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Let’s be real: Most couples aren’t working with an unlimited wedding budget. So, how do the rest of us decide where to spend the bulk of the floral budget, or whether to spring for fancier napkins? As a professional wedding designer, I’ve learned some things about when to go “all out” and when the basic option will do. Read on for my tips to stay within your budget and still wow your guests.

burgundy tablecloth reception

SAVE ON NAPKINS, SPLURGE ON TABLECLOTHS

Those specialty napkins you had to have? As soon as a guest sits down, they’ll be dirty or on the floor. Save some money by using the standard, white napkins that your caterer or venue normally provides. To really make a design impact, splurge on upgraded tablecloths. You can rent specialty linens that are boldly striped, full of sequins or made from delicate lace.

dahlia bridal bouquet

SAVE ON BRIDESMAID FLOWERS, SPLURGE ON THE BRIDAL BOUQUET

I always recommend to my clients to put their money towards the items that will be in the most photographs. Your photos are what you will look at for the next 50 years. The bridesmaids bouquets will be in a few photos, like the ones of them walking down the aisle and a group shot. The bridal bouquet, on the other hand, will be in almost every photo of the bride, the ceremony, and the portraits. Ask your florist to propose smaller bridesmaids bouquets and then use the extra money to make the bridal bouquet extra special. It could be using more flowers, making it larger, or adding some beautiful French silk ribbon. Whatever you choose, that bouquet will live on in your photographs. For that reason, you want it to be as spectacular as possible.

MORE WEDDING SPLURGES AND SAVES

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Sure, spring is still new, but another season is fast approaching: Wedding season! Whether you’re attending a friend’s ceremony or are busy planning your own big day (like Kayla and me!,) spring and summer are the most popular times to tie the knot. (If you’re as excited as we are, check out our new Wedding Survival Guide series!)

And the hottest color to be surrounded by while gettin’ hitched? You guessed it: cool mint green. From retro glassware to bridesmaid dresses to delicate French macarons, this color is everywhere. So, we’re naming April’s Color of the Month after the original mint green wedding fixture: Those melt-away wedding mints.

Succulent Wedding Bouquet
We’ve featured mint before, but Wedding Mint is softer with gray undertones — think of the soft green of succulent petals or a vintage jadeite platter. Isn’t this succulent bouquet gorgeous? (Confession: It’s already on my wedding Pinterest board.)

Mint Green Kitchen Design by Mark Williams

Design by Mark WIlliams

Okay, let’s say you don’t have weddings on the brain. This color is bright and cheerful, yet muted enough to cover all four walls. Here, designer Mark Williams painted this entire eat-in kitchen — even the trim — with a minty hue.

MORE GORGEOUS WAYS TO USE MINT GREEN

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The venue for your reception is the largest and most daunting purchase during your wedding planning adventure. It will most likely cost the most money and all venues are very different in what they offer. A few of my past clients have been disappointed after they booked the venue and found out later that they weren’t allowed to have some of the decor they hoped for or their pictures turned out dark because of the lack of natural light. These 5 questions are to ask reception venues when going on visits to avoid disappointment later on when you start thinking about catering, photos, and decor.

Green Building Wedding Reception

photo by Inbal Sivan Photography

Choose a venue based on what aspects of your reception are most important to you. Do you have 300 guests and want a black tie affair? Then a beautiful ballroom would work better than a barn in a field. Do you want your local BBQ restaurant to cater and crave bright, light filled photographs? Then look for all white loft spaces with tons of windows that allow outside catering. Make a list of 3-5 non-negotiable qualities you want in your reception and start your venue search from there. Once you’ve found a few reception spaces to take a look at, ask these 5 questions:

When Does Quiet Time Start?

You may have free reign of the venue all night long, but some spots have strict noise ordinances from the city that say the tunes need to stop as early at 10pm. Ask you venue about their rules to know how long your DJ or band can crank the tunes.

giant balloons reception

Photo by Clark + Walker Studio

What Can I Decorate?

I’ve had clients in the past who had their hearts set on pretty, hanging lights and garland, only to be crushed when the venue didn’t allow anything to be hung from the ceiling. If your Pinterest board is full of cafe lights, hanging garlands and large floral installations, don’t be disappointed — get the facts before you book.

warehouse wedding cafe lights

Photo by Sara Wight Photography

What About Glitter, Candles and Confetti?

Many venues, because of fire hazards, are doing away with real flame candles — they only allow LED candles. If your dream is to have a reception filled with a lot of natural candlelight, choose a space that still allows this. Same question pertains to glitter and confetti — because of the mess of cleaning that stuff up, is quickly going on many venues’ Do Not Bring list.

white tent wedding reception

Photo by Amber Gress Photography

Can I Use an Outside Caterer?

This is a big one: Find out if the reception venue allows only in-house catering. This means that they have a specific caterer who makes all of the food for all of their events. You’ll be held to that chef’s style of cooking, which is normally delicious, although might not be exactly what you were hoping for. I love to use in-house caterers when the venue is affiliated with a restaurant or when you don’t want the hassle of hiring another vendor. The all-inclusive nature of having a caterer and venue under one contract has its perks, but if you have a specific restaurant, style of food or dietary restrictions (think vegan or kosher offerings,) you’re better off choosing a spot that allows you to make your own pick.

romantic vintage wedding

Photo by Judy Pak Photography

How Many Guests Will It Accommodate?

Since you already have a rough guest count, use that number to find a reception space. A large space that can sit 300 people is going to feel like a ghost town with only 150. On the other end, you don’t want to pack so many guests in that your loved ones feel uncomfortably crowded. Ask how many guests the venue can hold for a comfortable standing-only cocktail party, a sit-down dinner at round tables, and a sit-down dinner at long tables. Using round tables can typically seat more people in a space than long tables.

Armed with this knowledge I’m confident that you will choose the right venue for your amazing reception. How’s your venue search going? Have you discovered any deal breakers when going on visits?

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Editors’ note: Today, we’re welcoming wedding designer and HGTV.com contributor Michelle Edgemont to share her wedding-planning savvy in a new series we’re calling Wedding Survival Guide. Recently engaged? Read on for advice from Michelle, and from couples who have planned a wedding — and lived to tell the tale.

You’re engaged…now what? You’ve shared the news with friends and family, so now it’s time to start some serious wedding planning. It can be very overwhelming to plan what is probably the biggest party of your lives. Learn from those who’ve done it before by consulting with newlyweds. A few of my past wedding design clients have kindly shared their tips for what to do first after the proposal.

DECIDE WHAT’S IMPORTANT

brooklyn bride and groom at liberty warehouse

Hart and Sol Photo

Liz and Tim were married in an open loft venue, Liberty Warehouse, in Brooklyn. Liz says, “Our decisions were based on what had been important to us throughout our ten year relationship. Brooklyn was where we fell in love and lived together in our first apartment.” Use her advice and make a list of anything and everything that is important to you both or had a huge impact in your relationship. This brainstorming session can help you decide what city to be married in.

CHOOSE YOUR EVENT SIZE

modern indian wedding ceremony

Our Labor of Love

In a multicultural event, Nisha and Brendan were married in a modern, Hindu ceremony. “We both really wanted an outdoor ceremony. Afterwards, we moved the party to a beautiful indoor reception space. The space perfectly accommodated our number of guests,” Nisha says.  Nisha makes a great point here about guest count. The number of loved ones you invite is going to make a huge impact on your ceremony and reception venue choices. Some spaces can’t hold over 200 people, while others might have minimum guest counts on weekends that wouldn’t allow for small weddings. Knowing a rough guest count before you start your venue search is key in finding the right event space for you.

DON’T OD ON INSPIRATION

colorful modern indian wedding reception

Our Labor of Love

Nisha, an Indian bride planning a colorful, whimsical wedding, loved looking at inspiration online right after she was engaged. A few months into the design process, she realized it was better to stay true to what they wanted as a couple instead of constantly looking at all of the wonderful wedding images online. I love this advice! After you get engaged, spend some time getting familiar with classic wedding decor by browsing blogs and magazines. Then, discuss what types of decor are important with your fiance. Make a list, stick to it, and cut your wedding blog browsing down to once a week in order to avoid getting overwhelmed with inspiration.

REAL TALK: TIME TO BUDGET

pink escort cards

brklyn view photography

Ah, the budget. This step is the most uncomfortable and the most important. How much money do you have to spend? Whether you are eloping or having a 300-guest black tie affair, your wedding is going to cost at least the amount of your marriage license. Decisions cannot be made in the planning process unless you know how much money you have. Talk with your fiance and both sets of parents about the amount of cash everyone is able and willing to contribute. No one likes to talk about money. It might be awkward. Someone might get upset/angry/disappointed. But, when the conversations are over, you’ll have an amount to work with. It could be $5,000 or $50,000. Either way, you’ll know where you stand, and what you can afford.

You’ll be glad you spent the time thinking about what you really want and can afford when the process gets rolling.

So tell me: Which of these steps have you taken? What wedding questions are stumping you? I’m here to help.

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