1. To get a lavish look on a modest décor budget, choose a venue with a lot of character of its own. Some possibilities: an aquarium, zoo, museum, gallery, botanical garden or historical site.
2. Rent a vacation home or private estate for a small, intimate affair. “They may charge a week’s worth in rent but it may still be equal to or less than renting a traditional reception venue,” says Maryrose Griffith of Maryrose Griffith Event Design and Coordination in San Diego, California.
3. Choose a theme or motif and carry it through the event for a stylish look, says Chelsie Zachman, owner of événements, an event-planning company in Fort Worth, Texas. For example, start with a pattern on your invitation, perhaps elegant scrollwork, and incorporate it into other elements like programs, favors, escort cards or even gobo lights for the dance floor.
4. Use color to posh effect, says Griffith. Using a rich hue such as chocolate brown or deep eggplant can give any color palette a stylish look without costing you any extra green stuff. They work with a variety of shades like apple green, light blue, orange, pink or red.
5. Have a cocktail reception, but be cost-conscious by focusing on a beautiful display rather than tons and tons of food. “Butlers in tuxedos passing trays of a few kinds of stylish hors d’oeuvres seems more high-end than chafing dishes on a buffet table, but the cost is roughly the same,” says Zachman.
6. Ask your venue’s wait staff to don white gloves while they’re serving. “You can buy gloves for just 50 cents a pair,” says Samantha Goldberg of Gold Events in Chester, New Jersey.
7. Attach a small bouquet or floral garland to the backs of the bride’s and groom’s chairs to give them a special look.
8. Change up your chairs. Try white suede for the lead table and regular white chairs for the rest of the guests.
9. Standard banquet chairs. In: Elegant chiavari chairs (see photo, lower left) at $9 each to rent, or chameleon chairs at about $10 each to rent.
10. Invest in a little lighting—for a huge impact. Get a wash of color on walls with uplights, suggests Griffith. “Even two or three lights accentuating a focal point will change the feel of the room,” she says. Costs for the light rentals would run from $12 to $35 each, including color gels.
11. Another bright idea: Use pin spot lights, at $25 to $50 each, to give extra presence to your tables.
12. Griffith likes to splurge on well-placed plush lounge furniture. “Lounge furniture is more affordable than you might think,” she says. “A set of curved benches, for example, might run you about $400. And your guests will feel spoiled!”
13. Order custom window clings (perfect for personalizing glass doors at your venue) or glassware monograms at websites like wonderfulgraffitiwedding.com. Prices for the clings start at $24, depending on size; for glassware, $24 for a set of 50.
14. Wrought-iron trees, available at stores like Pier 1, for $25 to $30, make a chic backdrop. Take them up a notch by hanging votives or glittering ornaments from the branches.
15. Use natural elements with earthy, upscale appeal. Goldberg suggests filling a two- to three-foot-high vase with a base of river rocks and adding dramatic branches of curly willow. Place these arrangements at the entrance to your cocktail hour and/or reception.