by Beth Erickson

Just as an artist’s canvas is stretched on its frame and primed for paint, so, too, is the canvas of a tent—awaiting only resolute brushstrokes and blushes of color to transform it from blank to beautiful.

“Unlike using an existing banquet facility, a tent can be considered a bride’s blank canvas,” says Pam Peplinski, director of marketing for Karl’s Event Services, based in Oak Creek, Wis. Banquet facilities carry the limitation of pre-existing décor. With a tent, brides have the option to choose not only the style of tent, but the type and color of flooring, lighting, sidewall, ceiling liner, dance floor, and tables and chairs. They can even choose the location—whether in the park, at their childhood home, or at a lakeside retreat. “The beautiful part of a tent is that you are bringing the outside in whether it’s an open-air tent or a structure,” says David Yargus, outside sales for the Chicago branch of Classic Party Rentals.

“Glass walls, glass doors, and clear fabric can be used to highlight special views of a lake or the sunset. Custom structures with rounded ends or curved beams can also be used to provide a unique and special feel,” says Peplinski. “Everything that goes into their event will be handpicked, making everything that much more special and unique.”

Yargus agrees. “We can build a pretty impressive venue space out of nothing. The sky’s the limit in terms of options for building a tent that you’d never realize is a tent.”

Making a bride’s vision reality
Whether your bride wants a simple, traditional wedding or an elegant, themed affair, it can be done. Anything from the look and feel of a backyard wedding to a Roaring ’20s or casino-night feel can be created with the right linens, props, furniture, flooring, and more. “Each bride has her own needs, vision, and budget that make each event distinctly different,” says Peplinski.

To fulfill that vision, look to current trends. According to Kim Horn, MBC™,  ABC’s Arizona state coordinator, these include heavy swagging, ceiling liners, and draping to section off areas of the tent for different functions like cocktails versus ceremony—or simply to provide better flow. But do consider the significance of the event and time of day when planning. “You may not want the lounge furniture, lit-up bar, or LED tables for your daytime ceremony, yet it would be incredible for your dancing or after-hours party,” she says. Upgraded lighting, crystal chandeliers, custom color carpeting, and even Venetian glass chandeliers like those offered through Classic Party Rentals, help transport guests from simple tent to extravagant event.

Anticipate the best, prepare for the worst
While an outdoor, tented wedding gives creative license, it’s not for everyone. Make sure your couples consider potential challenges up front—from budget and location to weather.

The cost of a tented wedding doesn’t just lie in the cost of the tent, it’s in the costs people don’t always consider like permits, HVAC/heating, flooring, lighting, furniture, generator, and diesel fuel. “If people think they’ll save money by putting a tent up in their backyard versus going to an existing hotel, they won’t. They’ll probably pay 30 percent more per person,” says Yargus.

Location is also a deciding factor, determining the style of tent that will work best and whether or not it can be staked into the ground or needs to be weighted with concrete blocks, says Peplinski. “We can build a perfectly level tent on a hillside, it just gets built on stilts,” adds Yargus. Also consider ground conditions, surface conditions if the client wants flooring, how level the ground is, and whether you need covered walkways as you inventory event needs.

Mother Nature plays a role, too. About the only thing that can put the kibosh on a tented event is a lightning storm. “Weather is always the main concern when planning any outdoor event, but if planned properly, in the end, it can be no more a disadvantage than you would experience at a banquet facility,” says Peplinski. Make sure your vendor has experience working in inclement weather. “The weather forecast, the time of year, the city/state, and the area you choose have many deciding factors on which type and style of tent to rent,” says Horn. For a summer wedding in Arizona, a clear-top tent is not advisable as it magnifies heat. Those planning winter weddings in the Midwest should check the snow load on their tents. And don’t forget temperature control. Make sure your vendor has equipment to cool or heat a tent. An early June wedding in the Midwest will likely not need air conditioning—unless there’s a heat wave. Likewise, a beautiful September day might turn frigid as the sun goes down. “Prepare for the worst,” says Yargus. “Make it as sound a structure as possible. It’s better to put a little extra money out up front than two days before when you’d pay emergency fees.”

A little pre-planning goes a long way
In the end, the only “hitch” in a tented wedding should be the couple saying, “I do.” Pre-planning and proper communication with all parties is the best way to assure this. Check with the municipality or village about permits needed and the time frame to acquire them. “Ask them to define exactly what you’ll need. This really is the true starting point before you even propose putting up a tent,” says Yargus.

Site inspections are another way to avoid potential problems. “Each site carries its own set of challenges, including ground level, overhead obstructions, staking capabilities, truck access, and even installation and dismantle times due to the venue being open to the public,” says Peplinski. “The tent vendor cannot move trees or buildings or make a space larger, but they can work within the given space, adjusting tent sizes and layouts while still meeting the bride’s expectations.”

There are many factors that affect the duration of set up and take down for a tent—if stakes can be used, if the inventory needs to be hand carried, weather conditions, multi-level scaffolding/flooring, custom staircases, custom structures, interior decorations, and the couple’s wishes. By pre-planning, your tent vendor should not run into any unexpected issues during installation. “A wedding set-up can take one day or up to a few weeks due to these combined factors,” says Peplinski.

Work with an industry expert to ensure success
Given the planning, preparation, and expense involved in tented weddings, it pays to work with an expert. “Look for experience,” says Yargus. Membership in professional organizations is also a plus. “Ask for and check references. Check to see if the organization is an ABC member. Check to see if they are a member of the Industrial Fabrics Association International,” suggests Horn. Other memberships include the American Rental Association, International Special Events Society, Meeting Planners International, and National Association of Catering Executives. But association memberships are only one piece of the puzzle. Look for a vendor who has quality equipment, can show you a gallery of event photos, offers personalized service, and can execute your vision. “Professionalism, experience, knowledge, and quality of inventory are key when choosing a vendor for any event, but especially for a wedding. Price cannot and should not always be the deciding factor,” says Peplinski.

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