Weddings

21 Intimate Wedding Ideas That Will Make You Want to Cap Your Guest List

There’s a lot to love about small celebrations. Here, local planning pros share their tips.

Photography by Sara Wight Photography

This last year has upended the wedding industry and along the way, it’s changed a lot about the way we plan and envision wedding days. One of the trends that’s grown this year is intimate weddings, and though they exploded in popularity through necessity, often as plan B, or C, we predict mini-matrimonies will long outlast the pandemic, because really, even before the pandemic hit, smaller weddings were in vogue. From increased venue options to decadent details that would otherwise be impractical, modest guest lists let couples make the most of their time and budget. We asked local planners to share the extra-special touches they’ve seen give big style to little nuptials. Featured in the special weddings section of Washingtonian’s January issue, here are 21 intimate weddings ideas.

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Photograph by Kirsten Marie Photography; cheese board by Get Plated

Splurge on Details

“When my clients downsized from 200 to 25, they were able to host an intimate dinner where all their guests dined together at one long, family-style table. For the place settings, they were able to incorporate a mixture of Anna Weatherley china they owned and some they borrowed. The result was beautiful and made each place setting super-special.” —Margo Fischer, Bright Occasions

“For one backyard wedding on the water, we commissioned mini personalized cheese boards from Etsy (above) for each guest that served as both the first-course display and a special seating indicator. Get Plated provided the styled cheese course and it was delicious, beautiful, and personal to the couple. The cheese boards also served as a fun favor for guests.” —Laura Held, Ida Rose Events

“At an intimate gathering we planned at River Farm, Liberty Baking Co. made individual cakes for each guest (below). These were covered by cloches, and a beautiful addition to each tabletop.” —Julie Park, Birch Event & Design

Photograph by Kir Tuben; cake by Liberty Baking Co.

Maximize the Menu

“I had a wedding at the Willard that went from 250 guests to 19. While the whole wedding was stunning, the part that we could not have done with a large group was part of the dinner service. We wanted to reflect a steakhouse—DC has so many wonderful ones—but particularly the roving seafood tower. This element would have been nearly impossible with more guests simply because of the time it takes to do.” —Sara Muchnick, Sara Muchnick Events

Teresa Antonucci Lee of Rex & Regina Events describes two food-centric tiny affairs: “After a small ceremony off-site, one couple did an 18-course menu, just the two of them, in the covered greenhouse on the rooftop at Gravitas in Northeast DC. Haley Tobias from Cedar & Lime decked out a gorgeous tablescape for them. The couple FaceTimed with friends in between courses and spent nearly five hours enjoying their evening together. Another couple created his-and-hers five-course tasting menus at Gravitas, reflecting their palates and preferences. Guests were encouraged to choose one of the two menus, and the couple splurged with the addition of caviar or shaved black truffles to some of the dishes. A truly personalized, decadent experience!”

“Phil and Kellen wowed their guests at Maketto, where we worked with Chef Erik Bruner-Yang and team to create a dining experience like no other. Each guest was served a beautiful bento box with Maketto favorites (Taiwanese fried chicken!) and some custom items that honored both grooms’ roots.”—Emily Butler, Karson Butler Events

Make It Personal

“At one wedding, Meg Lucks from Abby Jiu Photography took photos of each couple on the waterfront and then edited, printed, and put them in frames. All guests took home framed photos to remember the wedding. Too often we capture images on our phones and never take the time to print them out—this was such a thoughtful favor.”—Julie Park, Birch Event & Design

“With an intimate wedding you can do away with generic favors and make custom gift bags for each guest, with an element of something they love.”—Shile Bello, RAE Affairs

“One of our favorite details this season was personalized blankets, featuring the name of each attendee, for an evening outdoor micro-wedding at the DC War Memorial. It was the perfect touch for a chilly fall evening.”—Jamésa Adams, Jayne Heir Weddings & Events

“To emphasize each relationship with their guests, one couple hand-wrote note cards that were displayed during cocktails.”—Elizabeth Duncan, Elizabeth Duncan Events

Rethink the Seating

“At a mini-wedding in October, we went from 200 people at a church to 27 people outside. The coolest thing we did was rent pews for the ceremony seating. Pews are expensive—about six times the cost of doing a Chiavari chair and about ten times the cost of a folding chair. This would probably be a budget buster for a large group, but for a small group it is simply a splurge.”—Janice Carnevale, Bellwether Events

“We created a really beautiful boho-chic picnic-style ceremony for clients and their intimate guest count of 25, where guests were seated on blankets.”—Natalie Melton, Event Design Group

 

Photograph by Kir Tuben; Flowers by Springvale Floral.

Customize the Space

“At a small wedding, we had an over-the-top floral installation floating right above the guests. Most times the ceiling installation is over the dance floor or the sweetheart area, but for a party of 20, we were able to achieve this perfectly.”—Lola Akingbade, Master Plan Events

“When Kelly and Andrew had to downsize their 120-person wedding to 50 guests, they chose more upscale rental items to embellish the reception. To make the space look not overpowering, we rented a large circular bar to serve as a focal point in the middle, as well as a lounge setup. We also upgraded the linens and table settings to spark a more luxurious experience.”—Stephanie R. Sadowski, SRS Events

Reimagine the Location

“After two reschedules, our clients decided on a 14-person wedding at the Salamander Resort & Spa. We were able to do the ceremony under the tiny arbor in the culinary garden . . . and one long table there for dinner (above). Then, we had a fire pit for dessert and cocktails. We were also able to put up all the guests at the Salamander and really treat everyone.”—Amanda McCabe, Beacon and Berkeley

“One of the most memorable recent elements we included was the use of the Line hotel’s original stained-glass windows from the 110-year-old Adams Morgan church, to serve as the couple’s ceremony backdrop. For this ten-person wedding, we had the space visually and financially to create a freestanding asymmetrical floral arch that framed the base of the towering stained glass. It created a truly magical fall wedding.”—Tiffany Rivera, Simply Breathe Events

“In one wedding, our couple brought their favorite people and food together. The private rooms at Del Mar at the Wharf are sophisticated and chic, with great food and an exceptional bar. The Formentor Room comfortably seated 24 with social distancing. The chef made several of the couple’s favorite dishes, including a white-truffle cheesecake and their favorite cocktail.”—Aimee Griffin, A. Griffin Events

“We did a really special all-white micro-wedding at Brookside Gardens, a 50-acre public display garden tucked away in Wheaton. The gardens are lush with beautiful flowers, but it is not possible to plan a large-scale wedding on their terrace. It’s quite the perfect location for micro-weddings, and gave the couple enough space for decor and alternative seating.”—Andrew Roby, Andrew Roby Events

“I had a couple consider doing a pop-up ceremony on the Kennedy Center terrace, because the couple’s first date was at the Kennedy Center and they got engaged there. When you only have a group of six to ten people and you just need 15 minutes for a ceremony, there are a ton of opportunities open to you that aren’t typically feasible.”—Sara Bauleke, Bella Notte

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“We set up an adorable table on a hillside at Goodstone Inn in Middleburg for one wedding, and a gorgeous colorful picnic with pillows and blankets and a picnic basket from Occasions Caterers for another at Georgetown’s Dumbarton House.”—Pamela Barefoot, Pamela Barefoot Events & Design

“We planned three beautiful intimate weddings at the Conrad hotel in DC on their gorgeous North Terrace. Not only did it seat up to 14 guests comfortably, but it’s a private terrace with a scenic overlook of the city. Couples were also able to host their guests for an intimate dinner in the hotel’s private dining rooms.”—Melissa Williams, B Astonished Events

Centralize

“Remember, intimate weddings are just that—intimate! Be careful not to overwhelm your guests with an overload of photo ops and other distractions. Think of the wedding as you would a small gathering of friends at home. Make sure your space is both beautiful and comfortable, arrangements are made for easy conversation, and decor is not overreaching.”—André Wells, Events by André Wells

Prioritize

“One thing we have loved about smaller weddings is that they allow our clients to lean into the things their hearts desire. Whether that’s more decor, more musicians, or really personalized favors, it’s nice to see them have the flexibility to have more of what they love.”—Jennifer Coles, Infatuating Affairs

Design what you really want

“Sometimes couples shy away from bold colors and patterns because they are afraid that using these on 20 or 30 tables will be too loud or distracting. With smaller guest counts, my couples are being much more playful when it comes to their linens and tablescapes. Their personalities come through because there is less pressure to create something that appeals to 150 guests.”—Jazmin Portnow, Anyvent Event Planning

Amy Moeller
Editor, Washingtonian Weddings

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.