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Designing tent entrances

April 1st, 2010 / By: / Feature, Tent Décor

Creative and well-designed tent entrances will make clients and guests take notice.

Temporary structures can be works of art, and Medley, Fla.-based EventStar Structures proved it when the company designed and installed the Audi Pavilion for the German car company’s centennial anniversary premiere of the Audi A8 in Miami in early December 2009.

While Audi was introducing its latest luxury sedan, EventStar was introducing its latest tented innovation, stunning attendees from the moment they laid eyes on the entrance to the 45,000-square-foot structure.

“This was a hybrid tent, really,” EventStar President Alain Perez says. “It’s a breakthrough that people haven’t seen before and I think this is what we’ll see as the next generation in tent design.”

The contemporary look, Perez says, mimics the Audi showroom, with sophisticated touches including the staircase at the entrance that was intentionally positioned at an angle to greet members of the Audi group who would be arriving from the beach’s boardwalk. Six double-glass doors at the top of the stairs completed the elegant look of the entrance, which was complemented by the horizontally tensioned 22-ounce fabric used for the structure’s roof and facade.

Erected in less than six weeks for the four-day event, the pavilion needed to be strong enough to hold nearly 280,000 pounds of dead weight, including lighting and a car, suspended from the ceiling. Steel girders were engineered to withstand 20,000 pounds and cement footings were poured. The building was completely insulated and included a hard wall system and air conditioning, as well three lifts to make the building accessible and a bi-level floor design that kept technical equipment hidden beneath the main event floor.

“We always take the approach of making things look like they are not tents,” Perez continues. “Some people thought we couldn’t pull this off, but we did and it’s definitely the most sophisticated temporary structure we’ve ever done.”

Red-carpet worthy

While the Audi Pavilion may have redefined “high-end tented event,” it’s entirely possible to create looks that will “wow” guests of all kinds of tented events. One key, industry professionals say, is the structure’s entrance. P.J. McBride Inc. of West Babylon, N.Y., gets called a lot when tents are needed for movie premieres, and the company understands that these types of events are about much more than walking on a red carpet, says Doug Purslow, the company’s vice president of sales.

“What you want is for people to see a spectacular entrance the moment they walk up,” he says.

One way P.J. McBride likes to do this is by connecting the tent design to the film, as it did at the premiere of “Bee Movie” a few years ago. Upon arrival, guests walked directly into clear-top tents in which carpet and draping along the sides was done in black and yellow. Movie posters lined the inner walls and paper lanterns in yellow and black hung from the clear ceiling.

“These types of events call for something over the top, something people haven’t seen before,” Purslow explains, adding that clear-top tents are particularly useful for adding a touch of elegance and interest to events in New York City because they offer a great view of the city lights at night. “The pipe disappears when you use a clear-top tent this way because people are distracted by the view so they don’t even see the frame.”

While using colors that correspond to movies can be eye-catching, P.J. McBride steers clear of colored tents for fear of the “circus look,” Purslow says. Instead, almost everything the tent renter does is white or clear, and color is achieved with lighting using gobos and gels. “In the winter we go almost completely with white because clear-top cracks when temperatures go below zero, so we use a lot more lighting,” he says.

Red-carpet worthy entrances also can be achieved by connecting several small tents to create an attention-getting walkway leading to a main tent or permanent structure, says Alexandre Renaud, international sales manager with Quebec-based Fiesta Tents Ltd. Though a variety of tents can be used, Renaud likes the look of high-pitched, clear-top tents for this purpose, particularly since they lend a sense of airiness during the day while allowing in the glow of lights at night. If weather permits, creating an outdoor lounge area near the tent entrance that includes furniture—and perhaps even a fire pit—will set an intimate tone that’s stylish yet fun.

Walk this way

Tent entrances have come a long way since having something “nice looking” meant little more than tying open the flaps, muses Shereé Bochenek, creative director at Apr‘s Party & Tent Rental in Edina, Minn. When Bochenek is designing entrances, she likes to keep things simple with clean lines and a modern sensibility. One thing she’s been doing a lot lately is draping with Velon, which San Francisco-based event designer Robert Fountain’s company Velon Designs Inc. prints in a wide variety of patterns and colors. Flame retardant, reusable and biodegradable, Velon is becoming an increasingly popular and affordable alternative to traditional fabric drapes and swags.

Though Bochenek “isn’t big on traditional potted plants,” she does think topiary, even a topiary animal or two, can be used to make an entrance feel special. She also likes the look of decorative Manzanita branches, particularly when they’re hung inside a tent by nearly invisible monofilament or uplit in a subtle way. “They look like miniature dried trees and they come in different colors, but the nice thing is you don’t have to be a floral whiz to work with them,” she says.

Like Purslow, she isn’t a fan of colored tents, preferring to add color with lighting even when corporate branding is called for. Fiesta Tents, which handles a lot of corporate events, offers several branding options for clients. On the budget-conscious end is a banner support system that is essentially a simple frame that attaches to the tent, often above the entrance for maximum visual impact.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is digital printing capable of turning an entire tent into a banner or logo that can be used over and over. Though few go the latter route, there is increasing interest in a new product made of sticky, reusable vinyl, says Renaud. “Companies can print what they want on one side and the other side has glue on it that can be used more than 10 times without leaving any residue,” he says.

No matter who the client is, one surefire way to make an entrance more upscale is to add doors, says Renaud, who often uses doors manufactured by his own company from anodized aluminum and tempered glass. Vinyl filler panels connect the door to the tent’s walls, and custom fabric used around the door softens the look.

“With the entrance you want to make the best impression possible,” he says. “Kind of like when you meet a girl for the first time and you want things to go well right from the start.”

Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor.

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