While the pandemic changed virtually everything about weddings for a period, the question now is this: What’s gone back to the way it was, and what has remained as the “new norm”?
Companies that provide wedding furniture, among other goods and services, say that the space provided for a wedding and/or associated events has remained larger than it was pre-COVID, reflecting the social distancing changes required by the pandemic. But at the same time, wedding couples are finding new ways to fill that space.
“People got used to having more space, and a lot are keeping it that way,” says Brittany Sleight, director of marketing and business development at Elite Tents and Events, in Sykesville, Md. “Instead of crowding 10 people at a table and putting everyone so close together, planners are utilizing more indoor and outdoor space and doing a lot bigger tents.
“People want bigger aisles, bigger dance floors and more room,” she adds. “People want to spread out.”
Lounge furniture and other pieces, so that guests have spaces outside their assigned seats, are becoming more popular. “We rent a lot of those high cocktail tables to be used outside, so that people can grab a drink and enjoy the space—instead of having to sit in their assigned seats like elementary school,” she says with a laugh.
A grand preference
According to Briel Delmonaco, owner and director of sales at Uniquely Chic Events, which has provided customized furniture since 2010 in Lincoln, R.I., people in her region are returning to larger weddings again. “We’re seeing some backyard weddings, but especially with [nearby] Newport being a prevalent wedding location, the demographic here prefers things to be pretty grand.”
Delores Crum, president and chief culture officer at Premiere Events in Austin, Texas, agrees, but doesn’t give COVID all the credit for that.
“I live in Texas, where we are very comfortable being in close proximity, but equally comfortable being in large spaces,” explains Crum. “I would say the main driver for space selection is the budget and the venue—when people choose small venues with big guest lists, they know that’s going to have a different feel to it than a larger venue where people can spread out. I would not view that as COVID driven.
“Yes, some weddings got really small for a while and that obviously was driven by COVID gathering restrictions,” she adds. “As those restrictions were loosened, wedding guest counts got back to pre-COVID levels. There still may be some COVID holdover there. We’re seeing many wedding couples more focused on inviting guests with whom they have a closer relationship, rather than ‘filling the room’ with ‘random people.’”
“You can’t have everything”
Tables and chairs are obviously the backbone of wedding furniture, but these days couples are often choosing a variety of other interesting pieces for the big day. And as always, the challenge for rental houses and planners, as well as their clients, is to figure out what’s trendy and what’s not to keep their inventory current.
“What drives rental preferences is what’s happening in the fashion world and what’s happening in the furniture houses,” says Crum. “Wherever people go for furniture, their choices are influenced by what they see there. And what’s presented in the media influences the choices as well. If you pick up a copy of some design magazine, it’s what you see there. Rental choices are driven by fashion.”
Crum doesn’t try to predict trends, for good reason. “The number one rule of rental is that what you have is not what your customers want, and what your customers want is not what you have,” she says. “The number two rule is if you have what your customers want, they all want it at the same time. It’s a lose-lose proposition to try to anticipate what your customer is going to be asking for,” she says.
“You can’t have everything,” adds Crum. That’s why it’s sometimes necessary, she says, to work with other rental companies to fill inventory gaps.
“We had a request in my inbox this morning for something very modern and single use,” she says. “The vision of this planner is very modern. It’s black sofas and white chairs, the dominant color palette right now, it seems.
“We’re not seeing as much leather as we did for a time,” she says. “For a while it was all white leather lounges, but that’s not necessarily the dominant style now. Tomorrow I may get a request for something very traditional, like a velvet sofa. We’ve bought six or eight different colors of velvet sofas in the past year. You just never know.”
At Delmonaco’s shop, she says there is “a lot of interest in acrylic or Lucite pieces, and the color is white, ivory and gold, all day every day.”
“We occasionally work with clients that like a more mixed color palette, with dusty blue and pale pink of course,” adds Delmonaco. “Other clients want things dark, so there’s black or some of the more winter colors. And we have seen a shift in furnishings. A couple of years ago everything was lace and burlap, but now it’s more classic modern pieces than vintage and eclectic.”
Keeping up with trends
As a professional upholsterer by trade, and with craftsmen on her staff, Delmonaco has the luxury of making her own inventory, she says, which helps to keep up with the trends.
Her company started out specializing in vintage furniture, but recently dropped the “vintage” moniker from the company name. While the shop still provides vintage furnishings for weddings and for other uses such as movie sets, the name change better reflects the business today, says Delmonaco.
Because of its location in northern Maryland, which is big farm country, Sleight says Elite rents a lot of farmhouse tables and similar items. “It is stylized,” she explains, “maybe covered with pretty linen, dressed up in its own ways. We can modernize that look really easily.”
Planners are finding new ways to increase the functionality of the items they rent, such as providing lounges for the main reception, not just at cocktail time. “Items such as centerpieces get reused,” says Sleight. “If you have invested the money, you don’t want it seen for only a half hour. It’s a waste of money if you don’t reuse those pieces.”
Jeff Moravec is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn Park, Minn.
SIDEBAR: When the budget needs stretching
It’s not easy to ask wedding rental houses for advice on how couples can keep wedding costs down. After all, as one says, “that’s not really in our best interest.” But it is in their best interest to keep customers happy, so they do have some tips they are willing to share.
“I would encourage the people planning the wedding to remember that, just like in other aspects of life, things always cost more and take longer,” says Delores Crum, president and chief culture officer at Premiere Events in Austin, Texas. “That’s how things work. When I am giving rental advice, I tell people to place orders early. Time is your friend and lack of time is your enemy. You won’t get what you want if you wait. And if we have to get it for you because you really must have it, it’s going to cost you more. Economize by being planful.”
Then, she says, look at what you are ordering: “Maybe you don’t need that extra appetizer, or a dual entrée, or six pieces of flatware. Decide what’s most important to you, and economize in other areas that are of lesser importance in creating that optimum experience for yourselves, and for your guests.”
The easiest way to cut costs is to reduce the guest count, says Brittany Sleight, director of marketing and business development at Elite Tents and Events, in Sykesville, Md. But that is sometimes easier said than done. “The number of people you invite dictates everything, but people want to have the number of people they want to have, so that number is hard to cut. But if it’s negotiable…”
A common mistake is people choose a lavish space, and become “venue-poor,” says Briel Delmonaco, owner and sales director at Uniquely Chic Events in Lincoln, R.I. “If the budget is tight, spending a lot on a grand venue is not the way to go. It’s better to keep the venue simple and then go ballistic with vendors to upgrade the space.”