Pros share secrets for standout decor on a budget.
By Meleah Maynard
Money may not buy happiness, but it sure comes in handy when clients want stunning memory-making decor for a tented event. In today’s economic climate, though, increasing numbers of people are trying to get the look and feel they want on smaller budgets.
Making this happen while still running a profitable event business is tricky. But with a combination of imagination, know-how and a willingness to talk realistically about what a client’s money will buy, standout decor is possible. The key is to figure out what the client wants most, says Elizabeth Veal, of Beachview Tent Rentals Inc. in Brunswick, Ga., and Jackson, Fla.
“Anybody can create a fabulous party on an unlimited budget, but it takes a lot more time and creativity to find ways to make clients happy when the budget is slim,” Veal says. That’s why she always begins by talking extensively with clients to find out what part of their event’s decor they feel they just can’t do without. Then she tries to find a way to make at least some part of that dream a reality. “You can’t do it all, but you can give people at least a piece of what they want and that usually makes them happy,” she says.
A good example, Veal says, is a wedding she did recently for a bride who had her heart set on clear tents that would offer a view of the stars once it was dark. When Veal explained that clear tents weren’t within the budget, she brought up the idea of using clear mids in the center portion of the main tent to create a skylight over the dance floor. The bride was thrilled. “She was so excited because she could look up and see the stars when they were dancing,” Veal says.
And then there was the bride who was inspired by a photo she’d seen of a tent decorated with huge, beautiful balls of fresh flowers that hung from the ceiling. She wanted to do the same until she saw the florist’s estimate. Veal solved the problem by suggesting they use silk flowers for the balls that would hang from the ceiling and fresh flowers for the tables and elsewhere in the tent. “Typically, silk flowers would not be on my list of decor options,” Veal admits. “But I told her no one would know the difference if they couldn’t touch or smell them.” The bride happily embraced the budget-wise idea.
Shereé Bochenek, creative director at Aprés Party & Tent Rental in Edina, Minnesota, is also used to finding creative, attractive solutions for clients on a budget. Chandeliers have been a popular trend for some time, but not everyone can afford crystal, which is costly to maintain and heavy to hang. So what do you do when a bride on a budget just has to have chandeliers? “We suggest long beaded cylinders,” says Bochenek. “The beads are acrylic but they resemble crystal when they’re hanging from the ceiling and they’re lightweight and much less labor intensive to hang.”
Draping is another item clients often want but can’t always afford. Fortunately, flat draping has not only become a trend, it is less expensive. “Rather than swags and swoops, we do flat draping on airline cable attached to rigging points,” explains Alison Witthans, Aprés’ decor specialist. “It’s a more contemporary look and it doesn’t take as much time to install.” Clients who aren’t wowed by flat draping can cut costs by going with fewer colors or a smaller number of draping points. “People don’t realize they can save money by doing things like that, so they appreciate it when we offer those kinds of ideas,” Bochenek says.
Creativity is key
As the owner of a small company, Newtown, Conn.-based Social Decor, Marisa Rizzo is used to working with clients who don’t have deep pockets. Like other designers and event planners, she staves off disappointment by managing clients’ expectations from the beginning. It helps that the trend in the East is toward more rustic, farm-to-table style events, which can be more budget friendly. “We’re seeing more people doing events at farms and they’re decorating with family heirlooms like quilts,” Rizzo says. “I did a wedding recently where the florist did these amazing wreaths and we hung them with fabric from the center poles of a tent to create a lot of drama for not much money.”
Boiling big decor dreams down into awe-inspiring focal points is another way Rizzo makes budget-conscious clients happy. “People still really like the beach thing here in Connecticut, so I’ve done big shell chandeliers over dance floors,” she says, adding that the burlap lampshades she’s been making for a couple of years also are in high demand for beach and country weddings.
“I started making them because I had a client who really wanted to use lampshades but couldn’t find any that were large enough,” she explains. Those who don’t want burlap can choose other fabrics. “They’re big lampshades, so you can group five of them together and create a great focal point.” They can be shipped nationwide, Rizzo says. “And since they’re easy to install, they’re a great markup item for tent companies.”
Using things that are “shiny and sparkly” is another good way to go for clients on a budget, Rizzo says. “Things people love in the daytime just fade away once the light dims, which is why we recommend using a lot of beaded curtains and mirror balls.” If clients are nervous that those things seem cheesy, she explains how they offer a lot of wow factor when used properly, and once people try them, they agree.
Making wishes come true
If something is not within a client’s budget, Lisa Marie, lead event designer with Creative Ambiance Events in North Kingstown, R.I., thinks fast to come up with an affordable solution that doesn’t make people feel like they’re settling for less than they hoped for. She recalls suggesting hanging a chandelier from a tree for one bride’s ceremony. But because it needed to be waterproof and required a lot of rigging and an electrician, the chandelier turned out to be too expensive for her budget.
“The bride called to tell me she didn’t feel she could afford it,” Lisa Marie recalls. “I hung up the phone and it suddenly came to me that we could just rent her some beautiful lanterns that we already owned.” The bride liked the idea, and on the day of the ceremony, three were placed just above the spot where the bride and groom exchanged their vows. “And I even got up on a ladder to hang them just to make the budget work,” she says.
Making “wishing trees” affordable has been another priority for Lisa Marie. A few years ago, Creative Ambiance Events introduced “man-made” trees to take the place of a traditional guestbook. Decorated with origami birds, paper hearts or other items that go with the theme of a wedding, these wishing trees are a place for guests to hang handwritten messages and maybe even a few dollars to help make the couple’s dreams come true. This attempt to revive the once popular “money tree” of the 1950s seems to be catching on.
“At the end, we take the tree down and wrap all the notes and money like a gift that they can open together later,” she explains. Since a floorstanding wishing tree can be too costly for some, a tabletop tree and even a small, iron tree are offered to help people stay on budget. “People just put a guestbook on a shelf and never look at it,” Lisa Marie says. “But these trees are really popular because they are much more special, adding individualized ambiance and a ‘green flavor’ to the event.”