify its otherness—and ultimately make the decision to cut it a little easier.

Current Wedding Design Trends 

Right now, Ritchie is all about monochromatic looks—bold precisely because of their simplicity. “Doing a wedding in one color would be really cool,” she says. “Imagine all black.” She’s also a fan of incorporating risk-taking shades that aren’t as commonly used. “Chartreuse and melon are especially appealing to me right now,” she adds. “After such a difficult year, I think people are looking for happiness and joy. You can find that in an interesting and unique color palette.” 

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