You’ve poured over countless photos of an elaborate venue setting, outfitted with impeccable details that burst with personality. You can barely wait to visit the space in person when you come across an image of its everyday appearance–and it’s entirely empty. We’re talking no wall treatments, no tables or chairs, no lighting. Nada, zip, nothing. You’ve scored a blank slate. Now what?!
First things first, consider it a raw canvas. Just ask Renee Price, a senior event producer for a Windy City design powerhouse, Kehoe Designs. After dabbling in PR, baking and catering, Renee settled in at the celebrated firm to pursue her passion of executing gorgeous decor and event design for corporate clients and weddings. Since joining Kehoe Designs in 2004, Renee’s work has appeared in both local and national magazines, such as Grace Ormonde, CS Weddings, Brides Magazine and The Knot, in addition to several revered and respected industry blogs such as Style Me Pretty, Strictly Weddings and now, Be U Weddings! And quite a few of her masterpieces have stemmed from that very blank slate you might be dreading. Renee was kind enough to walk us through the opportunities that arise from an open floor plan. Read on!
Senior Event Producer, Renee Price; photo courtesy of Kehoe Designs
For many of us, creating an oh-so-memorable wedding night centers as much around the style and type of venue, as it does around the food and music. When the venue is a swanky hotel or an elegant country club, there are key elements that come with the property–things like chairs, tables, staging, and dance floors. But what happens when you fall in love with a venue that offers none of these luxuries, such as a loft, a warehouse or any other blank canvas for that matter? You inherit an artistic space with loads of personality and uniqueness but then you are faced with having to actually make it look fabulous despite the reality that there aren’t tables or chairs. Sigh.
But have no fear! Truthfully speaking, raw space venues have housed some of my absolute favorite weddings and events. The before-and-after impact is super dramatic and the design possibilities are beyond endless. With that said, there a few design points to consider as you dive into the decorating process, and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming in the least. To help you visualize these ideas, I’ve included photos from a wedding I designed at Chicago’s very own Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Warehouse, starting with a look at the extraordinarily raw space I had to work with.
Empty MCA warehouse; photo courtesy of Kehoe Designs
One of your first considerations should be finding out the amount of available light in your venue, both natural and installed lighting. Generally, loft spaces are keen on exposed brick, wood beams and sometimes concrete floors, so creating warmth and dimension become my first priorities and adding lighting is the way to do it. The time of year has a big impact on how much lighting to do. For example, if you have booked a space with large windows and it’s the middle of summer, well, then you are in fair shape! However, if your venue has little-t0-no natural light or your wedding is during months where natural light is limited, then you’ll definitely want to tell your designer to suggest a lighting package. Make certain the entrance, and thus the exit, is somewhat lit so that guests can see where they are going. Next, place up lighting around the perimeter of the room where dancing and dining take place to beautifully highlight the architecture and the very elements with which you fell in love. Finally, plan for lighting of other key areas such as projecting patterns of light onto the dance floor, highlighting unique parts of the room (…why not bring that old machinery to life if it’s super cool …), and pin-spotting table centerpieces and food stations so that you can actually see them. And one last note about lighting–it’s the difference between mediocre and fantastic photographs.
The next aspect of design to consider when decorating a raw space is integrating fabric treatments. Sheer chiffons, natural linens and sumptuous silks have a wonderful way of softening hard surfaces and walls and are truly the perfect juxtaposition to the venue’s roughness and edge. I love to do chic fabric entrances over doorways that guests walk through–it’s an ideal way to welcome them and is a taste of things to come. Another fantastic area for fabric is behind your band or DJ, as this works to frame them and is one area at which guests will be looking all night. Lastly, some of the most striking weddings I have designed showcase panels of fabric laced over the dance floor or elaborately stretched across the ceiling. Bringing the eye up has an amazing way of inserting instant intimacy and wonder and, again, is a lovely compliment to an otherwise unrefined space.
After transforming a blank room with the warmth of lighting and the elegance of fabric, a final method of the creative process that is a favorite of mine is to include stylish groupings of furniture. Whether you have a formal seated dinner or a reception style wedding, providing lounge furniture in small or large doses will definitely create a comfortable aesthetic and is a way for you to insert your decor personality, be it vintage, modern or glamorous. Depending on your guest count and the size of your venue, one perfectly placed lounge area can negate a void corner or add character. But mostly, lounge areas are fun! When placed against a gritty backdrop, a simple bench adorned with accent pillows and paired with a coffee table can be as delightful and chic as a fully designed furniture vignette with a sofa, carpet and chairs.
In the end, I’ve found that the key to transforming an unfinished space into a brilliant and memorable one is to incorporate some or all of these décor elements into your design plan. Ultimately, a loft or warehouse is a remarkable type of venue to work with, allowing you 100% creative freedom with almost none of the red tape to tip-toe around. By keeping these three points of design in mind–lighting, fabric and furniture–you will be well on your way to wowing your guests and setting yourself up for a night to remember!
Don’t you just wish you were at this amazing MCA Warehouse event? Sometimes the blankest of spaces can truly transform into the most magical of places. Be sure to visit Kehoe Designs for even more to-die-for design inspiration.
If you are building out a blank canvas for your big day, what elements are you planning to incorporate? We’d love to get a sneak peek of your set-up!