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When it comes to wedding-day décor, trust your gut and speak your mind — so your designer can create a look that’s uniquely you.
by Neil Leeson
It’s sometimes easier to commit to your fiancé than it is to commit to your wedding-day décor.
As the owner of Neil Leeson Decor Floral and Be Seated, I know just how difficult that commitment can be because I’ve spent the last 15 years designing flowers, linens, lighting, furniture and every other type of décor for weddings and events. I’ve met with hundreds of brides, and I’ve worked with just as many different personalities, styles and budgets. And while many brides-to-be come in with a very clear vision of what look they’d like for their wedding, just as many come in feeling unsure of exactly what they want.
What they do know, however, is that they want a beautiful, memorable wedding.
If you’re one of those brides who just isn’t quite sure, I’d like to share some of my design experience, which will hopefully give you more confidence when making décor decisions about your big day.
Trust Your Instincts
First and foremost: Trust your gut. I often say that deciding on a wedding décor is a double-edged sword: On one hand, you have all these possibilities. On the other hand, you have all these possibilities. It can sometimes be difficult to figure out where to even start. But let me assure you. As long as the final design reflects your and your fiancé’s taste and personalities, you’ve achieved your goal.
Several years ago I worked with a bride who absolutely hated pink. Hated it. But for some reason (which neither of us ever understood), she couldn’t stop dreaming of an all-pink wedding. No other color combination made her face light up like a pink-on-pink wedding. So we went with pink — and she absolutely loved it.
A little advice: Before heading into that initial consultation, write down:
• a list of adjectives, no matter how random, that describe the “feel” you’d like for your wedding and reception
• a list of colors that you love and hate
• a quick list of words describing who you are and what you’re about
A wedding is a very personal experience, and a good designer will be able to help you translate these words into a 3-dimensional design. If you’re torn between two ideas, go with your gut — or do both. The important thing is to have no regrets later.
You’re not as clueless as you might think you are! Just because you’re not expert on flowers, the color wheel or how to turn a blank room into a showplace, it doesn’t mean you don’t have an opinion. You really only need to know what you like and what you don’t regarding color, shape, style, etc.
Also, don’t be afraid to tell your designer what you honestly think of any suggestion he makes. And what you don’t like is just as important as what you do. This honesty will give him the parameters he needs and will help him guide you toward the floral and décor items that will best reflect the look you want.
Mix It Up
Chances are, if you pick things you love, your guests will love it all, too.
Most of us have many different interests and many styles that we love, and some of the best looks come from mixing together two styles that are complete opposites or two styles that are more closely related — depending on how much impact you want for the finished look.
The secret is to trust your designer to pull the elements that work best together into the design. For example, I once designed a wedding for a bride who loved the vintage look of the ‘30s and ‘40s and the super-sleek look of Miami nightclubs — so we developed a “Great Gatsby Meets South Beach” theme, complete with white leather sofas, ostrich plumes and mirrored tabletops.
Also, the more elements you mix and match within a common concept, the better. Instead of just tall or low centerpieces, try three or four different styles of centerpieces. Instead of every table being round, throw in some squares and rectangles. You’ll be amazed how it changes the look of the room.
Linens are another area where you can mix and match a bit. For example, choose three different pale pink linens that each have a different texture or tone-on-tone pattern, but have the same silver napkin to provide continuity. Mixing and matching like this lets you have your cake and eat it, too (pun intended) by allowing you to incorporate more of the looks you like into the final design.
Pick a Palette
It used to be that you picked out your bridesmaid gowns — and that was the color that would dominate everything else, from flowers to invitations to napkin color. But this can be extremely limiting, considering there may be no flowers in nature in Tiffany Blue or the exact shade of Celery that you’ve chosen.
While your bridesmaid bouquets should certainly match the dresses, remember that A) Your bridesmaids’ gowns are only a few in a sea of a couple hundred at the reception, so everything in the room doesn’t need to be the same color as they are, and B) “Match” doesn’t always mean “exactly the same color as.”
Instead, if you work within an entire palette of colors that you like, you’ll get a more impactful look — enabling you to create a much more interesting room. When in doubt, a fool-proof formula is: one or two main colors, an accent color or two, and a metallic (silver, gold, etc.). Remember that with flowers, blue and green are neutrals just as much as black or white or silver. Every flower has a green stem, and every flower looks great against a blue sky.
Create Focal Points
Designing a room that’s exciting and impressive doesn’t always mean you have to use every flower grown in Holland. A perfect way to create impact in a room is to incorporate one or more focal points.
A common focal point is the head table. Here, you can create some drama, be it through a fabric backdrop or dramatic lighting or by using an unusual centerpiece or a tablescape.
Another way to achieve this is by doing, say, two (or more) very large, very tall centerpieces, one on each side of the room. These are the first thing your eye will go to upon entering the room, and they act as visual anchors for the rest of the decor. It’s also a great way to get a lot of bang for your buck, since by doing this, you can now simplify the rest of the centerpieces.
Have a Seat
Both chair covers and chiavari chairs come in a variety of colors, but sometimes one is a better choice than the other — depending on the overall style of the event.
Chair covers come in three main styles: basic fitted poly/cotton; self-tie satin, which is fitted at the top with puddled fabric at the bottom and great for soft, feminine, classic looks; and spandex, which is tightly fitted with a slight sheen and is used to give a clean, modern feel. You can also mix and match a chair cover and a linen — for example, using a spandex chair cover with a classic linen to put a modern edge on a more traditional design.
Chiavari chairs provide a rich, timeless look, work well for anything very formal and clean, and can be customized using a chair sash or a colored seat cushion. They’re very versatile, and work well in both classic and modern designs.
Linens & Lighting
Linens are, along with lighting, the background color for all the flowers and table settings. When choosing tablecloths, floor-length is best, and the napkin color should contrast yet complement them. I always start with the tablecloth color and build from there, picking flower and napkin colors that will “pop” or blend, depending on the desired effect we want to achieve.
I choose the lighting color last to assure that the linen and flower colors jump forward visually. But just because I choose it last doesn’t mean it’s not important.
Lighting has become very big in weddings over the past several years and is something that can take a room from great to amazing. Think of the difference it makes in the mood in your own home when you simply turn a dimmer switch.
Lighting design can transform and personalize a room that’s basic and “usual” into a room that’s alive and unique. I’ve used lighting to transform average ballrooms into sleek nightclubs and to enhance some really incredible classic architecture.
A typical lighting design usually consists of spotlights washing the walls in color; smaller white spotlights (pinspots), often on dimmers, highlighting the centerpieces and cake; a wash of light on the dance floor, band/DJ and head table; and, sometimes, a monogram on a wall or dance floor and/or a pattern on the ceiling or the walls, called a gobo.
Any color can be used on the walls, but when choosing colors that will cast onto people, be sure to use shades of light pink, amber or pale chocolate, all of which flatter skin tone. Use blue or green only if you want your guests to look seasick.
Another great way to add a cool design element to your day is to create a lounge area or two within your cocktail hour or reception space. This can be created by renting modern leather furniture for your guests to hang out in before or after dinner and by adding a custom bar and/or some hi-top tables nearby. They’re great for conversation and add a real custom flair to the overall look of the event. Lounges also look great and work well near the dance floor, giving it a real “nightclub” feel once the dancing begins.
/ Neil Leeson has been designing weddings and events for the past 15 years. With a background in fine art, his unique creations range from classic with a twist to sleek and modern to wild and over-the-top. Leeson has been featured in local and national publications and on television, and continues to pursue moving his Akron-based design company into the national spotlight.
E-mail them to editor Georgina K. Carson at firstname.lastname@example.org.