Coming to a tent near you: event furniture with natural materials, modular designs, lighting, branding and more.
By Danielle Beurteaux
Every aspect of a tented event influences furniture choice: budget, theme, number of attendees, fashion and food trends, delivery logistics and cleaning requirements. Manufacturers have responded to event trends and rental company needs, providing choices for every party. Here’s what industry insiders have to say about today’s event furniture trends.
Furniture au naturel
“Everyone seems to want to do something that’s natural or organic,” says Robby Puckett, senior sales executive for McCourt Mfg., Fort Smith, Ark. “I think you’re going to see a lot of natural and organic [looks] like bamboo chairs, linens and driftwood centerpieces.” He also notes an increasing demand for the ever-popular Chiavari chairs, but in black, in part because the color hides dirt and can be touched up with paint.
Jason Robbins, partner at Snyder Lounge, North Charleston, S.C., agrees that many clients want a warm, earthy look. Unfortunately, pieces such as wicker and rattan furniture with cloth cushions aren’t the easiest for rental companies to maintain and transport. Handling and delivery separate from chairs, tables, floors and tent components helps to prevent damage to delicate pieces. In addition, rental companies with cushioned furnishings in their inventories must be prepared to launder them immediately if they come back wet.
“You also have to be willing to replace a lot of stock, or sub it from somebody,” Robbins says.
Clients who are looking to reduce their carbon footprint or have a bare-bones budget may want to limit the use of linens or do away with them altogether. This means furniture needs to be attractive without the benefit of linen coverage.
“Our focus is on products that are good-looking enough not to be used with a linen and light enough to be handled by one person,” says Michael Mostek, marketing manager of PS Furniture, Milwaukee, Wis. “That’s generally where we think the market is heading: lightweight and good looks.”
Mostek adds that pewter brush laminate is selling well. “It has a metal-swirl look to it but it’s still laminate so it’s easy to clean and it doesn’t tarnish.”
Washington, D.C.-based event planner Michele Hodges of Michele Hodges Events LLC says that for her clients, going without linens has less to do with budgets than a desire for mixing up table styles. For bigger events, she might use three different tables—for example, white-washed rectangular wood, standard round and square plank—with linens and color accents that tie the look together.
Stand up for traffic flow
Slimmed-down event budgets have resulted in a trend away from full-seated events to hors d’oeuvres and cocktails served in stand-up environments. This, in turn, has led to an increase in sales of cocktail tables for PS Furniture, Mostek says.
An added benefit of high tables is that they contribute to event flow. Kevin Dana, director of marketing and product development at CORT Trade Show & Furnishings, recommends half seated- and half standing-level furniture to accommodate guests who wish to circulate as well as those who want to find a space for more private conversation.
“It’s very important to have both [seated and standing options] because that’s how people network and socialize,” Dana says. “My biggest pet peeve at an event is not having enough highboy tables to set your drink on.”
Hodges also notes a trend away from plated, seated dinners. Instead, she says, a client may serve buffet-style and incorporate lounge furniture.
“If you’re doing food stations and you have partial seating, you really want to have seating for at least half your guests, and my preference is for 70 percent,” Hodges says. “It doesn’t mean big dinner tables; it could be ottomans mixed with cocktail tables.”
More tents, more options
Bigger tents and a trend for multiple tents for a single event expand the options that event designers have at their disposal.
“With the technology of tents being what it is now, you can almost build what looks like a brick-and-mortar venue,” says Mark Greason, director of trade shows at AFR Event Furnishings.
Robbins says it’s common to see a series of tents used to create different phases or event “rooms” for a party. In plantation events—a Snyder specialty—there will typically be a space created for a ceremony; a cocktail area, which is sometimes tented; a dining area in a tent; and a tent for the dance floor with a bar and dessert area, often with lounge furniture.
For wedding ceremonies, plantation-style benches have been a big trend, Robbins says. Modular furniture is also popular because it allows event planners to create an original space. “[Event planners] don’t want to use what another one is using,” Robbins says. “There’s a big need and drive to have different looks.”
Recognizing this trend, CORT is introducing a modular sofa that can be arranged in different configurations, depending on space and design needs.
“So rather than a regular vignette—sofa, chairs, love seat—they can create any sort of combination,” Dana says.
Light up a brand
Another trend that has grown in recent years, in part because they’re very easy to brand, is lighted furniture. “It not only adds light to the event, but it adds light in different colors,” says AFR’s Greason. “If it’s a corporate event, you can set lighting for most colors, for example, the corporate colors on a logo.”
Lightweight but fragile lighted pieces require extra care when handling and delivering, such as air-filled cushioning material and moving blankets to wrap each piece, and securing each piece to the side of the truck, Greason says. On the plus side, the technology has lessened the nightmare of finding power for a mess of cables. Many lighted products are battery operated, ranging from simple D batteries to rechargeable lithium, depending on the complexity of the piece.
Branding isn’t just for corporations, either. Clients throwing social events often want a unique graphic touch. “When we rent product for a wedding, the bride and groom want to have all aspects of the event branded with their initials,” Greason says.
Hodges suggests personal branding to many of her clients, for example, a customized bar or ottomans with branding on the pillows. Another furniture trend Hodges notes is mirrored mercury glass furnishings. They give an event a subtle and different look that can complement almost anything.
“When you envision adding all the beautiful china and flowers and glassware and napkins, there’s just enough exposed that it captures the light,” she says. “They’re beautiful.”
Every client these days desires a customized event. Furniture that looks great with or without linens, can be arranged in different formations, promotes event flow and can be branded helps rental companies and planners create that unique event every time. Add in lightweight and easily transported and cleaned, and event professionals might have time to sit back and enjoy the party.