Editor's note: Fourth in a series about the Mormon wedding experience.

A place that plays host to events such as high-intensity church basketball games and the annual ward Christmas party might not be the first setting that comes to mind when imagining an impeccably decorated wedding reception.

Yet, for years, ward cultural halls worldwide have been used for this very purpose. Although a need for versatility requires a sacrifice of style for functionality, shining elegance to match the newlywed couple's glowing marital bliss can still be achieved through a décor makeover.

Michelle Cousins, owner of Utah Events By Design, outlined three crucial factors she considers that can be applied to any wedding party's cultural hall transformation: perimeter, linens and details.

Properly prescribe a perimeter

While the cultural hall may be the perfect size for basketball, volleyball and other sporting events, a wedding reception may be swallowed up in the room's enormity.

"One of the biggest mistakes people make is they think they have to use the entire space," Cousins explained.

She said the first thing to consider is how many guests are expected to attend. In order to make the room feel cozy without feeling crowded, the size of the room can be visually controlled through simple installations of dressing screens, old window frames hanging from the ceiling or curtains.

In addition to partitioning off the general room size, separate areas can also be sectioned off depending on need. Lounge areas can be created by covering chairs and couches with slip covers and grouping them together, and table arrangement establishes a dance floor.

Ceiling treatments should also be a part of perimeter considerations. Tulle or other sheer fabrics can create faux ceilings and walls when draped from wires stringing across the ceiling. There are multiple companies that rent out the material and some that also take care of the setup.

Other people, such as Jolynne Flake, a Springville, Utah, mother who had five of her children get married in 2010, take on the task of creating the faux ceiling themselves. Flake decorated her son's wedding reception by buying white and blue Christmas lights and approximately 500 yards of tulle on the Internet, utilizing her family's manpower while decorating and selling the material after she was done to recover the cost.

Linens: Raising the bar

Linens at a wedding are more than just a tablecloth used for easy clean-up — they are a simple way to add to the style of a reception.

"Linens take the look and feel from a five to a 10," Cousins said.

White, floor-length linens can be easily borrowed from neighbors, purchased or rented and effectively cover metal table legs. Once base linens are established, different colored and patterned overlays that match the theme and colors of the wedding add variety to the tables.

Chair decorations also add elegance to the cultural hall. Colored ribbon can be tied around the backs, or chair covers, which many companies rent out, can conceal the entire frame. "Even if you are using folding chairs, you can add a sash to make it classier," Cousins advised.

Odds and ends

In the end, it's the small details that add the finishing touches to the makeover and cause the guests to take notice.

Cousins suggested that instead of using the fluorescent lighting, incorporating alternative lighting sources such as lanterns or bistro lighting can further change the look of the room.

Centerpieces add to the effect of linens and can be made of various combinations of flowers, citrus fruit, beads or whatever knick-knacks represent the couple. In addition to centerpieces, using easels, platters and tiered serving dishes add height and dimension to the tables.

Garden arches and arbors adorned with tulle, ribbon, flowers, lights and photos attached by clothespins provide an entryway into the room or serve as a backdrop to the couple's receiving line.

Even thinking outside the cultural hall adds a new feature to decorating. Jars and baskets filled with flowers or lanterns create a pathway to the outside door when suspended from shepherd hooks. Ribbon connecting each hook further produces a visual trail to direct guests and carry the wedding theme outside.

Whether using a cultural hall for a wedding reception is out of necessity, budget or preference, the room's versatility can serve as an advantage.

Cousins said, "Just because you are doing a cultural hall wedding doesn't mean that it can't be beautiful and have the look and feel of something extravagant."

e-mail: wbutters@desnews.com

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