Sometimes you can search high and low for that magical perfect wedding venue, scouring the land for the right ambience, decor, size and, crucially, budget. It’s not easy. Sometimes you can’t find it, sometimes you find it and practicalities get in the way, and sometimes it just doesn’t exist. Your wedding is all about you and naturally you want somewhere that reflects you and your personalities, but what do you do if the only practical option is to choose somewhere that isn’t perfect, that isn’t really you? The answer’s simple – make it your own.
As many of our regular readers will know, as well as being a blogger and videographer I’ve spent most of my life working behind the scenes in theatres and events as a lighting and sound designer and technician. Along the way I’ve spent a lot of my time transforming boring empty spaces into something extraordinary. Now I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the best in the business, but transforming a space doesn’t have to be that complicated or indeed that expensive. All you really need is a little creativity… oh, and some willing volunteers!
For tips on what to look out for when choosing how best to transform a venue you can check out this previous article, but for the purposes of this particular post I’m going to use our own wedding as an example. You see although we’d chosen a beautiful foreign land to get married in and an absolutely astonishing church, when it came to choosing our reception venue we were rather limited. Our only real practical option was an Italian restaurant near to where everyone was staying and, although we loved the food and it was a nice place to have a family meal out (in fact one of our favourite places to go), it was far from what we imagined our wedding venue would be like.
The room was incredibly blue with dated decor and a bit of a nautical theme. The lighting was brash, the natural light was being blocked by some to be honest pretty hideous curtains, large pillars dominated the room and it all just felt a bit lifeless and not in the least bit “weddingy” Fortunately we could see some potential in what at first appeared an unsuitable venue and, although there’s definitely even more we could have done (and the fact there was a slight miscommunication on the tablecloths!), considering we were getting married abroad with limited resources we were pretty pleased with the results! In fact so much so that when Dom saw it for the first time she forgot all the guests were waiting for her to sit because she got so excited looking at it all! Here’s what we did:
- Our main problem was that everything was so incredibly blue and we needed to break that up. Our solution was simple: we’re on a fun, tropical Island, let’s go for a bright colourful theme! Our use of lots and lots of colour was key in brightening up the room and taking everyone away from the usual decor.
- We spoke to the owners and gained permission to access the restaurant the night before. I appreciate this isn’t possible for every venue, but it’s always worth asking – you’d be surprised how accommodating people can be!
- We enlisted our friends to help us out!! If you are going to try and transform a space make sure you have others there to help. It can be entirely your vision if you want but when there’s a lot to do and it’s the night before your wedding you DEFINITELY need extra pairs of hands. We were fortunate enough to have incredible friends who happened to be extremely talented at this kind of thing, but if you plan it carefully and brief people beforehand sometimes a willing volunteer is just as valuable as an experienced professional.
So that’s the prep out of the way but what did we physically do?
- We took down the hideous curtains! Immediately more natural light streamed into the room and I came up with a cunning plan to make them look better and inject that all important colour back into the room. We went out to a local haberdashery and bought a mix of brightly coloured tulle fabric (the stuff they make underskirts from…apparently!). Why tulle? Because (A) it lets light through perfectly, (B) because it has no real density even the brightest of colours don’t become overbearing, and, most importantly (C) it was the cheapest material in the shop!! We bought coloured ribbons to tie around it, safety pinned it to the existing rail and voila, the outside of the room was transformed for a total cost of less than £100. They may not last too long, but then it’s only for one night! Smoke and mirrors people, smoke and mirrors! (By the way, draping the same type of material in swags from the ceiling is also an incredibly effective way of transforming a room!
- We put up bunting… lots of bunting!! Again this was all multi coloured and we actually mixed up two different types: Our friend Danielle did an incredible job making cardboard bunting which we hung between all the pillars as the main feature, and then around tables and places where cardboard was too stiff we used fabric bunting. We’d tried to buy fabric bunting in several places and found it really expensive for the lengths we needed, so we spoke to a local handcrafted gift store who said they could make it cheaper for us using a slightly rougher cut and just offcuts of material. For us it looked absolutely perfect and cost far less than it would have just buying normally from a shop.
- We used photos… man we love photos! As well as the bunting we thought it would be cool to incorporate our love of photos into the decoration, so we got together a hundred or so photos of ourselves, our families and the friends that were in attendance and we printed them out (total cost less than £40). We then bought some clothes pegs and string (all multicoloured, obviously!) and hung them like extra bunting around the room. They looked great, got lots of interest from all the guests and we also brought an old polaroid camera and took pictures on it through the day which were gradually added to our collection of memories. It also meant afterwards we had an entire extra album just of polaroids!
- We bought lots of multi-coloured glassware, candle holders and basically any brightly coloured objects we could find (including some cool watering cans for flowers) to dress the tables and outside of the room. The glassware was filled with either candles or volcanic sand from the beach to tie in with the local area. We bought it all from a big warehouse outlet where everything was incredibly cheap and got everything we needed for less than what you’d normally pay for some seat covers. Again the bright multi-coloured theme helped here in that we didn’t need particularly high quality items to get the look we wanted.
- We used candles to bring down the lighting in the room and add some ambience for the evening. The lighting was far too bright to create an atmosphere but with enough candles you can make it look absolutely beautiful. We also bought some outdoor lanterns to try to make the small outdoor area an extension of the space.
- We used flowers to add more vibrancy to the room. We didn’t go for huge elaborate bouquets but mainly lots of different coloured chrysanthemums instead. These were cheaper than a lot of flowers and placed in their rustic watering can vases looked great! Rather than just stick to one centre piece we had a couple of extra vases on each table as well with just a few flowers in each to complete the look.
- We got lots of balloons, hanging from the ceiling or weighted to the ground. These again distracted from the normal look of the room and just finished the effect. We also had a balloon arch as the only real extravagance, but it made a great feature and a nice way to enter the room rather than just through a boring restaurant doorway. I’ll be honest, the balloons were the one thing we thought might just look tacky, but once they were in place we actually loved them!
- We used left over cloth and ribbon from the curtains to create table runners. This just helped to tie the whole room together and draw the eye further to what we wanted our guests to see rather than the less well disguised bits!
- We rearranged the tables to create a clear dining area and more of a “chillout area” further away from where the band would eventually play. We tried to make it as intimate as possible, and the dining area later had the tables cleared to become the dancefloor.
- We added minor finishing touches! As we happened to have lighting technicians present we were able to get a little festoon lighting outside, our amazing friend Danielle did some magic on the tables with place-cards, favours and confetti and we simply used whatever was available to us as creatively as we could.
None of what we did was particularly complicated or overly expensive and, thanks to the help of our incredible friends without whom we could never have got it all done, we really did transform the room quite spectacularly. I had deliberately banned Dom from being involved in the prep or seeing it at all before the reception, and the look on her face when she came in and saw what we had done was worth every bit of effort we went to! It was far more special than if we’d just had our reception at a pretty venue which didn’t require any work, and we were able to keep the decorations as keepsakes and decorate our own house with them afterwards! Although not before we re-used everything the following night with a barbecue at our apartment for all the guests!
So if you can’t find the venue of your dreams don’t despair. If you can look at it with a creative eye and you’re willing to put in the effort, a stunning, tailor-made venue awaits you wherever you need to be.
All images by Ed Peers Photography