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Little Budget, Big Look for Special Events

Little Budget, Big Look for Special Events

It's easy to dream up great decor when there's plenty of money to spend. But when the budget line is bare, here's how to get bargain beauty.


Choose an event space that is attractive on its own, then create the right flow — that's the key to getting plenty of “wow” without plenty of money, says Koby Bar Yehuda, senior partner and founder of KBY Designs, with offices in Israel and New York.

Also, “put your money where guests spend most of their time,” he adds. For example, during cocktails, guests need a good bar and an attractive space, “but if you put heaps of flowers there or fewer, no one will remember,” he says.

More suggestions:

  • Mix tables of varying shapes, then put linen on some of the tables and leave others bare except for candles.

  • Create drama in the room by placing three or four huge vases filled with flowers — real or silk — off-center.

  • Use monochromatic masses of inexpensive blooms.

  • Rent plants to fill the space and warm it up.

  • Never skimp on quality. “Don't compromise on the quality of products even if there are fewer flowers and such,” Bar Yehuda says. “We will never skimp on the ‘wow’ factor when a guest enters the event, if it sets the mood and the tone of the event.”


For a recent event with partner client the Chicago Marriott Downtown, the Meetinghouse Companies of Elmhurst, Ill., capitalized on what the hotel already had on hand.

The design team used the hotel's dark black tables, black and white linen and black drape as the base, then added pops of vibrant yellow via lemons and big, fluffy fuji mums, notes Siiri Lobe, Meetinghouse senior producer. “Most hotel or banquet venues have at least one color in-house,” she says. “If you build off of that, instead of trying to completely transform a room, you can really stretch your dollars.”


“When a supermodel walks into the room, no one notices her friends,” Jack Kelly says. Keep this in mind with your decor, advises the entertainment technology designer with Charlotte, N.C.-based Eye Dialogue, and you can create drama without dollars.

Take the “centerpiece” concept and apply to the room, Kelly suggests. Instead of using 20 floral arrangements at $50 per table, sink all the money into one dramatic floral arrangement in the center of the room. “No one will think that the handful of candles on their table looks poor,” he says. “Instead, they will comment to all their friends how magnificent the floral display was in the center.”

He adds:

  • A custom steel gobo — the honoree's initials or a slogan — creates a unique brand that makes the event special and valuable — all for about $70.

  • If you can put what would have been a two-room event into just one room, you essentially double your decor budget.

  • If you can't afford to wash all the walls in one color, then throw the color onto one element in the center of the room. Kelly did this at one pink-themed Sweet 16: “The brightest thing was in the middle, so everyone looked inward. Psychologically, the room was pink, because no one stares at the wall behind them.” And, “Instead of 30 to 40 lights, we only needed four.”

  • Spend big on one thing and let the rest go. “To get the ‘wow’ from a meager budget, some risk must be taken,” Kelly says. “Anything can be left out. Style is all that matters.”







Floral can be a budget-buster — but not if used wisely. “Use floral that has an immense show but a small price tag,” notes Sarah Hamilton, director of marketing for the Wholesale Florist & Florist Supplier Association of Annapolis, Md. Her suggestions:

Calla Lilies: These elegant flowers combine long stems with long life. Store at 32 degrees to 33.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hydrangeas: Dramatic flowers that last long, travel well and take up plenty of room in arrangements. They also take dye well. Use a hydration solution, cut stems only when submerged using a sharp knife, and store between 34 degrees and 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

Alstroemeria: These long-lasting blooms (in photo) now come in many colors, and with even larger blossoms. If buds are shut tight, submerge in warm water and allow two to four days to open fully. Store between 32 degrees and 33.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spray Roses: With “lots of buds for your buck,” as Hamilton says, these flowers take two to four days to bloom fully. Use hydration solution and store between 32 degrees and 33.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove any leaves that will be below the water line.

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