The right decor can create harmony between a structure’s interior and its surroundings.
InTents | June 2014
By Jake Kulju
Tented events are emulating increasingly popular residential outdoor rooms, where the boundaries between interior and exterior blend to create a harmonious environment. “Very often clients work to design their events based on their surroundings,” says Ben Philbrook, director of operations for Chase Canopy in Mattapoisett, Mass. “I think the end client chooses a venue because they like the style and want to continue that style into their tent and all the rentals,” adds Narcy Martinez, president of Marquee Tents in Austin, Texas. “Designers are adding items to tents that are coordinating with the building at the venue.”
For a wedding in Attleboro, Mass., produced by Chase Canopy, the bride and groom wanted not only the look and feel, but also the illusion, of being outside—from within the clear-top tent. To create their desired magical outdoor wedding, the couple hired landscape lighting firms to install uplights on all the trees and worked with a designer to incorporate other elements of their surroundings inside the tent. “Each table was designed as if guests were eating under the trees,” Philbrook says.
Many of today’s popular wedding themes, such as “elegant rustic,” call for a connection between the tent’s interior and its location. “Brides are going for barn weddings, farm furniture and a country-rustic feel,” says Davis Richardson, owner of Sugarplum Tent Company in Boyds, Md. “To bring this theme to life and incorporate the outside with the tent interior, there may be a large object to greet guests—either as a place to display table assignments or a rustic bar or country lighting.”
Sugarplum recently completed a sophisticated country wedding at a client’s home that featured a large antique unicycle displaying the table cards in the spokes of the vintage wheel. Long, dark wood farm tables and colorful style hobnailed dinnerware carried through into the clear structure tent.
In some cases, an event’s surroundings directly influence tent choice. With its New England location, Chase Canopy produces many events tied to the Atlantic Ocean. Philbrook says that Tidewater™ Sailcloth Tents, manufactured by Aztec Tents, “are a perfect fit for our more classic, nautical-themed events. They are erected with all-natural wooden center poles and side poles, creating a vintage or maybe even schooner-mast appeal.”
The same goes for furnishings. The Austin area, where Marquee Tents operates, has “a lot of rustic country- and Tuscan-style venues, so our vintage-style furniture lines get used often,” Martinez says.
Clear-top structures have helped make the transition between inside and out even smoother. “The use of cafe lighting strung across the top of the tent creates a wonderful atmosphere as the sun sets,” Philbrook says. “These types of lights add a sparkling star look to the event.”
Tent companies and event designers use different elements to maintain a seamless link. “When we have a high-end event where there is a designer involved, every aspect of the design, including lighting, is coordinated with the look,” Martinez says. “We use a lot of bistro lights inside and outside the tent to tie the spaces together.”
Flooring offers another opportunity to synchronize exteriors with interiors. “Many times we have connected flooring built for a tent to an existing deck or even into a building,” Philbrook says. “This is done so that there is nothing lost in transition from one part of the event to the next. It is important to not lose that momentum and to keep the event flowing.”
Consistency plays an important role when coordinating a tent’s decor with its surroundings. To adapt to increasing requests from clients for a rustic look, Marquee Tents altered its BilJax® flooring two years ago with a vintage wood insert.
Greenery is perhaps the easiest and most logical way to establish a strong connection between inside and outside. It also provides a chance to be creative. Chris Starr, vice president of Starr Tent in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., has seen the integration of vertical gardens, which stimulate a living garden.
“Using the vertical gardens to hide some of the hard elements of the tent, such as the framework tent, is becoming popular instead of using fabric or wall flaps,” he says.
Some locations call for a different approach to connecting a tent’s interior with its surroundings. In urban neighborhoods where condominiums are common, for example, people hosting private parties at their homes will use a tent as overflow space on the building’s rooftop or terrace. Rather than bringing the outdoors in, event hosts want to bring the indoors out.
“A lot of times, clients will take furniture or decor elements from different rooms and put them into the tent,” notes Starr, who regularly works on events in New York City. “It doesn’t feel like you’re in a separate space. It’s a temporary extension of their home.” As with more traditional tented events, lighting plays an important role in tying together separate spaces. Starr Tent has installed chandeliers and floor lamps with a variety of available shades to further integrate home and tent interiors.
Even though a tent may act as part of the residence, most of Starr’s customers forgo the white sidewalls or ceiling. “We use a lot of clear tops and clear sides in the New York City market so guests can observe the skyline,” Starr notes, adding that a clear-top tent can emulate the atmosphere of a solarium or greenhouse. For more traditional homes, Starr Tent has wrapped porches in custom vinyl sidewalls.
The challenges in connecting a tent directly to a building often are more technical than aesthetic. One important consideration is creating a gutter system that properly redirects water. “Manufacturers of soft vinyl gutters for the tent industry have started to include hoses to help water drain in a certain direction,” Starr explains.
Whether an event takes place on a city rooftop or a large country estate, customers want to integrate a tent’s interior with its surroundings to create a memorable day. Tent companies can help by providing suitable structures—along with decorative elements such as furnishings, lighting and flooring—that offer clients a complete package.