Fabric elements such as linens, swags and liners transform tents into events.
By Holly O’Dell
When it comes to creating the right look for a tented event, interior fabrics play an important role. Fabric liners, for instance, continue to be a popular choice for clients who want a refined look. “When people use a liner, they generally do so in frame-style tents to cosmetically clean up the interior of the tent,” says Glen Hansen, vice president of sales for Classic Party Rentals–Chicago, McCook, Ill. “But we don’t get a whole lot of requests for liners in tension or pole tents because there isn’t a lot of aluminum or infrastructure that needs to be disguised by fabric.”
Although clients still seek the more traditional gathered or pleated liners, many event rental companies report an increased interest in smooth or flat ceiling liners over the last several years. “They give the tents a more contemporary look,” Hansen notes. “We’ve had people come in and say, ‘We do not like the gathered liners because they look like the interior of a coffin.’”
Hansen also cites cost as a determining factor. “The smooth liners are cheaper than the gathered ones. They take a lot less material to make and therefore rent for less.”
Spencer Etzel of the SEC Group/BaytexUSA, Wilsonville, Ore., says that smooth liners are appearing in corporate environments. “The smooth liner hides all the mechanisms in the tent structure and becomes a perfect palette to project pictures or corporate logos onto. We’ve created a number of high-end display liners for national brand clients such as BMW and Cadillac who want the event interior to be smooth and sleek like their corporate image.”
The fabric composition of liners has remained relatively unchanged, but some event firms are switching up the looks. “We’ve recently used Mystique Satin fabric because there are 180 color options,” notes Barbara Friesen of the SEC Group/BaytexUSA. “We’ve built liners with the satin side for higher reflection and brighter color and the matte side so that it becomes muted and softer. The texture of the fabric is very sophisticated.”
Tent liners are no longer static elements of interior design. Ceiling liners come in a palette of colors, while white, creams and champagne remain the most popular. However, a client who selects a white or off-white liner doesn’t have to settle for design mediocrity. “People can add a lot of color onto them with color gels or LEDs,” Etzel says.
Black also has emerged as a popular color. Clients like using a black liner “because it makes the surrounding space disappear,” Friesen says. “Lighting effects on decor and props make the event very dramatic.” Like smooth white liners, black liners are particularly popular with corporate events.
Occasionally tent rental companies receive requests for a patterned ceiling liner, but don’t expect to see any increase in their availability or use. “Patterns tend to be a more specific design and because of their design limitations can only be sold a few times, so most companies do not even carry them,” notes David Merrell, creative director and president of AOO Events in Los Angeles, Calif.
Fabric swags serve as an easy way to either complement or replace ceiling liners altogether. Plus, they add an element of customization. “Swags are great because they are unique to each event,” says Brian Richardson, president of L&A Tent Rentals in Hamilton, N.J. “The green you might like is not the green I’m going to use at the next event.”
The client will bring in a swatch, which L&A matches with fabric from a local store or wholesale provider. The company fabricates the swags in-house, then disposes of them after the event.
Karl’s Event Services, headquartered in Oak Creek, Wis., finds that its clients like to use various-colored swags to accompany liners and complement tablecloths and runners. Indeed, swags can punch up a tent’s interior. “One color we’ve been using quite a bit is steel gray,” says Jimmy Parks, vice president of sales. “It is a subtle color that blends well with a lot of different themes. It is a very clean look.”
Like liners and swags, linens make a strong decor statement. Merrell indicates that linen trends vary by location and category of client. “On the whole, corporate clients tend to be more on the conservative side, choosing traditional patterns and textures such as pintucks, bengalines and crushed silks or velvets,” he says. “When you get into the social aspect, like weddings or bar and bat mitzvahs, those clients are more daring and go with bold patterns and damasks.”
On the color side, Merrell says that color palettes emerge every year, then disappear. However, some hues never go out of fashion. “Orange always seems to stick around, or at least different versions of it,” he says. Merrell also has seen a transition from neutrals to brighter colors such as vibrant blues, fuchsias and oranges. “When you are in a recession, neutrals, which are more conservative, generally are more prevalent, and when there is an upswing in the economy, bright colors come back out.”
In addition, Merrell suggests ways to make linens more enticing. “Use a more basic cloth and spend a little extra effort and time on a runner. A runner is a lot less fabric and yet it has a custom feel to it. Fun additions include adding tassels at the end of the runners or tying up the corners of linens. These are simple ways to make a basic linen seem more expensive.”
In tough economic times, customers are looking for creative options for their tent interiors without breaking the bank. “We are finding many clients are willing to cut back on the type of chair they are renting and are going with a less expensive carpet, but they are still willing to have fabric treatments as part of their event budget,” says Richardson. “They know that when most guests leave the event, they won’t be talking about how wonderful the chairs were or how plush the carpet was. They will, however, probably notice and be talking about the overall decor of the tent, which includes the fabric.”