Flowery centerpiece on a table

Guide to Styling a Small Wedding Reception


October 19, 2023
Words by Lauren Ertl
Photos courtesy of various

Destination weddings have an inherent charm, and when it comes to the reception, even intimate celebrations can be styled to perfection. We spoke to industry experts Karolina Fernandes of Diamonds Destination Weddings and Tedd Kapinos of Jasper & Prudence Floral and Events to gather insights on how to tailor decor for warmth and intimacy, as well as innovative ideas to make a limited space visually stunning and memorable.

Long table with many place settings and rattan lamps hanging about ready for a wedding reception(Above photo vendors: Photographer: Foolishly Rushing In; Wedding Planner: Oliva Willow; Venue: The Cape, A Thompson Hotel; Florist: Cristina Gonzalez; Stationery: East and West Designs; DJ/lighting: Alex DJ Cabo Events; Rentals: Warehouse Rentals & The Cabo Wedding Co.)

Setting the Intimate Atmosphere

Karolina Fernandes emphasizes the importance of creating a cozy ambiance with lighting. “Use warm, soft lighting such as string lights, candles, or lanterns to create a cozy ambiance,” she advises. Lighting sets the tone and creates a magical atmosphere, making guests feel comfortable and connected.

Warm Color Scheme

Small sweetheart table with overflow of flows and centerpieces beside a lake

(Above photo vendors: Photography: Jordan Blalock Photography; Venue: The Barn at Paradise Place; Florals: Robin Stout & Co.)

Choosing the right color scheme is crucial. Karolina recommends warm, rich colors like deep reds, burgundies, or earthy tones to create a cozy atmosphere. The color palette contributes significantly to the overall warmth and intimacy of the space.

Texture and Textiles

To add warmth and luxury, incorporate plush fabrics like velvet, lace, or satin. “Texture and textiles play a vital role in creating a warm atmosphere,” says Karolina. From table runners to chair covers and cushions, these elements elevate the overall aesthetic and comfort of the space.

Thoughtful Seating Arrangement

Wooden chairs accompanied by a white table and tapered blue candles(Above photo vendors: Photographer: Jon + Moch Photography; Event Planner: Hallea Events; Event Venue: Bemis Building; Equipment Rentals: Pedersen’s Event Rentals; Floral Designer: BAHTOH)

Karolina advises arranging seating to encourage conversation and interaction among guests. “Create a close-knit feel with a seating arrangement that fosters connection,” she suggests. This approach ensures that, even in a smaller setting, guests feel engaged and part of the celebration.

Personal Touches

Wedding reception centerpiece with a personalized glass (Above photo vendors: Photographer: Wonder & Magic; Venue: Powerscourt House Estate & Gardens; Florist: Frog Prince Wedding & Events; Stationery: Calligraphy by Laura)

Incorporating personal items, photos, or memorabilia is a key aspect of making the space feel intimate. “Personal touches make the space uniquely yours,” notes Karolina. These details create a sense of familiarity and emotional connection, making the celebration more meaningful.

Musical Atmosphere

(Above photo vendors: Photographer: James & Jess; Wedding Planner & Florist: Tyler Speier; Venue: Private Residence; Band: @bluebreezeband)

For an intimate soundtrack, Karolina recommends live acoustic music or a small jazz band. “Music and entertainment contribute to the romantic and intimate ambiance of the evening,” she says. Live performances add a personal touch and enhance the overall experience.

Natural Elements

Reception table with centerpiece, tapered candle and table card(Above photo vendors: Photographer: Stephanie Mason & Co.; Wedding Planner: Diamonds Destination Weddings; Ceremony/Reception Site: Dreams Onyx; Florist: Beach Brides Lab; Stationery: The Invitation Studio)

Foliage and florals play a crucial role in the decor. “Decorate with greenery and flowers that suit the season and venue,” suggests Karolina. Bringing nature indoors adds a touch of freshness and complements the destination wedding vibe.

Cozy Lounge Areas

Lounging area in wicker and rattan for a cocktail hour(Above photo vendors: Photographer: Sara Richardson; Wedding Planner: Claudia Palma of Amy Abbott Events; Ceremony/Reception Site/Cake: Flora Farms; Florist: Cristina Gonzalez Flowers; Rentals: Bazaar Rentals)

Create cozy lounge spaces with comfortable seating and throw blankets for guests to relax and socialize. “Lounge areas provide a retreat for guests to unwind and enjoy the celebration,” says Karolina. These spaces add an extra layer of comfort and style.

Innovative Ideas for Limited Spaces

Tedd Kapinos of Jasper & Prudence Floral and Events shares insights into making a visually stunning and memorable reception in a limited space.

Focus on Tabletop Details

Tedd emphasizes the importance of tabletop details in smaller spaces. “Let the smaller details make a big impression when space is limited,” he advises. Overhead treatments and oversized elements can make the space feel cramped, so focusing on the tabletop creates a visual impact without overwhelming the space.

Low Floral Centerpieces and Candlelight

Table setting outdoors with flowery centerpiece trailing off of table(Photo courtesy of Jasper & Prudence)

In a more intimate setting, Tedd recommends low floral centerpieces combined with candlelight at different levels. “This helps to keep things in perspective,” he notes. Tall arrangements, while impressive in larger spaces, can visually dominate a smaller setting.

Contrasting Colors and Unique Flatware

Adding personality to each place setting is key. Tedd suggests using charger plates or round placemats in contrasting colors paired with unique flatware. These details add vibrancy and individuality to each guest’s experience.

Fabulous Paper Items

Collage of two photos with colorful blue and orange place settings for a reception(Above photo vendors: Concept, Design & Florals: Inessa Nichols Design; Photography: Cheers Babe Photo; Coordination & Planning: Wild Heart Events; Venue: Desert Island Country Club; Tabletop Rentals & Napkins: Catalog Atelier; Linens: Signature Party Rentals)

Creative paper items like personalized menus and seating cards add another layer of detail. “By shining light on the table ‘geography’ via smaller details, you can create a welcoming and vibrant environment for guests,” says Tedd. These paper elements contribute to the overall visual appeal and make the celebration truly memorable.

Styling a destination wedding reception, even if it’s intimate, requires attention to detail and a focus on personal touches. If this feels too overwhelming to tackle on your own, consider hiring an event designer! Many wedding planners actually double as event designers and can offer their expertise at every turn to ensure your reception is everything you envisioned and more. 

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