Trends are the weather fronts of the special events world: by the time you identify them, they’re on their way to the next town. The challenge of providing the tent type and accessories du jour can be daunting for tent and event professionals. Whether the goal is attracting a new audience or entrancing a captive one, everyone is looking for something more unusual than the basic four-walled tent.
The good news is that tents are increasingly popular venues for weddings. “We are estimating an approximate 11 percent increase in outdoor weddings for this coming wedding season,” says Meredith McIlmoyle, publisher of Event Solutions magazine.
Traditionally, tents play three functions at outdoor weddings: as the primary location for the ceremony or reception; as ancillary spaces for special pre- or post-wedding functions or private rooms for family and friends to retreat; and as a save-the-day backup plan when weather threatens to ruin that lovely ceremony on the beach.
“We are seeing specialty tents used in some really great ways in weddings where the majority of the wedding is uncovered,” Mcllmoyle says. Examples are dance floor and bar areas separate from dinner areas; smaller tents spread throughout the wedding/reception with lounge seating under them; intricately decorated smaller tents to call attention to the cake; and bride and groom private rooms.
“Color trends are all over the place,” says event planner Crista Tharp, a former theater major who heads Tharp Events in Kokomo, Ind. “But what we do see now are the more vibrant and hot colors, as well as the use of patterns. Monochromatic styles have been dropped. I am seeing a lot of hot pink, hot orange, turquoise—very, very vibrant colors splashed all over the inside of the tent while the exterior remains a blank canvas.”
Michael Tharpe, sales and marketing director of TopTec Products, Laurens, S.C., shares one aspect of a regional preference by Southern brides. “Colors are underneath: it’s a no-no to have colors outside the tent!” In the Upper Midwest, McIlmoyle sees color trends “falling into one of two categories: elegant with whites, creams, grays; or white with a splash of one or two colors.”
There’s more interest in draped fabric, Tharpe says. The high peak pole tent is still the most popular selection for most of his clients. “The real attraction is what’s underneath,” he says. “If it is something other than the traditional, flat-paneled tent, it’s likely to have swoops and curves.”
Certain tent shapes continue to be popular, Tharp says, such as the pole tent with cathedral ceiling windows and clear glass walls and sheer fabric panels. Citing the Midwestern preference for economy and simplicity, and an economy that is having a moderating effect on planners, Tharp believes that “most brides here go for the simpler, easier and cost-effective choices. This hasn’t really changed over the past few years. They like the options of having sides. But now they are dressing them up by draping organza or chiffon for a more dramatic effect. Draping mixed fabrics for the grand entrance is also popular,” she says.
Accessorizing from nature
Trends for tabletop decor are leaning toward organic and natural, which presents a palette of creative, cost-effective options. Tharp sees couples spending more money on making sure their guests feel appreciated, and providing more guest amenities using combinations of flowers, fruits and fauna—pumpkins, harvest wheat and seasonal greens. “Going back to the basics is a big phrase for me,” she adds.
In that vein, couples want table accessories their guests can take home and use and table favors that have a purpose and can be saved. At a recent wedding, the couple purchased small bamboo fans to put on each chair for guests to use during the ceremony and keep.
Lights, camera, action
Trendsetters are using a wide range of lighting devices, the latest coming straight from nightclubs or pop concert stages. The use of strobes, gobos and LED lights to project special effects that transform a white tent into a spiritual space for the ceremony, a festive space for dinner and a nightclub for those who want to party on into the night, is popular.
As director of business development for Classic Party Rentals, based in Chicago, Valerie Braun has watched dramatic interior lighting gain popularity. “Lighting is still giving everyone the biggest bang for their buck,” she says. “We recently did a wedding where we draped the tent poles from floor to ceiling and then used uplighting.” In another setting, colored gels set on a timer changed the colors inside the tent during each stage of the wedding ceremony, dinner and party. It was so dramatic, she said, that “people started clapping when it happened.”
“LED lighting has become a big player,” says Daniel Chase, “In the last three to four years so much more specialty lighting is available to the market. Years ago lights [produced so much heat] you couldn’t put them behind the tent liners.” The new LED lights, which are cooler, can light the tent walls or the draping materials to create dramatic nighttime effects. Then there are gobos, stencils dropped in front of a light source, such as a Source Four spotlight that projects a customized pattern onto the tent walls and roof. These come in multiple colors and designs, from floral to pictorial or even written text.
McIlmoyle has also been seeing a tendency toward using more complex lighting for tented weddings. “There are some really great things happening with lighting and video that are translating well to weddings,” she says. “It only makes sense that the two are coming together now. There are specialty companies that are able to design a tent’s entire decor through lighting and video. They are using 360-degree projectors to custom create a look throughout the entire tent—painting the tent with video, so to speak.”
It may sound a lot like show biz, but besides the vows, weddings are really about human connection and celebration. Technology aside, couples still want events that are personal, intimate and celebratory. With tents offering brides a blank canvas to create their dream event in their dream location, tent rental companies have an opportunity to create unlimited specialized custom environments for guests in a range of beautiful locations. Who wouldn’t say “I do” to that?
Joanna Baymiller is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Fabric Architecture