Finished centerpiece

Lean UX-ing Succulent Centerpieces

While the bridesmaid paper bouquets were in full effect, the question still remained: What can we do with those paper succulents? I knew I wanted to work them into our centerpieces, but how…?

Driftwood Paper Succulent Centerpiece Test


After creating the first few paper flowers, I placed them with a few pieces of driftwood. This seemed like the start of a creative direction.

Now, let’s Lean UX these centerpieces!

Hypothesize how things might work together, buy some things, test some things, and return LOTS of things (thanks for your patience Michaels).


Centerpiece Requirements:

  • Color palette: Navy blue, coral, wooden tones, white, soft greens
  • Table numbers, names, or other assigned seat navigation signage
  • Not too high; must allow people to talk across to each other at the table
  • Table Size: 72″ rounds, maximum of 10 plates per table
  • Number of centerpieces needed: 8
  • Must be able to handle being outdoors with breeze/wind
  • Total cost of all centerpieces: <$250
  • Stretch Goal: Maybe provide light? Not necessary but could add a nice touch


Assumption: Paper succulents will play nice with lots of other natural things, and making centerpieces should be straightforward.

Hypothesis 1: Paper succulents will look fabulous with other organic elements like moss, woven and wooden textures, as well as antique accents.

Success Metric: We will know this is true when it looks fantastic, we can easily source the items x8, items won’t break when getting shipped to the venue, and all items when tallied will not cost more than $30 (total for one centerpiece).

Failure Metric: We will know this is false when it looks terrible (miss matched, too faux, isn’t “us”), the items are hard to find in bulk, too delicate to ship, or the total cost per centerpiece is well beyond $30.

Experiment A: Grab a bunch of things inside Michaels Craft Store and see if it works.

Experiment B: Buy successful things from Experiment A to test with paper succulents at home.

MVP Prototype: Build a full centerpiece with friends/bridesmaids and gather opinions (i.e. customer interviews).

* * *

Experiment A:
Grab a bunch of things in-store and see if it works at all.

Swiftly running back and forth to what would later be setup for an in-store demo, I took over a folding table to build a quick smattering of what could work. I didn’t have any paper succulents with me when I saw all the parts, they just called to me across aisles and shelves.

In-store centerpiece test at Michaels Craft Store
In-store centerpiece test at Michaels Craft Store

Clearly your imagination is required for the first experiment. The plastic-y succulents were a terrible representation, but the overall color palette, the use of a reflective surface, and the potential addition of a glass hurricane to hold candles was going somewhere.

Try this idea for your wedding because I couldn’t: There’s an idea in this centerpiece that I really wanted to use, but it never came to fruition. Instead of using numbers or naming tables after songs, destinations, etc., I wanted to spell out an seven-letter word (seven because we would be the eight table and don’t need a table sign) like R-O-M-A-N-C-E and use sweet signage letters like the photo above. The place card table could have been rad. A map showing each table, curiously spelling out the magical word, and every guest having a little “a ha!” moment. But it wasn’t for us in the end. Anyway, steal this table navigation for your big day and send me photos! I bet it will be divine.


 * * *

Experiment B:
Buy successful things from Experiment A to test with paper succulents at home.


Items purchased:

  • Oval restaurant tray in shiny silver
  • Bags of moss (two different types and color assortments)
  • Long, spindly, cream-colored sticks (as seen in photo)
  • Smaller brown branches
  • Moss covered balls in small and large
  • Nautical monkey knots in small and large
  • Metal lantern (about 8 inches tall)

I ran a few small tests with the branches and the handful of succulents that were made from the bouquet flower trials, but nothing really fit. The natural faux elements and paper flowers were an odd couple. I didn’t know why, but overall, it wasn’t working. I decided to persevere and build the prototype with my fellow artistic, crafty friends to check my sanity, just in case Bridezilla was creeping up on me and Loonyville was around the corner.


 * * *

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) Prototype

That weekend, I ventured over my friend Skye’s house for a day of making supplies for the bridesmaid bouquets (mostly painted paper) and cranking out paper succulents like crazy cat-lovin’ craftin’ machines. I brought over the remaining supplies in a snazzy antique suitcase (which we later used as our card collector box, #hipsters). We proceeded to build the first centerpiece prototype on her coffee table.

Results: Epic fail.

I didn’t even take pictures.

It was bad.

Skye and our other two friends agreed that the handmade paper flowers sitting on a bed of real moss and real twigs alongside metal was just weird. They weren’t talking to each other. And the moss – holy hell! What a friggin mess. I’m sure there’s still bits of it crawling out of Skye’s shag carpet (sorry!!).

As we stared at the pile of weirdo stuff on the coffee table, we tried swapping out the ugly metal lantern for a pretty white bridal-like lantern. Still, no.

Then a light bulb lit in Skye’s painting studio. She brought over a shallow, long, rectangular bamboo tray. We stretched my navy blue scarf (resembling the table runners we planned on renting) across her beige ottoman and laid the tray across. Placing the only three large paper succulents I had inside, it was a win. The simplicity was fantastic and everything was toned down just enough to WORK!

New conclusions after MVP Prototype No. 2:

  • Embrace the paper, and its very limited, but lovely look.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t gussy it up like the centerpiece is going to prom.
  • Find longer bamboo trays. Buy 8 of them.
  • The large succulents are a much better size. Make lots of these (32 to be exact!).


* * *

In the midst of researching things to do for ceremony programs I stumbled upon the use of  paper fans. I really loved the look of them, and, it tied in our love of Asian design (food and fashion). I ordered two just to see if their version of coral was telling the truth about its color. Simultaneously, I was also picking up little wooden boxes to turn into what I was hoping would be our ring box. The ring box was a total fail and looked like shabby crap rather than chic. Having a couple of those wooden boxes left unpainted, I grabbed a paper fan, opened it up, and popped it inside of said little box.

Holy shit. This might be the perfect way to complete the navigation part of the centerpieces!

The next day, I picked up 8 of the same style wooden boxes for about $2 apiece and removed their hinged tops. I placed an order for 10 fans (just in case I screw one or two up!) and killed time by painting a wash of brown paint on the boxes. This made them blend into the warm bamboo trays and made for less of a focal point. I hot glued the fans so they would stay open, and then used some left over model magic clay to wedge the fans into place. After the clay dried, I hot glued in the few open spaces to ensure they’d be secure.

The final element was filling the trays and boxes with crushed shells from the floral department (think vase filler). Each bag filled one tray, and knowing I had to count on other people to set these centerpieces up, my hope was that one bag per table would be clear and free of any questions or mistakes.

We ordered the last of the details, packaged up the flowers, trays, fans, and shells and crossed our fingers that everything would make it down to Florida safely. Only one snafu occurred: The paper fans got quite a bit crushed during shipment. No worries! One of my amazing bridesmaids ran out to the local Home Depot and grabbed a killer glue gun. While the makeup and hair was happening the day of, so was the sprucing up of the centerpieces! Thankfully we’re all crafty ladies and everything came together smashingly.


Completed Centerpieces from The Big Day

Finished centerpieces and a peak at our cards suitcase! (Photos by Sandra Costello)
Finished centerpieces and a peak at our cards suitcase! Photos by Sandra Costello


Here’s how the elements came together in the end:

  • Bamboo Trays came from Ikea in their kitchen section ($12 each).
  • Paper fans (under $2 each) were a subtle nod to our love of Asian culture in addition to a touch of mid-century design. They brought a pop of warm color to open up the table, and kept the texture dialog from paper flower to paper fan consistent. The fans were hot-glued to stay open and mounted inside a small wooden box ($2 each from Michaels). We took off the hinges and the lid, and stained each box with a bit of watered down acrylic paint to match the bamboo.
  • Table numbers were made of leftover watercolor board, printed on a home inkjet printer. They were attached to each fan by way of jewelery head pins with a dab of hot glue on either end to resemble the pearls. This allowed the numbers to pop off the fans and rustle in the breeze (that was the idea… until we had to move the party indoors! More on that later, promise.).
  • Each tray was filled with crushed shells, also from Michaels (about $5 each). One bag filled one tray. Easy math for us, easy math for those setting up the tables.
  • Each paper succulent had a chunk of frosted glass glued to the bottom to keep it from blowing away in the wind. The frosted glass was left over from filler material tests. One bag is about $4, each chunk is around an inch or so wide.
  • Cost per Centerpiece: $22


Next Post:
Large Paper Succulent Tutorial (click here)

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