It never ceases to amaze me how much a boring, empty room can be transformed into something spectacular by a few simple tricks. There are lots of ways to do this depending on the type of style you are trying to achieve and the limitations of your budget.
However, if you are looking to achieve a total transformation here are a few tips of what to look out for when you’re first looking at the room and wondering what to do with it….
- Electricity. As a lighting designer this is always something that causes me huge problems. Lighting really can absolutely transform a room and with the technology that’s out there now there’s no end of things you can do. I’ve been asked so many times to light a room for a wedding or event but no-one ever thinks about whether there is enough power available to actually do it! Most theatrical style lights draw around 4amps. This means you can only really safely plug three of them into a standard UK wall socket. To light a stage for a theatrical production I will usually use a minimum of 50 lights so you get the idea of why lack of power might be a problem! There are ways around this – LED lights use hardly any power and offer you lots of colour changing options and are massively flexible…the only trouble is this means they’re about 5 times the price of hiring a more conventional lighting fixture. On your scouting mission ask the venue staff whether they have a 3-phase power supply available. You don’t have to understand what this means, just write down what they say! If they have one it will probably be 32amp or 63amp – pass this on to your supplier! Better yet ask the lighting designer to come with you – they will know what they’re looking for and will normally offer a free no-obligation quote. If you’re looking at marquees you will probably need your own portable power generator and these can be expensive, particularly as they consume diesel fuel.
- Cabling. On a similar theme do bear in mind that most electrical items are not battery powered and do require some form of cabling to get power or a control signal to them. Cabling across the floor is a big trip hazard and can look incredibly ugly so think carefully about how to place things.
- Candles and fairy-lights. If you want to create a more intimate, romantic space think about bringing the ambient light of the room down. Lighting the space with candles and strings of fairy-lights can give a beautiful effect and is a cheap and easy alternative to more elaborate lighting systems. Another useful thing to check is whether the lighting in the room is dimmable or whether certain lights can be switched off – particularly over the dance-floor as people tend to feel self-conscious dancing away whilst brightly lit.
- Hanging positions. If you’re thinking about hanging bunting, fabrics or anything else in the room think about how you would hang them. It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised by how many people ask for things to be hung from what events technicians term “sky hooks”. These are invisible hooks that float magically in the sky in that perfect position and inevitably exist only in the minds of the client. If you’re hiring a company to do this for you then again get them to come with you and have a look as they may have ways of doing things you wouldn’t necessarily think of.
- Sound & Music. If you don’t know much about sound find someone who does! The dancing is usually the big finale to the night and the chance for everyone to cut loose and let their hair down and getting the music right is a huge part of that. Think about your guests and work out what type of music is going to get them up on the dance-floor. Also make sure the sound system you’re using is sufficient for the size of the room and for what you want it to do. I was recently at a wedding where the venue insisted upon using their own sound system which consisted of one very cheap speaker in a room where I would have used six plus at least two additional subwoofers to pump out some bass (needless to say it sounded terrible with a crackling speaker being pushed beyond it’s limits for the entire evening). For many applications having lots of speakers would be overkill and is often just a DJ trying to show off with the size of their system. However sometimes it really is necessary and a decent sound engineer will ensure the speakers are positioned to give you adequate coverage of the whole room. This is particularly important if you plan on amplifying the speeches as voices do not carry as well as bassy music does, particularly when the mic is in the hands of a shy groom or best man! Again there are a lot of good sound companies that hire P.A. (Public Address) systems out and will come and look at the room and provide a free quote to suit your budget. Of course many DJ’s and live bands will bring their own system and should be able to tell you if they will need anything additional to be hired.
- Fabric. Using swags of cloth or full drapes can completely change the look of a room. This could be a huge star-cloth surrounding the room (a black cloth with small LED or fibre-optic lights interwoven inside), a few subtle curtain-like drapes or even just ribbon tied around the chairs. Artistic use of drapes can change horrific wallpaper into beautiful finery, particularly if carefully lit.
- Tables. Do remember to check that the venue can actually provide enough tables and chairs for your needs and that this number of tables will fit in the space without looking too crowded. Again a seemingly obvious point but forgotten surprisingly often! Tables and chairs can be hired fairly cheaply from specialist companies but this is an additional cost to think about. As a rough guide a standard round table available from most suppliers seats 8-10 people. Also don’t forget that tables can be moved in order to make space for the dance-floor later on!
- Tablecloths. A decent looking tablecloth can make a huge difference to the way the room looks. Don’t assume the cloths that you see on your visit will be available for your wedding, but also don’t assume they are the only ones you can choose. Also think about the way you present the cloths. Hotel and restaurant staff usually use a specific way of folding the tablecloth to make it look neat and pristine – if you’re planning on decorating yourself you can learn how to do this online here.
- Travel. How are your guests going to get to and from the venue? Guests tend to enjoy a drink at a wedding and not everyone has cars so if you’re planning on holding your reception in a remote location bear in mind that you may feel obligated to transport the guests to and fro. Though everyone travelling together can be great fun this does leave you on a strict schedule and incurs additional cost. If you are expecting your guests to travel by car is there sufficient parking nearby?
- Scheduling. When can you get in to decorate the venue? Getting the look you want takes time. Check when the venue will allow you in and think about who is actually going to do it and how everything’s going to get there. The last thing you want is to be staying up all night decorating the night before your wedding so if, for example, a hotel can only let you in the night before after their dinner service is complete you may need to think about how much you can realistically achieve in that time. If your venue has it’s own wedding co-ordinator make sure you give them as much information as you possibly can so that they can ensure everything is arranged for you well in advance so you can sit back and enjoy your big day.
We’re not saying choose your venue purely on practical grounds; a bit of creative thinking can find a way around most problems, and if you fall in love with a venue then just go for it! But if you bear these simple things in mind you can avoid disappointment when someone tells you that that huge Chandelier you simply adore can’t actually be hung from a coat-hook in the sky when it weighs over a tonne! And, though it’s great fun to “do it yourself”, if in doubt call in the professionals, they’re professional for a reason!