Seating in the spotlight

Once merely functional, chairs and unique seating have become standout contributors to event decor.

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Trends drive event decor, but the last thing an event rental company needs is a warehouse overloaded with here-today-gone-tomorrow inventory.

Chairs represent a sizable investment for rental companies and furnishings suppliers, so it’s important to tease out fad from trend, says Douglas Crowe, CERP and COO for Event Equipment Sales LLC (EES), Hodgkins, Ill.

“A fad is similar to a hit song. You hear it for a short time and then it goes away,” Crowe says. “EES prefers to sell trending chairs. A trending chair has staying power worth a rental company’s investment.”

How to determine which is which? Crowe suggests rental companies call established suppliers. “If we’re currently selling the chair, chances are good it has moved past the fad stage and is trending,” he says.

Suppliers do place great store in looking before they leap. AFR Event Furnishings, Pennsauken, N.J., tests design ideas before introducing new concepts into the company’s 17 markets, says Greg Zalkin, director of special events.

“Our design team creates concepts, then shows them to our top salespeople,” he says. “If they like the concept, it’s tested in some specialized markets, and if it does well, we’ll add it to our national line.”

Taking center stage

Though always an event essential, chairs were intended to go largely unnoticed, serving a single function. But more recently they’ve come into their own, Zalkin says.

“We’re seeing a lot of functional decor—furniture that adds to the decor of the event—on the corporate side and the wedding/social side,” he says. “Now, instead of chairs being invisible, they’re standing out and adding to the whole look of the event.”

AFR designers take some of their cues from the fashion industry. “We’re seeing more use of nontraditional pairings, like black lacquer tables with white leather chairs,” Zalkin says. “People are less inclined to match tables and chairs, so there’s more contrasting of styles and colors. Brighter colors and textures and patterns are also showing up in both chairs and tables, with a ’60s and ’70s influence in the fabric used. For example, a chair could have very modern and defined lines but incorporate a throwback fabric.”

Television shows and retail stores also signal new styles or designs clients will ask about, says Crowe, recalling a client who wanted to know if EES had a chair like one on CBS’s Two and a Half Men.

“I’m not exactly a big fan [of that show] but I am a fan of Google, so I was able to determine the chair in question is known as a Navy Chair,” Crowe says. “Also on CBS I’ve noticed our new X-Back Farm Chair in Frank Regan’s kitchen on Blue Bloods.”

So many choices

For many, the wedding folding and polyfold event chairs remain the primary rental choice, says Kevin Lococo, rental market sales manager for Milwaukee, Wis.-based Palmer Snyder, a rental furniture manufacturer. But, he adds, another kind of chair is starting to get attention—the sled stacking chair, a part of Palmer Snyder’s PremierComfort® line. “[This] is a favorite of corporate and other institutional buyers,” Lococo says. “Events must increasingly cater to elderly and large patrons. The sled stacking chair offers both groups a safe and comfortable seating choice that also stacks completely for easy transport by the rental company.”

Event Central Rental & Sales, a full-service special event company in Mechanicsburg, Pa., receives daily inquiries about natural wood or mahogany chairs for outdoor or barn weddings, says general manager Andy Mattrick.

However, certain markets may be more receptive to some trends than others, says Robby Puckett, territory manager for McCourt Mfg., Fort Smith, Ark.

“Farm tables, vineyard items and the rustic look will have a greater demand in my area, Kentucky, whereas say, in New York, the lounge/club theme would be more suitable,” he says.

Other trends include:

Moving indoor furniture outdoors, says Zalkin. “We’re seeing combinations of brown leather sofas and chairs for lounge areas, or the use of wicker in these areas.” He also notes the trend of mixing benches with three or four different chair styles at the same event.

The Tolix® chair, recently added to EES’s inventory. Selling points? It’s stackable, durable (it’s nonpainted, gun-metal steel), relatively weather-resistant and can also be designed with a wood seat. “We’ve seen the Tolix in sitcom kitchens on major networks,” Crowe says. We also see the chair in major retail stores.”

“Worry free” chairs that require less care and are easy to transport, such as the Aluminum Series A5™ folding chairs and the aluminum chiavari chairs from McCourt. “[These chairs] offer equal or greater strength than that of a steel-framed chair but without the worry of rust,” Puckett says. “They’re about half the weight of the steel, wood or resin version, much sturdier and lighter to transport.”

Rustic seating. “This is big, especially classic metal chairs and barstools, such as CORT’s Rustique Collection,” says Kevin Dana, director of marketing and product development for CORT Event Furnishing, Chantilly, Va. “You can also mix it up and use small wood ottomans like CORT’s Timber table or wooden benches to add another element of interest.”

Seating arrangements

Once relegated to high-end events, lounge furniture has become much more democratic, making its way into a variety of events. In fact, says Puckett, the clamor for lounge furniture is such that he believes every rental company should offer it. Lounge furniture creates intimate spaces and imparts a homey feel, he says. It also adds interest to an event’s overall look because it breaks up the space.

Arranging chairs and other furnishing in nontraditional ways is another popular strategy, especially for ceremonies.

“I like to mix it up and use unexpected seating,” Dana says. “Since most ceremonies are short, you can sprinkle in curved bench ottomans and even low-backed sofas to give the ceremony a unique feel.”

Circular seating arrangements of varying sizes are trending, says Mattrick. “Some may look at this as nontraditional. However, it’s a great way to be more personal during a ceremony, when it’s all about family, friends and celebrating,” he says.

In some cases, different formations will appear at the same event, Zalkin says. He’s also had corporate clients use chair arrangement to replicate a company’s logo or message. For example, one client’s logo was a circle, so the seating was arranged in circles of varying sizes.

Dana advises considering what the space will be like when all the guests are in it. He cautions against placing too much seating next to the food stations or bars—“keep 12 to 15 feet clear in front so guests have room to congregate,” he says.

Crowe advises that tent rental operators go for more square footage than they think is required. “If a client needs a 40-by-80-foot tent, it might be best to recommend a 40-by-100-foot when appropriate,” he says. “Once all the vendors start defining the space they need, the square footage seems to shrink and the tent company is left trying to figure out how to get the same number of chairs in a space that [has shrunk].”

Utilizing CAD can avoid surprises, helping to determine if there’s sufficient ingress and egress, and also may aid in creating seating arrangements, says Crowe. It’s a smart move.

“Having enough flow or pathways through an event provides guests comfort and ease navigating from the dance floor to the bar or from the buffet to the restrooms,” he says. “The arrangement of chairs and tables can set the mood for the guests’ experience.”

Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, Calif.

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