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Fabulous exterior design draws guests into event tents

Features | April 1, 2018 | By:

Designed by Laurie Arons Special Events and Mindy Rice Design, this tent featured custom Galvalume® siding, a subfloor and finished plank flooring—all installed by Skyline Tent Company. The custom window trim, sliding door and entrance roof by Blossoms Events added to the tent’s exterior design. Photo courtesy of Skyline Tent Company.

Inventive exterior decor sets the stage for event attendees before they set foot beneath a tent.

When Marquee Event Rentals partnered with Pink Sparrow, a custom fabrication company in Brooklyn, N.Y., to design an “experience” for visitors to an American Express tent at a major music festival, the company knew it needed to design the exterior of the tent in a way that would draw attendees to its doors. The result? A two-story, 6,600-square-foot tented structure that was transformed into an urban loft—complete with a faux brick facade and paneled window walls.

While unique in its approach, Marquee Event Rentals is not alone in the effort to transform the exterior decor of tents. Rather, an increasing number of tent companies are responding to the call by their clients to offer a distinctive exterior tent design that makes an impact with visitors.

According to Narcy Martinez, director of sales and marketing for Marquee Event Group, more and more corporate clients are requesting customized tents. “Our corporate partners transform tents to the extent that you cannot even tell it is a tent,” Martinez says.

Indeed, the urban loft-style tent for American Express included two floors that featured urban-style lounge space as well as a lower-level marketing area. Marquee worked with a structural engineer to make sure the tent met the structural requirements and local codes. In addition to this project, Marquee Event Rentals has been involved in several events that have added porches to its tents. The porches or viewing decks were fabricated out of wood, scaffolding, fabric, steel and aluminum.

“We provide the basic foundation to mask ballasting and HVAC with custom fabricated covers or walls. Then the decorating team uses their final finish to dress up or brand the areas,” Martinez says. “Lighting and fabric is the most simple way to execute a dramatic affect.”

John Hingeley, president of Skyline Tent Co. in Charlottesville, Va., has worked on a few recent projects with custom wood cladding on structure gable ends and on upright supports. The company has also assisted with custom awnings for entrances and hard walls made from metal or wood.  “Sometimes the goal is a more industrial look, sometimes a cleaner look just to cover the metal frame or create walls to divide the tent,” Hingeley says.

For this expansive tent, Skyline Tent Co. installed custom grey Ferrari tops and walls by Anchor Industries. Photo courtesy of Skyline Tent Co.

In 2017, Skyline often used sliding barn doors and cable handrail or custom metal handrail for decks. “Nobody wants to use standard stage handrail any more,” Hingeley says. “And wood cladding for exposed subfloor elevations is becoming a standard item rather than scrim or fabric.”

As with all aspects of event design, clients are looking for a way to separate their event from others. That’s why Beachview Event Rentals & Design, Brunswick, Ga., strives to bring unique ideas to the table to help the company and its clients standout.

Each April, Beachview acts as the executive producer for two signature events at the Masters. Most recently, Beachview built a storefront entrance to its client’s hospitality house—complete with a store display window and signature signage. “For our client’s evening event, we erected a custom facade and commissioned backlit signage,” says Lindsey Maroney, director of marketing and special projects at Beachview.

The evolution of exterior tent design is the result of event designers creating an experience for guests that begins from the moment they arrive on site. “This year we also recreated an airport runway down a client’s driveway that was complete with lighting and a runway heading to reflect the address of the event location,” Maroney says. “The goal is now for guests to feel as if they were in a permanent structure.”

For the 2017 Austin City Limits Music Festival, Marquee Event Rentals partnered with Pink Sparrow to produce this two-story tent with an exterior facade that is reminiscent of an urban loft. Photo courtesy of Marquee Event Rentals.
Addressing challenges

Obscuring a tent structure so that it no longer resembles an actual tent is no easy feat. Each space presents its own unique challenges whether they involve square footage, venue guidelines or level ground to build on. Hiring a team that is resourceful and can overcome the challenges by working with the client to come up with an agreeable solution is the difference between a successful exterior and one that misses the mark.

One of the most challenging aspects of exterior tent decor involves faux walls. As Martinez explains, many high-end clients do not want to use vinyl tent sidewalls and have their own walls fabricated. “They are trying to achieve the look of a barn, warehouse or ballroom and want to fabricate walls from wood, glass or plaster,” Martinez says. “The tent is never perfectly square and it is quite a challenge to make walls off-site and have them fit perfectly.” This level of exterior decor comes with a price tag, so Marquee Event Rentals also offers simple fabric draping and lighting as a budget-friendly option for clients who want to transform the look and feel of the tent’s exterior.

Hard cladding and custom rails are never simple to execute, but they are dramatic. To do cladding right, the client needs to be comfortable with replacing damaged vinyl because fasteners will usually need to be driven directly through vinyl, especially
gable-end vinyl.

“We make a point to budget time to work closely with designers and lighting and rigging companies during the planning for these kind of events to make sure the rigging for all the vendors works together,” Hingeley says. “We also make sure we have extra structure clamps available during the build. We always get requests for clamps.”

Skyline Tent also takes the time to manage expectations with barn doors and get them approved with the permitting regime in each particular location. Usually barn doors must be left open at all times unless other exits are provided.

A wooden facade built around truss created a realistic storefront entrance, which was complemented
by a wooden porch and railing system and outfitted with comfortable patio furniture. Photo by Kelli Boyd Photography.

If clients request budget-friendly suggestions, Hingeley usually steers them to sailcloth. Sailcloth tents offer the best look right out of the box with zero additional design expense.  “We have built a few very large sailcloth tents as one-piece tops which makes a huge difference aesthetically,” Hingeley says. “One-piece sailcloth looks a lot cleaner and more polished than sectional sailcloth tops, which require lace lines and flaps.”

Outdoor Lounging

Amanda Williams, owner of Boutique Event Planners & Rentals in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., purchased tents from Miami, Fla.-based Economy Tent Int’l. to bring her clients’ visions to life. Being based in Fort Lauderdale means Williams and her team receive a wealth of requests for outdoor lounge furniture and decor.

Today’s clients hosting weddings, backyard parties and more intimate corporate events, are looking to transform both the interior and exterior of tents using high-end outdoor furniture, couches, chairs, tables, high-top tables with innovative bar stools, cafe lighting and tiki torches. “Clients love bringing an inside decor look outside to add something a little different,” Williams says. “We really love to construct a beautiful exterior ambiance for our clients.”

To achieve this, Williams combines decor with natural elements that are available to her team in Florida’s warm climate. “Adding decor including swag, Chinese lanterns, fun ornaments and cafe or string lighting looks simply stunning,” Williams says.

From tented outdoor weddings to large corporate events that boast experiential marketing activities, today’s exterior tent design runs the gamut of simple to complex. “The simplest transformations usually involve custom clings because they are a quick, simple and relatively cost effective way to brand an event,” Maroney says. “For customers that have the timeline and budget, we can create whatever their wildest dreams have conjured.”

Based in Plymouth, Minn., Maura Keller frequently writes about applications of specialty fabrics.

Masking ballast stakes and HVAC to bring a client’s vision to life is an essential, and at times expensive, part of the design and installation process. To do this, tent companies use lighting, flooring, furniture, decals, covers and unique fabric treatments. If a client’s budget allows, Beachview Event Rentals & Design, Brunswick, Ga., will duct HVAC and hang permanent light fixtures as one would in a home or office building. “Budget-friendly solutions include draping, floral installations and carefully placed bar backs or backdrops to conceal or at least partially hide from view necessary equipment,” says Lindsey Maroney, director of marketing and special projects at Beachview.

The team at Skyline Tent Co. in Charlottesville, Va., has turned to the new integrated TF2100 Structure floor from BilJax® to simplify anchoring for larger structures. The TF2100 is an integrated tent floor system design that allows for efficient elevation of a clearspan structure. “We always suggest using an elevated floor,” says John Hingeley, president of Skyline Tent Co. “This allows us to build over large concrete weights and route HVAC through floor ducts. When all the large flex ducting required for AC is concealed under the floor, the event looks completely different.”

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