Empty loft! Cheap decorating tips!
March 31, 2011 9:38 AM   Subscribe

What are the things that make the best weddings you've attended so memorable and fun for the guests? And what are some cheap ways to decorate an empty loft for the event? Finally, where are the best places to get craft supplies (feathers, lights, vases) in NYC?

Part I: Decorating ideas I've already adopted:

+We're using old wine corks as place card holders for the guests.

+I'm nixing most of the expensive floral arrangements in favor of putting feathers, white lights, and artsy looking twigs in the vases.

+Our cake is going to be a simple version of this one, with these guys on top, in lieu of fancy and expensive flowers. We'll just have the bakery deliver a plain tiered cake and my mom will do the final touches herself.

+I already learned how to make boutonnieres, corsages and my bouquet.

+We're relying on stuff like floating tea candles in bowls of water to make the space look less bare and loft-y.

+What else have you guys seen at weddings that was both affordable to pull off and looked really nice?

Part II: Where should I go in NYC for craft supplies, especially feathers?

Part III: What were some of the best weddings you went to? What made them so fun? I know, I know: the best weddings are the ones where the bar flows plenty and the guests dance all night. I also know it'll go so fast that I'll barely have time to process it, but I still want to make sure my guests enjoy themselves. If you can think of specific, cool stuff, please send it my way.
posted by Hwaet to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Photo booth! My friend's wedding had a photobooth that printed two copies, one of which went in an album where people could write messages in instead of a guestbook. The second copies were given to the guests. I'm not sure that this is a cheap option but it was really great. The rest of their wedding was DIY with craft paper tablecloths and crayons.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:45 AM on March 31, 2011 [6 favorites]

The best weddings I have been to have all remembered that the day is as much, if not more about the GUESTS than the couple. (i.e., don't make people wait around at your cocktail reception for hours while you take pictures, stuff like that).
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:51 AM on March 31, 2011

The best weddings I went to had open seating for the reception. This way people could get together with people they knew.

The best weddings I've attended have been full of people I knew other than the bride and groom, allowing for fun socialization and catching up with friends I don't get to see often while the bride and groom are doing their bride and groom things.

Also, a really good DJ. Not just a wedding DJ, but a really good, experienced DJ who plays a wide variety of music and not just the usual, nondescript, inoffensive stuff at most weddings. (One set of friends had the DJ play "The Humpty Dance" in honor of a good friend.)

Both of my sisters did a lot of table decoration shopping at Michael's Arts and Crafts. One used glass sea shells filled with pebbles, another used vases with fake viney-sticks. Both spent less than $100 on center pieces for 15 - 20 tables.
posted by zizzle at 9:53 AM on March 31, 2011

Make sure there's enough room for people to sit, particularly to sit and chat. If you're not having a sit-down meal, sometimes you end up with almost nowhere for anyone to sit. Also, if you have a sit/gather area defined, do something that will make the ceiling feel lower - a couple of arches or arbors (you can get these in a basic green plastic from larger party stores, and then wrap them with white Christmas/fairy lights and swaths of tulle or fabric) around the edges of the space, or even a canopy or table umbrellas.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:53 AM on March 31, 2011

Difficult to do, but a wedding I went to had assigned seating and instead of grouping people with people they knew, the bride and groom grouped people with people who they were likely to get along with or had interesting things in common with. It worked out well as I had an interesting time chatting over the meal with some folks I otherwise wouldn't have met.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:56 AM on March 31, 2011

More interactive "guest books" than just a sign-in table. At one they used a polaroid camera for instant pictures for people to sign, and put in an album right away - every guest identified! The photo booth is also pretty sweet, as above. I also liked the big frame mat for signing where the bride and groom were going to have their wedding photo put in.

Short, entertaining speeches, under 5 minutes.
posted by lizbunny at 9:56 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just my two cents but I'd go out and price the boutonnieres, corsages, and bouquet. You might find that the price difference isn't that much and you'll have a much more relaxing time right before the wedding if you're not worried about the flowers (since that's one thing you can't really do too far in advance).

I like weddings where there are a couple of chances for everyone to get together, especially if a lot of people are traveling. It doesn't have to be anything formal. We made our rehearsal dinner very casual and just had bbq and invited everyone who wanted to come.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:58 AM on March 31, 2011

The only way you're going to be able to speak to everyone there is if you have a plan to do so. Either visit the individual tables during dinner service, or have an old-fashioned receiving line. Otherwise, you'll speak to only the pushiest people, not your quiet friend who came all the way from Idaho. You do, I think, need to have a private moment, just a few seconds, with everyone there. This is a big job that requires a plan.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:04 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

The two best weddings I've been to had common themes between them both.

1. Non-traditional, non-formal.
2. Really good food. One had food from a local Lebanese restaurant that catered the event. The other had piles of food brought in by family, skipping a caterer all together.
3. Free beer, free wine, some liquor. One had case after case of beer and wine, one had two kegs and cases of Two Buck Chuck. Both beers were local microbrews; non-offensive types of beers such as amber, heff, pale ale. Both had plenty of non-alcoholic options as well.
4. Small affairs. Under 100 people at each wedding, just good friends and close family.
5. Somewhere nearby to smoke with ease. If you have smoking guests, they will appreciate this.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:06 AM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think we nailed it, if I do say so myself. It has been 9 months, and people keep telling us how much they loved our wedding. And afterour friends universes collided at the wedding, several people ended up becoming friends because they met at our wedding. Here are a few things that I think contributed:

- We had a free photo booth that our photographer set up with his laptop and a camera on a tripod. The "scene" was just a wall and a bench but we had two cheap white empty picture frames as props. The ensuing photos were absolutely hilarious - people had tons of fun with this. These are some of the best photos of our guests.
- The cocktail hour started immediately after the wedding. (We missed almost the whole cocktail hour with photos and some private time, which was fine. We were given cocktails and snacks to much on.)
- Everyone got to bring a date if they wanted one.
- We sat people with their friends.
- In the RSVP card, we asked people to request 1 song. We gave the band that list, and every song they played had been requested by someone. The dance floor was packed all night, and at the end of the night our guests kept chanting "one more song, one more song!"
- We had two areas with chairs and tables (and luminarias) where people could have a conversation but still see the dance floor.
- We had lawn games.
- We had a few groups of friends there, so there was that critical mass.
- Yes, the booze did flow, and it definitely helped.
- The ceremony was very meaningful. We had nothing to do with this - we just told the Rabbi to do whatever he wanted to do - but it ended up being very meaningful to a lot of our guests.
-We bought a bunch of $2 flip flops in our wedding colors and put them out for people. They got scooped up right away and men and women were wearing them on the dance floor.
- We served cookies (from a famous local pastry shop) and milk a half hour before the buses left.
- We had buses so very few people had to drive.

That sort of thing. My goal (as chief wedding planner) was to make the ceremony meaningful to the two of us, and for the guests to feel welcomed and to have fun. So that's where we focused our energy, money, decisionmaking, etc. It was an absolute blast for us and - I think - most of our guests.

(And it did go by fast, but it was tons of fun and wasn't a total blur.)
posted by semacd at 10:24 AM on March 31, 2011 [16 favorites]

Bonehead and I had our wedding on Halloween.

1) We not only encouraged guests to come dressed up, I provided a "tickle trunk" of extra hats, masks, foam swords and other accessories for those guests who didn't dress up. Although fully 2/3 of the guests showed up in costume, the trunk got raided repeatedly throughout the night, and the kids switched Halloween costumes multiple times. The mariachi hat became the "speaker's hat" without which you couldn't make a speech.

2) Wedding favours were trick or treat bags filled with Halloween candy, which guests could either take home, eat, or give to the hyperactive little kids in the room (who admittedly missed out on their trick-or-treating that year).

3) We had no cake, no cupcakes, no candy table. We did have 100 candy apples fresh from a local producer, though. We arranged them in a cauldron for extra effect.

4) We arranged for a separate seating area away from the music for those who wanted to talk. And at least in my family, there are a lot of people who wanted to talk! :)
posted by LN at 10:34 AM on March 31, 2011

Chocolate fountains are awesome.

Also, even if you aren't Jewish, consider doing a Yichud with your husband immediately after the ceremony. It's the Jewish tradition of the bride and groom having about a half hour to themselves in a private room. In ancient times this time time was used to consummate the marriage, but now, it's an excellent way to gather yourself, spend a few intimate (non-dirty) moments with your new husband, and prepare yourself for the party to come.
posted by litnerd at 10:41 AM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've done a few family weddings, and the majority of all of them consisted of 'homemade' decorations. None were expensive weddings. One aspect that really can dress up a casual/plain space is the use of fabric draping.

The way we always do this is to buy cheap bolts of tulle and drape them from a central ceiling point, outward and down. To up the drama a bit (and because we always end up with evening receptions) we first string white lights, then drape the tulle gently under them. This is a decent example, though we always try to completely envelop the lights so the elements look like one.

Other cheap-ish things that we've used to decorate/personalize a space: interesting lighting (hanging candles, Japanese lanterns), nontraditional table decor, pops of color.

Our favorite place to find this stuff is IKEA. Walk through with an open mind, and you'll find a ton of options. Their glassware is cheap and plentiful, they have a million little items that you can repurpose and be creative with.

Here's a small collection of photos from the most recent wedding; hopefully you can see the ways we worked with fabric and different elements.
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:42 AM on March 31, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so far!

First off, unless we can pull off the tripod-cum-photobooth thing, I doubt we'll have money for a photobooth. It's a great idea, but the traditional set-up just isn't in our budget.

We can't afford a band, probably can't afford a professional DJ, so I'm already make playlists (processional, cocktail hour, dinner time, dancing time). We might ask a friend or two to perform a song for us, but it all depends what the venue can handle. Not ideal, I know.

Our food is going to phenomenal, thanks to an amazing friend who's making Southern fare (two kinds of BBQ, hush puppies, banana pudding with homemade Nila wafers!). We're debating on doing two or three signature drinks in lieu of a full bar, though I have to see if it'll save money. We've definitely been kicking around the idea of stocking the bar with Three Buck Chuck.

The interactive guest book is an awesome idea, so I'm stealing it.

Our wedding is small and super informal - we couldn't afford a fancy shmancy wedding even if we wanted to.
posted by Hwaet at 10:46 AM on March 31, 2011

Make sure there are small, alcohol-absorbing snacks around (like bread) in the long interval between the event's beginning and the dinner hour. People WILL drink too much, and having a little stomach-filler around (plus finger food for the kids) is one of the smartest, least-mentioned wedding tricks I know.
posted by Aquaman at 10:54 AM on March 31, 2011

for a budget photobooth setup, you might consider this software: http://sparkbooth.com/

haven't tried it myself, but it seems like a good idea.
posted by juliapangolin at 11:07 AM on March 31, 2011

My friends who had a photobooth just had a digital camera sitting on a tripod with a remote click thing so people could take the pictures of themselves. Set it up and outline on the wall the dimensions of the shot in chalk or something, add a couple picture frame props and whatnot, and voila, a photobooth.
posted by brainmouse at 11:21 AM on March 31, 2011

I don't know much about weddings, but I know this is a really fun site. I've placed a couple orders and have been exceedingly impressed each time. I mean, I just got this thing for $11!
posted by sweetmarie at 12:05 PM on March 31, 2011

Response by poster: Ha, sweetmarie, my mother has made save-on-crafts.com her new homepage. She loves it too.

Any advice on where to buy craft supplies in NYC? I need feathers, specifically.
posted by Hwaet at 12:07 PM on March 31, 2011

You sound like you may be all set for decor, but if you've got some questionable areas on the walls (weird architecture/closets/etc you want to cover up), banners/flags are a great way to go. Cost ~$10 per, customization factor high, great coverage, very cheerful.

Take a length of fabric, any size from standard fabric store widths (3-5 feet roughly) up through a plain twin bedsheet.
Get a small amount of contrasting color material, and a pole slightly longer than your fabric width.
Sew a pocket in one end for your pole (with a string to hang by) and cut the other end to a double-point (or square, or single-point, or scallop, whatever appeals). Cut a strip of your contrasting fabric which you can sew over the cut end of the flag.
For bonus points, use fusible fabric webbing to make an applique for the center of your banner out of your contrasting fabric - a classic wedding thing like hearts, or a theme symbol from your invitations, decorations, etc... birds?
posted by aimedwander at 12:09 PM on March 31, 2011

We had the "secondary" boutonnieres (like for my brothers who were not in the wedding party) made at Safeway and they were cheap and nice.

Paper lanterns could help bring the ceiling down to give it a cozier feel. Pearl River has them in a variety of sizes/colors. (They don't have feathers on their website, but maybe in the store?)

New York has a store for everything! The Feather Place 40 W 38th St., 3rd floor!
posted by vespabelle at 12:10 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

The best wedding I went to was at a small, lovely inn in the Muir Woods in N. California with about 50 guests, a delightful and moving ceremony that blended Korean and Jewish traditions, great food, and a 3-piece jazz combo. It was the warmest, most intimate celebration of a marriage I've ever witnessed -- it felt like it really expressed who the bride and groom were both as individuals and as a couple, and that the guests were very closely included as part of a loving event.
posted by scody at 12:38 PM on March 31, 2011

Have you seen Off-Beat Bride? Lots of great ideas there.

You can definitely do a DIY photobooth. If you google that term, lots of ideas will come up. Do you have a tech geeky friend? Maybe she'd help you set it up? You could hire a high school kid to help man it during the wedding. Have props: boas, big glasses, angel halos, devil ears, marx glasses and nose, etc. And get one of those chalkboard speech bubble things - it's a really great addition. The resulting photos are hilarious and such great mementos for the couple and the guests. I still have wedding photobooth pix around from years ago. It's also a fun activity - people wait around to do it, chatting to others, coming up with good costumes or poses, and meeting new folks. It's a nice break from dancing or drinking and something everyone can do.

I loved some personalized extra-long matchboxes that one couple made. Kind of like this, only they made the covers themselves. It's strange how often I actually use those extra long matchsticks, and they're cute enough to leave out.

If you're having kids attend -- is there anything for them to do?

Basically, the more relaxed you are, and the more fun you're having, everyone else will be happy too. Don't be a stress-case and enjoy your people - that's a great wedding. Congrats!
posted by barnone at 1:10 PM on March 31, 2011

a wedding I went to had assigned seating and instead of grouping people with people they knew, the bride and groom grouped people with people who they were likely to get along with

I'd strongly advise against this. I understand wanting people to mix and socialise instead of huddle in their cliques, but I recently attended a wedding only to discover that I had driven six hours to be seated three tables away from the people I was desperately looking forward to seeing. It also causes a problem when the couple doesn't know their guests' interests as well as they think they do, or forgets to take an important factor into account, like that seating an unmarried but cohabiting couple with your pastor and his wife might not go well.

If you want people to mix, having a cocktail reception instead of a sit down meal works really well.

Where you put the tables makes a big difference. At most weddings I've attended, the tables are arranged so that they surround the dance floor. My cousin recently got married, and had the venue arranged so the dance floor was in a little alcove, to the side of the tables. It was possible to watch the dance floor from your seat (for the first dance), but only if you went out of your way to do so. I've never seen so many people dance at a wedding.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 1:28 PM on March 31, 2011

- Nthing photobooth-on-the-cheap. Don't forget a few props!

- Glad to hear you have the great food in hand; I think this is critical, and you've chosen the perfect cuisine.

- I think the signature drinks idea is great, and would even recommend you stick to one type of liquor for the drinks. In mixed drinks, no one can tell the quality, so you can cut costs there, and of course there are thousands of lists of good wines under $5.

- for decorations, I'd suggest finding a friend with access to a projector of some kind (overhead, slide, whatever) and have a few photos of the two of you and members of your wedding party projected (huge) on the wall of the loft. Black and white images might be best, or Photoshop in your wedding colors. Change the images a couple of times through the party.

- branches + fairy lights + great swaths of muslin or mosquito netting or dropcloths or landscaping fabric should make for a magical evening.
posted by tempest in a teapot at 1:33 PM on March 31, 2011

Photo booth addition: You can make life-sized cardboard cutouts of yourselves for guests to take pictures with: Color printer, paper, a decent pair of scissors, adhesive (spray), and a large-enough cardboard box that can be dismantled to your height. You'll need to figure out how to make it stand but you can look at professional ones of celebrities in party stores.

If you can't find a large enough box, you can probably get something big enough from a local framing store, should pretty cheap if not free.

Warning: Your guests might get carried away with your 2D selves.
posted by Seboshin at 3:16 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

-- One idea we stole from another relative's wedding: have a small cocktail session before the ceremony. No, seriously. It provides a buffer for people arriving late, and just generally surprised and relaxed people right away, which was the tone we wanted to set.

-- Re: DJ on the cheap: we did not love the idea of paying for a bad DJ, and didn't have time or money to audition bands or really good DJs, so we a) made a few playlists and b) put an ad on craigslist for an "ipod DJ." We said, basically "we are going to set up a computer with iTunes and appropriate playlists; we just want you to press play at the appropriate times, and make sure nothing goes wrong." We offered something like $80 and a free meal, and we got an INSANE number of replies: people sent resumes, references, talked about their past career as a DJ, etc, etc. We got at least 5-10 people that I would have been extremely happy with, interviewed a couple of them, and hired one who worked out well. In retrospect, my only advice might be to insist that certain songs get played in the order you specify, if you care about that sort of thing; we spent quite a while coming up with the playlist, but then also gave the DJ flexibility to adjust if he felt like going "above and beyond the call of duty." (He did, and we got lots of compliments on the music -- but he also skipped over a couple of the slower tunes in favor of dance-y numbers that kept people moving, to our eventual regret.)

-- for centerpieces, we used a dozen different tequila bottles we had collected (stuffed with flowers). it was cheap, and (ahem) fun to collect them.

-- we did the "signature drinks" thing for part of the night (the pre-ceremony cocktails and just after the ceremony, pre-dinner). highly recommended, if only because it makes it much easier to judge exactly how much of everything you need to buy.

-- I remember somebody on here mentioning that for wedding favors, they gave each guest a used book, chosen for that person and given with a little inscription inside. I thought that was pretty much the neatest wedding favor idea ever.
posted by chalkbored at 3:35 PM on March 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

Make sure the music isn't so loud that people can't talk. Weddings are a place where you get people together who may not often have time to hang out; make sure that there are comfy places to sit and talk.

I think I want to go to your wedding, all these ideas sound awesome.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:21 PM on March 31, 2011

Christmas lights can be surprisingly expensive in the off season but I just priced them out for a show I designed and the best price was at www.1000bulbs.com. They took a while to ship so I'd order them early but they were way cheaper than I found in any retail store.

You also might want to poke around the various districts- the garment district for fabric (stick to the smaller $1/yard places, not Mood or B&J). The flower district has all kinds of fun little lights and vases as well as flowers. You should also check out Canal Street and Chinatown for Christmas/LED lights/lanterns and weird little specialty shops like Canal Plastics (near Broadway) where you can find all sorts of bizarre things to decorate with.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 9:22 PM on March 31, 2011

Oh and for feathers- Dersh Feathers on 38th St!
posted by Thin Lizzy at 9:30 PM on March 31, 2011

My finance and I have just finished making the decorations for our own wedding - DIY tin can lanterns. We just made a dozen or so since we're getting married in a very small place, but I bet if you churned out loads (like; a couple of hundred) and put tea lights in them then they would look amazing in a big empty space like a loft.

You would probably want to do quite a simple design (simpler than the ones in the link) - but to be honest, even the ones that we did with just a random pattern of holes look good. Spray-paint them all at once in a bit batch outside somewhere.
posted by primer_dimer at 4:04 AM on April 1, 2011

Nthing a photobooth. Get the fastest printing one you can afford, and get props. It was the best part of my wedding, I wish I had participated with it more than dancing.
posted by yb2006shasta at 8:24 PM on April 2, 2011

Seconding chalkbored.
Our invites said 4:30, but we planned to start the ceremony at 5:10 or so. So we greeted the guests as they came in, gave them cava spanish sparkling wine, had little nibbly things for people to nosh on, and played classical and world music. People gathered, greeted, were introduced, and got to suss out the space. Then, when everyone was present and "warmed up" by the cava, I changed dresses and we announced that everyone should be seated.
It felt like a party interrupted briefly by a ceremony.

Re decorating: if the place has high ceilings, eiffel vases look terrific. We used 22in (24"?) black eiffels and each had two gorgeous black ostrich feathers, one burgundy dahlia, one purple dahlia, and one deep red rose (ALL from Save-on-Crafts!). (Our wedding was Victorian Gothic, deep elegance with a bit of dark whimsy.) You can see the centerpieces here here or maybe here.

Here's the thing: I still have those black vases and another 12 smaller plum ones. (And the roses, dahlias, and feathers, but maybe not 12 sets of them....)
If you can handle the shipping, I will send them to you.
Memail me, if ya like.

Have fun!
posted by Jezebella at 3:08 PM on April 3, 2011

The best weddings I've been to have been russian weddings, and I think there are two key factors at play here:

1. Bottle of vodka on every table. NOTE: This is very different from just having free alcohol. By putting a bottle on the table, a few things happen: 1. People can have a toast whenever they want, without having to go to a bar. 2. The toasts are shots of vodka, making sure people get a little more inebriated than they otherwise would. 3. Because of 1 and 2, there are far less awkward silences. Silence dragging on too long? Let's do a toast!

2. At any time, people can start shouting "Gorka!" which means either bitter or sour (not sure which), and is basically a way of saying, this party is getting sour. Bride and groom, you must kiss to make things more fun. Yes, American weddings can have the fork tapping on glass thing, but an encouragement to shout really gets things less inhibited.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 2:24 AM on April 4, 2011

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