How to transform a large venue into a more intimate wedding space

With more couples opting to forge ahead with their plans to have their wedding (which is fabulous!), and holding a smaller celebration followed up by a bigger party the following year, I’m being asked for help with tweaking the décor plans for a more intimate setup. Couples are looking for advice on how can they make their wedding venue, which they’d of course booked planning for around 80+ guests, still look like their dream wedding with only a handful of guests whilst still leaving some in the budget to have a bigger celebratory party next year. Their worries are that the venue will look sparse and everyone will look just a little lost in such a big setting. We’ve planned a few weddings recently with this in mind and it can be done beautifully, without doubling the budget and still incorporating all those lovely touches you had originally planned on having.

This is your wedding day whether you have 15 attending or 150. You have had this dream of how it would all look and it is still achievable…. and yes you can still afford to have an amazing party next year to celebrate with the rest of your friends and family! So if this is you, and you need help on planning an intimate wedding, then I hope this helps!

­­­Firstly contact your décor supplier and see what plan they can come up with. If you’re going completely DIY then that makes things a lot easier as anything you use for the wedding day can be put away and used again for the party celebrations next year but, if you’re hiring décor, then see if you can ‘split’ the order you have with your supplier by making a list of the things you really want for your ceremony – maybe a backdrop or flower arch, some trees or flower urns, an aisle carpet and just a few chair drapes for, say, the aisle chairs. Then make a list of things you were also going to have which could actually be done cheaper or on a smaller scale, for instance lighting, centrepieces and the cake. Some of you will be having a blessing type ceremony next year with everyone there so work out if you can afford to hire certain items twice but, for now, focus on your actual wedding day plans. These are the moments and the photos you will treasure so don’t cut back on this day with the thought of saving it all for the bigger celebrations.  

Start with the entrance to your venue – the first glimpse for your guests and a chance to create a bit of excitement. Whilst a lot of venues we work with are stunning of their own accord, it doesn’t hurt to add a few bits of décor to fill the space and welcome your guests at the same time.

A simple ‘Welcome To Our Wedding’ or ‘So Glad You Could Be Here With Us to Celebrate’ board to sit on an easel or stand (your venue may well have an easel or stand you can use) or just freestanding, leaning against a doorframe decorated with a bit of fresh or faux greenery, or a large bespoke chalkboard showing your names and the date are available to hire from loads of suppliers. If you want to go down the DIY route, ask us about personalised printables or find some online which can transform a piece of board or a pallet you already have. These adhesive printables are quite easy to DIY. A few potted trees or plants, some crate displays or a basket of brollies or blankets are also easy décor to add to make a really welcoming display.

For inside the ceremony room, consider hiring an archway or backdrop or have a go at making one yourself as this will be a real focal point for your ceremony and will add a real wow factor. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate floral-filled extravaganza and just plain greenery and some twinkly lights can look amazing, as will a simple backdrop incorporating voile drapes, greenery and some fairylights. It may initially seem a lot of trouble to go to for a smaller ceremony but this is your wedding day, so why not! Remember this is where the majority of your photos will be taken while you exchange vows and sign the register so why not have some fabulous backdrop for those pics to look back on. Don’t forget you can have usually have your ceremony backdrop moved to behind your top table, another place where you’ll be photographed during speeches and toasts, so it really is something worth including

To make a big room feel more inviting, the trick is to visually draw the room in from all sides.  Your venue no doubt has some amazing character, and that’s probably one of the reasons why you chose it, but don’t feel like you can’t create that welcoming atmosphere you’d originally planned just because you have a huge space and less guests to fill it.

The most time consuming part of sorting out the ceremony will be the seating arrangements as every guest will need an assigned seat. Check with your venue for updated rules on this but if you have to split chairs into ‘bubble’ groups then don’t leave this til you get to the venue. It takes a little bit of planning even when you’re only talking about a small number of chairs. Cut out some squares of paper with the guests’ names written on them, including yours and the registrars, and arrange them making sure that both sides feel evenly ‘weighted’ as you could need groups of two chairs here and three there. Take a pic on your phone once you have it sorted so it helps with quick setup on the day and make sure you both have a copy or forward it to your venue wedding coordinator. Move it into an album on your phone photos called wedding day so it’s easy to find on the day.  TIP: think about arranging your chairs in a chevron pattern or different layout than the normal straight rows to make it all feel cosier.

You can print off some lovely chair labels online (loads of free or cheap templates available) or make or buy yourself some card luggage tags from one of the bargain home stores or your local craftshop and handwrite the names on them then attach twine or ribbon so that they can be tied to the top of the chair back. If that sounds too much to handle then you’re bound to find a supplier who will do this all for you. TIP: If you’re not confident of your handwriting then it’s much easier to write in capital letters than lower case for a more even look plus it’ll be easier for your guests to read. Draw a line on each tag with pencil and write the names in pencil first too then just go over with a sharpie type pen.

Next decorate the chairs so they won’t feel so ‘lost’ in a big venue and like they’re floating in this huge space. Either hire some vertical chair drapes and ask if the supplier can suggest some different options for tying them such as a flowers, ribbon or greenery.  We often do a simple greenery tie and it always looks really stylish. You can also make these types of chair drapes yourself easily enough especially when you only need a small number. You can have chair drapes on all the chairs or you can just decorate the chairs lining the edge of the aisle. As an alternative to chair drapes, you could always decorate the chairs with a bunch of greenery, flowers (real or artificial as some of the artificial ones these days are so realistic) or a bunch of gypsophila tied and attached to the chair with twine.

To really complete the ceremony, add an aisle carpet if you can. An aisle carpet really adds something special to a ceremony. It may be something you hadn’t initially planned on but with a smaller ceremony it ties the whole look together and gives the whole occasion more wow factor. I would say think carefully when choosing aisle runners. Carpet really is the best option. Hessian aisle runners can crease easily and can be a trip hazard unless they have some sort of non-slip backing (which then adds to the expense) and they are also notorious for catching heels. Same goes for the cheaper fabric aisle runners you can buy online – they look great until someone walks on them and are usually very thin and may tear easily. If you want to protect your aisle carpet and keep it pristine until you arrive, as long as guests have space to get to their chairs from the outside edge of each row, then string a greenery garland or some bunting across the entrance to the aisle between the two last rows of chairs to cordon it off.  Just ask your venue coordinator to unhook it once everyone is seated and ready. If you’re having a boho style wedding then some Persian style carpet runners placed end to end look great as an aisle but, again, be aware of any trip hazards and use double-sided tape to stick everything down. If you can’t find an aisle carpet to hire within your budget then look for remnants at carpet stores or for edge-bound extra long hall runners that you can sometimes pick up for a bargain. A great alternative to still achieve an aisle effect is to use artificial or real flower petals and make an aisle edging from those, or hire some lanterns and add greenery to them to mark the aisle edges. Creating an aisle is really worth the little bit of extra effort and will really lift a room and look amazing.

From there tackle the outer edges of the room. If you’re in a large venue that has vast expanses of walls and high ceilings then use décor to bring everything in to feel more intimate. Hire some full height trees or palms in pots to place along the edges of the walls or the corners of the room. These won’t detract from the character of the venue but will draw the eye in and make everything feel cosier, especially if they’re decorated with twinkly fairylights.  You could also buy some tall potted plants if you can find a bargain online or supermarkets often have special deals going on larger plants. Plastic pots can be spray painted or painted with chalkpaint so you don’t have to go to the expense of buying pots as well, or can be wrapped in paper or fabric. One couple I know wrapped big pots of lavender in brown paper and tied them with twine and they looked fabulous. Hiring might be a cheaper option if you want larger trees and plants, but smaller ones are totally DIY’able. Another way of decorating the outer walls is to fill any windowsills or alcoves around the ceremony room with plants, preferably trailing ones that hang down like simple ivy or ferns as these will also draw the eye in, or try artificial greenery. You can also use groups of flowers or greenery in jam jars. Add fairylights, more lanterns or candles to finish the look. Bunting can also be used strung from window to window and has the same effect and can be continued to the ceiling. Fill any spaces or close off areas with hired shutter screens that can be decorated with foliage and flowers. TIP: Make hired items do double duty and use the screens or trees as a table plan or a photo display.

Decorating the venue ceiling sometimes feel like an added extra you might not be able to squeeze into your budget but this is one area which will be really worth the effort and will help make the space look amazing as well as feel more welcoming and cosy. It’s like the icing on the cake! It doesn’t have to be a huge job or a huge expense however. Some venues have their own strings of fairylights you can hire really reasonably and which will include setup. Other budget friendly options for decorating ceilings include strings of rice paper lanterns (which always look great and allow you to bring in some colour), garlands of fresh or artificial foliage or flowers (a fun diy make for those wanting to help you), or good old fashioned bunting which comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes these days so can suit different style weddings and always brings a room to life. And don’t let any high ceilings scare you off – if your venue has really high ceilings then garlands or lights at a lower level is always a great idea for bringing the feeling of height down without detracting from the character of the detail up above. As long as you can find something to attach them to and your venue are happy for you to do it, it’s something you can do or you can ask your supplier to install for you. There are some amazing suppliers who will do the more complicated and elaborate ceiling decorations higher up if that’s what you want but lower level garlands are another easy DIY job. TIP: Try a modern take on bunting and make some yourself out of fabric remnants like strips of soft velvets or lace, pastel toned fabrics or even lengths of ribbons. 

If you’re having a reception at the same venue then this doesn’t need to make a big dent in the budget either. Ask your venue team if they could move all the decorated chairs from the ceremony to the top tables and have the backdrop moved here too. If you haven’t opted for a ceremony backdrop then you can still decorate behind your top table even if you go for a round table by using the same bunting or garlands used elsewhere or get a lovely bespoke sign made up with your new married surname on it or your initials (you’ll find loads online or just ask and we’ll point you in the right direction or help you DIY one).

As you will have only a small number of tables to decorate, centrepieces are something that can easily be DIY’d with a collection of nice jam jars or one large pickle jar filled with a mixture of greenery and flowers. Tealights in little glass votives can be hired or bought and added to the table for atmosphere or you could hire centrepieces that incorporate lanterns and flowers, or just hire a set of lanterns or glass hurricane lamps and add your own jar of flowers alongside.  A simple little framed table number or name (again hire or DIY from some cheap frames) will finish the look. TIP: If using jars, don’t feel like they all have to match on each table, rather aim to have odd numbers and mix and match. That way you don’t have to buy jars and can get all your family collecting them for you. Also there are some jarred foods like jams etc that work out cheaper to buy (and use the contents) than buying the actual jar itself.

If you’ve always liked the thought of favours for your guests but it just wasn’t in your budget then having a smaller guest list might mean you’re able to include them. Favours can be done really cheaply and we’d always suggest going for foodie favours like bags of sweets or fudge to ensure they end up going home with the guests or for the kiddies make theirs something that will keep them occupied! TIP: Always choose a favour that’s easy for your guests to pop in their pocket or bag at the end of the night and preferably something edible and you won’t find any left behind at the end of the reception.

I hope this helps you with your planning and also helps you see that having a more intimate wedding doesn’t mean you can’t have the wedding day you’ve dreamt of, and that you don’t have to look lost in that massive venue or keep things too plain and simple. Remember this is your wedding day – one of the best days of your lives and one of the most memorable. Make it memorable for all the right reasons. Embrace all the positives a smaller wedding day brings and make sure it is still everything you’ve wanted. If you’re opting for another party next year, it will still be a fabulous occasion but your actual wedding day is the day you’ve been waiting for. At the end of the day it’s about you two exchanging your vows and making fabulous memories no matter how many people can be there with you but you can still make it all look magical.

I’m always here if you have any questions or need help with your planning (including free advice as we’re all about helping each other) even if you want to go totally down the DIY route. Have fun and have a fabulous wedding surrounded by your nearest and dearest!

Victoria x

extremely lovely weddings & events

tel: victoria on 07843801527


instagram: extremely.lovely.weddings


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