Wedding Design Elements You Need To Know

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

If you've never planned a wedding before, you're probably unfamiliar with wedding design elements!  Couples lucky enough to have a full-service wedding planner/designer can sit back and let the planner drive. (This is different from the planner who comes with your venue, who will generally not provide design services).

However,  the rest of us need help.  And that's where this guide fits in.  Below, you'll find descriptions of standard wedding decor elements.  You may not opt for all of them, but it's good to know what's out there before you start making decisions.  YOU decide how simple or elaborate you want your decor to be.  Simplicity can be beautiful.  And remember - a well PLANNED/ORGANIZED wedding is a best accessory.

Ceremony Arbor or Backdrop


From the simpler Jewish chuppah, to the elaborate Indian mandap, arbors frame the ceremony.  Arbors need not be arches, but can also be backdrops.  (If you're having a church ceremony, you won't need to think about this).

You determine how elaborate yours should be and whether you need to create one at all.

  • For example, your venue may already have a dramatic focal point you can use:  a large oak tree, a gazebo, a colorful wall, an iron sculpture, etc.  
  • You may want to add some flowers or fabric draping to your structure/backdrop.  In my experience, less is more.  Your ceremony will only take an hour max, so spend most of your decor budget on the reception.
  • If your venue has no structure, you can erect one.  If your ceremony is in front of a scenic view, keep the structure simple so that it doesn't obstruct.
  • If your ceremony is front of a scenic view, you don't need a structure at all!  No decor beats nature's beauty.
  • If you're getting married close to sunset, make sure guests aren't facing the sun.  Otherwise, they'll be uncomfortable.

Ceremony Guest Chairs

wedding chair decoration

You can set out standard white folding chairs and call it a day.  

There's no limit to how elaborate you can be, but this is a low priority for decor because ceremonies last an hour, max.  Your reception will comprise most of the wedding.

Ceremony Aisle

ceremony aisle

Again, you can leave the aisle bare or do more.  Some ideas:

I'd say this is lower priority than even the chairs (but of course, to each their own).

A Note About Ceremony Florals

Ceremony florals can all be repurposed for the reception.  

  • Place them on buffet tables, the cake table, or reception tables (see below).  
  • Individual flowers can be placed on the cake itself.

Guest Sign-In Table

wedding escort cards

Think of this as your wedding guest welcome station.  Here, you can display the following:

  • Guest Signature book (or some other means for guests to leave you messages)
  • Escort/Table Number cards (which tell guests which reception table to sit at)
  • Wedding Seating Chart: this allows guests to see who they'll be sitting with  (it's very optional)
  • Framed photos: engagement photos of yourselves, parents' wedding photos (aww), or grandparents who've passed (double aww)

You can spread these across multiple tables (one in front of the ceremony site, another in front of the reception) or just have one.

You can also decorate this table with a colorful linen, florals, or anything else that showcases your personalities. I've seen many creative ways to display escort cards.

Sweetheart/Head Table & Backdrop


  • This is the table for two where the couple sits.  Since this is a small table, there's not much room for decor outside of a tablecloth, a small floral arrangement, and some tea lights.
  • You can also opt to sit at a large, rectangular head table with your entire wedding party. On this table, you can place evenly spaced vases.  In each vase, you can place a bridesmaid bouquet, and in the middle vase, your bouquet.
  • You can opt for a backdrop behind this table, either made of fabric (otherwise known as "
  • pipe and drape") or other materials.  These ideas can also be used for a ceremony backdrop.

Reception Table


On each reception table, you can place:

  • Table number: you can stick a lasercut table number into the floral centerpiece or set out a standalone one.
  • Tea lights in candle holders (LED or the real stuff), which add warmth when the ceiling lights dim
  • A centerpiece, which is typically a floral arrangement but doesn't have to be.  The main decision here is whether to go for a short or tall arrangement.  Tall floral arrangements are generally pricier, but good at filling space in vast reception halls.  If you're using long rectangular tables instead of round, you may need multiple centerpieces per table.
  • Dinnerware:  plates, glasses, cutlery, napkins, and chargers (you can use the venue's or a rental company's)
  • The dinner menu (typically placed on the dinner plate)
  • Fun, personalized puzzles or games:  a Polaroid camera for guests to take photos of each other, couple-themed Madlibs/crossword puzzle, etc.
  • Guest favors - I prefer edible gifts, because really, who needs a coaster or magnet with your names emblazoned on them? As for edible gifts, a few ideas are: hot sauce, homemade granola, chocolate, fleur de sel, popcorn kernels.

wedding table number

Cake & Dessert Table

wedding dessert table

  • Cake only:  If you're only serving cake, it'll typically be placed on a table the same size as your sweetheart table.  Alongside the cake, there will be a cake cutter, champagne glasses, perhaps a few scattered flowers.
  • Dessert table:  If you'll be displaying several desserts alongside your cake, you'll need a larger table.  Some people a lot of creativity into the display of all the treats.

wedding cake

Linens & Fabric (Pipe and Drape)

  • You can put a tablecloth on every table mentioned above, including buffet tables. If you want patterned/unique linens, you may need to source from a linen rental company (see below).
  • One tip:  Renting linens for irregularly shaped or very large tables may be expensive. Or, you may have an already beautiful table that just needs a pop of color.  In this case, rent or buy runners!
  • You may need fabric for draping your arbor or sweetheart table, as mentioned above.

Extra Furniture

wedding furniture

  • Full-service venues usually have the essentials, but if you don't like your venue's standard chairs or you're planning to go for that "vintage living room in the outdoors" look, you may want to rent extra furniture.

How to Source Everything Above

  • Your venue:  If your venue is full service, then they'll already have standard items:  solid colored linens, chairs (folding or chiavari are standard), cutlery, all tables mentioned above.
  • Event rental company: If you desire a greater selection (of cutlery/furniture/linens) than what your venue offers, try a full-service event rental company.  Also, if your reception is taking place at a venue where weddings aren't customarily held such as a private estate or small regional park, then you'll be required to obtain the basics from a rental company.
  • Specialty event rental company: If you want unique or patterned linens, you can try a linen rental company.  If you're having an Indian wedding, you'll want to obtain a few pieces of decor with ethnic flair.
  • Etsy:  If you hadn't noticed from links above, I'm a huge fan of Etsy for unique paper goods: escort cards, table numbers, menus, guest favor bags, etc.  Minted is also a great option for paper goods.
  • Your Wedding Planner/Designer: Some wedding designers have workshops and can make elements of your wedding decor.  Others fully subcontract decor to a rental company.  In any case, it's best to rent through your designer.  They probably have relationships with the rental companies and receive discounts which they can pass onto you.

A Note About Using Rental Companies

Remember that if you don't have a full-service planner, you'll be responsible for picking up, packing up, and returning your rental items to the rental companies.  Some companies will do drop off and pick up for a fee.  In any scenario, renting items requires coordination.  For this reason, it's best to rent from no more than three different companies.

Whew!  That was a lot of information, but now you can tackle decorating like a boss.

Is there any essential decor that I missed?  Let me know in the comments!