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Start with the right tent

Event Production, Trend Watch | October 1, 2013 | By:

Which tent style will bring your vision to life?

In today’s special event market, tents are more than simple canopies. They can be airy, light spaces barely contained by translucent sailcloth or fully-constructed buildings with anterooms and elegant ballrooms.

When designing a tented event, it is important to understand which types of decorative elements work best in each style of tent before securing a specific tent for your client. For instance, if your client envisions a ceiling of floral chandeliers suspended over dinner tables, a pole tent may not be the best option, but a structure would make the dream a reality.

Here are a few decorative considerations when selecting the right tent for your party design.

Frame tents

Frame tents are easy to design in because they are freestanding and can be placed on grass, asphalt, concrete or even on decking. They do not have center poles, a major bonus for most event design schemes. Frames also have relatively low ceilings, which are available in either white or clear. But for some party hosts, the exposed framework of support poles visible in the ceiling can be unsightly and must be masked by fabric liners.

Pole tents

The classic wedding tent beloved for its high circus-style peaks and smooth white ceiling, pole tents are tension-style tents with tall center poles, perimeter poles and guy wires staked into the ground. The white spans of fabric, inside and out, are spectacular for projection and lighting effects. Many times, that’s all the decor that is needed besides what is created on the dinner tables.

However, the center poles almost always need to be addressed in the overall design scheme. Some clients use the poles as a feature, decorating them with lanterns, vines, plants, fabric or flowers. For others, the poles are an inconvenience, obstructing table layouts and views no matter what adorns them.


Clearspan structure tents are an event designer’s dream event space because they are ideal for complicated, large-scale events that require structural support for heavy decorative displays, audio visual equipment and other special effects.

Structures allow event designers and party producers to bring any party design to life with structural support similar to or better than an actual building. These tents have no interior poles, giving designers free rein to place furniture, products or props in unobstructed positions. Additionally, structures can be designed to resemble buildings with multiple rooms divided with walls and doors. Clearspans can even be designed with overhangs that resemble covered outdoor patios or terraces. Structures are also dynamic spaces for dramatic multimedia presentations because they support heavy equipment with ease.

Sailcloth tents

Similar to a traditional pole tent, sailcloth tents are one of the most popular tent styles to hit the event market in many years. Made with real sailcloth, these tents allow sunlight to filter softly through during the day, and at night, lighting reflects up and through in golden tones, an ideal effect for weddings.

The natural, ivory shade to the sailcloth tops and wooden center and side poles are attractive without adornment, making sailcloth a good choice for any style or budget. Many designers do add decor, from suspended lanterns to fabric flags strung from pole to pole. But generally, place a sailcloth atop weathered or raw wood plank floors, next to the ocean or in a field of wildflowers, and you have the perfect tent for many brides.

Not every tent fits every event concept. Understanding which tent style best suits the design of the event, as well as budget and space restrictions, is key. Bottom line, before securing a party tent, let a creative tent professional educate you and/or your client on which type of tent best supports your design vision.

Melissa Paul is owner of Melissa Paul Ltd. Paul is a brand storyteller for the luxury wedding industry.

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