Wedding Themes, Without Making It Weird

The theme of any wedding is you, the couple – getting married. Many couples very much have elements of a decor theme, meaning something important to their relationship, or something inspired by the venue, or the season the wedding will be taking place in.

It’s actually rare that a decor “theme” isn’t part of what inspires your wedding design. We’ve had weddings on the coast with sand, rocks, and sea shells working their way in to the decor without smacking guests in the face with seaweed and beachwear. Or weddings in Spring in a garden setting, with bright bold blooming peonies and other spring florals without informing guests – this wedding brought to you by Mother Nature and Spring. The key in design is to incorporate elements in to your wedding without deep diving in to a fundraiser style over-the-top full blown theme party, unless such things really appeal to you.

This year, The 4th of July, and Halloween fall on a Saturday, Roaring 20s full Gatsby is in for any Saturday, here are some tips on how to design a themed wedding without making it weird for your guests.

Decide if this is a mild theme, or central to your big day

A mild theme is – we are getting married in an old building, we want it to feel like a speak easy with hints of vintage Gatsby, but we don’t need everyone dressed as a gangster or a flapper.

A Central Focused Theme means everything from your invites to the password to get in to the feather tree centerpieces, coup martini glasses and fringed assed bridesmaids dresses with groomsmen in Zoot Suits – are going to be part of your wedding.

Having a 4th of July wedding? Respect the reality that your guests love you and America. Choose a venue, and a timeline, that will balance the traditions of the day and your celebration. Example, see if you and the bridal party can be in your hometown parade that morning if you are marrying near home. Allow time to get your hair and makeup done after but before the wedding. Don’t wear your wedding gear, wear patriotic attire fit for a bridal party. Don’t forget to buy and prepare candy to toss to the kids watching. Make sure your reception venue and budget either afford you the opportunity for fireworks at the end, or that your venue is near a big fireworks display you can incorporate in to your wedding events, with appropriate viewing opportunities for you and your guests.

Don’t surprise your guests in a way that will make them feel left out

If you are having a Halloween themed wedding, don’t make that ambiguous. Spell it out in your wedding invite, on your wedding website, and directly to your guests. Wouldn’t you feel awkward being the only guest to show up as a traditional wedding guest, surrounded by zombies, bunnies, and devils? Conversely, if your wedding is on Halloween, and you’ll have fall colors, some cute pumpkins in the decor, tables named after haunted places, some fun named custom His & Hers cocktails, but otherwise a classy traditional wedding, don’t send Corpse Bride themed invites with ambiguous wording. Nobody wants to be the weirdo who shows up as a sexy clown, while everyone else is in cocktail dresses.

Tacky is always tacky, too much is always too much – except when it’s totally not

Nobody wants to eat eyeball soup or brains, at your wedding feast. A cute fun name for an appetizing meal is fine, but don’t gross people out while they’re trying to eat. Have fun naming your tables! But don’t be icky. “Shanghai Tunnels” – good name of a local haunted place. “Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum” – your guests may be offended you sat them here, or you may put your bridal party here and they will find it freakin awesome! Know your audience.

Have a fun photo booth with boas, feathers and old prohibition props, that’s cool, but don’t put MAGA hats in there – even if Uncle Dan would love it. Keep politics out of your 4th of July (or any) wedding day, unless politics are a key part of who you are, or if you are actual politicians. Also, funny is always funny – for example, we had a client name a table “Trump & Twitter” last year that’s just perfectly funny.

Don’t have your DJ play all swing and The Charleston. A little bit goes a long way! Trust your DJ, they know the right balance of what’s fun and what fits the theme and crowd.

On that note, consider instead of doing The Time Warp down the aisle, have your bridal party do it as your grand reception entrance. Timing is everything at a wedding.

Here’s a perfect example of designing with a theme, while not turning your wedding in to a Mad Hatter Tea Party, IRL

Our couple collected vintage books, teapots, milk glass, tea cups, plates, and glass pieces from thrift stores. We painted all of the clear glass gold, stacked salad plates and dinner plates using glue and dollar tree candlesticks and created these designs for the guest tables.

We have only July 4 available still in July, and October 31, in October. We’d actually love to plan either so we are offering $200 off any Day Of, Partial or Full Service bookings for either of those dates only. You don’t have to have the date as a theme, but we’d love it if you let us help you do so!

DIY Centerpiece Ideas

Centerpieces can be very expensive. Here are some ideas to help you cut costs:

1) Order pieces that can be used at your ceremony then easily moved and repurposed for at least half your tables during the reception:

These boxed designs just simply get picked up and placed in the center of rounds with votives for elegant centerpieces.

2. Order low designs instead of tall, Tall designs average $150-$350 each table. You’ll save money just by not going high.

3. Skip the fancy vessel. You don’t need an ornate gold compote. Even if you just rent them, they will add a lot to each table. Instead you can order pieces with 100% hidden mechanics built in to a disposable container. Bonus points – you can send them home with guests and cut down on cleanup time:

The first piece runs $100 each (rental of vessel included) the bottom $50 each.

4. Order flowers for half of your guest tables, use candles and DIY styles for the other half.

Our favorite DIY centerpiece is the simple floating candles. Fancy it up, add cranberries, rocks, greens around the bottom or tapers in craft sand, or a combo to mix it up:

Your Rehearsal Dinner

Elder Hall – photo by Ellie Asher Photography

Too often, couples leave their rehearsal planning until the last minute. This limits your options and can cost you, or simply stress you out! Here’s my guide to planning your rehearsal dinner.

Step 1) Set a budget. The traditional old school rules were the groom’s family paid for the rehearsal dinner. You may still do this, but as is the case with the rest of the budget most couples have a general overall budget which may or may not include funds from either or both families. Expect to spend about 10% of your overall budget here.

Step 2) Create a guest list. This will be different for every wedding. If you are having a destination wedding, for example, expect to invite most or all of the people who traveled all that way to be there with you. If you are having a large wedding where you live and many people have traveled far to be there with you, you may want to include everyone, dozens of people even. If you have social anxiety, are overwhelmed with large groups, having a very large wedding and just want the bridal party and your closest family by your side for a low key night before DON’T invite a lot of people. The only people you absolutely should feel you must invite include immediate family, bridal party and their spouse, flower girls and ring bearers plus their parents, and your officiant (if it is your family’s clergy you worship with regularly or a friend is serving as your officiant you may need to invite their spouse).

Step 3) Decide on a style and venue. If you’re back in your hometown with a large crowd, a family home, family church meeting space, or your favorite restaurant growing up, may be the best option for you. If you are having a destination wedding and want to make sure traveling guests don’t have to stress, something in walking distance or at the hotel you’re all staying at, or nearby with detailed transportation options available and shared with your guests. If you are having 50-150 people (yes this truly happens a lot) consider a park picnic area or a restaurant that will give you a food and beverage minimum buyout option.

Step 4) Catered or homecooking? A lot of people choose to invite more people and have a less formal venue. Backyard BBQ, family pot luck arranged by mom, or large home cooked feast made by the family as a group project are commonplace when your crowd is large. Think family reunion style. You can do this and have catered food that is picked up from virtually any family restaurant, Chipotle, Po’ Shines, you name it. The other option is a restaurant with private dining space from pizza and beer at a local pub to a custom limited menu at The Ned Ludd Elder Hall, to a full service catered affair in your own home. It’s truly wide open here. One of my couples had everyone meet up at the food carts on Hawthorne to order whatever they want. It’s truly up to you.

Step 5) What will you do at your dinner? You will want to do toasts, of course. Thank everyone for being there. Prepare a video to show, or have a slideshow on a loop in one room if your venue is a house. You may want to give family and bridal party members special gifts, toast your future spouse, dance, do karaoke, perform a song, do a special dance with your bridal party, or just relax and enjoy one on one conversations with your loved ones.

Step 6) Plan your decor. If you’ll be at a restaurant or having a picnic this may mean you need nothing. At home, in a church hall, or at a hotel you may want to make some simple centerpieces with your family the day before. Flowers from your garden are perfect for an at home dinner, Trader Joe’s always has a great selection of flowers pre-arranged in bouquets you can trim and place in a Dollar Tree vase. The key is to not spend too much time or money if you don’t have the budget. If you do have the budget consider potted plants to give as gifts at the end. Or include this portion in your quote request to your wedding florist.

*Bonus tip, do not get everyone drunk the night before your wedding. An open bar is unnecessary, instead select an option of a few types of wine or just one type you really love. If you’re at your favorite restaurant with a select family style or plated dinner select the perfect drink options yourself. A few types of beer and cider plus non-alcoholic drinks are sufficient. People can order cocktails on their own at the bar if you’re at a restaurant, or hit the hotel bar after if they must. If you really want it to be a party or you’re at home, consider a family favorite cocktail, or a few bottles of your favorites for mixed drinks of choice.

Reception Timelines

One reason to hire a wedding planner – the coordination of timelines and event flow throughout your reception. Some people wrongly believe their photographer or DJ will serve just fine as a timeline creator and monitor the timing and flow of events.

While timelines are something most vendors can create, they will be created to serve their needs. This isn’t a criticism it’s just truth. A photographer needs to make sure they get the best photos and at the times that are optimal and within your contract. No matter who sets your timeline this is an important truth. But beyond your photos, food must be served, toasts given, cake cut, dancing and fun should be had.

You absolutely need time to sneak away from the reception for sunset pics on the beach and you need time for all of the group photo musts on your list – but who’s making sure your guests are happy while you’re doing these things?

Fun story. This summer one of my groom’s brothers had a lot of fun at the reception. He wanted to make sure they allow me to dance at these things and kept checking to see if I had danced yet. I told him don’t worry, I will.

The couple and the photographer had gone on a climb down to the beach for perfect sunset photos, and I was back at the reception. The bride was worried people would notice them gone and head back to their rooms because we were at a destination resort on the coast and everyone was staying on site.

This DJ was a champ though! Which brings me to the question – can’t your DJ just set the timeline? His goal was to get everyone dancing and keep the party jumping. He was awesome at it, but he doesn’t have to care your photographer is driving back to Portland and was only paid to go until 9 and you want garter toss photos.

So while the couple was gone, I danced. The groom’s brother was pleased. I checked in on the mother of the bride and made sure her son escorted her back to her room because her husband was still partying.

When the couple got back we prepped for dessert/garter/flower toss. But the dance floor was lit and we still had the photographer for 30 minutes. The couple joined in. I danced with the bride’s sister. A LOT. And just like that people started taking a beer break, I got the DJ to fire up the bouquet toss music (Single Ladies, of course) and right on schedule the photographer was on the road, the DJ kicked it back in to high gear and everyone was happy.

One vendor can’t direct your event the way a planner can serve everyone’s needs. And a good planner will make sure to notify all your vendors of the timeline before. They’ll reassure them we don’t stop a wild dance party to stick to a plan, and we make sure our vendors are just as happy we were there as the brother-of-The-Groom and the happy couple.

I’m a director of your event, my goal is to make everyone happy I was there.

Love, Sweets Love!

Let’s talk sweets at your wedding. Most couples are offering options for desserts, mixed hand pop-able sweets plus a cutting cake are always a hit. Some just do cupcakes and a cutting cake, or just pie or just cake. Whatever you do, here are some tips:

1. Your Guests Like Variety

Most of your guests will be up and mingling or dancing by the time you cut your cake. We have found people love it if you have a centrally located sweets table where anyone can grab a hand sized single-serving treat, after the cake cutting, and move along. The larger your crowd, the more diverse your treats table should be. Favorites are cupcakes, donuts, tarts, mini pies, cake pops, macrons or other cookies, bars, brownies, mini cupcakes, and on hot days boozy pops or ice cream stations/carts.

2. A Small Dessert Display

On a similar note, if you are having a very large wedding (150+ guests) don’t do one sweets table. Instead, place a small dessert display sweets table with your cake next to your sweetheart or head table, and then either have desserts served (if you are doing plated service), served family style by table, or have your caterer set out slices of cake and other desserts on the buffet table. You don’t have to place all of your sweets on your sweets table. It can get too crowded or awkward for large receptions.

3. When Serving Everyone Cake

If you will have a large cake to serve all of your guests (or a wedding cake and hidden sheet cake), here are a few pointers. Plan to cut your cake, then do toasts or bouquet toss or a game or something special to distract your guests as your caterer cuts and serves, or plates and sets out your cake slices at your buffet table. Do not cut and serve your own cake, unless you really want to.

If you have more than 150 guests, you do not have to display a cake large enough to feed all, you can have sheets of matching cake prepared by your baker and in the kitchen with your caterer.

4. Things You See On Pinterest Guests Don’t Tend To Actually Enjoy

  • Cake. No seriously, a lot of people hate cake. See point 1. It’s not everyone’s favorite.
  • S’mores. Even if you have a fire pit, maybe ten people actually want a s’more when they are tipsy and dressed up. Don’t worry about an ornate set up, instead pass some sticks (store bought kind) to those by the fire, either pass a tray with a bag of marshmallows and a box of graham crackers and some right sized chocolate, individually wrapped Ghiradelli Squares. That’s plenty. If you want to be super fancy have a very small table, a serving bowl with the marshmallows, a serving plate of stacked and still wrapped Ghiradelli Squares, and a serving plate of Graham Crackers broken in squares. Have enough set up for about 1/4 of your guests and task a friend or your planner to replenish if needed.
  • Donuts served on a wall. Nobody seems to want to peel donuts off a wall. It’s not even as aesthetically appealing as a nice platter of donuts. Donut holes or round donuts are easier to eat while mingling. Jelly filled is kind of mean if your cousin is tipsy in a pretty dress.
  • Cheese cake in summer. As a mom of older kids, I remember those horrible days of cleaning up after a sick child. Cheesecake goes bad in the heat while sitting out. Serve it at your rehearsal if it’s your favorite. Desserts may be out for hours at your wedding, stick with all the desserts that won’t get icky.
  • Poisonous flowers and berries on the cake. Even when prepped with a barrier, as pros will do, don’t order poisonous plants to be set on or poked in to your cake. Those Pins and insta pics you’ve seen are from styled shoots. Nobody ate that cake. We hope.

5. Finally, Delivery vs. Set Up

If you order flowers or desserts or cake to be delivered, that is different from having a dessert table installed or set up. If you do not have a planner, or even if you do, please make sure you know the difference. As a seasoned planner and designer I know the difference well. I check the contracts. But many venue Day Of coordinators, or bakery shops, or florists do not plan to decorate your dessert table. Don’t assume they will.

Wedding specific dessert specialists typically include display tray rentals and platters, as well as set up, in your quote. Many floral designers, just deliver extra flowers for your baker that aren’t prepped or necessarily food safe, which is totally fine if your baker is setting up and decorating the cake. It’s not ok if a novice, or friend, or who knows? is setting up your cake.

As a wedding floral designer, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a wedding venue “delivering” flowers, when a bakery delivery is dropped off. Nobody knows who should do what. There is no planner, what am I not going to do – leave without setting up the desserts!

Make sure, if you don’t have a planner, or even if you do, that you know who is doing what. Somebody has to set up your desserts! Somebody has to decorate the cake. Nobody is going to do this if you don’t pay them to. And somebody may jump in to save the day who doesn’t know what they are doing.

“To The Happy Couple! Cheers!”

Federico x. Photography

Many couples wonder when to do toasts and speeches, who should speak, and sometimes ask how they can tell somebody they really don’t want them speaking – without offending them. There’s a right way and a wrong way to be nice. Here are some general concepts of how to do all of the above, and some basic gentle advice I can give on this subject.

To start, when should speeches and toasts happen at a wedding?

There are many answers to this question. The perfect time to do a toast and speech varies, but here are some options. A good time to hear from the hosts (usually the bride’s parents) is immediately after the bridal party entrance, as the couple is seated. The Father Of The Bride traditionally welcomes everyone, thanks them for coming, toasts the couple and then may introduce the groom’s parents before dinner begins.

The second toasting opportunity is as dinner is coming to an end, as soon as the couple finishes eating. In Oregon most couples do not do served or family style service. If you are doing a buffet, food trucks or a taco bar, for example, you may still do a welcoming toast just be certain it is simple, sweet and then let the people eat. Other key honored guests should be invited to toast after the couple finishes eating and just before The First Dances happens. This is the perfect time to have the groom’s parents, your Maid Of Honor, and Best Man speeches. If you don’t do a welcoming speech, do that here allowing parents from both families to speak here, and bump the Best Man/Maid Of Honor speeches to later.

The third toasting opportunity is right before you cut the cake. You might choose couples toasts only right here, or all toasts here. A nice order is toasts followed by cake cutting. If you are doing a bouquet toss it’s a good time to do that right after the cake cutting. Planning tip – put your toss bouquet at the dessert table in a vase. It’s a pretty decoration and then your bouquet is right where you need it to go from cake to toss. This timing gives your catering staff time to serve or plate the cake and set it out on the dessert table.

Who Should Give A Toast?

There is no right answer to this question! Typically it’s nice to break up the speeches if you have a lot of people you want to speak. A lot = more than 4.

Traditional speakers:

  • Father of The Bride
  • Best Man
  • Maid Of Honor
  • Groom

Who might you want to have speak?

  • Parents of The Bride (both or any you like)
  • Parents Of The Groom (both or any you like)
  • Best People (whomever you choose) best friends, siblings
  • Bride
  • Groom

Don’t up the list or open the mic. Try hard to limit your total speakers to 6-8 absolute max. Beyond 4, break it up.

I love my brother, but he’s kind of an ass when he drinks – and he’s going to drink!

I’ve heard it all over the years, from super awkward to truly brilliant speeches. Some people speak too long, some say too much, many do their best and therefore get it just right. You know your friends and family. If you are worried, in my experience, you should be! It is ok to give people direction. Let them know a time limit, tell them examples of things you really don’t want to see or hear on your wedding day.

Have very direct conversations with your friends and family. Let them help decide who should speak and when. Some people hate public speaking, don’t make them speak. You can share a sweet private moment earlier in the day. Schedule it, and enjoy that private time.

If you have ten people who want to speak, ask one or two to have a special spot during the ceremony instead. Have them do a reading or write you a poem. If you know somebody is likely to get wild after they’ve had a few drinks ask them to do the ceremony parts, and let others speak later in the reception.

Seriously, give direction. It’s not pushy to say, “We would love to have you give us a toast during the reception. We just want something very you – sweet, funny, real and not too long. Maybe 2-5 minutes.”

If you tell somebody what you want but leave the details to them, you’ve empowered them to honor your request. It’s not bossy, it’s direct and gives them an expectation.

It’s also fine to have a special time with your whole bridal party during the cocktail hour right before you join the main party where you do mini private toasts. You can do this before the ceremony if you’ve done a first look and are all together.

I hope this helps. As always, contact me if you have questions! Or comment below.