Picking a locale for my engagement party was a no-brainer: Mama Rao's, an Italian restaurant (Brooklynites, it's a must-visit) is where Jason and I had one of our first dates, so aside from the decadent fare and top-notch service, it has sentimental value. (Fun Fact: Wedding planner extraordinaire Mindy Weiss' son had his e-party there too, so I was definitely in good hands!) Selecting the decor to match my multi-course spread? Not so simple. All I knew was that I wanted it to be ultra-romantic and make guests catch their breath when they walked into the room. Mission accomplished—use this cheat sheet to create a stunning look for your first bash as a Mr. and Mrs. to be, or even for your bridal shower.
1. Give guests a sneak peek: Everyone who goes to your engagement soiree will also be invited to the big day, so introduce them to your wedding colors and/or theme.My venue has an opulent European feel, so the more crystals, the merrier. I had to scout about 5 or 6 different stores before I uncovered a treasure trove of bargains at zgallerie.com. I clustered the Bling Votive Cup ( pictured second row, on the left; $7.99, zgallerie.com) and Bling Tealight Lamps ( pictured first row, on the right; $29.99, zgallerie.com) around my centerpieces for a luxe look. Since then, I've even seen them featured in professionally-designed weddings on sites. If you want to keep your palette/style a secret until the big day, you can take the opposite route and create a totally different look for your pre-wedding parties.
2. Floral 411: Before my e-party, I knew barely anything about blooms. What I did know was that I really, really wanted to incorporate orchids, which are my favorite flower, hands-down. The downside? Orchids are extremely expensive, so I asked Shannon Florist to include a few, but balance them out with high-volume flowers that make an impact, like peonies, hydrangeas, and plenty of greenery. Don't be shy to show your vendor pictures of centerpieces you love, even if you think they're beyond your price range—if you give them a budget, they will work to achieve a similar look for less.
3. High-low savings: Another easy way to save hundreds on centerpieces is to create two different kinds and alternate them by table. This instantly adds drama and interest to the room, rather than having only one uniform look, which can look flat. I used a tall centerpiece (pictured first row, on the left) for my table, which included the bridal party, and two lower ones (pictured second row, on the right), flanked on the right and the left, for all of the other tables.
4. Add unexpected elements: Small details are what guests often remember from your engagement party, bridal shower, and wedding. One of my favorite touches from my party is the wire-rimmed stand my florist used for the centerpieces, which had dangling crystals. Oftentimes, florists are willing to lend out their more unusual pieces gratis, so long as the bride-to-be brings it back the next day.
5. Let there be light: Your proposal is hands-down one of the most emotional, surreal days of your life. For instant romance, add dozens of tea light candles on your table and dim the lights. Extra kudos if you play soft, current music in the background, which might entice guests to clamour for a first dance, like moi.