Bring new life to themed events with versatile, sophisticated inventory.
By Barb Ernster
Themed events evoke all kinds of imagery, from Hawaiian luaus with tiki huts and coconut trees to Asian fanfare complete with chopsticks and giant Buddha statues. But these days, event professionals are relying less on big props to convey a theme in favor of lighting, drapery, colorful fabrics, furniture and vignettes.
This less literal approach is good news for profitability and inventory control, says Narcy Martinez, president of Marquee Tents in Austin, Texas. Rental companies can be more successful in meeting demands for themes if they focus on what they do best and stock inventory needed to carry that out. “It’s easy when themed events are coming through to get drawn into investing in a lot of different things,” Martinez says. “You can’t be everything to everybody. We figured out what’s good for us and what things we shouldn’t be involved in.”
The company stays focused on enhancing its tents and using versatile equipment like Bil-Jax staging. Marquee Tents also keeps a good inventory of decorative lighting and fabrics to create different elements of a theme.
“Fabric is used so much in creating a theme,” Martinez says. “When someone wants a sports theme, we don’t invest in tablecloths that have soccer balls and baseballs on them, but use jersey material or sporting-type fabric in different colors and carry it into the walls, ceiling treatments and lighting. We bring in smaller amounts of props, but it still feels like you’re at a sporting event and it’s more profitable because you can use more versatile materials.”
Western and fiesta themes are still popular in Texas, Martinez adds. The company keeps leather, cowhides and other animal print fabrics on hand to keep concepts fresh. Denim tablecloths accented with diamonds can add a sparkly upgrade to a tired Western look for little cost. A fiesta scene can be created with red, green and yellow fabrics, rather than fabric printed with chili peppers, she says. “We’ve also gotten really deep in different kinds of decorative lighting to enhance a themed event — specialty lanterns, Mexican tin stars, grapevine balls wrapped in twinkle lights and crystal and rod chandeliers.”
Trends in corporate events and weddings are moving toward simpler, more sophisticated themes that elicit an overall feeling, says Jordan Carbotti, who handles concept development for Perfect Surroundings Inc., an international event design company based in Newport, R.I. Loungelike settings with sit-down bars and divided spaces with comfortable furniture groupings are in high demand. “People want to create their own little world of places they want to be. They want to have different environments within one environment,” Carbotti says. “We had a bride who really liked our work, but was indecisive about how to do her wedding. We finally figured out where she was going on vacation and based our entire design on the Mexican hotel she was staying at. We showed her the same kind of tropical flowers and lanterns by the desk and she loved it.”
Unlike the ’80s and ’90s when the company had warehouses of props, Perfect Surroundings now keeps only a small inventory of specialty items on hand. Carbotti says they sometimes go to antique shops to rent items that fit a concept, which is one way that high-end designers can limit their own inventory. He favors working with rental companies that allow their equipment to be used in multiple ways, that have sufficient inventory of the more popular rental items or that carry unique products no one else is renting.
Carbotti says tent companies are doing things today that he never thought possible — everything from being able to build tents over rocky beach areas to having giant sound systems — and that is helping designers carry out their concepts.
“Aesthetics are really coming into play. Higher quality flooring is important. It has to be functional and appealing,” Carbotti says. “As a designer, I’d like to see more flexibility in furniture offerings, different materials and colors. I don’t want to be limited to a red or white couch.”
Room Service Furniture and Event Rentals in Miami, Fla., which specializes in custom colored furniture and accessories, is seeing a huge demand for club scenes and the white “South Beach” lounge look. Damask prints, chocolate, lime green and pomegranate are also highly favored color trends in furniture and backdrops, notes Jamie Oristano, vice president of sales and marketing.
“Everybody is looking for a customized look,” Oristano says. “We can give things a customized look without huge props or expense. We took fashions from a bride’s wedding dress and used that fabric for pillows. We accent a lot of our furniture with custom pillows, on which you can silkscreen a logo or photo and even embroider. If somebody wants a backdrop with surfboards, you can drape the wall and put logos on it for branding or uplight it with a water effect. Drape is a great inventory item to have. It can transform a room at an inexpensive cost.”
Execute the look
As an event planner for the nonprofit Greater Twin Cities United Way in Minneapolis, Ami Cervin is always seeking fresh, inexpensive ideas for the company’s many different events. For an upcoming annual wine-tasting event, Cervin is focusing on an underwater theme to highlight the country of Australia. (The company chooses a different country to focus on each year.)
“We’re creating a sense of water with draping and lighting and also incorporating it into our entertainment,” she says.
Cervin is also planning to decorate tables with coral frozen in blocks of ice, which is less expensive than a standard aquarium, and a unique way to highlight an ocean scene during the bitter cold of January.
“The biggest thing to keep in mind is that a theme can come from a color, a picture, a feeling,” Cervin says. “I keep my eyes open at home décor stores and even my friends’ homes. If they have something on a dining room table or in their bedroom, it might spark ideas for a theme, color schemes, even a photo opportunity as a backdrop. Most importantly, make sure that your messaging and branding is always consistent from piece to piece and throughout your décor.”