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Extreme tented weddings

Features, Project Briefs | June 1, 2011 | By:

Ice, sand dune, trees and more: Tent pros pull off extraordinary wedding installations.

Extreme” means different things to different people. But when brides and grooms demand the wedding of their dreams, regardless or unaware of the challenges, tents—and tent professionals—often can and do save the day. Read on to see how five tent companies made out-of-the-ordinary weddings possible.

Wedding on ice

Snow and ice are just part of the job for Eagle River, Alaska-based Over the Top Tents and Events. So when a young couple requested a tented, winter wedding on a frozen lake in Anchorage, owner Shelby Johansen didn’t hesitate to take the job.

“I’ve got a great crew and we run into these things all the time,” he says, adding that the biggest challenge was staking the tent down without tearing up the surrounding ice, which was to be used as a skating rink during the celebration.

It’s not uncommon to have high winds at the base of the mountain where the event took place, so Johansen and his crew focused on how best to safely secure the tent to the ice. After careful consideration, they decided to use ice screws similar to those used by mountain climbers.

“We screwed them into the ice and then poured hot water over them to freeze them in so they wouldn’t move,” Johansen explains. “It wasn’t a very big tent, but it was still about six or seven thousand pounds of fabric that needed to be held down in the wind.”

Installation only took about four hours because the crew planned the process well ahead of time, Johansen says. Everything the installation team needed was hauled to the site in a truck and then offloaded onto a sled that they pulled with a snowmobile right up to the lake. “We were concerned about the wind the whole time, but the evening ended up being beautiful for a winter wedding,” Johansen says.

Accommodating mature trees

The stone terrace at Graydon Hall Manor in Toronto, Canada, is home to seven large trees that needed to be accommodated in a tented structure for weddings and other special events. Fiesta Tents Ltd. of Quebec took on the project, which required the design and manufacture of a tent that could be taken down and reinstalled whenever functions were scheduled.

“It was complicated because each tree had between three and nine branches that needed to pass through the top of the tent,” says Fiesta international sales manager Alexandre Renaud. Another challenge was the fact that the top of the tent was clear vinyl, so any imperfections would be quick to show. Because the location’s main attraction is its spectacular gardens, the tent needed to provide shelter from the elements without compromising the view.

It was a team effort to create the tented structure, which fits over the entire stone terrace and incorporates four access points and two sets of stairs. Toronto-based J J L Events Inc. designed the tent and came up with the plan for incorporating the branches while Fiesta manufactured the finished product. “We also custom built the frame so the components don’t interfere with the branching,” Renaud says. Ongoing installation and removal of the tent is done by Toronto’s Regal Tent Productions Ltd.

After preliminary discussions, it took about five weeks to complete the frame and tent. Each branch was measured to ensure the openings were the right size. An extra flap of fabric that wraps around the branches on the outside of the roofline is held down with tensioning straps to keep rain from dripping into the tent.

Creating an upscale vision

A wedding in the Hamptons with a white-on-white minimalist theme was the perfect opportunity for Stamford Tent & Event Services of Stamford, Conn., to show off a new wide plank flooring option. But to make that happen, the budget needed to be the opposite of “minimal.”

Requested by decorators, event planners and others who want an upscale look for social and corporate events, the flooring can be cut to varying lengths and hand-finished in pickled birch or English chestnut, says Stamford owner and manager Steve Frost.

For the Hamptons wedding, planned by Elizabeth K. Allen, the flooring required two things: a level subfloor and a generous budget, says Frost. Installation is time-consuming, and the flooring must be covered during the process to protect it from scratching.

The flawless floor was so impressive that guests wondered aloud whether their host, an architect, planned to have it installed permanently somewhere.

“People like this because it doesn’t look like a typical rental flooring option,” Frost says. “It looks like something they would put in their own home.”

Perfecting a seaside perch

When a hurricane swept away a house on the eastern end of Long Island, it left behind a 16-foot-tall sand dune with a breathtaking view of the ocean—the perfect spot for a tented wedding. After interviewing several companies, the groom chose Starr Tents of Mt. Vernon, N.Y., for the job. It was a challenging installation to be sure, says owner Christopher H. Starr, but it was not insurmountable.

“We’re often asked to do complicated projects and we don’t shy away from something even if we haven’t done it before,” he says.

Though a frame tent would have been easier to install, the event designer, David Stark Design, Brooklyn, N.Y., requested a tension tent. So Starr and his team created a long staking system to secure the largest tent, which was used for the dinner, on the dune. “We used special ratchet straps that were made to extend to the stakes down below,” Starr says.

Though the tent appeared to be sitting on land when viewed from the beach, it was actually constructed atop an elaborate flooring system. Down the hill from the dinner tent, Starr’s team also installed a cocktail tent so guests could walk up from the beach after the ceremony for drinks before moving on to the larger tent for dinner.

“We built a long ramp that went all the way down to the beach, and then the dinner tent had a deck outside so people could walk around two sides of it,” Starr explains.

No room for error

The castle-style estate in Florida chosen by rapper T. I. (Clifford Harris Jr.) and Tameka “Tiny” Cottle provided both the elegance and privacy they desired for their wedding reception—but it came with timeline and technical challenges for tent installer EventStar of Miami, Fla.

EventCouture LLC of Atlanta, Ga., produced the lavish event and called on longtime partner EventStar for tented options for the reception. A lakeside design was chosen that ideally would have required five to six days to construct, says EventStar’s Gerry Melendez. But because the daily rate for being on the site was cost prohibitive, the crew was given just three days for installation. “We worked more than 12 hours a day for three days and we got it done on time,” Melendez says.

Because the terrain was uneven, EventStar had to level the site before flooring could be laid, and everything needed to be measured precisely so glass panels along the estate-facing side of the tent could be inserted.

“Those glass panels would never have worked if everything wasn’t perfectly level to within an eighth of an inch of tolerance,” EventStar president Alain Perez says. “We went out three times with lasers to survey the site to be sure we had the measurements right. No one knew we’d had to work so hard to do the leveling because ultimately the bottom of the tent was hidden by a white skirt.”

Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.

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