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Notes on Design: Picking a Theme for Your Event

Notes on Design: Picking a Theme for Your Event

This edition of Notes on Design is brought to you by award-winning event designer Meg Gleason. Meg has done everything from multi-million dollar celebrity weddings to fantastical pop-up stores to outdoor events for thousands. She is always thinking about how to do something new and surprising, but here she shares the foundations of what make every event successful, no matter the size or budget.

One of the first things I think about when embarking on a new event project is a theme. When you hear the word “theme”, some of you may flash back to a childhood birthday party or prom (Under the Sea, anyone?). But a theme doesn’t have to be “theme-y”.

Rather, picking a theme for your event is just taking the time before you begin your planning to give some thought about what you want your event to be about – how it reflects the moment or person being celebrated, how it reflects you as the host of the event and what kind of experience you want your guests to have.

Whether the event you are planning is a wedding, anniversary, birthday or something else, all celebrations can benefit from asking a few questions of yourself before you begin.

What is this about?

Depending on the event, some answers to this might be Love, Friendship, Nostalgia, Family, or Glamour. You really want to distill it to its essence. This is going to be the center from which all other elements of the event radiate.

What kind of energy should it have?

Is your event an afternoon baby shower for a close group of friends? Or a raucous 30th birthday throwdown? A 50th anniversary celebration with family members flying in from across the globe? Or a chic and sophisticated black tie wedding?  

The tone of each of these types of events will be different and it is important to think about what you want yours to be. Should it be relaxed and intimate? Buzzy and energetic? Awe-inspiring?

How do I want my guests to feel?

Is your event going to be a place for meaningful conversations to happen? A place to relive the glory days of college? A time to share your feelings with the people you love the most? You want to make sure your theme allows you and your guests to have the experiences you desire.

Recently I attended a wedding of a couple who loves the outdoors. They are adventurous and spend their free time in nature as much as possible. All the elements of their wedding reflected who they were and they life they lead together. The wedding was in the late summer in a barn in the Berkshires. The centerpieces looked like wildflowers collected from a meadow, the favors they gave guests were custom enamel camping mugs.  Every detail and choice they made reflected who they were and as a guest you felt the love end energy of those specific people.


Once you have a clear vision of who you are and want to say, all the choices you will have to make about your event will be informed by that and come together to present a coherent and unified event.

When you start to think about all these questions, some through lines will appear, and then those through lines will inform the rest of the decisions you make. 

Having a handle on a bigger picture idea will help you make decisions along the way that will ensure that the event feels focused and consistent in its details that will allow for the most enjoyable outcome for you and your guests.

If you want something more “theme-y” Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Winter Wonderland or (my favorite) Under the Sea, then having a solid foundation will allow you to understand how to layer that in and execute it in the best way possible.

Notes on Design: A Roadmap For Your Event

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