How to Upgrade Your Wedding Reception Space

Every reception venue could use a little extra razzle-dazzle. Zola has all of the essential tips for decorating a wedding venue.

By The Zola Team

Couple making their exit down the aisle
Photo by Afton Photography

Decorating a venue for a wedding can seem like a never-ending battle between style and sanity. You want everything to look special for your wedding day, but you’re not sure which decoration route to go. Chic or casual? Rustic or boho? Is there even a difference?

Take a deep breath and step away from the Pinterest board.

If you take a strategic approach to decorating a wedding venue, you’ll be able to add style and panache without losing your mind. Take a look at these tips, and you’ll create a celebration space that is uniquely yours.

Lean Into a Theme

Deciding how to decorate a wedding venue can be overwhelming, but one of the easiest ways to upgrade the space is by leaning into your theme. A theme can help guide every decision, from cake decorations to the kind of chairs you rent.

Here are a few simple theme ideas to inspire your imagination:

  • Monochrome: Find a color you want to include in your wedding. Then, in every wedding decor decision, pick that color. That means glassware, chairs, tablecloths, flowers, cake decorations, and even wedding party outfits. By maximizing the quantity of that color, you can artistically (and simply) elevate your wedding.

Quick Wedding Decor Tip: If you want red to dominate your wedding venue, be wary of any Game of Thrones fans on your wedding guest list. Or, commit to it. Stage a Red Wedding reenactment with trick daggers and fake blood to really redefine the meaning of “fantasy wedding.”

  • Black and White: If you love old movies, a black and white theme will give your reception a stunning Casablanca vibe. It’s classy, chic, and easy to stick to. You can even project old films on an empty wall or offer black and white polaroid cameras for guests to enjoy.

  • Seasons: You can find inspiration in your wedding’s season. Think flowery photobooth backdrops for spring, autumn leaf centerpieces for fall, Christmas lights hung with evergreens for winter, or framed oversized posters of ice cream cones for summer.

How to Upgrade Your Wedding Reception Space Photo Credit // Cappy Hotchkiss Photography

Highlight What’s Important to You

As you look for options to upgrade your reception area, ask yourself: what’s most important about my wedding day? Check out these ideas to strategically emphasize the special experiences of your wedding:

  • Making Connections: A wedding isn’t just a celebration of love between two people. It’s a celebration of two communities coming together. If you want your wedding guests to make new friends, your decor can help build those bonds.

    • Lounge Areas: Make space for conversation by renting (or borrowing) comfy furniture and creating relaxing lounge spaces.

    • Games: Place board games, decks of cards, or even yard games around the venue. Your wedding might be the first day of a family and friend game night tradition.

    • Art Wall: Hang a large piece of construction or butcher paper on a wall and pair it with a bucket of crayons. Title the paper something cute like We All Make Such a Pretty Picture, or Love is A Masterpiece. Then, invite your guests to doodle the night away. Art is an easy conversation starter, and the piece will become a fun keepsake for you and your spouse.

  • Your Story: You have a one-of-a-kind love and a sensational story to go with it. Share all of the amazing moments of your love story through your wedding decorations.

    • Timeline: Use the walls of your reception area as a giant timeline of your love. You can print out and post framed pictures, concert ticket stubs, meaningful text messages, goofy social media posts, mementos, or even maps of places you’ve been together. The more creative you get, the more immersed your guests will be in your love story.

    • Photo Walls: Most couples have a photo wall of their relationship at their wedding, but why stop at just one wall? Take over the venue walls and choose a theme for each.

  • Tearing Up the Dance Floor: A few aesthetic choices can guarantee a wedding night of dancing. Try these tips to get your guests dancing for every song (and not just “Cupid Shuffle”).

    • Put a spotlight on the dance floor. Your guests will feel like they’re on Dancing with the Stars.

    • Decorate a chalkboard as a fun song request board and place it next to the DJ. Not everyone likes to dance to every song, but everyone likes to dance to their favorite song.

    • Encourage people to dance by lining the perimeter of the dance floor with guest tables. Everyone’s gazes will focus on all the happy dancers, and before too long, they’ll be joining in.

Quick Wedding Decor Tip: Your guests’ first impression of your wedding will set the tone for the day. But here’s the thing: That first impression doesn’t happen when they walk into the ceremony. That pivotal moment happens when your guests receive their save-the-dates. For a thoughtful and customizable Save the Date that starts your wedding experience off beautifully, you can’t go wrong with Zola.

Embrace the Venue

No reception venue is alike. Upgrade the space by bringing decor elements that complement the special features of the space or the local area. Find inspiration in these venue-specific decoration ideas:

  • Beachside: If your wedding destination is coastal, bring the beach to the guests. Create accent pieces with seashells, palm fronds, surfboards, and driftwood.

  • Barn or Country: A few rustic decorations can transform a rural space. For a barn wedding, try serving cocktails in mason jars, placing wooden barrels with candles and tablecloths around the space, and using vintage lanterns for lighting.

  • Winery or Wine Country: For a vineyard wedding, decorate with boughs of grape branches and leaves, use empty wine bottles to hold long candles, and incorporate the jewel tones of perfectly ripe wine grapes.

Light Up the Night

Think about the lighting at your favorite romantic restaurant. How does the lighting make you feel while you’re dining there? Romantic, maybe? Now think of the fluorescent lighting in your workplace bathroom... can you feel the difference?

Lighting makes a huge difference in a room’s atmosphere, whether you’re dining at Chez Fancy or just trying to get in and out of your office’s horrible bathroom. Use light wisely as you’re decorating your reception space.

Consider these lighting elements to make your reception truly glow:

  • Light Design: Most venues will have a light board and know (or have on staff) a lighting design expert. Work with the light designer to thoughtfully engineer the ambiance of your reception.

  • Candles: Is there anything more romantic (or more flattering) than candlelight? Light up the romance by filling your event space with candles. If there is a water feature nearby, you can float long-lasting tea candles on the water. The water will reflect the candles beautifully.

Quick Wedding Decor Tip: Whether you’re lighting tea candles or setting off a Roman Candle, always check with your venue to see what restrictions they have when it comes to fire.

  • Christmas Lights: Christmas lights are incredibly versatile. You can wrap them around pillars, drape them from the ceiling, or even create a chandelier effect. Just hang the ends of your Christmas lights over the center of the space, then have each strand drape out and away from the center in a circle to form a twinkly chandelier.

Flowers, Flowers, Flowers

Fresh, fragrant, and simply beautiful. We’re talking about flowers. Enhancing the reception area with floral arrangements can heighten romance, emphasize themes, and make your wedding reception naturally beautiful. Talk to your florist about your venue, and you can work together to create incredible pieces in line with your wedding vision.

Quick Wedding Decor Tip: If you’re looking to create a lush feeling in your reception, go green in your flower choices. Ask your florist to focus on greenery in their designs, such as eucalyptus, ivy, and myrtle. The plants will transform the venue into a wild and wonderful garden. Plus, if you want to add a few flowers, they’ll stand out even more in the verdant landscape you’ve created.

How to Upgrade Your Wedding Reception Space Photo Credit // Jacqueline Dallimore Photography

Don’t Forget to Look Up

You’ve heard of “turning heads,” but if you take advantage of ceiling space, you could be “tilting heads.” Adding decor above will immediately elevate your wedding reception. Try these simple ideas to tilt those heads:

  • Draping: Drape sheer fabric from the ceilings for a major wow factor.

  • Lanterns: Lanterns come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. Vintage lanterns are classic for a rustic wedding. Funky modern lanterns can give your reception a fun, eclectic feel. Or, you can hang paper lanterns for glowing light and a whimsical atmosphere.

  • Bunting: String bunting over your reception space for an English country wedding vibe. It will be tasteful, simple, and very Downton Abbey.

The Best Wedding Decorations Come from the Heart

Think of the weddings you’ve been to in the past. Do you remember every detail? Most likely not. But what will always stand out in your memory will be the personal touches—the unique details and fun additions that only that particular couple could have thought of.

When it comes to wedding decorations, focus on what only you and your partner can bring to the reception venue. If you do, your wedding day will be a sensation not only for its beauty, but for the way it perfectly epitomizes your personalities, your styles, and your love.