When you're trying to put together a party, fundraiser or other event, money can be a big issue. You want to create the right ambience within a reasonable budget. Not to worry. One of the nice things about decorating is that creativity often trumps resources. With some forethought and flare, you can do amazing things and still have enough money left over to -- well, you probably won't have much money left over. Everything will look great, though, and isn't that the point?
Make the Party Store Your Friend
Your neighborhood party store has lots of decorating potential, from the themed tablecloths to those nifty Mylar balloons. The problem is that you usually have to pay a premium price for all those nice decorating goodies. The trick is to buy those St. Patrick's Day and other holiday napkins (paper plates and notions) the week after March 17, not the week before. They'll be marked way down, and you can use them next year. Here's the trick: Find a party store near where you usually shop, and make a habit of stopping in for a few minutes every couple of weeks to check the clearance shelves. You'll always have plenty of fun decorating items on hand to make those impromptu parties, potlucks and school fundraisers look like you spent months heading up the decorating committee.
Digital media and the Internet have made decorating for special events a lot easier than it used to be. From creating banners to designing invitations, you can find the art and lots of ideas for much of what you'll need on hundreds of party, card and photo handling sites across the Web. Heck, you can even print your own goodie bags and wrapping paper. Sure, you'll have to invest in a decent printer, ink and specialty paper, but it beats having to pay the price for professional printing services -- not to mention the delays.
Putting together a professional looking photo slideshow doesn't require a tech guru anymore, either. The guru is you. Photo sharing sites let you upload and edit photos, add music and even add animation to your event slideshows. Once you have a presentation the way you want it, burn it to a DVD. Imagine the possibilities.
Dress Things up with Textiles
If you're trying to make a large space look more upscale and welcoming, nothing dresses up a room like fabric. Fabric has a depth of color that paper just can't match. You may not have the budget for cloth tablecloths in all your seating areas, but consider including them at the buffet and serving stations. Drape fabric along banisters and tie it in place with ribbon. Choose carpeted venues that have drapes on the windows, too. Fabric will help absorb noise and make a room look and feel cozier. You'll notice the difference, and so will your guests.
Decorate with Fruits and Vegetables
Your farmers market offers lots of bargains that are colorful as well as nutritious. If you're having trouble coming up with great decorating ideas for your event, try using fruits, vegetables and nuts instead of expensive flowers. They'll look cheerful, cost less and you can eat or donate them to a worthy charity afterward. What could be better? Display produce in baskets or apothecary jars; tie it with raffia; wire it to grapevine wreaths or just group it together on a bed of dried straw.
If the room you're working with isn't too large or oddly shaped, you can produce a startling effect by draping multicolored pennant banners, streamers or garlands from the center of the ceiling to each of the room's four corners. Think of it as the big top revisited. It'll create a festive atmosphere in a classroom or conference room without much effort or expense. This is a nice touch in a small room or sparsely furnished space without much potential, too. Make sure you have enough ceiling height to work with, though. You don't want anyone to get tangled up in the decorations on the way to the drinks table.
Say Something with Your Signs
When you're using public spaces, the atmosphere can feel somber and impersonal, so it never hurts to add a little gentle humor to make the room, and the occasion, your own. Quotes, plays on words and puns added to banners and other signage will make people smile. Invent a creative sign for the entrance to your gathering (and make it easy to see). Try renaming the restrooms in a witty way that relates to your event or business. It's all in fun, and that's what will make it so charming.
Offer a Gift
Small goodie bags reserved for guests will attract attention in the nicest possible way. They may just contain a business card, notepad and pencil, but the enticing look of that little bag will be irresistible. A huge centerpiece will be less of a draw than a row of little bags that hold a secret gift. Gifts speak to the kid in all of us, and you shouldn't miss the opportunity to make the look and experience of your event special by including a gift of some sort as part of the presentation.
Showcase the Cake
Cake is a wonderful thing. It's a dessert and a decoration -- a two-for-one proposition. Serving cake as part of your event, and displaying it prominently beforehand, will create a focal point for the serving area and generate anticipation, too. Who doesn't like cake? If it's a themed cake, a photo cake or an elaborate confection with lots of creative panache, it could set the stage for the entire affair.
Cake decorating is a popular hobby these days, so you may already know a cake artist who can thrill your guests. If not, try your own hand at cake decorating. It isn't as hard as it looks. You can create an attractively decorated cake using supplies from your local craft store. Embossing die cutters and tinted frosting sheets are just a couple of tools you should explore. Cake decorating is fun, and the results are delicious. Taking a DIY approach can save you money, too.
Cleanup with a Great Napkin
You may not have the budget for crystal stemware and fine china, but it pays to include something unique on the tables at your event. We like napkins because they work well whether you're serving an entire meal or just rolls and coffee. They can also go home as souvenirs of the event -- if they're special enough. Most party stores across the country offer a variety of themed and clever napkins. The designs are eye-catching, and the napkins themselves are made from 100 percent recycled tissue. They're one example of table dressing that will make your event a little less generic and much more memorable.
Choose a Theme
Themes take the hassle out of event decorating because they offer easily recognizable, tried-and-true options. If you're doing a carnival theme, you know bold colors will work, adding a few wild animal posters will be safe bet and a popcorn machine in the corner won't look silly. If you want to take a worn out theme like "Spring Fling" and make it your own with an interesting twist, you'll be showing your creativity without having to invent everything from scratch. You'll have lots of built-in ideas to guide you. Themes are everywhere. Pick one and see what happens.
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