Why: You don't want your guests getting lost on the way to the chapel. If you spell it out for them, they're more likely to be on time, and your entire wedding day has a better chance of running smoothly.
How to do it: First, include a map or add a link to Google Maps on your wedding website so that guests have an idea of where they're going. As a safeguard, consider including a map from the ceremony site to the reception venue in your programs or your invites. For the day-of, create signage for each wedding spot (the ceremony, cocktail hour, and reception) directing guests where to go. If it's an outdoor wedding, make or buy a wooden sign and paint it with an arrow. For a more sophisticated soiree, consider using printed black-and-white-framed signage in a scripted font.
Photo: Kate Harrison Photography
2. Setting up the Entrance
Why: No matter where you wed, first impressions are essential. A personalized entryway will make your site more welcoming and help guests feel at home almost immediately.
How to do it: If you're having an outdoor wedding, hang leis of orchids or sun-catching glass ornaments on the surrounding trees. For a ballroom, have your florist create an escort card table arrangement with plenty of height so it's the first thing guests’ see. A rustic affair calls for tons of lanterns lining the pathways.
3. The Seating Cards
Why: When the seating is assigned ahead of time, you save guests the pressure of searching for a seat at the wedding reception. You also guarantee that your guests of honor (grandparents and close relatives) get a quiet spot while your rowdy friends from college sit closest to the dance floor.
How to do it: Escort cards are extremely easy to personalize and an excellent way to bring in your wedding day colors -- from calligraphic seating cards set atop a textured linen to apples tagged with each guest's name or small personalized bundles of lavender tied off with string. Other ways to display escort cards: Pin them to a clothesline, post them on a board covered in color-coordinated ribbon, or incorporate them into your cocktail hour using personalized stirrers tagged with guests' names.
4. Guest Book
Why: It takes more than setting out a couple of pens to make a guest book enticing enough to get all your guests to sign in. The trick is to show off your creativity in an inviting way.
How to do it: Ask guests to contribute to a scrapbook by providing a Polaroid camera. Make a backdrop by hanging an attractive piece of fabric and then ask each guest, couple, or family to stand in front of it and pose. Have a close friend man the camera. When their picture is ready, they can pop it into the guest book and sign their names next to it. Or get your videographer involved and go for a live guest book reel by having each of your guests express all of their sentiments on camera.
5. Beautiful Lighting
Why: The right lighting can help flatter any space and make you and your guests look great.
How to do it: Use colored lighting to punch up a drab hallway. Pick a different yet complementary hue for the rest of the reception (use blue for a white wedding, amber for a pink celebration). Decorative hanging lights, lamps with patterned shades, or crystal chandeliers will transform a space from plain to extravagant.
Why: Even if you love children, you won't want them disrupting the ceremony or reception. Have a plan to keep little ones at their best.
How to do it: At the ceremony, have an usher hand out coloring books and crayons. At mealtime, seat little ones with their parents so they'll be in top form while eating. If lots of kids will be attending, setting up a nearby room with games, craft supplies, and DVDs guarantees that they'll have a good time during the reception (as will their eternally grateful parents).
7. The Favors
Why: Favors aren't a necessity, but if you're looking for a cute gift your guests can go home with (that they'll actually use), personalized pint glasses are it.
How to do it: Place a customized glass with your wedding date or monogram at everyone's seat at the reception or have a favor table with glasses lined up for your guests to grab once the party is over. Your guests will appreciate the added touch!
8. The Bar Decor
Why: Let's face it: The bar is a spot where most of your guests will probably spend a significant amount of time, which is precisely why it's a great place to add a burst of color, which will boost the look of the room.
How to do it: Serve some unique bar snacks like vodka-soaked watermelon balls in antique ice cream glasses, Grand Marnier-infused apricots, or ice cubes with a berry or another piece of fruit frozen inside. Consider printing your signature cocktail recipe right on your coasters or beverage napkins. Also, think about giving the bar itself a facelift: Ask your wedding planner to use bamboo, Lucite, or even laser-cut wood in a bold pattern for the front of the bar and use back-lighting to create a stunning centerpiece for the room.
9. Create Menu Cards
Why: Menu cards designed to complement your wedding day stationery and coordinate with your signature colors will add a stylish extra touch to each of your place settings.
How to do it: The menu cards can be as formal or informal as your reception. Place round menu cards in the center of each charger to suit a decidedly formal reception. A more laid-back wedding might call for the menu to be written on a chalkboard set up near the entrance. If you plan on serving a multi-course meal, consider giving guests mini menu booklets. They can even double as place cards.
10. The Cake Table
Why: The cake table is often a main focal point of the reception space where many of your guests will congregate to take pictures. Keep in mind that an inadequately decorated display table can make or break your photos.
How to do it: Create the perfect setting for your cake by keeping décor low to the table so you don't detract from your main dessert. Consider using a monogrammed table linen in a complementary color. Or have your florist sprinkle small flowers in your wedding hues, such as bells of Ireland or freesias. To give it the royal treatment, set your cake on a riser at a ballroom wedding or cover it with a fabric-draped canopy if you're having an outdoor party.
11. The Chairs
Why: The right chairs and chair treatments can transform what was a hodgepodge room into something that's elegant and refined.
How to do it: Match your chair treatments to your wedding style. If it's a black-tie wedding, cover every chair in rich, silk fabric and add a coordinating sash. For a wedding that's outdoors, consider using simple chiavari chairs instead of the plastic folding kind. For a fresh twist, get colorful, patterned chair cushions in lieu of monochromatic ones. You can also use your chairs to highlight the season. Pay tribute to the time of year by decorating every one of the chairs with a miniature wreath for a winter wedding, or tie fresh blooms to each of the chair backs if you're having a springtime affair.
12. The Exit
Why: A stylish exit is the exclamation point to a great wedding day, not to mention your last chance to drive home your personal style. Take full advantage of this opportunity.
How to do it: Rose petals are pretty but often overdone, so to end the night with a bang (literally), hire professionals to shoot off fireworks. If pyrotechnics are not in your budget, have your guests shower you with light from sparklers. When it comes to your getaway transportation, get creative: Drive away in a vintage car decorated with bright flowers; toss your hair into the wind on a moped; or jump into a sleek, stylish sports car.
And don't forget that "Just Married" sign.