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Fabulous tablescapes

Features, Tent Décor | August 1, 2011 | By:

Make an extraordinary design statement with tabletops that promote aesthetics and function.

Tabletops for tented events serve two important purposes. Not only do they need to be functional for guests, they also should contribute to the event aesthetic. Done well, tablescapes contribute to the overall look under the tent while making a great impression on clients and guests. Done poorly, they can feel disjointed, overwhelming or just plain in the way. Here are some guidelines and trends from tented event professionals on keeping table designs fresh and functional.

Crisp designs

Many tent rental companies report that their clients seek a clean, open aesthetic in their tabletop designs. In fact, today’s color choices reflect the desire for crisp tablescapes.

“Tabletops are trending away from things with lots of different colors in them,” says Abby Rordorf of twist, an event design and management firm based in Newton, Mass. For instance, the company often uses monochromatic themes, such as yellow linens with yellow flowers. Another popular choice: black-and-white schemes accented by strong pops of colors such as turquoise, orange and yellow.

Much of this color can come from linens, which are available in more hues and patterns than ever. When it comes to specific linen colors, trends vary by region, says Michelle Vinitzky, account executive for Choice Party Linens Inc., Prospect Park, Pa. Lilac and sage green hues bring a soothing tone to tents, while shades of pink—ranging from soft to fuchsia—remain hot. In the Philadelphia area, Vinitzky has seen turquoise, violet, mango and cobalt blue linens taking off in popularity.

Still, there’s no shortage of clients who want a more traditional color scheme in their linens and dinnerware. In its showroom, Pacific Party Canopies of Burlington, Wash., has designed tablescapes that layer lush satins and pintucks with gilded chargers and plates. “Every once in a while, we’ll have a client come in who says, ‘I want that,’ but what we send out for rent again and again are classic poly linens and white dishes,” says marketing director Brittany Anderson. “Long white linens with shots of beautiful color enhance the overall look of a tented event.”

Furthermore, simplicity in both color and design can go a long way in crafting a one-of-a-kind tablescape. Pacific Party Canopies provided red and white checked tablecloths for a recent wedding that evoked an all-American vibe, with tabletop details such as carved watermelon baskets and jars of cookies. “It was simple and appropriate and, to me, that’s a well-designed tablescape,” Anderson says.

Avoid the clutter

One of the biggest dangers in creating a tabletop is overdesigning. For its part, Atlanta, Ga.-based Event Rentals Unlimited Inc. will encourage clients to “test” their tablescape in its showroom. “Oftentimes a person will want the maximum amount of seating with full place settings of china, glassware and an over-the-top centerpiece and not realize how crowded the table can become,” says Kelly Treadway, director of sales and marketing for Event Rentals Unlimited.

Anderson suggests keeping decor items below guests’ eating and talking spaces, as well as using linens and chargers layered under the dinnerware. She also advises to “stay away from precarious towers of candles and baubles. It’s a hopeless situation for people who talk with their hands, and really, no guests can have a relaxed conversation with lit tapers tottering between them.” Open flames also violate tent codes.

For a recent event, twist helped implement a clutter-free tabletop design based on a picture the client saw in a Martha Stewart publication. Configured by Sperry Tents, suspended centerpieces made of floral arrangements hung directly over the long tables, which were adorned simply with sand-colored runners, table numbers and assorted patterns of dinnerware.

Take care in choosing linens as well, Vinitzky advises. “Some linens out there are very four dimensional, where they are furry or they have sequins and fringe. They take away from the tables, and it’s a mess if you drop food in them. It’s important to keep linens nice and interesting, but not over the top.”

Table that idea

The tables themselves can influence how a tent rental company or an event planner approaches tabletop design. Rordorf likes to use farm tables with a single-colored linen runner in lieu of a full tablecloth for clients who favor the rustic look. She has also used acrylic-topped tables that can be filled with flowers and branches from within, as well as mirrored tables that are ideal for use with hanging centerpieces that reflect off the tabletop.

Anderson says that banquet tables can be more flexible than rounds. For example, place settings form a series of pairs on longer tables, whereas circular tables can pose symmetry problems. She also prefers fat runners laid the short way across the table, under each pair of plates, with small bunches of flowers or candles down the center line. “The scale is more intimate than with a single ornate arrangement towering over each round,” she says.

Although some clients request specific themes for their tented events—such as an ultra-colorful 1960s party—others take a more understated approach. Laura Mullen, president and lead event designer of Laura Mullen Event Design in Minneapolis, Minn., has coordinated several events that take their settings into account. On a private golf course, for example, refined elements such as crystal accents can reflect the elegance of the clubhouse, while a tented event on farmland may have a more rustic feel. Mullen planned a wedding in rural southeastern Minnesota with a theme of “New York City style meets the farm,” as the bride was from the Big Apple and the groom was from the small farm town where the wedding took place. In the tent, chandeliers made of wood and rope hung over long king’s tables, decorated with floral centerpieces with grassy green tones, handmade truffles placed in wooden boxes and dried lavender slipped into the napkins. In addition, conversation-starter cards encouraged mingling among guests.

“We embraced the farm and field [in our design],” Mullen says. “We made sure that the location theme was very subtle and not hitting everyone over the head.”

What’s more, event planners and tent rental companies are seeing a rise in vintage-influenced tablescapes, a trend that started taking off in late 2010, Treadway says. “Clients are leaning toward tabletops with at least one item representative of an heirloom-type family piece. Vintage tablescapes tend to be designed with the guest in mind, giving them feelings of comfort and familiarity.”

Responding to this trend, Event Rentals Unlimited added an ivory china pattern with a simple embossed-edge design and expanded its charger plate line to include an Arte Italica glass charger with soft gold and silver lace-designed edging. “Both of these items have been a tremendous hit with clients utilizing them to mix and match to get the vintage look they want,” Treadway notes.

A vintage theme also prevailed over a tented wedding that Mullen coordinated. Found objects provided by the bride’s mother—including a green dish brimming with floating flowers, a citrus juicer and old teapots—covered the tabletops and served as a unique way to create a classic look.

Originality also goes a long way in designing tablescapes. In lieu of traditional centerpieces, Mullen’s clients for an 80th birthday celebration wanted something that reflected their work with the local food shelf. To that end, Mullen bought $700 worth of groceries and containers from IKEA to create food baskets that would be delivered to the food shelf following the event. “We had a card explaining the centerpiece and why it was important to the hosts,” she notes. “It was very successful.”

Like a well chosen wine and entrée pairing, a bright white tent and a crisp, clean tabletop design elevate each other. Choose colors that pop but don’t overwhelm and dinnerware and decor that advance the theme without getting in the way, and your tables will look as fabulous as your tents.

Holly O’Dell is a freelance writer based in Pine City, Minn.

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