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The beauty of tent liners

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

Tent liners are an easy upsell when customers see the way they dress up a tent.

When it comes to tent liners, the photos sell them every time, says Gabriel Backlund, creative director for Bloomington, Minn.-based Ultimate Events. First-time tent renters such as many brides may have no idea what tent liners are. But when shown pictures, they can clearly see what liners do: conceal hardware and imperfections, create an elegant look and serve as a backdrop that’s perfectly suited for enhancing with color washes and sparkling lights.

“Educating the client is how you upsell, so if you’re in a beautiful, white pole tent, a liner might not be necessary, but frame or structure tents with a lot of metal showing need liners to disguise these things and soften the look,” Backlund says.

Backlund most often uses custom liners that Ultimate Events makes from sheer voile, the same fabric the company uses for draping. He likes the way the wide-width fabric can create a custom look for a “fairly reasonable” price because the cost of the fabric is low and doesn’t require a lot of labor. Fitted liners have their place, he says, and Ultimate Events does stock white and ivory in standard sizes. The company also subrents liners when necessary. “I like the polished look fitted liners have to them and if I own one for a tent I’m working on, it’s less expensive for me to install it than to create a custom liner,” he says. He also loves the fact that when you use a liner, you can do flat-panel fabric and cover the entire ceiling of a tent.

At Eventmakers Intl., Stuart, Fla., owner George Coates stocks only pleated, white tent liners. He doesn’t have anything against smooth or colored liners, but with limited resources and inventory, he goes with what the clients who use liners most—brides—like best. When customers do want colored liners, Coates obliges by using lighting to create a wash in the desired hue. Coates favors pleated liners because they look great right out of their storage bags and installation is fast and easy. Each section attaches to the next with Velcro® and the edges clip along the perimeter of the tent before each section is pulleyed up into position. “It’s amazing how fast they go up,” he says.

Of course, the big advantage to having tent liners in stock is that they’re “huge moneymakers,” says Coates. You can use liners over and over if you take care of them. And you can create a lot of “wow factor on your own without having to bring in a drape company or high-end designer,” he adds. Before Eventmakers started relying on liners, they draped fabric to create the same effect, which was much more labor intensive and not as nice looking. “We show photos with tent liners to people and they always say, ‘Oh my God, what’s that?’ and we explain that liners offer a lot of bang for the buck.”

Add some drama

White and ivory are the most common liner colors, but many customers are open to combining liners with color and dramatic lighting design once they know their options and can see examples of what a tent rental or event company or lighting designer can do. Doc Waldrop, a lighting designer with Full Circle Lighting and Productions, Atlanta, Ga., has been using LEDs to light liners a lot lately. “[LEDs] don’t put out any heat, they use very little power and you can make the liners whatever color you want,” he says.

Depending on how a tent is constructed, Waldrop aims the lights up onto the tent surface and tries to spread the light around as much as possible. “Popping the light up on top and letting it come back down onto the liner creates a nice glow,” he says.

For wedding ceremonies in particular, Waldrop sticks with skin-tone lighting most of the time because lighting that’s bouncing around a tent can make skin tones look strange. Once the ceremony is over and the party begins, lights can be any color with no worry. “Once no one is expecting the bride to have a natural skin tone, you can do things with LEDs to make colors sweep down a tent, change constantly or come on in staggered pairs,” he says.

Layering is what creates depth when it comes to tent lighting. Waldrop likes to do this by using interesting patterns over light fixtures. In the fall, for example, he sometimes does a branch pattern in fall colors for weddings and events.

Drapes and swags are lit directionally to accentuate the folds in the fabric, and gable ends done in attractive fabric are lit differently than the liner to create a visual difference between the two, he explains. “You want to draw people’s eyes to these kinds of things, not the liner,” he says. “Liners are for creating ambiance, but you have to light them or the space just ends up looking like the inside of a casket.”

Making liners last

Butch Ruggiero, owner of Special Events Tent and Party Rental, Bangor, Pa., makes tent liners out of reflective white fabric so lighting above the liner shows through to create stunning and dramatic looks. Like Coates, he prefers the look of pleated liners, and a lot of his customers do too. He also prefers using fitted liners because as long as installers are mindful of how clean their hands are, they can put up the liners themselves, so there’s no added expense for designers and draping.

Pole draping adds to the tailored elegance of a liner and can be enhanced by adding LED lights behind the draping “so it looks like glittering stars behind the fabric,” Ruggiero says. To help streamline the process of installing tent liners, Ruggiero’s company created DecoTent, a liner kit they use themselves and also sell to other tent companies. The kit can be customized for tents that are 40-, 60- or 80-feet wide and includes swags and drapes.

To keep liners looking their best, Ruggiero has them laundered in-house, as needed, in cool water. “I would be scared to send them out,” he says. Coates agrees. He also has liners cleaned in-house in a washing machine that has been specifically programmed so it won’t jeopardize the flame-retardant nature of the fabric. Liners are hung to dry and then folded and placed in bags for storage.

To keep liners looking their best, Ruggiero has them laundered in-house, as needed, in cool water. “I would be scared to send them out,” he says. Coates agrees. He also has liners cleaned in-house in a washing machine that has been specifically programmed so it won’t jeopardize the flame-retardant nature of the fabric. Liners are hung to dry and then folded and placed in bags for storage.

Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.

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