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Timeless and trendy tented weddings

June 1st, 2019 / By: / Feature

The latest in tented wedding trends, from floor to ceiling.

by Jahna Peloquin

The exposed wood of farm tables pairs with the ambiance of an outdoor wedding, such as this one at a private residence in Utah. Planning and design by Michelle Leo Events. Tent by All Out Event Rental. Photo by Gideon Photography.

Tented weddings have a timeless appeal, combining the open, airy feel of an outdoor wedding with protection from the elements. Design and decor often come down to personal taste and geographical location. And yet, every season brings its own trends in lighting, ceiling treatments, floors, tables and seating, color palettes and linens. Here, industry experts weigh in on what’s hot—and what’s on its way out—for tented weddings in 2019. 

A tent for every wedding

With an unprecedented variety of tent styles on the market today, there is the perfect tent for every celebration. A longtime wedding favorite, the pole tent offers a stunning vision with an elegant top and one or more peaks. However, because pole tents must be staked into the ground, they generally aren’t set up on hard surfaces, such as concrete or stone, precluding their use at some sites.

With its multiple sculpted peaks, translucent fabric and wooden poles, the sailcloth tent has developed into almost the quintessential wedding tent. Swagging is often unnecessary, and the fabric offers plenty of natural light in the day and a glowing appearance at night. “Its unique look and style are really popular for coastal weddings,” says Christina Mociler, business development manager for Bright Event Rentals, which has showrooms throughout California and Arizona. “It’s a simpler and more elegant option than traditional tents.”  

Clear-top frame tents are a popular choice for couples who truly want to let the outdoors in. “Our clients come to Utah to have a destination wedding,” says Michelle Cousins, owner, lead designer and planner for Michelle Leo Events, Salt Lake City, Utah. “Nine times out of 10, they’re interested in having their wedding outside because they want to take advantage of the beautiful views, and a clear tent doesn’t obscure the view.” 

Although more likely to be associated with corporate and public events, clearspan structures have a place in the wedding market too, especially when safety, anchoring requirements, permitting issues, climate control, heavy lighting or decor and expansive interiors are priorities—and the budget allows for them.

Ceilings and lights: Draw the eye up 

Traditionally, wedding designers relied on fabric liners and swagging to hide the metal poles supporting a tent’s structure. While those are still popular options, today’s tents have cleaner interiors, leading many couples to opt for other creative approaches to decorate tent ceilings.

“We almost always add decor to draw the eye up in a tented reception,” says Emily Butler of Karson Butler Events, a bicoastal event planning firm based in Washington, D.C., and San Luis Obispo, Calif. “This holds especially true with the sailcloth tents with their peaked ceilings. Clusters of chandeliers with greenery to cover support wires and rigging are the most popular option, and we’re also seeing a shift back to more classic looks with an emphasis on lighting installations and beautiful draping.” 

A ceiling treatment that includes greenery and chandeliers helps to draw the eye upward at this tented wedding. Event design by Karson Butler Events. Tent by Sugarplum Tent Co. Photo by Abby Jiu Photography.

More than anything, wedding planners take a cue from a tent’s surroundings. “Brides are loving Italian ruscus or smilax, trailing vines that are really leafy and airy,” says Cousins. “It follows the frame of the tent to create a ceiling effect—it’s sort of like bringing nature inside the tent.” 

Because tented weddings often go into the evening, lighting is critical—not only as a decorative element, but as a functional one. Many wedding planners incorporate several types of lights throughout the tent, such as chandeliers, gobo lights, candles and bistro lights, each serving a different purpose. Chandeliers can provide a focal point and make a bold statement, while candles, string lights and LED uplighting bring a warm glow to a reception. 

“Now we’re seeing much more variety in sizes and a mixing of styles and shapes of chandeliers,” Mociler says, such as a traditional crystal and chrome version paired with a polyhedron brushed-metal style. 

Gobo monogram lighting is another way couples are personalizing their receptions. LED uplights can also add a personalized touch by featuring the couple’s wedding colors. “If they’re going to spend the money to uplight, they’ll take it in a direction that fits their look,” Mociler says. 

A custom branded bar by All Occasions Party Rentals, Eighty Four, Pa., helped this couple customize their celebration. Photo by Weddings by Alisa.

Flooring: Modern and custom

When tents are installed over grass, why would couples want a floor? A dance floor is considered a must for most wedding planners to avoid twisted ankles, plus some venues require flooring so the grass isn’t trampled. While traditional wood flooring continues to be a popular choice, more wedding clients are choosing modern-looking wood styles with wider planks, such as a gray wash, birch-white wash and rustic “driftwood” styles. “People are definitely wanting to bring an interior decor element into outdoor weddings,” says Mociler, “so we typically see a lot of classic plank flooring.” 

More wedding clients are also opting to customize their dance floors using vinyl decals with the couple’s monogram. “Weddings are becoming more of a branded event, and people are starting to seek branded vinyl dance floors,” says Whitney Kevech, creative director for All Occasions Party Rental and Marbella Event Furniture and Decor Rental, Eighty Four, Pa.

Sheet-vinyl floors featuring unique patterns such as marble, classic checkerboard and bold vinyl stripes in the wedding’s signature colors is another trend. “I recently saw a wedding where they did a vinyl sticker that looked like mercury glass, and that looked incredible,” says Kevech. “But a white, high-gloss dance floor is not going anywhere.”

The experts agree that flooring shouldn’t be overlooked. “It’s important to allocate design funds to the dance floor,” says Butler. “It’s the central heartbeat of the party.” 

A clear tent emphasized the outdoor feel while heat allowed guests to remain comfortable for this December wedding in Utah. Event design by Michelle Leo Events. Tent by All Out Event Rental. Photo by Gideon Photography.

Tables and seating: Mix it up

One of the biggest trends in the layout of a tented wedding reception is varying table shapes and sizes. “When filling a tent, we almost always suggest a mix-matched floor plan that seats guests at a variety of tables styles,” says Butler. “Mixing round tables with rectangular King’s tables [large rectangular or square tables placed in the middle of the space for the wedding party] adds visual interest to the eye and an elevated overall design.” 

Butler also suggests playing with table height. “Barstool or counter-height tables work well for dinner and give a party a restaurant-style feel,” she says. 

As for seating, “Velvet will continue to be popular with soft seating,” predicts Kevech. “Jewel tones and detailed stitching will complete the look.” 

Banquet seating, such as farm or vineyard tables that don’t need linens, remains popular, according to Kari Gronseth, event specialist for Event Lab LLC, Minneapolis, Minn. “I often pair them with rounds topped in a fancy linen for a more elegant look.”

Rectangular wood tables are also popular for the clients who Cousins works with in the Salt Lake City region. “The exposed wood works with the ambience of being in the mountains, giving it a natural, outdoor effect,” she says. “I like to mix up the round and farmhouse tables so it’s interesting for the eye to see.”

Decor: From rustic to royal

The rustic look that was so popular at weddings in recent years—think mason jars and plenty of barnwood—is on its way out, at least in some areas of the country, according to trend watchers. “Now, rustic is being interpreted in more of an industrial look, with a focus on texture in concrete, wood and marble accents,” Kevech says.

Cousins agrees. “The bride who’s heading to a resort in Colorado or Utah will still want to use that look,” she says. “The bride on the beach, maybe not. But what we’ve seen go away is the overly rustic look—all wood everything. . . . Brides are requesting a more refined style to make their event feel more timeless and classic.”

Couples marrying in the Midwest, however, are still partial to the rustic motif. “The rustic look is always going to lend itself to outdoorsy weddings,” Gronseth says. “I don’t see that going away.”

One of the most influential weddings of 2018 was the royal nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Wedding planners and couples have been taking inspiration from their sprawling fresh and organic arrangements of green foliage, white roses and peonies. “White floral with mixed greens has been the biggest request recently,” says Cousins. “The royal wedding comes out and suddenly you start seeing the photos in magazines and social media, and the look starts to build momentum.” 

The royal wedding’s liberal use of green marked a departure from the solid floral backdrops that have become standard at many large weddings and celebrations. It’s also led to a more textured range of greenery, from deep moss hues to pale greens. In fact, more than one-third of couples plan to incorporate greenery into their wedding decor in some way, according to a recent wedding trend survey from wedding registry and planning site Zola. 

Other colors and combinations are also making an appearance. “For a long time it was blush,” says Mociler. “But now, we’re starting to see a surprising pop of color—like sage green and powder blue, or dramatic colors like jewel tones in the napkins and chair covers, while keeping the majority of the palette really clean and neutral.” 

Butler recently designed a wedding in Palm Springs with hues of goldenrod and orange for cocktail hour and deeper jewel tones of sapphire blue and emerald green for dinner and dancing. “I’m excited to see clients embracing color,” she says. “It’s a nice change from the neutrals that influxed the wedding industry in recent years.”  

Jahna Peloquin is a writer and editor based in Minneapolis, Minn.

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