It’s been a little while since the last wedding planning post. I took some time with this one, in part because I was busy with other things, but also (I confess) because this was the aspect of the wedding planning that I felt least involved with. To paraphrase my old roommate Spencer Gardner, it wasn’t that I didn’t really care what the decorations looked like, it was that I didn’t really care what the decorations looked like. It’s not entirely true, but it’s partially true, which means that I didn’t have quite the same enthusiasm for decorating our reception space as I did for, say, making our invitations or planning what food we’d offer guests.
Decorating the Pizza Party:
We went minimalist on this one. I set up tables and chairs, and we had paper plates and napkins. That’s it. The space was a community center–it was mostly clean, it was functional, and the room was large and full of people talking and laughing. Towards the end, my college roommates set up all their instruments and rocked out a bit on a stage area near where we were eating, but they did all that themselves.
Total cost of decorations: $0
Decorating the Wedding:
We went minimalist on this one as well. We married inside a former synagogue now owned by the city parks department. Here’s their decoration policy: “To maintain the beauty of the building, no nails, staples, or other fasteners that will harm the walls or floors may be used in this or any park shelter. The Madison Parks Division recommends using free standing decorations.” We weren’t inclined for much fancy decorating at the wedding, and this policy made that decision even easier. The room was simple and beautiful, full of abundant natural light, and there was an old tablet of the 10 commandments in Hebrew above the alcove where our officiant stood at the front of the room.
I did wear a boutonniere that Laurel made from flowers she purchased from a local grower in Milwaukee. It was made of a large narcissus and it was beautiful. My sister Sarah also made a corsage and boutonniere for my parents, who escorted me up the aisle. Classy.
I didn’t realize it until we saw the photos, but my sister Camille either nabbed a leftover corsage or made one and put it in her hair. I think it looked good.
For decorations, we wanted to buy flowers from a local grower that we felt was ethically and environmentally responsible. Laurel did some looking around and found Stems Cut Flowers,
a fantastic grower based in Milwaukee. Emily has a degree in biology/wildlife ecology from UW-Madison and has started her own flower farm, where she follows several responsible/sustainable practices that we wanted to support. Laurel arranged to buy a do-it-yourself package of in-season flowers, which her mom picked up in Milwaukee and brought to Madison for us (she lives in Milwaukee, so it worked out perfectly).
We paid $250 for flowers, which provided us with narcissus and tulips in a dazzling array of colors, enough flowers for 18 full table settings, with several left over for corsages and additional creative designs.
Laurel arranged the flowers the night before the wedding. Before arranging them, she had stored them in a cool spot (because it was April, she simply left them overnight on our back porch) so they’d stay closed. She was really surprised because they began to open within the first half-hour after she brought them in, so she tried to work fast. She laid out 18 vases that we had purchased over the previous few months from St. Vincent de Paul’s (a local thrift store) for 60 cents apiece and partially filled the vases with water. She says she just plunked them into different vases according to her own aesthetic, taking each bundled group of tulips (they were clustered by color when we got them) and distributed them amongst the various vases until they were gone. She didn’t include any of the narcissus in these vases, because narcissus secrete something that’s poisonous to other flowers, so we had to keep ’em separated, as the old song goes.
Once the vases were full of tulips, she topped the vases off with water, and stacked the vases into several milk crates for transport, and left the milk crates in a cool location until we were ready to use them. Laurel says the whole process took roughly 90 minutes, and says it went fast because she didn’t add ribbons or other adornments to the floral arrangements.
If we had to do it over again, we’d probably go with Edible Arrangements. Psyche! I’d never ever ever ever use Edible Arrangements for any purpose whatsoever, unless I was entering a contest for my least favorite business idea of all time. That store perplexes me–how can they possible remain in business? Who buys their product? Seriously–I did a google image search for edible arrangements and there were only 2 images in the first 7 pages of results that had actual human beings in the image. Here’s one of them.
Here’s the other one:
I digress. Laurel saved about a dozen narcissus for the boutonnieres. My sister Sarah made several, and Laurel made one–the very best one–mine. I already talked about it earlier, but it was awesome. Here’s a picture.
We were so pleased with how the flowers ended up looking. Laurel’s metaphor was that it was like having real human faces smiling back at us, instead of faces buried under a whole bunch of spray-caked makeup. I think it was an apt comparison–to me the flowers looked healthy and cheerful and like real living things, which was immensely satisfying.
We also wanted to add additional light to the reception venue. Laurel asked her mom for white Christmas (or is ought I call them Holiday?) lights, and she brought up several. We borrowed even more from a friend in Madison, but ended up with so many from Laurel’s mom that we didn’t end up using them. Writing this post reminded us that they’re still in our closet (If you’re reading this, sorry Naomi!). We strung those around walls of the reception hall, particularly along the wall with the most windows, and they looked really lovely once it got dark outside.
My biggest contribution to the decoration planning was my enthusiasm for Japanese lanterns. I thought they’d look great hanging from the ceiling for the wedding, so I took on the responsibility for buying them. I bought 15 14″ paper lanterns from a website called Luna Bazaar. I also bought several single LED lights to light them, because the website said they could light lanterns up to 14″ in size. It wasn’t true, and the lighting was feeble and really disappointing. I only received the order about a week before the wedding, so I quickly made a second order of 16 LED hanging battery terminal lights from the Paper Lantern Store. They were able to rush ship them, and fortunately they worked out great, but I was a little nervous for a few days because of how badly I had misjudged the lighting power of LED lights. In total, with shipping, the 15 lanterns and lights cost less than $100. As the wedding approached, however, we began to realize that we probably could use more than just 15 lanterns, so we sent out one of Laurel’s sisters on a last-minute lantern seeking expedition. She came back with about a dozen more lanterns, and these ones seemed a bit fancier–they were some kind of stretchy synthetic material (not paper) and were solar powered. Big-time, I know.
I wrote about the lanterns in an earlier post, so you should read it and look at its pictures if you want to know more about them.
At the end of the evening, we sent nearly all of the flowers and lanterns with guests who wanted them. I can only assume the lanterns at least are being put to some kind of happy use by their current owners.
Total cost of decorations: In all, we spent around $350-400 on decorations for the wedding weekend–the majority on flowers, with the rest going to Japanese lanterns. We thought everything looked wonderful, in part because the spaces that we chose were already beautiful, and we didn’t do much to foul them up. My advice for wedding decoration: keep it simple, keep it inexpensive, and try to make or assembly as much of it as you can yourself (or with the help of your loved ones). Not only is it more fun that way, you usually end up liking it more and making it more inventive and improvised and less formal and elaborate (all good things, in my opinion).