9 Tips for Making a Big Wedding Feel Intimate

Guest list not getting any smaller? We feel you. It's tough to cut it down, especially when everyone (and your mother) says so-and-so just can't be left off the list. Your dream of a dozen people on a cliffside may no longer be a reality, but your ultimate desire to have a warm, personal affair isn't as far off as it might seem. We asked wedding pros to share their tips for taking a big wedding and making it feel just right. Here's what they had to say.

Contributing Writer
Photography by: Erich McVey

1. Pick a cozy venue.

A big wedding doesn't mean you're banished to a ballroom. Pick a venue that has several smaller areas instead of one large room, says Jesse Tombs of Alison Events Planning and Design in Northern California. Host the ceremony, cocktail hour, dinner, and dancing all in different areas. This allows guests to explore the venue while also creating a small, cozy feeling.

2. Encourage conversation.

With a bigger-than-life guest list, it's tempting to go big or go home with the table arrangements. But limit tables to 8-10 guests. "Dinner should be a time for guests to get to know each other and enjoy themselves," says Tombs. "If tables are too big, guests feel isolated and unable to get to know their dining partners." Long farm-style tables can create a beautiful ambiance, but a mix of smaller and larger tables will allow for more intimate conversation while giving the room a dinner party feel versus a big banquet hall.

3. Incorporate romantic lighting.

Create a soft, intimate space by choosing a color palette that absorbs light, says Virginia Edelson of Bluebird Productions in Colorado. Matte, dark colors absorb light the best, but if you're going for a lighter look, ivory will do the trick. With the lights dim and the colors selected, it's time to add a glow. "You can't go wrong with a million candles," says Edelson. Skip mirrors as they'll make the space feel bigger, not intimate. Your designer, florist, and lighting team should be able to make this look happen easily.

4. Create hideaways.

Yes, you'll need a big space for dining and dancing, but Edelson recommends creating nooks and lounges throughout the space so that people can socialize in a smaller setting. Try to select a venue with little side rooms and cozy corners (see tip one). If a ballroom is your only option, no worries. You can opt for false walls, ceiling treatments to lower a high ceiling, and other specialty décor, she says.

5. Double up on staffing.

Every guest wants to feel special, not like they're one in 500. Cater to your guests and make them feel invited at every turn by staffing your event with plenty of waiters and bartenders, says Anna Richardson of Anna Lucia Events in Florida. She recommends having waiters greet guests at the cocktail hour with trays of Champagne, red and white wine, and a signature cocktail.


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6. Pen personalized notes.

Personal details are what's going to set you apart. "One of my favorite personal details is writing a personalized, handwritten note to each couple or guest to place with their escort card," says Edelson. "This special touch will go a long way with your guests and really make them feel as though you value their presence." If you're forgoing escort cards for a seating chart, tuck notes into the welcome baskets at the hotel.

7. Honor your style.

With so many fabulous styles in magazines and on Pinterest and Instagram, it's easy to get carried away. But there's no greater style for you than your own. "It's really important to create your own personal brand to create an intimate feeling that guests will know is 100 percent you and your fiancé," says Richardson. So embrace what you like and have fun! Your guests will feel comfortable in an environment that's filled with touches that remind them of you.

8. Make it a multiday event.

With a big guest list, one day might not feel like enough time to enjoy your guests, especially if you're hosting a destination wedding. Richardson recommends adding in a few extra events, such as a welcome or farewell party, to make guests feel welcomed and included. Want a wow factor? Set up a hospitality room for when they arrive filled with drinks and snacks. You can also plan other fun events like beach days, waterskiing, or sightseeing. "But don't go overboard to where you exhaust your guests and yourself," she says.

9. Play with your food (and drinks).

Food is one of the easiest things to customize. Start off by personalizing the food to not only the season or location, but also to your style. "We have a Jewish wedding in St. Louis next year, and we're doing mini matzo balls, mini Reuben sandwiches, and mini bagels with smoked salmon for the appetizers," says Tombs. And guests are going home with T-shirts that say, "You're my everything bagel," as part of their gift bags. If you don't have something quite so specific in mind, dream up a signature cocktail. It's a fun, simple way to put your stamp on your event. And don't forgot to give it a cutesy hashtag-friendly name.


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About the Author

Tia Albright

Tia's love affair with weddings started with 16 sweet little words, "Dad, I met a man in Rome, and he's wonderful and brilliant, and we're getting married." That was all it took. Now she's married and writing about cakes, dresses, and décor to her heart's content, and she still watches Father of the Bride at least once a year (OK, maybe more like three or four times).


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