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How to have a small yet striking wedding

by The New York Times | March 14, 2021 at 3:11 a.m.
In a photo provided by Noemie Tshinanga, in a photo provided by Julia Winkler Photography, Top trends that will make your intimate celebration or elopement extraordinary. (Mango Muse Events/Julia Winkler Photography via The New York Times) -- NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH NYT STORY ELOPEMENT-TIPS BY IVY MANNERS FOR FEB. 10, 2021. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED. --

As weddings are moving away from big bashes to small-scale affairs because of the coronavirus, couples are embracing the fact that they can focus less on pleasing hundreds of guests and more on creating the perfect day for just the two of them.

"An elopement no longer means that the event would be decided on and executed that same day or week. It just means that it will have the intimate feel and charm of impromptu nuptials but be planned just like a large wedding would," says Aya Kanai, the head of content and editorial partnerships at Pinterest.

And, if space and protocol allow, many couples are having small ceremonies with fewer than 10 family members and friends from their social bubble. "Small weddings are, of course, a reflection of the times we're currently living in, but the aesthetic of the event is as important as ever," Kanai said. "They've opened a lot of opportunities for couples to be more creative."

Here, bridal experts share the top trends that will help make your elopement or cozy fête magical.


Since location is the main component of a wedding, we can expect many changes in venue selections for 2021 celebrations. As couples are scaling back their guest lists, they are also being very intentional about where they choose to wed.

"Couples have gotten really imaginative and are tying the knot in uncommon, picturesque locations just by themselves or with a tight group of family and friends, such as in a beautiful hidden courtyard, endless flower-filled field, or even underneath a waterfall," said Michelle Norwood, the founder and creative director of Michelle Norwood Events, based in New Orleans. "The more epic and off-the-beaten path the location the better." Pairing the stunning outdoor space with an unforgettable dinner -- such as a private chef on a yacht sailing around a scenic coastline, or a chic picnic on a secluded beach -- is the ultimate goal.

Couples will also take the at-home wedding up a notch by thinking beyond the customary tent -- from building temporary structures from scratch to setting up transparent bubble tents that feel like private suites. "Couples are looking for a chic and immersive experience for their special day and that starts with a unique venue. They want a space that allows them to be in the moment," said Yaz Quiles, the founder and owner of POP! By Yaz and Pop! Igloos, based in New York. "Unexpected venues that are better suited for smaller celebrations can offer a blank canvas to create the perfect atmosphere."


Giving up a long guest list definitely has its advantages when designing a dream wedding. Planners, floral designers and event stylists are seeing a trend among couples who are hosting intimate events reallocating their original budgets toward lush floral designs, lavish stationery and deluxe tablescapes. The shift to bigger décor budgets and smaller venues has made the table the focal point of the event.

"If you're only having one table for under 10 or even two, think about how unique that could be. You're no longer designing dozens of tables, so you can pay extra attention to the one you have," said Kristin Shockley, owner of Lustre Theory Styling & Design, based in Norfolk, Va. "Tablescapes are taking a new direction with still-life influenced designs where hors d'oeuvres are worked into décor, loose flowers are placed around the table for extra romance, and bread isn't just sitting in a basket or on a plate but displayed on individual wooden serving boards along with fruit and nuts. This gives your guests more to look at on the table."

Couples are also thinking about how they can extend their floral designs beyond the tabletop or installations above the table. "The right florals can transform a small space," Shockley said. "We're seeing play with blooms, such as entwining around chair backs and legs, sprouting from the floor around the table and climbing a wall."


With no guest list to worry about, or the addition of just a few guests, couples will be gravitating to a more luxurious and selective menu for their wedding celebration.

"We'll see couples going all out with elevated meal experiences, such as multiple courses, food-and-wine pairings, individual cheese platters and grazing boards, and extravagant food like caviar," said Alexandra Dettori, the executive chef and founder of Alexandra Dettori Catering + Events, based in New York.

Stylish food and drink trucks featuring creative menus for guests keeping distance outdoors will continue to be popular, as well as chic, yet covid-safe, food presentations like beautifully packaged individual courses and grazing boxes. "For couples wanting a posh sit-down dining experience, we see many taking culinary artistry to a new level," Norwood said. "We expect more couples asking for dishes that look like pieces of art that you can eat, which are pre-plated and served table side to each guest."


Elegant, individual presentations won't be just for the main courses. Weddings cakes will also be smaller in size but more dramatic in detail. Compact single-tier, petite two-layer and mini individual cakes will be a highlight of the wedding dinner.

"I'm noticing many couples who are having smaller weddings are asking for fancier treats. This helps make their day extra special, especially if it's just the two of them," says Dawn Konofaos, the owner of Alévri & Co., based in Baltimore. "One-tier cakes feel unique when on the taller side -- at least 7 to 8 inches in height and 6 inches in diameter. A small two-tier cake still maintains a bit of tradition and individual mini cakes are not only covid-friendly but also cute and much more elaborate than in previous years."

Couples will also be more creative with cake flavors by incorporating spices and herbs that aren't typically used in wedding cakes. "I'm finding that basil, lemon thyme and sage are having a moment in the spotlight," Konofaos said. "As for style, we'll see more texture and painterly designs."


Elopements and intimate weddings are giving way to leisurely, seated dinners with music being used to complement the menu and guide the event. "Soft, ambient music performed by a soloist or duo is taking the place of high-energy dance music played by a DJ or large band. It's all about intentionality, mindfulness and designing a wedding that feels true to the couple's love story," said Keanna O'Quinn, the founder of Honey+Vinyl, based in New York. "Science tells us that music influences taste perception, so we collaborate with caterers to arrange music to enhance the menu's flavors, creating an interactive, sensory experience."

Because many couples will be opting for no dancing at their wedding receptions, this will allow them to be more attentive to the quality of music. "I see more couples steering clear of the typical wedding tunes and instead [coming up with] a creative live-music playlist, such as a custom soundscape of soul music consisting of B-side classics that are well known but less played."


While weddings are getting smaller, brides are going bigger with their wedding day look.

"I'm seeing simplicity with a more-is-more mindset, which we've begun to refer to as 'minimal maximalism,'" said bridal designer Sarah Seven. "Two of the top looks brides are requesting are streamlined, off-the-shoulder gowns and clean silhouettes with more design details, in particularly statement sleeves -- from large shoulder puffs to draped long sleeves that look like a sweater."

"After going so long without social engagements to dress up for, even the laid-back bride will be looking for a little something extra, something simple and refined but with a striking focal point," said Margo Lafontaine, the design director at Amsale. "With [small ceremonies] being attended by so many virtual guests, details like bishop sleeves, a dramatic bow and embroidered tulle cape-like sleeves, which stand out on camera, are all the more important."

In a photo provided by Noemie Tshinanga, Top trends that will make your intimate celebration or elopement extraordinary (Noemie Tshinanga via The New York Times) -- NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH NYT STORY ELOPEMENT-TIPS BY IVY MANNERS FOR FEB. 10, 2021. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED. --
In a photo provided by Noemie Tshinanga, Top trends that will make your intimate celebration or elopement extraordinary (Noemie Tshinanga via The New York Times) -- NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH NYT STORY ELOPEMENT-TIPS BY IVY MANNERS FOR FEB. 10, 2021. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED. --

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