The Everyday Items We Use to Make Our Decor Slay


The answer to your wedding decor problem might already be in your house

by Maddie Eisenhart, Chief Revenue Officer

apw-x-planner

woman carrying blue tissue paper honeycomb balls and pinwheels wearing a blue party hat

When you start planning decor for your wedding, it can become obvious that what seems affordable at first glance can get real expensive real quick when you start doing the math for a hundred-person guest list. Which is why it should be no surprise that wedding designers are pros at turning nothing much into something awesome. Because when faced with a big space and a small budget, that’s the time to get creative.

So back when she was putting together the #APWPlanner, Meg polled some of her favorite design pros to get their best suggestions for affordable materials that you can make look awesome with a little bit of elbow grease and creativity. Last year, we teamed up with Oh Happy Day (makers of some of the best affordable paper goods and party decor out there) to share those findings with their readers, and we figured it was high time we shared them with you. Some of these items will surprise you (and make you run and look them up); some of them will simply remind you not to forget old standbys. But, before we begin, here are some tips straight from the #APWPlanner to help you out (and save some hair-pulling) along the way:

  1. Don’t forget that decorations live in the world of reality. You have to buy them or make them. You have to store them somewhere before the wedding. You have to have time and help to put them up. So come up with a plan for all these pretty things before you ever touch a glue gun.
  2. You don’t plan a wedding based on style choices. You plan it based on reality (namely: who, what, where, when). Once you’ve got all that on lock, then come back to decorations as some really pretty frosting on top of that cake.
  3. You’re going to remember how the day felt, not how it looked. So go easy on yourself when you’re trying to figure out how to decorate this thing.

tissue honeycomb diamonds and pinwheels on yellow metal stool

Anything paper: People usually ignore party shops for wedding decor, but paper pom-poms, crepe paper, paper wedding bells, and paper lanterns can look modern and classy when done up right. Raid your local party supply store for ideas or head to this post for some of our handpicked favorites.

pillar vases with translucent vellum paper

Lots of candles:  If you’re not into lots of crafting, you can make a huge impact in your space by just piling on the candles. The soft glow makes for beautiful photos, and you don’t need any special skills to make them look good—cluster a few different sizes together and go. Pillars can get expensive, so if you want to make a big impact while using smaller candles, try our hack and cover simple cylinder vases with vellum paper. Pop in some small votives for a beautiful soft glow at your tables.

diy flower wall made from paper flowers

Paper and glue: Paper is one of the most versatile decorating tools when you want quantity, because it’s cheap and can be made into a million different things. Think glitter paper, butcher paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper, and just add creativity. For our most affordable and impactful paper project, check out this paper flower backdrop, which you can download for free right here.

diy wedding seating chart made from plywood and neon rubber bands

String or Rubber Bands: When combined with wood and nails, you can make incredible geometric designs out of colorful string or rubber bands. Check out our easy seating chart tutorial that uses little more than a plank of wood and some colorful rubber bands.

pink and white balloons floating in a swimming pool

Balloons: Balloons are another one of those oft-ignored party store items that can make a huge impact when you buy lots of them and fill up a room (or pool). Get ideas right here.

multi colored flagging tape installation at an indoor wedding ceremony

Flagging Tape: Ribbon is super expensive when you try to do anything large scale with it. But there’s this magical stuff called flagging tape (which is basically plastic caution tape, but in a variety of colors and patterns) that costs literal pennies on the dollar and has essentially the same impact. See examples and get tips here.

diy wood block wedding centerpiece with painted gold feathers and hot pink napkins in front of a teal wall

Colored napkins: If you’re looking for a way to brighten up your tables, swap out white napkins for bright, colorful napkins. They make a huge difference without making a huge dent in your budget. If you want to make your own, check out our DIY neon-edged napkin tutorial here.

lesbian couple standing in front of a diy painted backdrop with confetti falling

Fabric, Muslin, and Drop cloths: Some of the cheapest fabric you can get is the standard painter’s drop cloth. Add paint for an easy, affordable, showstopping backdrop (get the tutorial here).

hot pink carnations in a diy painted metallic gold vase

Metallic paint: When all else fails, spray paint (or regular paint for cleaner lines, if you’re so inclined). You can paint anything metallic to make it look appropriately festive. Think plastic animals, figurines, or other small affordable items. Get the tutorial for these painted vases here.

spray painted fruit on west elm cake stand

Fruit: Speaking of things you can paint for festiveness, pick up a bag of fruit at your local Costco and make a modern, organic centerpiece. See our tutorial here.

what secretly awesome everyday materials have you used for your wedding?

This post was originally published on Oh Happy Day.

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Featured Image: Oh Happy Day

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is APW’s Chief Revenue Officer. She’s been writing stories about boys, crushes, and relationships since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) from NYU in Entertainment and Mass Media in 2008. She now spends a significant amount of time thinking about trends on the internet and whether flower crowns will be out next year. A Maine native, she currently lives on a pony farm in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband Michael, their son Lincoln, and an obnoxious mastiff named Gaia. Current hair color: Natural (gasp!)

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  • Sonnie

    We used pinecones in almost all of our decor. We had pinecone wreaths, vases stuffed with pinecones, a pinecone garland for the head table, a 30 foot pinecone swag for over the fireplace, our place card holders were individual pinecones. There was a lot of labor involved collecting, cleaning and sorting the thousands of pinecones we accumulated over a year, but they were completely free.

  • Em

    This is great – I wish you guys would do more of these practical ‘how tos’! I feel like you did a lot more a couple of years ago, and I’d love to see more of your takes on how to DIY wedding decor trends of 2017 / 2018…

    • 2017 has been…. a hard year, and DIY’s are a project to produce. 2018 is looking a lot better though.

      Anyway! Leave us your dream list and we’ll try to make them happen.

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        I would love to have a roundup of (additional) seating chart/table number ideas.

        • Ashweck

          You can buy craft numbers hat stand up from most decent craft stores — we just bought 1-6 for our tables and then painted and glittered them. They stood on their own and you can do basically anything you want for color/pattern. (A lot of people wrap them in handpainted paper)

          I did them two days before our guests started arriving and I think they cost $20

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            That sounds perfect.

          • Ashweck

            I have pictures, too, if you want to see how we did them

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            Please!

          • Ashweck

            here you are! just fyi, after they were glittered, I did two thick coats of high gloss mod podge to keep them from shedding and it worked REALLY well. #preschoolteacherhack https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0a384c4225350634396ebe595aa01e3336ced7a2f3f4f77b5694dcd02d8b9a53.jpg

          • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

            Ohhhhh, that is excellent. Thank you!!

          • CW

            That might be perfect for what I want! Except my venue says no glitter- but paint and easy numbers- yes please!

        • penguin

          We just got fold-over escort cards printed through Minted. They print the names on there for free. We could have gotten the table numbers printed right on the cards too, but I was afraid we’d have seating changes (lo and behold, we did). It was a good price and meant that I didn’t have to do crafting – we just alphabetized them, and asked the venue to set them out on a table by the door.

        • Anna

          We printed fold-over escort cards ourselves using one of those Avery perforated card stock things that comes with an online printing template – I just picked a nice font and did a mail-merge type thing from our tables spreadsheet. It took a couple tries to get everything lined up right, but basically I just printed the first page alone each time until it came out the way I wanted and then printed all the rest. Our table numbers were just printed on 8.5″x11″ cardstock folded in half.

          Not terribly inspired, but it worked and only took about an hour of effort, counting folding them all in half (which we totally could’ve delegated but it was something to do with our hands while watching TV in the stressful week leading up to the wedding).

        • jem

          You know what? I spent so much time and energy researching creative and beautiful seating charts, and in the end we went the stupid-simple route. We just bought blank escort cards from staples for $4.50 and I handwrote the names on them and it was super easy and took abt 30 min! My handwriting is nothing special, but I actually love the shots our photog got of them.

      • I bet a bunch of regulars have photos of their own craft projects in various stages of completion – maybe put a shout out for crowd sourced DIY posts?

        • Katelyn

          Seconded! I have some Pinterest crafts I might try – would be interesting/hilarious to test out and see the results of some of them!

  • Another Meg

    I had the luxury of time, so I used stuff I’d normally recycle. Glass sauce or jam jars, cans (with clean lid lines), and tonic water bottles. I painted some gold, modge-podged some with book pages, or wrapped a line of washi tape around them. I filled them with votives or wild flowers. It looked splendid and cost very little. Bonus- at the end of the night everything we didn’t want to keep went into recycling.

    • sofar

      The procrastinator’s counterpart to this would be purchasing jars at Goodwill. I walked in a few months before the wedding and bought up 100+ jars/votive holders for less than 50 cents each. Not sure what happened to them afterwards, but, even if they ended up in the dumpster, at least they got re-used for the wedding.

    • Pannorama

      This sounds beautiful! Would you be willing to share a photograph of how the end results looked? I have absolutely no design skills and have been thinking about doing something similar with wine bottles, jam jars, etc.

    • Anneke Oosterink

      We had lots of jars with tealights too, especially outside (our wedding was in the field at my parents’ house, so we had a tent and a toilet wagon :P They were a bit far apart (the toilets had to empty into the sewers and the tent was a ways away) so my mum had lined the path with sticks with ribbons and jars with tealights to guide the way. :) It looked so good, those lights in the dark!

    • nutbrownrose

      I was going to do this, got lazy, went to the dollar store, bought some vases and rocks. Boom. All 20 of the vases matched (and they wouldn’t fall over either) for $30.

  • Not Sarah

    We used our toilet paper basket for cards! I got fed up with buying random small things. No one noticed, so it was perfect. It is a nice brown wicker basket, lined with a cream cotton lining. I cleaned the liner and everything was fine.

    • Kelly

      This! We used a copper wire basket that usually has dish towels in it, as our card basket. We also used frames that we already had for almost all our signs.

  • Jess

    I still have not had the opportunity to decorate with flagging tape, but it has been filed away since that post and I AM WAITING.

    • Anon

      We used biodegradable white flagging tape at our wedding and it was super useful – the only decor we had other than fairy lights and the flowers my mother in law wanted to gift us – we used it to wrap poles for decoration, tied grouped strands to the marquee ropes so people wouldn’t trip over them, cordoned off areas we didn’t want people to go and (with a few bamboo posts from the hardware shop) created a sectioned off area on the public beach we got married on so that we’d have enough space for everyone. Plus I think I ordered four rolls of 75m each, and we only used about 1.5 so there’s heaps left over!

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    We know a ton of teachers. They’ve reminded us that teachers often have a bunch of stuff in bulk, so depending on what you’re looking for (or how flexible you are about using what’s available), hit up your educator friends to see if they have anything you can borrow.

    • Also, shop where educators shop.

      • Ashweck

        Lakeshore! Oriental Supply!

  • Ashweck

    We used paper for EVERYTHING! We did a massive geometric backdrop for the ceremony — dimensional hexagons that were a foot and a half wide. Paper bunting — about 900 feet of it that did not all get used. And paper platonic solids in our succuents for the centerpieces. Then, craft paper table runners and crayons, paper plates and napkins in fun prints. It was so incredibly stress-relieving to make these things but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re not as obsessed with crafts as I am, and we were so helped along by my silhouette machine

  • penguin

    Also think about how much décor you really need at your venue. We lucked out that our venue was pretty beautiful on its own, and we decided to just lean into that. We had our chuppah outside which was decorated with flowers and moss, then nothing else to decorate the ceremony. For the dinner we had floral centerpieces (made by in-laws) and that was it, besides the giant cake covered in flowers. For the dancing part we had uplighting, which made a HUGE difference in how the room looked. I kept freaking out about décor and signs and finally ran out of time and ambition. There’s nothing wrong with decorating if that’s your jam (or if you feel like your space needs it), but I didn’t have a particular desire for decoration and was just stressing myself out over it.

    • sofar

      We also ditched all the signs (except for the seating chart). We were like, “Eh, they’ll find their way to the ceremony/figure out where the guest book is somehow.”

      • penguin

        Yep one of my relatives asked for something to do like a month before the wedding, so I asked her for a card box and a guestbook sign. It worked out and I didn’t have to do anything for it.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      Yep. One of my non-negotiables for venue was “visually interesting enough that I don’t have to decorate it.” We’ll need to figure out how to assign people to their seats, and the restaurant will take care of tastefully placing candle sticks and flowers on tables.

    • Another Meg

      This is fantastic. That’s the thing about a “charming” park pavilion. It’s dirty. Ours had latrines. We came up a few days early and rented the place in the days leading up to the wedding so we could clean and hang lights and stuff. It was a TON of work. Part of me wishes I’d gone a simpler route.

    • Amanda

      Our ceremony was at a garden conservatory in December. It was beautifully decorated with the tropical plants that grew there plus a bunch of pointsettias and such for their Christmas celebration later that month. Beautiful and festive, and I didn’t have a huge flower budget!

    • ssha

      Flowers and moss chuppah!! *heart eyes*

      • penguin

        And we have our pictures back!! I was bummed there wasn’t a happy hour last week for me to gush over them haha.

        • ssha

          tomorrowwwwwwwww

  • ART

    We got married in 2014, which was the Time of Coffee Filters, but honestly they were really great, and like $10 bought ALL the coffee filters we could possibly need, and then I had leftovers to make actual coffee with for the next 6-8 months. It was also the Year of Much Ombre so we dip-dyed the edges and made nice fluttery garlands to decorate our otherwise rather utilitarian-looking tent.

    • ssha

      Can we give all years formal titles like this pls

  • Another Meg

    This is probably still a tried-and-true but CRAIGSLIST. Other people who just got married are dumping their 80 white vases on Craigslist and sometimes it’s a great deal.

    And we used our Christmas lights.

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  • Amanda

    I made a big paper swag to decorate the walls. I bought a circle cutter and pretty scrapbooking paper, and then cut out a bazillion circles in different sizes while I watched tv. Then I sewed right over the top of the circles with a sewing machine, making them into a big ribbon. Pretty cheap and mindless crafting!

    For centerpieces, since we like books, I stacked up pretty looking and romantic books and tied them with satin ribbon. I punched out flowers from a very battered copy of Harry Potter and strew them on the tables. Bam!

  • ssha

    Love this. These photos are of the decor for my cousin’s backyard bridal shower this fall- my mom texted me the morning of and said “New plan, bring ALL the string lights!” We had a bajillion string lights and candles from my wedding, and we threw the lights over my parents’ bushes, put the candles on the table with grandma’s china and grocery store flowers, and it looked amazing. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8dce62131da6d6005616f2aeca621cc1ba36a40e3fda1d68b56e6333f1e89096.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/81b6774fa019dcd5a4971d507c9f6165d979aa6e5ac454ac523a0f34b408e0a9.jpg

  • Lindsey d.

    Our venue had a huge, mirrored cake table to fill. I got family wedding photos from the grandparents, parents and siblings and put them in thrifted gold frames. I added a few vintage cameras from my personal collection. Oh, and the cake stands were thrifted too.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e9889f9cba41f917d8ac72aead20ad297d8afb0d3973173f9409aeb7e714518c.jpg

  • Anneke Oosterink

    I picked a colour and bought all the paper lanterns and honeycombs in that colour (white and several shades of blue). We tied them to the horizontal wires that kept up the tent. It looked great! Wool (for a tassel garland) is also cheap, easy to find and easy to craft.