The most memorable and meaningful celebrations play up four elements: color, location, season, and tradition. To design your day, take a cue from these couples. Start with one, then incorporate them all.
If You Start with Color
Jayme Smith and Chris Murray always favored blues and greens, but their Pennsylvania venue's aqua-and-white-striped ceiling and the rolling meadow around it solidified the palette for their May 10, 2008, wedding. The colors informed everything, including the invitations, centerpieces, and table numbers. To find and use your colors, try this:
Open your closet. Really. You might be surprised by just how many lavender tops you own (and love). Voila! You've got wedding shade No. 1. Give your fiance's wardrobe -- and your home -- the once-over as well.
Practice restraint. The strongest combinations feature just two bolds, such as navy and yellow, and one neutral, like gray.
Accent wisely. Can't limit yourself to three? Choose up to two coordinating hues (like coral and chartreuse for a scheme of peach, apricot, and ivory), and use them sparingly. Make sure the mood is consistent, too: If you're using vibrant reds or oranges, for example, enlist a lively extra, such as turquoise.
Keep your colors true. Once you've settled on tones, be careful that they don't morph as your planning progresses. Even one that's already specific, like maroon, can vary. To guarantee a good match, keep corresponding paint chips in your purse. And get your vendors on the same page by showing them your exact picks on pantone.com.
Complete the thought. Your calligraphy style, fabric textures, and linen and stationery patterns should echo the feel of your palette, whether it's cheerful, romantic, or quirky.
If You Start with the Location
The equestrian history of Saratoga Springs, New York, was more than enough inspiration for Theresa Canning and Jon Zast's July 17, 2004, nuptials. After deciding on their theme, it was off to the races. With carnations in antique trophies, Thoroughbred Cooler cocktails, and more, the couple let their venue shine. Take these steps to discover and highlight your locale:
Revisit your love story. A favorite trip, your every-Tuesday-night dinner spot, or the scene of your first date can all help you decide where to book. You don't need to trek all the way to Bermuda, but recalling an amazing vacation there might make you realize you want a beach wedding.
Eyeball your living room. If it's spare with sleek couches surrounding a modern coffee table, consider a loft space or an art gallery. Likewise, if vintage decor and antique furniture rule, then an old mansion or theater, a ski lodge, or even a barn will stoke your creative fires.
Let your guest list guide you. A small wedding will give you more freedom when it comes to your venue choice, from boats to botanical gardens. Larger parties fill out grand ballrooms and museum halls beautifully.
Look beyond the walls. Play up the past of historical spaces and the personality of new ones. At a hotel that used to be a train station, create ticket-style escort cards. For a boardwalk event, go wild with stripes, popcorn machines, and balloons.
Build on your idea. Bring in elements from the surrounding area. In a town known for its orchards, for instance, set out favors in apple barrels.
If You Start with the Season
The concept for Laura Normandin and Ben Tyszka's May 18, 2008, Brooklyn bash began with an idea as simple as they come: to let nature's rhythm point the way. Their wedding was aflutter with spring touches -- a silk-butterfly bouquet, strawberries for dessert, and potted-flower favors. Keep these time-sensitive tips in mind to follow suit:
Consider your guests. As much as you want your day to be all about you, it doesn't exactly work that way. Your loved ones' experiences are important, too. If you plan winter nuptials during prime blizzard time, for example, you run the risk of major delays, or, even worse, canceled flights.
Plan accordingly. Depending on the season, the timing of your event can be crucial. If you'd love a summertime garden party, but your city is known for its 100-degree scorchers, hold the ceremony at dusk, when the heat breaks. Want to exchange vows outdoors, in full view of the fall foliage? Opt for early afternoon, not evening, to ensure it stays light out.
Match your meals. Organize a picnic-style supper in spring, a clambake in summer, or a wine tasting in fall or winter.
Give a nod to holidays. Your theme doesn't have to make use of green beer or Santa hats, but a few accents from a holiday that falls near your date can be fun and festive.
Keep it natural. Bring in the appropriate flowers (cherry blossoms in spring, amaryllis in winter) and foods (peaches in summer, pumpkins in fall) for a vibe that feels as genuine as it does effortless.
If You Start with Family Traditions
Lily Fink and John Harrington took a walk down memory lane for their wedding on September 8, 2007. From holding the reception at Lily's childhood home in Santa Barbara, California, to pinning John's grandfather's favorite cornflower boutonniere on male guests, the couple's homage to their past was heartfelt. Let these pointers guide you as you personalize your day:
Interview your parents. Did they do something special during their nuptials, or even their courtship? Work part of Dad's old love letters to Mom into your vows, or choose the same type of cake they did.
Put a spin on your rituals. Incorporate your traditions -- they're what make your family unique -- but be sure you explain them. If your clan plays cards every Christmas, for example, set out decks with game directions on the reception tables. Recite the prayer you say at Sunday dinners, but share that bit of history so the meaning isn't lost on your guests.
Honor your loved ones. Even though beloved relatives have passed on, you can still make their presence felt. Serve Aunt Sally's apple-cinnamon pie for dessert, or have your precious metals carried down the aisle in Grandma's ring box.
Give family members a job. Let Grandpa drive you to the ceremony, or ask your musical sister to sing before the processional. They'll be thrilled to play a role, however small, and they'll probably be talking about their contribution for years to come.
Create new customs. Maybe one day your own family will look to you for inspiration.