Elegant Wedding: White Lighting

A wedding with flowers in a lighter shade of pale can be electrifying

The bride was a little older than usual. Sophisticated. She'd seen more of the world. So Tim Farrell, owner of Farrell's Florist in Drexel Hill, wasn't surprised when she announced what she had in mind for her wedding flowers: She wanted them all — her bouquet, those of the bridesmaids, the boutonnieres, even the centerpieces — to be pure

The bride was a little older than usual. Sophisticated. She’d seen more of the world. So Tim Farrell, owner of Farrell’s Florist in Drexel Hill, wasn’t surprised when she announced what she had in mind for her wedding flowers: She wanted them all — her bouquet, those of the bridesmaids, the boutonnieres, even the centerpieces — to be pure white.

Considering the myriad blossoms available today from all over the world, you’d think the prospect of a white wedding would make a designer blanch (not to mention conjure up the old Billy Idol song). But Farrell was eager to take the project on, though he knew he faced risks. “When a bride chooses to go all white,” he says, “a florist needs to know how to balance textures; otherwise, the result can be boring or flat. When you’re massing a single color, you need the contrast of pillowy hydrangea with smooth calla lilies and orchids, roses for depth and shadow, stephanotis for a glossy look. It’s the mix of textures that catches light and gives depth.”


An all-white wedding, in other words, is a challenge. And when you handle a couple hundred weddings a year, well … let’s just say the challenges get your creativity buzzing. Lynne Brownstein, co-owner of Arrangements Unlimited in West Conshohocken, explains it this way: “One red rose in a bud vase stands out more than one white rose. And 10 white roses don’t stand out as much as five white, three champagne and two pale pink. With all-white flowers, you don’t have color and volume to work with.” Still, she says, the advantages are worth it: “The look is very ethereal, sophisticated, clean, stunning — all the words brides like to hear.”

If just one color seems unnecessarily constricting, rest assured that within white lies a whole world of options. “White is endlessly adaptable,” says Shelby Fraser, owner of Sweet Pea in Center City. “The look can range from more modern and linear, with calla lilies and orchids that are very bold and strong, to something fun, with poppies and white gerberas, to the more classic, layered look of white delphinium, roses, hydrangea, peonies and ranunculus.”

Fraser cites a recent white wedding in which the bride was crazy about — well, green. “We had a whole range of greens, from yellowish hypericum berries to the cool blue tones of eucalyptus and lamb’s ear, combined with a clean palette of white.” The bride’s bouquet mixed soft, woolly lamb’s ear with seeded eucalyptus, white orchids, white roses and white spray roses. “Brides worry about going with a single color,” Fraser says, “but you can add those greens, add grasses, add curly willow branches. Within white there are so many different looks, and lots of choices.”


That said, there are venues that lend themselves more naturally to a white blitz than others. Churches and high-end reception venues tend to be more neutral in tone, so the delicacy of white doesn’t get lost against a backdrop of loud color.

Farrell recently did a classic all-white wedding at the Bellevue in Center City. “For the tables, the bride chose 30-inch-tall cylinder vases filled with water in which two calla lilies were inverted and submerged. Atop each cylinder was a very large arrangement of three dozen white calla lilies fanning out in fountain style.” The centerpieces, Farrell says, were lovely to look at from the ground and also from the balcony, from which vantage point you could see the callas radiating outward from their vases like the explosion of white fireworks.

Darlene Owens-Walls, owner of Huntingdon Valley’s Precious Petals, says she steers brides in certain venues away from all white — “It can look washed out” — but that a lot of different colors in wedding flowers, while fun and festive, can be awfully busy: “White is elegant and classic and not trendy.”

For a recent all-white wedding at the Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing, Owens-Walls combined heavy white damask table linens with lush multi-level arrangements — three to five per table — of white Dendrobium orchids, roses, hydrangea, lilies and no greenery at all. The bride carried a hand-tied bouquet of mini white calla lilies, stephanotis, freesia, roses and a few large callas, and wore a strapless A-line gown of white silk shantung.

What’s nice about white, says Fraser, is that the look is adaptable to any time of year: “You can start in spring with white tulips and daffodils, go through summer with white lilies and hydrangeas, have white asters and dahlias in fall, and then roses with winterberries.” She likes organza table linens with a little sparkle in the overlay for a white wedding, and lots of candles: “Columns, votives, groupings.” She’ll often create bridal and bridesmaids’ bouquets with similar flowers, but add one blossom only the bride has, like Bouvardia, as well as ribbons and jewels: “Pearl-head pins or rhinestone buttons — clear, not colored.”


When it comes to specific pale blossoms, Brownstein loves an assortment of all-white roses: ramblers, single-stems, spray roses, full-headed old-fashioned types. “If you work hard at it, you can really see the depth and breadth of the flowers when you stick to all white.” But she cautions that white flowers are easily damaged: “You won’t notice a red rose that has a hairline brown crack, but you will see that crack in a white rose.” It will take a top-notch florist to pull off all-white, she says — “And you may need more flowers.”

Sometimes, designers cheat just a little. “I gave one bride’s all-white bouquet just a hint of pink with peonies,” says Brownstein. “It was hand-tied with strips of her wedding-gown fabric that we French-braided, and there were crystals on the handle and in the bouquet.”

Robert Lamsback, owner of Lamsback Floral Decorators in Old City, acknowledges employing ivory and champagne blossoms for a wedding, to similar effect: “The bride carried mixed petite flowers — mini callas, freesia, Bouvardia, petite French roses, Dendrobium orchids, sweet peas. Very textured, very different sizes. The bridesmaids’ dresses were champagne-colored, and they had champagne-colored roses.”

If you’re going the all-white route, Farrell cautions, make sure to hire a good photographer: “It takes an expert to make sure there isn’t too much shadow, or not enough.”

Lighting matters, too: “I like the look for evening,” says Lamsback, “when you can use candles and pinspotting to play up those dramatic mixes of texture and tone that lend richness to the look.”

When white works, there’s nothing like it. “I had one all-white-flowers bride leave me a voicemail message at 7 a.m. the morning after her wedding,” Owens-Walls recalls. “She said, ‘When I walked into the reception, it was breathtaking. I couldn’t stop smiling.’”

White is so hot, says Brownstein, that even the lowly white carnation is making an upscale comeback: “In a wedding this weekend, we tucked white carnations in with hydrangeas, stock, roses, snapdragons, and they lent gorgeous volume to the arrangements. We’re calling them ‘the rose of 2007.’”