DIY Wedding

The Ultimate Wedding Décor Checklist

These days, weddings are all about showcasing your personal style. There are numerous ways to do that—personalized vows, non-traditional dresses, out-of-the-box venues—but what makes the most immediate impact is the decor. “Décor ties your energy together as a couple in a tangible way,” says DC event designer Sugar Taylor. “It’s a manifestation of your love, and visual proof you’re at a celebration. It communicates the joy of being together.”

Meet the Expert

Sugar Taylor is a DC-based multimedia designer who focuses on event design, branding, and interiors. She has over ten years of experience creating one-of-a-kind weddings and events.

If you’re feeling like the ante has been seriously upped in recent years, well, you’re not wrong. “In the past, wedding decor was considered more ‘cookie-cutter,’ but I think things were purer, more focused on the couple, back then,” muses Taylor. “While still based on the same things, weddings today are more artistic masterpieces because more people are watching. Given the introduction of social media, I think we’ve naturally been more prone to focus on how things look and wanting them to be different.”

Whether you want to go unusual and elaborate or simple and traditional in your wedding decor, there are certain elements you’ll want to consider when planning the overall look of your day. Plan the day according to your wants, tastes, and, most importantly, budget, and you’ll plan a day to remember fondly for years to come.

Read on for our ultimate wedding decor checklist—including tips on what’s trending and where to prioritize your spending—but remember: there are no hard rules here!

Alison Czinkota/Brides


Ceremony Décor

Photo by Chi-Chi Ari Photography; Planning by Simply Breathe Events; Florals by Sayles Livingston Design

Although it’s the most important part of a wedding day, the ceremony is the space where your guests will spend the least amount of time—so this is not the place to blow your budget. “It’s essential that something frames the couple,” says Taylor. “Whether that’s a backdrop or two large aisle arrangements, that’s the moment where [your guests] are like, okay, this is about the people in front of me.”

Altar decor should be prioritized, but if you’re looking to further jazz things up, you can also adorn the path down the aisle, choose interesting benches or chairs, and sprinkle in personalized elements such as a welcome sign and ceremony programs. Newer trends in ceremony decor include hanging decor elements over the aisle, which, Per Taylor, “look luxe and grand compared to floor petals,” as well as circular floral arches and asymmetric floor installations at the altar.

Ceremony Décor Checklist:

Cocktail Hour Décor

PHOTO BY JANA WILLIAMS PHOTOGRAPHY, Planning & Design by RO & Co. Events

“Cocktail hour is when the most mingling happens,” says Taylor. “Focusing on how your guests are going to interact at this time is a great way to bring in decor.” To that end, Taylor focuses the cocktail hour décor budget on what guests will be drinking and doing. The bar or drink station comes first—jazz it up with florals, signage, unique wraps, and more—then fun cocktail napkins and drink stirrers. Ready to get next-level? Splurge on edible paper covers, branded ice, or an equally beautiful non-alcoholic beverage station.

Interactive activities for guests—be it lawn games, a photo booth, or even something as simple as signing a guest book—are additional opportunities to incorporate your wedding theme, and so is your seating chart or escort card display. “There are so many fun things you can do to help your guests find their seats in creative ways,” says Taylor, who, whenever possible, likes to have escort cards double as favors for guests.

One place to minimize spending in the cocktail hour decor budget is tables and seating. A few high-tops for guests to rest their drinks works great, but no need to go overboard. “I kept high tops pretty simple,” says Taylor. “I love including trivia cards or something like that [encourages] interaction, and a small centerpiece.”

Cocktail Hour Décor Checklist:

Reception Décor

Photo by Dana Fernandez Photography; Planning by Pearl Events Austin; Florals by Bouquets of Austin; Rentals by La Tavola Fine Linen, Whim Hospitality, Marquee Event Rentals, and Premiere Events

The reception is where your guests will spend most of their time, so it makes sense for it to take up most of your wedding decor budget. You’ll want to focus the majority on tabletop decor (more on that in a moment), and how you allocate the rest depends largely on how many people will be attending.

“If you have a high guest count, spend on gorgeous linens and lighting,” says Taylor. “Those things will make it feel more special and intimate.” Like lighting, draping can also go a long way to making a reception feel more intimate and luxurious. It’s also very versatile and can be used to cover up plain walls, hide things, or separate spaces.

Candles always up the romance factor, and can make even the largest celebrations feel more intimate. But they’re not necessarily a cheaper alternative to florals, especially when used in large numbers.

Other big reception decor moments include hanging installations—floral chandeliers are always stunning, but balloons, paper lanterns, and string lights also make a statement—and, Taylor’s personal favorite, the dance floor. “Even if your decor is super simple and understated, it makes your wedding look immediately grand if there’s a gorgeous design on the dance floor,” she says. Although monogrammed dance floors were trending hot for a bit, Taylor prefers to wrap them in a complementary pattern or special illustration.

Other fun reception decor trends include neon signs—“Use lyrics from your first dance song!” suggests Taylor—custom backdrops behind the couple or sweetheart table, and, for luxury weddings, printed tent fabrics.

Reception Décor Checklist:

  • A tent (for an outdoor wedding)
  • Lighting
  • Draping
  • Dance floor
  • Hanging decor or installations such as chandeliers
  • Backdrop for the head table or sweetheart table
  • Bar decor (if your bar is not the same bar used during cocktail hour)
  • Wedding hashtag signage
  • Cake and/or dessert table decor and signage
  • Cake topper
  • “Just married” signage and decor for the getaway car
  • Lounge area (this can also be part of your cocktail hour)

Table Décor

Photo by Liz Banfield; Planning by A Day in May Events; Florals by Bloom Floral Design; Calligraphy by Artistic Quill

Dinner is the longest your guests will stay in one place at your wedding, so where they sit should be stunning. “I focus on what’s going to be at eye level,” says Taylor. “We start budgets where your guests are going to be spending most of their time and make sure that’s where the magic happens.”

For Taylor, that means prioritizing the place settings, which she elevates with unique linens and tabletop rentals. “If you walk into a room and see basic white plates and silver silverware, it doesn’t spark your interest,” she explains. “But if you see a pink plate, gold silverware, and a dope patterned napkin, it’s an automatic difference.”

Florals are a must for Taylor. “I don’t mind mixing other stuff in, but [tables] do tend to look a little bare without flowers,” she says. She recommends mixing high and low arrangements throughout the room for dimension and visual balance but has a rule on exactly how high and how those high and low arrangements can be. “Centerpieces need to be below the chin or above heads,” she explains. “Otherwise, they don’t make sense for a social event where people want to talk.”

Want to save money on tabletop decor by swapping large centerpieces for smaller bud vases? Make them look purposefully minimalist with flowers that look amazing alone, such as orchids, anemones, and certain lilies.

When it comes to taking table decor to the next level, Taylor is all about personalization: personalized cheese plates at every seat, chargers laser-cut with guest names, or, for a less expensive option, menus with guests’ names written at the top .

Table Décor Checklist: