How to Decorate for Your Wedding Reception, Based on the Venue Type

Rustic barns and art museums have totally different vibes.
Samantha Iacia - The Knot wedding style expert
Samantha Iacia
  • Samantha writes articles for The Knot Worldwide, with a speciality in wedding decor, trends, and fashion
  • Prior to The Knot Worldwide, Samantha was a features and weddings contributor for The Baltimore Sun
  • She is based in Washington, D.C. and holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism
Updated Feb 28, 2023

Just because your reception space is a hotel ballroom or a local restaurant doesn't mean you can't revamp it and make it totally your own. Whether you want to give your venue a small touch of your personal style or go all-in with a total overhaul, deciding how to decorate for your wedding reception is an important task on your wedding to-do list.

You might already have some ideas for your wedding reception decorations in mind, but it's important to also consider the type of wedding venue where you're getting married. Still looking for your dream wedding venue? The Knot Marketplace has thousands of options, categorized by price, style, location and more. Below, we're sharing decorating tips for some of the most common wedding reception spaces, from elegant ballrooms to trendy rooftops—plus, what you should keep in mind when decorating for certain types of venues. And before you move forward with any decor decisions, be sure to get the green light from your wedding planner or venue manager. They'll be able to help you with all of the logistics, like fire codes, installation details and the approval to modify the space.

In this article:

How to Transform Banquet Halls, Hotel Ballrooms & Conference Centers

Deciding how to decorate for your wedding reception will largely depend on the decor that's already in place at the venue. Some banquet halls and ballrooms may be empty spaces that act as blank slates, while others may be decorated with ornate flooring, patterned walls or glamorous light fixtures.

Either way, banquet halls and ballrooms are large venues that will need to be filled out accordingly, so you should plan to level up with your decor. In rooms with high ceilings and a lot of floor space, tall centerpieces and large tables will be the most impactful. With the remaining space that isn't taken over by the dinner tables and dance floor, you can also build out the bar area or create an interactive component (like a photo booth) to personalize the venue.

Decorative lighting is another way to instantly make over a space. Uplighting will embellish walls or columns without the need for tangible decor, making even the biggest room feel chic and stylish. Finally, when filling a large banquet room, think of the decor as strength in numbers. Any type of decoration, whether it's a patterned tablecloth or clusters of candles in your centerpieces, has more visual impact when shown off en masse. By repeating the same details throughout the venue, you'll create a visual trail that guides guests' eyes around the space, making it feel more approachable and inviting.

How to Transform Farms, Barns & Ranches

Some rustic venues like farms, barns and ranches might need a little bit more elbow grease to bring them up to par for your wedding day. And while you don't want to lose the homey feel of the space (that's the whole reason you went with a rustic location, after all), there are a few ways to embellish the venue if necessary.

If the exterior of the venue leaves something to be desired, accent it with string lights, draping or fresh floral garlands to add a little bit of wedding day flair. Indoors, you can cover iron lighting fixtures, railings or barn doors with wreaths, floral swags and streamers to tone down the rugged vibe.

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When it comes to the tables, we'd recommend layouts that feel relaxed and informal. Round tables are classic, but if you mix in a few square or rectangular tables, it will create an eclectic look. For an intimate family-style feel, use long banquet tables and bench seating.

How to Transform Historical Estates & Country Clubs

At historical venues and locations that already have a specific type of decor in place, you might be limited by the details (if any) that you can change. But that doesn't mean that you can't add some personal touches here and there when figuring out how to decorate for your wedding reception.

Think of ways that you can make the venue your own without having to modify or touch the existing fixtures. For example, while you might not be allowed to remove paintings or swap out sconces, you can hide them by using pipe and drape or screens in front of the walls. Not a fan of the existing carpet? Bring in decorative rugs or a tiled dance floor to conceal what's beneath.

If the venue's decor does match your wedding style, use it to your advantage. Highlight unique elements, like a marble fireplace or spiral staircase, with spotlights or decorative floral arrangements. Shine a monogrammed gobo on the dance floor to bring attention to beautiful antique hardwood floors, or arrange your sweetheart table in front of a grand picture window. Create separate spaces for each portion of the reception by covering a paved courtyard or lawn with a reception tent for an indoor-outdoor concept.

How to Transform Restaurants

Most restaurants will have decor in place that isn't easily changed, which is something to keep in mind when touring potential wedding venues. Once you find a space you like, you can use the existing decor to your advantage—saving you time and effort in the long run.

Unlike a lot of other types of wedding venues, you won't be starting from scratch by getting married at a restaurant. The walls will already be decorated, there will be an overall theme to the space and basic wedding rental items, like tables, chairs and linens, will already be on-site. This means you'll need less decor overall, but it also gives you the perfect opportunity to play up the details that you can control. We recommend focusing on the tablescapes—skip the standard white tablecloths for runners or napkins that add a burst of color. Finish the tables with floral centerpieces to complement your color palette and wedding vibe.

How to Transform Religious Institutions

In general, houses of worship tend to be a little more strict about wedding decor compared to other types of venues. Churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions are used for non-wedding purposes on a daily basis, which means that you could be limited by the amount of time you have to set up your own decor, especially if there is another service taking place on the same day.

Any decor will need to be fairly easy to install and remove—think flower arrangements that can quickly be put into place and aisle markers that are easily attached to pews or other seating. The good news? Houses of worship and religious institutions are often beautiful all on their own, so you won't need to add much decor to wow your guests.

How to Transform Lake Houses & Cabins

When you're getting married at a nature-centric venue like a lake house or mountain cabin, it's important for your decor to reflect the surroundings. Bring the outdoors in by using small potted trees to accent entryways, wrap greenery around staircase banisters or add colorful seasonal foliage to your centerpieces.

If the interior walls are covered in dark wood paneling or paint, adding pops of color throughout the venue will be especially important. A warm color palette of orange, pink and yellow hues will complement natural wood, while blue and green tones will bring a sense of calm and airiness to the space. Finish with candle accents for a romantic, cozy glow.

How to Transform Museums & Art Galleries

Similar to some other types of wedding venues, museums and art galleries have plenty of interesting details already in place. And even though this means you can get away with using less decor overall, you'll have to be more intentional about how you decorate for your wedding reception, since modifications to the space may not be allowed.

You'll need to focus on maximizing the impact of elements that are easily removed at the end of the night, like reception tables, lounge seating and freestanding flower arrangements. Decorative details that need to be fastened to a ceiling or wall, such as hanging centerpiece installations or string lights, might be a no-go depending on the museum's architectural details. If you're looking for more personalization, create a focal point with temporary structures like a pergola above the head table or a faux boxwood wall.

How to Transform Lofts & Rooftops

A rooftop wedding venue is all about the location, so that should be your number-one priority when planning the reception decor. Avoid obstructing your guests' views of the surrounding scenery by using low wedding centerpieces and other unobtrusive tabletop accents—this also comes in handy to prevent items from blowing away in wind gusts.

Play up the informal, lively vibe of a rooftop venue by opting for long banquet tables instead of traditional round or square tables. This will encourage conversation among guests and can help you seat more people, especially if you're working with a narrow space. If the rooftop doesn't have adequate lighting, use rope lights to clearly mark barriers, railings and main walkways to prevent accidents after dark.

How to Transform Public Spaces & Parks

When getting married in an open space like a neighborhood park or beach, it's important to make sure that guests know exactly where your venue starts and stops. Most parks and public spaces require local permits in order to host an event, and some permits will only allow you (and your guests, by extension) to be in very specific areas of the venue.

If you have the space, you can turn this into a decorative opportunity by mapping out the designated area for your guests. Use bistro lights, roped fencing, directional signage or paper luminaires that won't require too much setup. You can also create vignettes (grouped decor displays) throughout your reception space to give guests an idea of where they should go. A few examples include: a signature cocktail bar, a dessert table, a gift table or welcome table, a family photo table or a lounge area with rental furniture.

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