By Jamie Swedberg
For some tented weddings, tent choice is straightforward. If a client is trying to fit a large number of guests into a tiny backyard, the renter is obliged to offer the tent in inventory that uses the space most efficiently. Other times, the bride has a specific vision, such as peaked tents with banners waving in the breeze, like an outtake from an Arthurian fantasy. Fine, then—that’s the choice.
But often, the selection process is more complex. Here, five tent companies talk about the choices they made with their wedding clients, and how they used the characteristics of a specific tent to their advantage.
Tensioned peaked pole tent
Event Central Rentals and Sales, Mechanicsburg, Pa.
The site for this wedding was two side-by-side backyards. Because of landscaping between the two properties, there was no possibility of using one large tent over the whole area. So Event Central Rentals and Sales chose a 60-by-70-foot Century® Mate peaked pole tent by Anchor Industries, plus a 30-by-60-foot tent connected to the larger tent via a 10-by-80-foot marquee.
The lack of interior rafters made the larger tent into a gigantic canvas for the lighting designer.
“They wanted to do some sophisticated lighting with projecting things up on the ceiling of the tent,” explains vice president and general manager Scott Schultz. “They decorated the center poles with lights inside of a sheer fabric, and then at the top they had lighting fixtures to project changing light patterns onto the ceiling. Having this big canvas with all of its curves, because it was peaked, was really cool to project stuff onto. I think this was a great fit for the lighting package.”
Sometimes the poles in a pole tent can be an obstacle, Schultz says. For instance, if a renter erects a 40-by-80-foot pole tent and wants to put the dance floor in the center, a pole will be in the middle of the floor. But the math works out differently on different sized tents.
“The beauty of this tent was, it was 60-by-70, which is almost square, and it had four center poles,” he says. “Right in the middle of those center poles was dead center of the tent. We were able to drop the dance floor right in the center of that and basically have a pole at each corner of the dance floor.”
Frame tent with liner
Vermont Tent Co., South Burlington, Vt.
The 2011 wedding of John Crabbe, president of Vermont Tent Co., had to be special. But Crabbe’s backyard is narrow and lined with perennials, so there wasn’t a lot of room to work with. Any attempt to erect a pole tent carried the risk of flattening the flowers.
Frame tents were the solution, says Mike Lubas, CERP with Vermont Tent. He and his crew wedged in a pair of them, a 30-by-50-foot tent by Fred’s Tents & Canopies for guest seating, and a 20-by-30-foot tent for music and dancing, using every inch of available space.
“Frame tents require less staking than tension tents, so they were a better choice,” he says. “A portion of the main tent had to be installed over the back deck, so we had to anchor through it. We built a couple of custom anchors that could be slid down through the deck planks, and then tied off without doing any damage to the deck.”
One disadvantage of frame tents is that they have a metal skeleton inside. Senior event coordinator Grace Ciffo mitigated this with a fabric liner by Anchor® Industries.
“With the tent being white and the liner being pleated, you run the risk of ending up with some sort of formal, presidential look,” she says. “But we wanted it to look like something that was current. For us, natural fibers have been really popular. So adding linen pole covers and tan sisal carpeting brought it down to earth. I used custom drum shades just because I love them. And I layered lots of neutrals, tans and creams and browns, because I think it adds a lot of dimension.”
EventQuip, Lansdale, Pa.
Ed Knight, owner of EventQuip, met that need with a pair of Tidewater™ Sailcloth Tents from Aztec Tents. The main tent was 51 by 91 feet with rounded ends. The smaller foyer tent was 20 by 37 feet. Behind these stood a series of smaller Aztec frame tents for catering, audiovisual and restrooms.
“It’s the simplicity of the [sailcloth] tent that is its charm,” Knight explains. “The sculpted lines. The clean nature of it. The lack of an exterior valance. And if you look close at the underside, there are all kinds of details to appreciate, such as the starburst reinforcing at the top of each leg.”
The tents are available from the manufacturer with wooden side poles, which enhance the structures’ retro charm. EventQuip went one step further and had wooden center poles built—which, unfortunately, were not ready in time for this event. Knight confides that he covered the aluminum center poles with self-adhesive wood-grain paper to maintain a unified look.
Sailcloth tents require extensive guying, and sloping terrain can cause the fabric to buckle and slump. But neither of these issues was a problem at this site. “You should see the zoomed-out view,” Knight chuckles. “We could have put 15 more of these on that yard.”
Clear frame tent
All Occasions Party Rentals, Knoxville, Tenn.
Sometimes a wedding tent just chooses itself. That was the case for All Occasions Party Rentals when the company worked with a wedding planner who had a set of 10-foot-high decorative columns she wanted to use. The columns were meant to fit over 10-foot tent legs, rather than the standard 9½-foot. And according to All Occasions director of operations James Aiken, a 30-by-70-foot TopTec Future Lite clear frame tent was the only structure that would accommodate them and still wedge neatly into the snug backyard space.
The tent choice worked out well for more than one reason. Its clear top and open sides helped create the illusion that attendees were outdoors in the site’s lush landscape. And at night, it was pure magic, thanks to a generous number of Japanese lanterns hung by Aiken and the planner.
“She and I kind of did that together,” he explains. “She had the idea of the lanterns. What I did was figure out how. I didn’t want to do it with just bistro lights, because they’re spaced every foot and the lantern hangs right along the cord. So instead, I built cords with plug-ins every five feet, and then I built little pigtails that hung down to hold the lanterns, at different heights and different sizes.”
The result was like a swarm of fireflies in the crisp autumn sky. Despite the chilly weather, guests might have entertained fantasies of summer as they dined and danced, warmed by discreet patio heaters.
Marquee Event Group, Austin, Texas
“The bride had envisioned using chandeliers as a part of her decor and lighting element, and needing that ceiling height to hang the trussing and the lighting elements, we had to use a structure tent versus a pole tent or anything else,” says Carlos Martinez, rental consultant at Marquee Event Group. “But even more important was the look the bride was trying to achieve. She wanted this thing to look like a building, not a canvas structure. The wedding took place in a wide open vineyard that was owned by the family. [They] dropped granite gravel to create an aisle from the ceremony site, and they actually installed a concrete floor for the tent.”
Marquee installed a 25-by-40-meter Losberger engineered structure on the concrete pad, and then a carpenter employed by the client constructed stained-wood sidewalls with glass windows. The carpenter also constructed a metal-roofed porch on the front of the structure. All of the extra infrastructure may seem exorbitant, but the family, which owns a well-known restaurant and operates several event venues of its own, reused the site and the sidewalls for later events.
Martinez sings the praises of clearspans for their modularity, their lack of guy ropes and their open center space. But really, he says, it comes down to one thing: Does the customer like the look?
“When it comes to tents, what people have in mind, or what they place importance on, is very individual and unique,” he says.