The Stylist wedding blog: expert advice on achieving that Gothic-romantic look

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Natasha Tomalin
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Stylist’s resident bride-to-be Natasha Tomalin is all too familiar with the dangers of getting too carried away with Pinterest boards. This week, she gets some practical advice on dark decor from event planning and design expert Liz Linkleter, whose previous experience as global PR manager at McQueen makes her perfect for the job.

What's your main piece of advice when considering decor for your wedding venue?

"My top tip for decorating your venue is to start with the venue itself. Never try and impose your Pinterest board inspiration onto a venue that isn’t suited to it – always let the environment dictate the design. When creating a plan for wedding decor, we think about the colours, textures and location of the venue when choosing the props, furniture, tableware and florals, so everything works together in harmony.

Old venues like castles tend to have a lot going on already, with plenty of original features, strong/dark colours and patterns to contend with, so they don’t need a lot of dressing – they just need enhancing with florals, table dressing and great lighting, including plenty of candles.

Another thing I always say to my couples is that it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by Pinterest and all the wedding styling trends out there – my instinct is to always avoid anything too trend-led, and opt for something timeless, something that reflects your personalities and that you will look back on in years to come and love just as much as you do now."

In what ways can I inject my personality into the decor?

"For a darkly romantic Gothic wedding that still feels tasteful and stylish, I would say that less is more – choosing the decor can be as much about what you take out as what you add in. It would be amazing to go massively overblown and cover the place in dramatic florals but that isn’t a very budget-friendly approach. Gothic styling is by nature overstated but there are ways to convey everything you love while sticking to your budget.

I would start with a few traditional stationery touches, harking back to the historic venue you have chosen to marry in. Get a bespoke hand-illustrated wedding crest or logo designed for you with your initials, incorporating any other Gothic imagery you love, like skulls, crows, roses, thorns or even an old crumbling mansion. You can then use it throughout your wedding – for your invitations, on your table stationery and stamped onto favours or cake boxes – to tie everything together. It will set the tone of your day right from the beginning.

If you are artistic but on a budget, I would also suggest taking a modern calligraphy course with À L'aise, Quill or Lamplighter London, so you can handwrite your own place cards – I’d say calligraphy is a pretty essential addition to a Gothic wedding.

Another great way to add drama into your day is with candlelight. Opt for a winter wedding so you can really create that dark, atmospheric, cosy feel inside for the meal and dancing. If your venue allows candles (check first, many old buildings don’t), I would hire in lots of antique candlesticks of different heights and use very tall dark red taper candles all along the tables – a cheaper way to add substance and height to a table than flowers.

Cover the table in as many candles as you can fit on and decorate your ceremony room in the same way. You could also mix in some floor standing candelabras to decorate the rooms of the castle for a romantic effect and cover windowsills and any other flat surface with pillar candles and trailing foliage. I’m imagining the final crypt scene in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet when I’m picturing this.

Alongside candles, florals will be very important for injecting dark romance into your day. Spend as much as you can afford – flowers can transform your venue. Go for dark and brooding colours like chocolate, burgundy and deep purple, with plenty of cream and lots of foliage for contrast.

Trailing foliage is key to nailing the Gothic look – arrangements should feel faded, slightly undone and voluptuous, as if they have been left to grow wild. With all these dark colours around, it’s important to bring in plenty of off-white and creams too, to lighten everything up – go for white tablecloths and napkins with vintage lace details (very Miss Havisham) – and choose antique cutlery for that historic, Gothic feel."

Do you have any advice on how I can make my decor budget stretch without spending every waking moment DIY-ing up until the big day?

"I’d definitely recommend not biting off more than you can chew with DIY projects. Pick one or two things that are important to you and focus on those, such as learning calligraphy and hand-stamping your custom monogram/logo onto menus, favour boxes etc."

Do you have any advice about creating a standout focal piece with a real wow factor?

“I love the idea of a statement Gothic cake table – Lily Vanilli makes amazing cakes reminiscent of body parts and organs, that taste delicious and definitely have the wow factor. Channel Miss Havisham’s house from Dicken’s Great Expectations by setting up an old table, covering it in vintage lace and candles and displaying three or four single-tier cakes on stands of varying heights. Cover it in trailing florals and foliage, as if the table has been left there for years and been re-discovered.

Or what about setting up an entire wall of candles in an entrance hall? Hire in an attractive vintage shelving unit or two, cover the shelves in pillar candles (you could use LED candles in holders if the venue won’t allow naked flames) and use to light guests’ way to and from other parts of the house."

I'd love to hear your thoughts, so please post your comments below, or on Twitter @stylistmagazine and @natashatomalin, using the hashtag #Stylistweddingblog

Images: Christopher Fenner, Caught the Light Photography, Mark Bothwell, Matt Parry