Wednesday, September 12, 2012

At the Center of It All

What wins the award for most time consuming wedding project? That would be the centerpieces. However, I am proud to say that while these were the most time consuming, they were also one of the most cost effective parts of the planning. Pinterest is teeming with photos of beautiful floral arrangements and dramatic candles playing their part as reception table centerpieces. The idea of a $100+ set up multiplied by a dozen or more tables had me turning a shade paler than I normally am (and that's pale!).

I set out looking for ideas to create the $20 centerpiece. I'm not a big floral person so we ruled that out early on. At one point I considered low, open bowls filled with decorative balls. I had just created the thumbtack balls as a Pinterest Project and realized that there were a lot more ideas out there for styrofoam decor.
What about different types for different tables? Fabric covered, thumbtack, yarn....then the worrier in me reared her head. I pictured our wedding guests - shall we say, a bit tipsy - grabbing them out of their bowls and starting a "decorative ball fight." It could happen! (images below from and
So I shifted to finding a way to contain the balls. By the way, if you are wondering if my family and friends had endless fun with my continuous ball-talk, you would be correct.

I don't recall exactly how I found the lantern idea, probably my best friend Google Search, but once I found a few photos including this one I pinned, I only had eyes for the $8 IKEA BORRBY Lantern.
Based on our invite list, we decided to start planning for 14 tables. To be on the safe side and to avoid another trip to IKEA, we bought 16. Why not grab the whole pallet and make it easy, we said.
I loved the look of the pinned photo above and figured we could recreate the look to a certain degree. First up, the boxes. The added dimension and height was key, but those wooden boxes looked like they would knock my $20 budget out of the water. Enter the paper maiche box. Actually, enter 14 of them. I trolled Michaels every week - more like stalked - waiting for additional shipments to come in as I cleared them out of the 7.5" boxes. I considered ordering them but did not find a better price online and did not want to pay shipping if I could help it. With 40% off coupons, I rarely paid more than $2.50 a box.
With some navy blue paint, the boxes took on new life and, along with the silver lanterns, our color scheme was starting to take shape.

Now comes the hard part. Instead of different types of covered styrofoam balls, I focused in on yarn in our wedding colors. For the thumbtack balls I used Smoothfoam instead of regular styrofoam and knew this would be the best route to go this time around, considering I would be using a lot of hot glue and styrofoam can crumble in the heat.
Those Michaels trips also wiped out their supply of Smoothfoam balls. I had determined that each lantern could hold 11 balls - 6 small, 3 medium and 2 large. I had been trying to save money by using the 40% off coupons and not paying shipping, but in the end it was worth it to order all the rest I needed instead of making my twice a week treks to the craft store. By buying them in bulk as opposed to one off bags, I evened out what I would have spent with my Michaels coupons. In the end, I would say I averaged $5 per centerpiece for the smoothfoam and yarn.

To lighten up the dark boxes and lanterns, I made a high percentage of the balls yellow and the rest would be navy blue and gray. Here was my process:
1. dab hot glue on the top of the ball to get started and poke the end of the string through the hole at the top.
2. start wrapping the string around the ball, attaching it to the hot glue.
3. keeping the lines tight together, wrap the yarn around the ball, dabbing the ball with hot glue regularly to keep it together. The first half winds together very easily, but the yarn tended to not stay as tight for the second half so I found myself going a lot slower and using a lot of the glue.
4. At the very end, make sure all of the ball is covered and cut the yarn.
After trying out a few, I realized it was inevitable for a bit of the white ball to show through so I began painting each one the color of the yarn to make them look better. Toothpicks and a piece of packaging? The perfect base for drying!
I'm not going to lie. To make these 150 balls I spent a lot of evening and weekends in our second bedroom and was very thankful for our craft table! Each took an average of 10-15 minutes, as I got a lot faster towards the end. But that is still a lotta Law & Order: SVU episodes on the iPad, let me tell you.
We planned on having 8 foot rectangular tables at the reception. Knowing the lanterns would not take up a lot of room, and looking for a little ambience, we started budgeting out votive candles. I mentioned my fear of lit candles, so for a time considered flameless candles. I know some reception venues only allow this kind, but we did not have that limitation. I bought a pack at Michaels to try out, but the flicker just looked too "fake", too "orange", too "something". So we decided to keep it real.

Add our table numbers and this tableau was starting to come together.
On I was pleased to find that you could order navy blue votives! Assuming 6 for each table, 3 on each side of the centerpiece, I ordered enough votives and clear glass holders for 14 tables. Using a coupon code I found by googling saved a few more dollars, keeping the candlelight to about $4 a table.
photo by GReyes Photography.
All of the table number easels were painted the same navy blue as the boxes to finish them off.
Filled lanterns? Check! Instead of a random pattern, I had a specific way we filled each one that I thought maximized the color variations and not kept any hidden from view (otherwise why did I take the time to make them?). The end mix:
Yellow: 3 small, 1 medium,1 large
Blue: 1 small, 1 medium, 1 large
Gray: 2 small, 1 medium
The centerpieces were up to $19. After hemming and hawing on ways to create the floral addition shown in this pin, I just gave up. Fake flowers just looked too....fake. The quote our florist gave us to add a little flair to the boxes would have doubled each table's budget. The idea of buying and arranging real flowers the day of the wedding was not something that sounded fun to me. So we left it as is and I don't think flowers were missed.
On silvery gray runners and white tablecloths, the centerpieces ended up being everything we wanted - simple, personal, not too over-the top, but not too chintzy looking.
photo by GReyes Photography
We ended up with 11 tables so the extras were used for the escort card table and 2 were placed on the double sized bridal party table. And no one opened the lanterns to start a ball fight. Love!
photo by GReyes Photography
What to use as aisle runners was a question that plagued me for months. I didn't want petals or an actual fabric runner (the tripping! My God, the tripping!), but did like the idea of vases or something lining the aisle alongside the chairs.
photo by GReyes Photography
In the last couple weeks of planning, we decided to double the use of our lanterns by placing them alongside the chairs on each side of the aisle. You can see one in this photo, they really did help anchor the aisle. Hey! There's me and my dad!
Now the wedding is over and I find myself with 84 votive candle holders, 14 boxes, 16 lanterns and 150 yarn balls taking up space in the second bedroom. When I was searching for centerpiece options I perused craigslist a few times to see if anyone was selling the lanterns I wanted by chance, but never ended up coming up with anything. I might try my hand at selling the lanterns and candle holders here, but will have to come up with something crafty for the boxes and yarn balls....


  1. These look great, we are trying to find inexpensive ways to decorate the table at the moment. Like you I don't like the idea of spending a fortune on flowers. xox

  2. Lots of holiday decoration ideas with lanterns on pinterest.

    And btw, love your lanterns.

  3. I have fallen in love with this idea for my own wedding. Are you still trying to sell the lanterns and candle holders?

  4. Hi Mick,
    I've already sold the lanterns and candle holders via craigslist - but hopefully the resources I linked to (IKEA and quickcandles) come in handy for you. I do stll have 150 yarn balls, eventually will come up with something to do with those! Good luck!

  5. Craigslist has been good, but the Marketplace on fb is really taking off.