how to decorate your wedding venue

With so many wedding magazines and blogs out there these days, it's easy to find images of weddings that make you swoon. But if you've been out shopping for your own wedding venue, then you've seen for yourself how different some of those gorgeous spaces look undecorated. Even the most beautiful of rooms starts out as a blank canvas for you to paint with your very own wedding goodness. That's cool and exciting and all, but it's also a really big job! How do you do it? How do you even get started?

When we go to evaluate a space, we take note of good features and bad, then use those as our starting point for developing a design plan. The goal is to maximize the good and minimize the bad (I know, rocket science, right?).

The Good

So, what are some examples of "good" features and what do we like to do with them? Obviously there are more possibilities than we could possibly list, but here are a few examples we love to see:

STAIRCASES AND BALCONIES

Photo and garland by Holly Heider Chapple Flowers

Photo and garland by Holly Heider Chapple Flowers

A gorgeous staircase or balcony can often speak for itself. If you want to do something to accentuate it then have your floral designer create a length of green or floral garland for the railing, or hang small wreaths or swags from the newel post and some of the balusters. If you have a staircase with steps that are open all the way to the edge, then put an LED votive on each step to softly illuminate the staircase. Staircases and balconies are among my favorite things because they draw the eye up, adding another dimension to your space.

INTERESTING MOULDINGS

If you're lucky enough to have beautiful mouldings in your space -- you're more likely to find this in historic spaces than in modern ones -- then rejoice! Gorgeous woodwork is like fine jewelry for a room. If you want to highlight it, then talk with your lighting designer about the placement of uplights and spots in your space.

FIREPLACES

Photo by ilbusca/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by ilbusca/iStock / Getty Images

A fireplace can be a spectacular focal point in a room, even in the warmer months. I don't recommend actually putting a fire in one unless the firebox is placed well back from the room's traffic areas, or is behind glass. Open flame at ground level plus swirling skirts on party guests can quickly equal a very bad scene. Instead, consider placing an eyecatching plant or floral arrangement in the firebox, or fill it with a collection of LED pillar candles on pretty candlesticks.

ARCHES AND OTHER UNUSUAL DOORWAYS

There's not often much you can do to decorate a doorway, but then, there's not often a need either. A distinctive doorway is interesting on its own as a frame to another room. But do remember to think of it as just that: a frame. Take the time to evaluate how your guests (and your photographer!) will see the space through that frame. If you can, place things in the room beyond so that they're accentuated by the doorway. If the doorway is one that can be blocked without detriment to your traffic flow -- say, if it's one of several going into or out of a room along one wall -- you might even consider doing something like centering your cake table within the doorway.

WINDOWS

Windows are so fabulous: They let in gorgeous natural light during the day and offer views of the grounds outside the space, which hopefully are pretty to look at. When night falls, they glitter as they reflect the light of your party. I'm particularly fond of divided light windows, but large panes of glass in modern rooms are equally beautiful. Windows with deep sills are a wonderful place for low, spreading flower arrangements or groupings of LED candles.

SPECTACULAR LIGHTING

Does your room have a stunning chandelier? Awesome! All you'll really need to do with it, of course, is turn on the lights and watch it sparkle. If your chandelier is suspended from the ceiling (not flush with it) and you want to amp this feature up a bit, then talk with your venue manager and your floral designer about the possibility of attaching decor to the chandelier itself.

The Bad

Even the most beautiful of spaces can have some features that could use a little camouflage, and let's face it, some rooms are just downright ugly. So what do you do if your room needs some polish? One of the best strategies is to downplay the bad elements by accentuating something good, or, if necessary, creating a pretty focal point of your own. Pin spotting your tables or projecting a gobo will distract from the bad by dramatically highlighting the good. 
Beyond that, here are some ways to help hide the stuff you don't like:

UGLY WALLS

Photo by Spence Photographics Silly Station Photobooth

Photo by Spence Photographics Silly Station Photobooth

Whether it's walls made of cinderblock or a long expanse of accordion divider, ugly walls are no fun. They're also not that difficult to hide, though. Pipe and drape can do wonders. Add some uplighting and you'll be surprised how different your room looks! If you're just dealing with a small section of ugly wall, then you can try creating your own decor with hanging streamers, ribbons, or even flowers strung on monofilament. Or just park your photobooth in front of it! Once the backdrop's up, nobody will be any the wiser.

TOO LITTLE LIGHT

You probably don't want your party to be brightly lit, but you don't want to feel like you're celebrating in a cave either. If your room is too dark, then definitely consider bringing in a lighting designer. In addition to creative touches like colored uplighting or pin spotting, they may be able to brighten up the space to make it more attractive and practical overall. Or talk with your event rentals company about including battery operated lamps in your decor -- they can even look beautiful on guest tables!

DROP CEILINGS

Photo by eli77/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by eli77/iStock / Getty Images

Drop ceilings aren't that big a deal if they're black or another dark color, but when they're white, they're an eyesore. Consider having them draped in soft, pretty fabric. Also, talk with your lighting designer about creative ways to draw attention to something other than the ceiling.

UGLY FLOORING

Even in the loveliest of ballrooms, the wrong carpeting can be a problem. It doesn't even have to be ugly: if the colors are strong and clash with your chosen color palette, then you might have a problem. The good news is that once you dim the lights in the room, the carpet recedes and doesn't clash as much as you think it will. Also, remember that once your room is full of tables, chairs, and people, you and your guests won't see nearly as much of that carpeting as you do when the room is empty. If it's still a problem, then consider using neutral table linens (because they'll be right next to the carpet), then expand your color palette as you move up and away from the floor. You might also bring in a fun dance floor to draw your guests' eyes away from the rest of the flooring. If the carpeting's really going to bug you, then you might just need to find a different venue.

I hope this helps you start thinking of creative ways to make the most of your venue space, whether it's a gem on it's own or more of a diamond in the rough. Still stumped? Talk with your wedding planner about your concerns. Not working with a wedding planner? Consider hiring one on an hourly basis to consult with you about your venue design, or ask if your floral designer or rental company offers this service.