Everyday Exotic

Want chic wedding flowers on the cheap? It's easier than you might think - the trick is using color and structure to turn affordable, familiar blooms into sophisticated, exotic arrangements. "Color is always one of the best ways to set a mood and make a statement," says Hailey Bernstein, owner of Portland, Ore.-based Zest Floral + Event Design. "In unexpected or rare shades, even some of the most commonly used flowers can create a show-stopping centerpiece."

For example, if you want a rich, elegant feel, Bernstein recommends looking to blooms in dark, sultry tones, such as black baccara roses, hot chocolate calla lilies, black-burgundy ti leaves, chocolate cosmos and eggplant-colored carnations. For a more modern look, she suggests using striking combinations like pomegranate and eggplant, apple green and charcoal, and mandarin orange and watermelon pink, or opting for a centerpiece of five bud vases, each with a single stem in vibrant, almost electric hues.

Karen Bussen, a New York City-based wedding expert and author of "Simple Stunning Wedding Flowers" (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2007), also advises using simple, monotone flowers "en masse." "For example, when arranged in a classic pavé style, a bouquet of ruffled carnations is a perfect stand-in for roses or hydrangeas," she says. "And I keep masses of common white baby's breath in a vase near my bead - the soft fragrance is intoxicating and its cloudlike effect is ethereal and romantic."

Similarly, Bussen is a fan of gathering large handfuls of fun flowers like asters or alstromeria (both of which are often available in a variety of colors at grocery stores), stock and snapdragons (which make excellent stand-ins for more expensive delphinium), and lisianthus - with its soft, open blossoms and sweet green buds, it's a great substitute for roses.

Beyond color, another great way to have big impact for less money is to manipulate flowers and foliage into unexpected shapes and textures, and to include unusual accents. "Flax leaves are my favorite," says Bernstein, who often weaves them inside a vase, ties them in knots or loops, or folds them to create sharp edges and funky origami-esque shapes. Still bold but on the more minimalist end of the spectrum, Bussen suggests filling simple glass cubes or cylinders with moss and a single flower floating on top. "Gerbera daisies, chrysanthemums and other large, round-headed flowers work well in this type of arrangement," she says.

You should also consider incorporating non-floral elements to lend a bit of drama and personality to common blossoms. Bernstein likes using cork-filled vases, pinecones or antique picture frames, while Bussen suggests giving a small posy of roses some panache with a collar of feathers, or nestling collections of blooms among bowls of lush plums and pears. "Candles, too, can make a beautiful, affordable core for a centerpiece," Bussen says. She suggests topping an old silver tray with three pillar candles surrounded by the petals of three roses. The result is a glowing, vintage-inspired accent that barely requires any actual flowers to feel both sumptuous and unique.

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