The ins and outs of styling a coastal wedding
It’s easy to fall in love with Galveston Island. At dusk, shiny waves crash into the shoreline and a rosy glow washes over the beachfront. It’s pretty as a postcard, whether you’re setting out for an evening stroll or walking down the aisle.
“There’s something magical about a Galveston wedding that you just don’t really get with inland locations,” said Elizabeth Brown, who runs Archetype Studios with her husband, Koby.
Over the years, the Browns have photographed dozens of beachfront nuptials, from Galveston, where their business is based, to Greece and beyond. They find, in general, that couples who choose to marry on the beach can be described by two words:
“Adventurous and flexible,” Elizabeth Brown said. “They’re in it for the experience, for the beauty, for the romance and for the end of the story to be that they got married, even if that means the flowers blew away.”
Even if you don’t plan to say “I do” with the Gulf lapping at your train, there are plenty of venues on the island — and the mainland — where seaside sensibility still shines.
So, channel the spirit of the destination by adding some coastal touches.
“At an island wedding, there should be a nod to beachy elements, but it doesn’t have to be so literally interpreted,” said Natalie Dawley, wedding planner and owner of Two Be Wed in Houston. “Immediately, when people think beach wedding, they go to turquoise and white and brown, but you don’t have to pen yourself in with a color palette.”
Muted tones are trending for beach weddings in 2017, said Tara Richardson, who owns The Borrowed Flea, a vintage rental company in Houston.
“Most brides want to use softer colors like pale sage green with some soft blues, but deeper maroon and teal accents can also look really beautiful,” she said.
Richardson is known for collecting treasures found in unlikely places — among them, pieces that have washed up on shore.
“At beach weddings, I love to see something that’s from the sea that’s still artistic. I might use driftwood or sand coral, which is really architecturally pleasing and has nice color variations in it,” she said.
When styling a shoreside ceremony, Richardson draws inspiration from the natural beauty of the surroundings.
“There’s not a lot of hype needed,” she said. “You want to make the space feel cozy, but at the same time, you don’t want to cover it up.”
Textural elements, such as raw linen, canvas and rope, fit well with the environment, as does weathered wood.
“Some of the pieces we have for rent have that perfectly weathered patina, which fits with the setting and will stand up to the elements,” Richardson said.
Brides who want a more modern look might use pops of color.
For a styled shoot at the Hotel Galvez, Dawley created a tablescape with pops of flamingo pink inspired by mid-century postcards.
“For this shoot, we were really inspired by the history of the island, particularly when it was a summering spot for really wealthy people,” she said.
She used tropical flowers, Asian-inspired china and flatware with notched handles to mimic bamboo.
A beach-inspired invitation suite helps set the tone for your big day. But, whatever your wedding style — new wave nautical or antique chic — it’s important not to go overboard with the coastal kitsch.
“My motto is, ‘Keep it simple,’” said Betsy Campbell, owner of Betsy By Design, 302 25th St. in Galveston. “If you want to use a starfish as a motif on your invitation, don’t put a starfish on everything at your wedding.”
Instead, Campbell advises incorporating your chosen motif in subtle ways — using starfish place card holders or offering guests star-shaped cookies in pretty cellophane bags.
The point is to embrace the essence of the beach.
“Let’s say you are trying to somehow incorporate sand, it doesn’t have to be sand on the table,” Dawley said. “You could choose a craft envelope for your invitation suite, which, when paired with white calligraphy, would create a beautiful contrast.”
To some, the beach might seem more appropriate for a summer barbecue than a summer wedding, but seaside ceremonies can also be chic.
“Beach doesn’t have to read casual, it can be elegant,” Elizabeth Brown said.
At beach weddings, the Browns have seen lots of couples marrying the natural beauty of the outdoors with the functionality and comfort of indoor spaces.
“We’re seeing a lot of people who are doing elaborate setups for cocktail hours and receptions with furniture that you might typically see indoors,” Koby Brown said.
In terms of ceremony seating, folding chairs aren’t the only option. Couples are opting for a non-traditional approach with multiple lounge areas, which works especially well at shoreside nuptials.
“I love to use rugs and floor pillows to make it like an elevated day at the beach,” Richardson said. “Bringing in more luxe materials can give an outdoor venue the feel of a nice living room.”
But, keep in mind the environmental factors if your ceremony is taking place on the beachfront or nearby.
The common catastrophes are wind-related, Richardson said, so it’s important to scout locations with a fine-tooth comb, even if you’re working with a planner.
“For the altar, assess your area,” she said. “If it’s a place that’s going to have a lot of wind, choose something in a lower profile that won’t topple over.”
Outside of the elements, another potential mistake is arbitrary décor without a connection to the couple.
“You want the final product to really pay homage to a couple’s love story,” Dawley said.
Unique beach wedding ideas
Go local with the menu
Capitalize on the island’s culinary strengths and incorporate seafood.
Give out-of-towners a warm welcome
Consider gifting your out-of-town guests with items that are fun but also will be useful during their stay like flip-flops, sunscreen or a map of the island. Or, hook them up with an adventure, such as surf lessons.
Think beyond the traditional sign-in routine
Why have everyone sign their name in a boring old guest book?
“Instead, use a coffee-table book about Galveston,” Dawley said. “That way, you’re paying homage to the city that your wedding is in — sharing the heritage and the history with them.”
Dare to do it yourself
For one person, Richardson found clam shells and glued a pearl inside each with a little note from the bride to the guests.
“It was simple and beautiful — something that they could take home and display on a shelf.”
Give a nod to nautical
At your reception, think of creative ways to incorporate the beach theme.
“If the couple wants to have cigars, you could, just for fun, mix in some vintage pipes that look like they might have belonged to a sailor,” Dawley said. “At the photo booth, you could have a scuba mask or a captain’s hat.”