Define Your Design: Modern Urban Weddings On A Budget

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two grooms smiling at each other in front of a wall filled with silver mylar balloons

Urban weddings can come in all shapes and sizes, from the intimacy of city hall, to soaring industrial lofts, to grand ballrooms in historic hotels. What unites the events featured here is an underlining style that favors a clean, cosmopolitan, and perhaps even an edgy approach towards decorative elements. The variety possible in modern urban weddings means that couples from a wide range of budgets can accomplish this look—in fact, the pared-down aesthetic makes it even easier for brides and grooms with limited funds to add just a few well-chosen elements and still make a striking style statement. Drawing my years of experience as an event designer, in today’s second installment of Define Your Design I’ll show you how you can achieve maximum style for your modern urban wedding on a minimal budget.

Get The Look: Ceremony Decor

When it comes to outfitting your ceremony space, some couples are tempted to take a “more-is-more” take on clean and modern style: think decadent hanging florals, tons of white draping, and plenty of glass and Lucite for an over-the-top presentation.

luxe ceremony decor outside with modern white and clear decorations

Photo Credit || Gerber + Scarpelli Photography

But to keep the focus on you and your betrothed, let a room with architectural details speak for itself, like in the ceremony setup below:

White-washed urban ceremony space

Photo Credit || Pictilio

Nothing says minimalist like a white-washed room, and the white frames to the right of the altar space offer just enough texture to keep things interesting. Guests’ attention will be focused on the gorgeous gold frame in the center (topped with a much needed, but perfectly restrained, dose of green and white florals) and the sweet couple exchanging vows before it. Staggered white lanterns are a subtle aisle detail, and the simple string lights are romantic without being invasive and show off that pretty exposed-wood ceiling.

For another inventive use of the ceremony space, see what Zola couple Michelle & William did with the glass-paneled wall behind their makeshift altar. With a handful of leafy green branches and some strong, clear tape, they created a totally chic, organic-modern ceremony backdrop that did not required a lot of expense.

couple getting married on steps of a hotel with green branches on glass wall as backdrop

Photo Credit || Thewmatt Photography


Speaking of ceilings, if you’re lucky enough to have soaring ceilings in your ceremony venue, play up the height—without extravagant chandeliers and draping—by filling the upper space with extra-large 36″ round balloons. Balloons are an inexpensive tool for adding a dose of modern, whimsical style anywhere: consider them above a cocktail or dessert bar, as a backdrop for a DIY photo booth, or in lieu of bridesmaids’ bouquets.

Simple Draping

If ginormous balloons are too playful for your sophisticated palette, there are a few other low-cost elements that can add real visual intrigue to your ceremony space. Keep the focus on the altar area, as this is where guests’ attention will be trained for the majority of the service. If you have a tall ladder and tons of inexpensive white fabric, you can work some pretty major drama in an industrial ceremony space:

Industrial ceremony space with white drapery and chandlier

Photo Credit || JoPhoto

Hanging Decor

A hanging treatment is always exciting, and it doesn’t take much to make a dramatic backdrop with a few artfully suspended natural objects. Play up an exposed brick wall with some staggered boughs of greenery (eucalyptus or ruscus works well) and a sprinkling of white blooms, such as long-stemmed roses, foxglove, delphinium, or stock.

Exposed brick wall with hung flowers and greenery

Photo Credit || Katie Norrid Photography

Keep the look airy with suspended glass orbs filled with water, tea lights, or flower petals—or a combination of all three, if size allows. Or reinforce the modern sensibility of your wedding style with hanging geometric shapes around your ceremony space:

Tons of Candles

Rigging up breakable items not feasible in your venue—or too daunting for the engineering-challenged? Snag the modern urban vibe with an abundance of pillar candles in glass cylinder vases staggered down the aisle, or even just around the altar area.

Urban industrial ceremony space

Photo Credit || Rachel Mae Photography

The more candles, and the greater variation in their height, the more magical the effect. Romantic modern ceremony with candles down aislePhoto Credit || Averyhouse

For an added touch of modern style, cluster pillar candles on low, rectangular Lucite cubes and scatter these down your aisle for maximum wedding-in-our-living room vibes.

The best part about all of these ceremony designs? The materials are relatively low in price point, and you can actually achieve a more hip, confident statement with less ornamentation (i.e., less fuss).

Get The Look: Reception Decor

Progressing into your modern wedding reception, adopt the same low-frills-but-high-impact philosophy to maximize style while sticking to your wedding budget.

Even More Candles

Apologies for sounding like a broken record, but candles (and more candles) are the easiest way to achieve maximum mood for minimal cost—plus they only increase the romantic ambience. Give regular-old pillar candles a modern treatment by placing them in clean, straight glass cylinders and grouping a whole bunch of them together for true less-is-more decor. Try this in entrances, hallways, bar areas, or other gathering spaces that could need a bit of decorating oomph.

When in doubt, light a whole bunch of floating candles in water-filled vases to up the drama factor, lower the lights, and get moody:

All-White Flowers (and More Candles)

When it comes to your reception tables, continue with the candle theme but soften up the look with monochromatic florals. Have your florist group different kinds of white, sculptural flowers (think stems with nice height, interesting shapes, and a lot of movement, like tulips and calla lilies) in clear vases. For an even more modern treatment, let the flowers spill haphazardly out of their vases, or even bend long stems into the vases for a casually underdone aesthetic.

tall white calla lilies in clear vases on a tall counter with lots of white pillar candles

Photo Credit || Brian Hatton Photography

For more daytime vibes, consider placing a single, white taper candle every few feet down the length of your dinner tables. When paired with white linens, green garlands, and minimalist white-and-green floral arrangements (just a few stems poking out of glass bottles), Old World romance gets updated with clean and simple style.

lit white taper candle in brass candleholder next to glass bottle vase with white flowers and greenery

Photo Credit || James Moes

Mirrored Vases

Instead of Old World romantic, if you want to mix a bit of glam into your modern style, find some shiny surfaces. We recommend adding just a hint of glamour with square or rectangular mirrored vases. They look especially great with monochromatic florals, like these green and white tulips below:

mirrored cube vase with purple and green flowers

Photo Credit || Colin Lyons Photography

LED-Lit Branches

In lieu of candles, tall branches lit with LED lights can make for a very cool, very urban-modern statement on your reception dinner tables. To make your downtown loft feel like a frost-dusted forest, place tall clusters of glittery LED-lit branches in even taller, square vases.

wedding reception in urban loft space with LED branches on tables

Photo Credit || Erin Johnson Photography

tall LED-lit faux branches in tall wooden square vases on wedding reception table

Photo Credit || Erin Johnson Photography     

Geometric Shapes

You can never go wrong with airy, geometric shapes—they instantly lend a modern vibe to your reception decor. Incorporate angularity through vases, candleholders, or open-air sculptures scattered on cocktail tables.

table sign at a wedding with gold geometric decorations and candleholders

Photo Credit || Eileen K Photography

Textured Linens

Add some eye-catching allure without chaotic color by renting some textural linens in neutral hues. Kept to a concentrated use, such as dressing up tall bistro tables during cocktail hour, a ruffled fabric is a playful way to add visual interest while keeping the rest of the decor spare and minimal.

white ruffled linen on bistro table set with flowers and candle at a wedding reception

Photo Credit || Blest Studios

Sculptural Blooms

When thinking about flowers that match a modern wedding style, orchids typically come to mind—but if you have concerns about their price, there are plenty of other, more affordable modern flower options. Yellow craspedia (billy balls), tillandsia (air plants), protea, cacti, and both spider and Yoko Ono mums are just a few architectural beauties to consider. Calla lilies, though cheaper than orchids, might still register somewhere on the pricey spectrum but can stretch your floral budget by requiring fewer stems for true impact.

Patterned Paper

For an innovative way to add pizzazz to your modern urban reception tables, head to your local paper or craft store to invest in high-quality printed paper. The uses for fine paper are extensive: if you’re extra crafty, and have a lot of time on your hands, fashion black-and-white pinwheels for a whimsical welcome to dinner. Or spare yourself some hand-cramping by using lengths of printed paper to fashion punched-up table runners, placemats, or napkin bands. These simple graphic elements impart major modernist style without the megabucks.

black and white paper pinwheels stuck into the ground

Photo Credit || Sasha Gulish Photography

Lucite or Acrylic Elements

Lucite, Plexiglass, and other sturdy plastic elements are très popular within the sphere of modern and contemporary style. While ghost chairs are awesomely chic, whether lined up for a ceremony, gracing a lounge space, or at a seated dinner, they add up to considerable cha-ching. Try incorporating the material in smaller ways: use clear acrylic rectangles for an innovative invitations, or pare down this concept to a few singular signs, like a specialty cocktail menu or seating chart display.

Lastly, a final piece of advice: take advantage of your fantastic urban venue to score stunning photographs! Maximize the existing architecture, skyline, or iconic sights of your city by ensuring your photographer takes you in, out, and all around your locale, capitalizing on those remarkably artistic shots that urban brides are lucky enough to have waiting at their doorsteps. Happy styling!


1 Comment

  1. Great to see the article. Lovely Pics too. I would like to take this opportunity to share that I have some good collection of event planning checklists and templates.

    Thank you!!

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