Kat’s Dilemma


Kat emailed last week needing help for her September afternoon ballroom reception at The Commonwealth Club in Virginia. They’re expecting around 200 guests, and are serving heavy hors d’oeuvres. They have hired a DJ, and are hoping to provide a great party that doesn’t have “cocktail hour” “dancing hour” feel. Her Dilemma? How to prevent the room from feeling like a box.

The ballroom is rectangular, with the main entrance on one short side and the stage at the opposite end. The room is large enough to comfortably hold all the guests with a variety of tables. Because they aren’t serving a full dinner Kat wants to provide seating in the form of rounds for about 120 (60%) of the guests. Bar tables will work well as additional resting spots for the remaining guests.

Before decor, focusing on the layout will make things easier in the log run. I would recommend two bars, one at the immediate left, and a smaller bar towards the back of the room.  Grouping a few high tops around the bars will create a lounge type feel. I would also put the DJ and dancing area near the main bar. We all know what alcohol does to Uncle Bob and he may want to dance on his way back to his seat.  Walk through the event space to see if the layout would flow.

The easiest way to warm up a room is to maximizing the use of lighting. You can find a list of these experts here. Lighting is something brides typically overlook (I did!), and since it is an afternoon wedding it may appear to be unnecessary. I would at least contact a few companies and see what they recommend. The venue might also have a preferred vendor.

Finally, we can focus on the decor. I love this picture submitted by a WeddingBee reader. She had 320 guests, and the decor cost only $1300 plus part of her floral budget (they provided boxes of gardenias). I love the “altar” set up on stage and the hanging curtains of blooms.


As you can see, this is a daytime event. Kat’s venue will be a little darker because of the window drapes and setting sun, so the candles will be even more dramatic as the reception draws to a close. (A great resource for sunset times is this tool from USNO. It will tell you the exact times of sunset and twilight for your date and location.)  Kat’s event will also feel a little less crowded because of fewer people and tables. I would imagine that the venue will not let Kat hang anything from the ceiling or walls. However, she could choose a signature bloom and string them in a curtain from the bar. Another of my favorite ideas is to wrap sashes around the bases of each table.  This adds a little flair to floor length linens and is easy and cheap to accomplish with fabric.

As long as you don’t have all the tables and bars jammed against the walls, the venue will be full of color and life as guests dance the afternoon away.  If you need further help with all of these things, the posts on Party Architecture from Apartment Therapy are fantastic.

Kat, I hope this helps.  Stay tuned for an inspiration board later this week using the navy, gold and white that Kat loves!