Wedding setting
Photography by Karolyn VanWingerden. Design by Karla DeLong Weddings. Flowers by Blushing Blooms.

Wedding setting: A magical makeover for your venue

High impact (and low cost) ways to make an ordinary space extraordinary

Story by Mara Severin

A beach at sunset, a banquet hall, a public park, or your own backyard: There’s no wrong location for a wedding. But whatever site you’ve chosen, it may need a little magic to help transform it into a dazzling wedding wonderland. Amazingly, a few carefully chosen touches can really put some sizzle in that space. Read on for some of our favorite reception decorating ideas from Alaska’s wedding experts.

Think pink… or purple… or blue… or zebra

A large, empty space can be intimidating to decorate, says Connie Tracy of Designing Divas.

The simplest and most effective place to start, she says, is with color. “A bold and unique color scheme can create a fabulous look,” recalling a recent restaurant wedding that was a riot of pink: Pink flowers, pink linens, pink bridesmaids, pink favors, pink accents. It was a simple scheme, she says, but it transformed the room and made the event beautiful and memorable.

Another of Connie’s brides used zebra print accents throughout her reception hall – the unexpected and powerful pattern gave cohesion and impact to the space and was also a personal touch for the bride who wanted to evoke memories of time spent time in Africa.

Feathers, flowers, and fishing line

For a look that is dazzling and dramatic, you should play with a variety of décor elements, says Connie. Flowers can be just one element of the overall look. “Consider staggering large and small arrangements to create depth,” she says, pointing out that this also keeps costs down. Then add floating candles, LED lights and “bling” – cut crystals, rhinestones, pearls and beads – which, when scattered on the tables, “add a lot of sparkle to the room.”

Wedding setting
Photo by Carrie Lambing Photographic

Karla DeLong of Karla DeLong Weddings has a number of suggestions for using flowers creatively. “Think of making your own chandeliers using flowers,” she says. “Or make a new ceiling from a grid of curly willow, with coordinating blooms in your colors tucked into it. Or make window treatments from orchid blooms strung on fishing line.”

Andrew Gumley of Special Events Alaska has seen feathers pop up as a decorative motif – an element that is high impact and low cost, he says. “They’re going into the flowers and centerpieces.” He’s currently working on a wedding where the bride is incorporating feather boas into the centerpieces, creating a look that is bright, playful and affordable.

Once you have a vision, says Karla, you need to develop a decorating strategy. “Find focal points in the room and bunch your décor elements together rather than spreading them out,” she says. “If you have focal points, your accents won’t get lost in a large space.”

And don’t forget the chairs, Karla adds. “Chairs are often overlooked and can make a huge difference in transforming a space. When a guest walks into a room where every chair has a cover on it with coordinating sash, they instantly know they are somewhere special. Mahogany chiavari chairs are a favorite of mine adding instant elegance and class.”

Now you see it, now you don’t

Part of every magic act involves making things disappear. If your wedding is being held at a non-traditional venue – an airplane hangar, a sports facility, a meeting hall, for example – then you need to work harder to make the space your own. Pipe and drape can help you block out ugly features, change the shape of a room, and define almost any space.

Even the largest spaces can be piped and draped economically, says Andrew, using an inexpensive plastic material called Velon. “It doesn’t look like plastic,” he says. “You can cover really tall structures. You can go really high” – while keeping your costs low.

Karla suggests “dressing up” the draping by using lights for a soft glow or by adding ornamental elements – hanging ribbons, flowers, or sparkling beaded curtains. She recommends a website called which sells a huge variety of beaded curtains. “You can literally make walls of butterflies, mirrors, glass balls,” she says. “There are tons of options. Paired with dramatic lighting, you can have a breathtaking outcome.”

Wedding setting
Jessica Kiehner, Blushing Blooms
Let there be (color-coordinated) light!

It doesn’t matter how spectacular your décor is if you can’t see it, or if it’s illuminated by industrial fluorescent lights, says Andrew. Special Events Alaska offers a lighting package with lights that are wireless and remote-controlled. “You can do under-table lighting and up-lighting,” he says. “You can light up cocktail tables, you can make the skirting on the head-table glow,” he says. “They are super bright and you can get any color imaginable. They’re infinitely variable.” And since you control them, you can create an elaborate look without a lighting technician.

Karla likes some of the other lighting options found at Special Events Alaska. “They have 9’ and 14’ crystal column chandeliers that can be lit with any color,” she says. “They also have an acrylic ‘ice’ bar that can be lit from underneath and change colors on cue.”

Making the great outdoors even greater

If your sights are set on an outdoor wedding, tents are essential, says Connie of Designing Divas. “Don’t take your chances.” And while creating an outdoor shelter may seem like a necessity, it can be a decorative one. They create a festive air, she says, and “can be dressed up beautifully.”

Andrew suggests renting fabric liners for the tents to redefine and personalize the interior space. Then, he says, for a dramatic look, mount lights inside to make the whole top glow in your wedding colors.

Elegant, individual, artistic and affordable

Artistic accents, colorful coverings, dramatic lighting and creative florals are all affordable elements that will take a space from blah to breathtaking. Because, whether the wedding is an intimate, at-home affair, or a grand gala, the setting should be as beautiful as the bride.