Dressing Venues

Isabel Smith explains that styling your venue is a balance between character and neutrality. But first, you must define your target market.

Maunsel House
Maunsel House, Somerset

Most of you will be holding marquee weddings of one sort or another, with a temporary structure either as the main event space or as an additional space to more permanent structures. In this article I will give examples of how a venue can make the most of its offerings, beyond the marquee, to give it character and style, while leaving enough neutrality for a bride to make her own styling choices for the big day.

Every venue has a feel, an ambience, about it. When decorating your venue as a whole – either pre launch or as part of a renovation – there is an important question to ask yourself, particularly with weddings in mind: who is your target audience? You need to think about whether you want to maximize the appeal of the venue or become known for a particular theme or feel. There is nothing wrong with either approach, but each requires careful forethought when it comes to the décor and styling of your internal and external spaces.

Take, for example, the fairly recently relaunched Moor Hall in Morden, South London. The fabulous 1770s building is nestled in a truly lovely family friendly park, which is itself undergoing a regeneration thanks to the local council and the National Trust. However, Morden isn’t exactly what one would call a ‘destination,’ so when it came to the refurbishment of the space (and believe me, we are talking more than just a subtle face lift here), the current lease holder was wise to overcome the downside of the venue, the location, by opting for a look that could appeal to almost any bride, while still offering versatility and character in its aesthetic.

Maunsel House BearThe uber talented Melanie Thorne of Country Knole interiors who undertook the project was adamant that the palette used should stay true to the era in which the property was built, but mixing this with some modern fabrics and wallpapers brings the space bang up to date.

The finished article at Moor Hall is really pleasing, making the most of the impressive features of the property such as its high ceilings and incredible light, while still offering something a bit more modern and quirky – and of a far higher quality – than you might find in a stuffier incarnation of this type of venue.

The result? The spaces themselves work alongside the owner’s plan to offer broad appeal and host a great many weddings each year. Now that is consistency in branding and target market!

But that simply isn’t going to be the magic formula for all venues. After all, there is no shortage of brides looking for something totally different – and they’re willing to pay a premium to get it.

Oxfordshire’s Aynhoe Park has hit the nail on the head. The owner of the 17th century Jacobean meets Palladian meets Baroque manor lives for modern quirky art (think a taxidermy menagerie, each with it’s own hat and other accessories, nestled among Chihuly inspired blown glass chandeliers and a rotation of the most up to date paintings and sculptures you can find) and isn’t afraid to spend money on it. The result is surprisingly elegant and offers a really fun space, but it simply isn’t going to appeal to every couple that comes through the door. Since their business model doesn’t call for a wedding production line, the hire pricing structure fits well with the luxury event space and means Aynhoe gets just the right number of weddings each year.

Maunsel House GunsNot that you need to be investing in thousands of pounds worth of modern art each month to offer something different and niche to the market. Maunsel House, Sir Benjamin Slade’s country pile in Somerset, has of course benefitted from investment over the years, but it is still very much styled in a traditional manner that will have broad appeal, just with those ever-so-important touches that make the space stand out from the crowd. The walls of the bar are simply covered in old guns from every era and ‘Sir Ben’ is more than happy for guests to take a few down and have a play (no bullets of course!). This ‘laissez-faire’ attitude, which gives couples the flexibility to do very much as they please on site, is reflected in the venue’s styling. It isn’t as flawlessly polished as, say, Claridges, but that isn’t the bride Maunsel wants to attract, and their pricing fits them nicely between Morden Hall and Aynhoe Park – neither highly exclusive, nor operating a more volume model.

Pergola

When it comes to marketing an outdoor space where the bride and groom might be building their marquee venue to their own specification, you might think that you are off the hook. But no, I am a firm believer that your landscaping and on-site facilities (including accommodation if you offer it) need to appeal to your target audience and be priced accordingly.

So what are the golden rules when it comes to decorating your spaces?

1 Style with your business model in mind
The more weddings you want to take on each year, the broader your appeal should be (if in doubt, go for a neutral palette / a simple English country garden look). Make sure you are thinking carefully about what it is that your target market is looking for in a wedding venue.

2 Work with what you’ve got
While I am a huge fan of traditional architecture pared with modern interiors (yes, Aynhoe is one of my all time favourite venues), generally speaking fitting a square peg into a round hole takes real ingenuity (and a very generous budget!) to pull off so take your cues from what you have around you.

3 Continuity is key
The flow of a wedding (ie the journey that guests go on through your venue during the day) can make or break a successful event and as such, keep that journey in mind while designing. While you want some variety between the spaces of course (otherwise you’ll look like a conference centre or a hedge maze), some unifying themes or features will make the guests feel more at home and help your bride to style her wedding.

4 Work on your balance
The ideal venue should be enough of a blank canvas to enable the bride to put her own stamp on her wedding without looking like a soulless void! Think comfortable but not over cluttered and, above all, avoid ‘overdoing’ it. For open air venues, think about how your gardens will look all year round to avoid becoming too seasonal.

5 Never underestimate the lighting
Nothing impacts mood and ambience more than lighting, so give very careful thought to all your lighting installations and put everything on dimmers!

Once you’re happy with your venue, you want to show it off to its full potential and for this I can’t recommend engaging the services of a professional enough. Your website should feature photos of your spaces empty, dressed for an everyday wedding (showing all that you offer in terms of design and tablewares etc, as standard) but also dressed to the nines! You are selling to a generation of visual – but supremely lazy – people and they want to see all the potential in your space without having to try too hard.

Having a planner, caterer or designer dress your property doesn’t just mean great photos for your website, it is also a process that cements your relationships with your preferred suppliers, and if done properly, can even be leveraged into exposure in the press getting you out to your target market for free! Happy styling.


ISABEL-SMITHAbout the Author
Isabel Smith has 10 years in the wedding industry behind her as one of the UK’s top wedding planners and business consultants to venues and other suppliers. Isabel’s expertise spans marketing, sales and operations as she helps new vendors launch as well as assisting established businesses should they find their sales fallings. www.isabelsmithconsulting.co.uk / www.isabelsmithweddings.co.uk

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