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Distinctive tents

Event Production, Features | October 1, 2008 | By:

Distinctive tents satisfy clients who want venues that break the mold.

Clients’ determination to make their events personalized and unique is stronger than ever. Tents are the perfect blank canvas for visionaries who want to wow their event guests. And for those particular clients who won’t settle for simply customizing a standard event tent, the distinctiveness of nonconforming tent structures can be an attractive prospect.

Redefining spaces

Tents that define space differently than the “box” of a frame or pole tent are popular for their flexibility. At Bedouin Freeform Tents in Manly Vale, New South Wales, Australia, tents that buck the traditional rules of event spaces are being used for everything from small backyard functions to corporate events to music festivals. The tents range in size from 4.5 by 6 meters (15 by 20 feet) to 20 meters by 20 meters (66 by 66 feet).

Stuart Johnstone, managing director of Bedouin Freeform Tents, says the company’s tents can be configured to fit into almost any space. “The ‘free-form’ style means that altering a space is simply a matter of moving or adjusting the poles,” Johnstone says.

“Our biggest strength can also be our biggest weakness,” Johnstone adds. “A free-form tent, unlike a traditional marquee, doesn’t have a framework. While this is one of the factors that gives us incredible flexibility, in can also hinder us if we are erecting on a site that is unsuitable to peg into the ground. In these circumstances, we use concrete block weights to secure the tents, and these can be quite costly and a little unsightly.”

The company prefers to stake its tents; when it does, it is able to use relatively short, 24-inch pegs. “We use much shorter pegs as the stretch characteristic of the tent means that the individual load on the pegs is greatly reduced in comparison to marquees made with static fabric such as PVC or canvas,” Johnstone says. The tents’ signature fabric, BedouinFlex™, works in a similar way as a rubber band, he says, in that every additional peg used reduces the load on the pegs already in place.

Setup safety

Installing free-form tents is easy enough for first-timers with just a bit of training, Johnstone says. “There is a technique to tensioning our free-form tents,” he says. “The details of this are part of our training courses and training DVDs.”

Johnstone says the company has sold tents to a variety of organizations as well as private citizens. “Many have very little or no experience installing a marquee,” he says. “We find that with some simple instructions, they are able to safely and securely install the free-form tents.”

Letting customers install the tents themselves is not an option for The Stunning Tents Co., Tadley, Hampshire, U.K. “Our tents are always installed by us and anchored to the ground with stakes,” says Jon Parr, managing director of Stunning Tents. “It is a skilled operation to link the tents together reliably and safely, requiring special training even for people with extensive marquee experience.”

Stunning Tents’ most popular line is its set of Nordic Tipis. Social events make up the majority of the company’s business, with weddings comprising about half the events and the remainder split between private parties, music festivals and corporate events.

The tipis are great for clients who demand an unusual look to their event, but the structures are limited in how they can be configured.

“It is not possible to make clearspan structures, and there are limitations on how the tents can be linked together,” Parr says. “It is possible to make a structure 20 metres wide and as long as you like, but widths above this are problematic.”

The unusual tents have long wooden poles; though beautiful, the poles are 27 feet long and require tricky handling. “The poles are the trunks of extremely late-maturing spruce trees,” Parr says. “This makes every tent unique, so there are no specific engineering calculations. Through long established use, we know that the tents can withstand winds in excess of 50 mph (provided they are installed correctly).”

The freeform tents also have differing engineering estimates. “The flexibility and versatility of our tents does mean that the wind load ratings are dependent on [the tents’] configuration,” Johnstone says. “However, they have been rated up to and exceeding 60 knots [69 mph]. The ability to pack even the larger tents down in minutes also provides an additional level of safety.”

Functional fabric

Uncommon tents are striking for many reasons, not least of which can be the non-PVC fabric. The stretchy character of Bedouin’s free-form tents is born from BedouinFlex fabric, a two-way stretch fabric that has a waterproof outer coating and a UV absorber to prevent fading.

The stretch fabric was developed by Bedouin Freeform Tents and is made with the help of local manufacturers. Though it’s not your customary PVC, Johnstone says the stretch fabric has 2-ton breaking strain at any point, and it was designed to specifically meet local climate conditions and rigorous fire, structural and safety standards. And the fabric boasts a 100-percent recovery — that is, the fabric completely retains its original shape through positioning and repositioning of poles.

Johnstone says most dirt can be removed from the BedouinFlex fabric by spot-cleaning, but he notes that the tents are also machine washable. “The entire tent can be washed in a commercial drum-style washing machine,” Johnstone says. “The fabric is also tough enough to handle machine dryers.”

Stunning Tents’ Nordic Tipis are made in the far north of Sweden by Tentipi AB. The fabric is a coated polycotton, which is both fire retardant and water resistant.

When the tents get dirty, Parr recommends simply letting them dry and then brushing off the dirt with a soft brush. Lots of cold, clean water will also work if the fabric is brushed gently with it. “The light tan color of the canvas is very forgiving compared to white,” Parr says.

Unorthodox view

One of the greatest assets of an unusual tent is the out-of-the-ordinary aesthetic that it gives to any event. Johnstone says the company’s free-form tents lend themselves well to exotic-type themes and Middle Eastern-style décor. “The tents provide very natural and flowing lines both inside and out,” Johnstone says. “In many ways they remind people of traditional Middle Eastern tents.”

The tipis from The Stunning Tents Co. appeal to clients because they are anything but run-of-the-mill. “They have a very natural feel — being made of wood and canvas — which appeals to clients on many levels,” Parr says. “They are about as far removed from a ‘white box’ as it is possible to be.”

Juliana Wallace is the editor of InTents.

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