Blue and white hues made this March 2021 wedding in Fairhope, Ala., stunning. SOHO Event Rentals worked with Jenna Laine Weddings to accentuate the floral arrangements with linens, draping and lighting. Photo courtesy of Alisha Crossley Photography.

As more consumers turn to tents for outdoor soirees, the decor elements that enhance tent structures are getting special attention.

by Maura Keller

Gone are the days when consumers simply installed a plain white tent for a wedding or event, set up drab tables and chairs with little thought about the overall tent experience. Today’s consumers not only are looking at the overall tent style and design, but are also focusing on the elements that make a tenting environment truly shine. From draped lighting to plush furniture to greenery galore, today’s tents are being transformed into environs that leave memorable impressions on those within.

As Annsley Machen, director of sales at SOHO Event Rentals, Fairhope, Ala., works with clients who are planning weddings and events for 2021 and even into 2022, the number of people who are focused on tented events is growing by leaps and bounds. 

“I think now more than ever, people are looking for spaces outdoors to gather. Whether that is for dining, weddings or social events, tents are a key factor in today’s outdoor gatherings. And when most people think of a tent, their first thought is a basic frame tent. But at SOHO we see tents as a framework to build off of. Tents create a temporary structure for many fun accessories: flooring, draping, floral installations, custom branding, etc. There are countless ways to customize your tented space to create a unique experience for guests.”

Indeed, tent decor is playing a key role in the overall tent design and installation process as consumers are looking for ways to go beyond the simple “white tent” experience to create lush and memorable environs that are reminiscent of indoor spaces. 

CORT Events, Chantilly, Va., offers furnishings specifically designed and produced to endure the demands of short-term rentals. “All products must pass a stringent testing process before we include them in our list of offerings, so clients can feel that they’re using products that are the most durable and of the highest quality,” says Kerri Otto, district account manager, national sales at CORT Events. “We also offer decor designed for both indoor and/or outdoor use, so no matter the venue, we have options.” Some of these decor items include rugs, pillows, lighting (table, standing, accent, and decorative), drape, dividers (safety and decorative), and faux greenery.

For decor design beyond that of the tent itself, dividers are currently the hot-ticket item. As Otto explains, while helping to create distance at in-person events, they can also be customized to easily blend into the general event aesthetic. In addition to dividers, faux greenery, though always popular, is in high demand due to its dual purpose of not only bringing in organic elements but also serving as an additional, creative way for sectioning off spaces.

 And while weddings have been the first to resume in the live events world, their decor demands have not changed. “Micro-weddings still want the ‘Instagrammable photo moment’ captured with trendy soft seating lounges and floral design,” Otto says. CORT Events has been doing several lounges with color too, moving away from the classic white. 

According to Otto, CORT Event’s Lena Chair, Montreal Loveseat and Chair, Emerald Green Endless Seating and the Valencia Collections have all been in high demand. 

“Couples are hungry for an immersive design and pulling in eye-catching colors and textures are ways to do it,” Otto says. “Also, our faux greenery collections are always very popular, including boxwood walls that are truly lifelike. These greenery staples provide couples an organic safety barrier should they need it. Overall, budgets for decor have gone unchanged; it’s just being allocated differently due to guest fluctuations.”

SOHO Event Rentals has seen an increased interest in using unique flooring styles and crisp color options that make an environment “pop.” This beautiful wedding decor boasts a classic blue and white color palette throughout. Photo courtesy of Alisha Crossley Photography.

Trending additions

Unique and properly placed lighting also does wonders to transform a tent’s interior, as well as its exterior. DesignLight offers all types of lighting and fabric decor services. The company, based in Dover, Mass., also has a wide range of chandelier styles and string lights, as well as state-of-the-art LED equipment for celebrations and corporate programs. 

The most popular item for the outdoors is bistro lights. “These lights, otherwise known as market lights or cafe lights, bring a touch of playfulness and whimsy to any gathering,” says Sandy Mulrey, vice president of sales and marketing at DesignLight. “We’re based in New England and have limited months for warm weather outdoor gatherings. With COVID, we’re seeing outdoor gatherings later into the fall, and the bistro lights give the feeling of summer all year long.” 

According to Machen, event flooring also is fast becoming the tent decor item that is a “must have” for events of all sizes.  

“Flooring can change the look of an event. Until a consumer can experience an event with flooring, it is hard to understand how much of a difference flooring makes,” Machen says. “I love before and after photos of a tent with flooring. It completely transforms the space.” Flooring also opens another door of customization options—not only are there many options for the finish of flooring a client chooses, but SOHO Event Rentals can also do porch extensions with acrylic railings. 

“This elevates the experience for your guests, creating a ‘wow’ factor,” Machen says. SOHO Event Rentals provides tent options ranging from Losberger clearspan engineered structure tents to sailcloth tents. The company also offers more than 10,000 pieces of in-house linen and more than 20 different styles of chairs. 

“Another trend I have seen continue to grow in our region over the last few years is event branding,” Machen says. “This includes custom wraps—whether it is for dance floors, bar and stage facade inserts, tents, etc. I personally love the customization this can add to an event. I don’t see this trend going anywhere anytime soon, and I think this is just the beginning for event branding.” 

Lighting options used within a tent structure can truly make or break the look and feel of an event. Creative use of white accents lights via draping has taken center stage in many of today’s weddings. Photo courtesy of Alex Paul Photography.

Beyond traditional

While much attention is paid to the design elements inside and outside of tents, more and more consumers are looking at the decorative elements on the tents themselves. Raj Tents is one key example. As Maurice Walsh, founder of Los Angeles, Calif.-based Raj Tents, explains, the handmade, artisan-crafted tents his company offers are truly luxurious—featuring various themes including Indian, Bollywood, Moroccan, Arabian Nights, Bohemian Chic, Old Hollywood, Beach Chic, Out of Africa, Louis XV, Wine Country Wedding and Classic White Wedding.  

“Many of our customers are looking for tents that go beyond the traditional tent structure,” Walsh says. “They want the key focus to be on the beauty of the tent. That’s why they love the vibrant colors and unique design elements of all of our tents.” 

Indeed the patterns and color combinations of each tent offered by Raj Tents are intended to add a flair of uniqueness to any affair. Detailed piping and decorative ties add to each tent’s design.

In addition to offering handmade tents, Raj Tents provides rugs, furniture, flooring and thematic lighting. “To enhance and further showcase these luxurious gems, many clients use unique furniture elements and lighting to further highlight each tent’s beauty,” Walsh says. Raj Tents’ furniture inventory includes Boho Chic, Moroccan Party, Indian or Bollywood themes. Pieces such as silk upholstered divans, woven dhurrie rugs and colorful silk upholstered cushions, poufs and bolsters are popular among Raj Tents’ clients. To offset the vibrancy of the tent and furniture fabric, Walsh also offers other accoutrements such as antique brass tables, hand-carved wood chairs and different styles of standing lamps. 

“The tents really speak for themselves,” Walsh says. “We try to establish an environment that doesn’t necessarily feel like you are in a tent. In many ways they are works of art.” 

While classic solid white tents are ideal for certain soirees, more consumers are turning their attention to vibrant tent colors and unique accessories that make a tent cozy and comfortable. Raj Tents offers handmade, artisan-crafted tents that make a statement. Photos courtesy of Raj Tents.

Masking tent essentials

While ballast stakes and HVAC components are necessary elements of event tents, they can also be somewhat unsightly additions to an otherwise beautiful decor. As such, many companies use their creative skills to mask tent essentials. “The possibilities are limitless,” Otto says. Many customers are utilizing strategically placed boxwood hedges or decorative dividers with faux ferns, or they are incorporating freestanding dividers that are personalized with branding or artwork to create makeshift walls.

 “We feel that fabric and light beautifully complement each other,” Mulrey says. “Diaphanous voile fabric softens any tent or ballroom ceiling and creates a lovely background for a wedding ceremony or a band. More dense fabrics, such as velour and velvet, can disguise any unsightly elements that may be permanent fixtures in a room or at a location. We had a venue that had a water pump station adjacent to the tent. We were able to drape the 8-by-8-foot pump with velour. No one was the wiser.”

The COVID Effect

COVID and the need for more outdoor events has certainly skyrocketed demand for outdoor furnishings and decor that complement the tents themselves. As such, CORT Events has developed various clear dividers to make sure event planners are well equipped to keep guests confident in their safety: the bar/countertop clear divider boasts a serving slot for ease of use when food and beverages are present, the freestanding clear dividers easily latch together to create makeshift walls, and the sofa/table clear divider slides beautifully into loveseats, sofas and tables with three adjustable heights for a perfect fit.

Right now, due to COVID and the state mandates for smaller, more intimate gatherings, the team at DesignLight is seeing more tented weddings at private homes. “Couples can better regulate who is coming to their home and they can have more control over who their vendor partners are,” Mulrey says. “As for lighting and decor, we’re seeing chandeliers and bistro lights with greenery and pretty draped entryways in tents, and tree lighting to add interest to the homes’ surroundings.”

DesignLight is also seeing more soft seating areas outdoors, which means more lighting is needed. And not surprisingly, bistro lighting and tree lighting are leading the way with the lighting design in the environment surrounding the tent. 

Machen has also seen an increase in outdoor events, particularly on family properties. The move outside has increased the demand for tenting and flooring so in February of 2021, SOHO Event Rentals invested in a new hardwood flooring that completely transforms outdoor events. 

“This flooring has now traveled to Florida and Louisiana. And in March of 2021, we installed a porch feature off of a 50-by-170 Losberger clearspan engineered structure tent with acrylic railings in Fairhope, Ala.,” Machen says. “We also installed an acrylic pool cover that doubled as the dance floor for a wedding in New Orleans, La.” All of these elements are reflective of consumers’ need to create unique gathering spaces during the pandemic. 

“Because COVID is causing so many people to host events outside, I think more and more people are really looking for ways to make these outdoor tent environments unique,” Walsh says. 

Creating an all-encompassing environment with lighting, flooring, unique furnishings and other accoutrements are popular among CORT Events’ clients, many of whom want to incorporate non-traditional furnishings to make their events unique and memorable. Photo courtesy of CORT Events and GK Photography.

Upcoming trends

While it’s hard to predict the future of trends in decor used within the tenting environment, it does appear that soft seating with durability for the outdoors will be a must. As Otto explains, with the push for more outdoor events, especially heading into the warmer seasons, the ability to replicate the comfortable indoors while outside will strike a memorable chord with guests. 

“Similarly, outdoor rugs can be the final touch to complete a look, as well as help to fill in vacant areas due to more spacious seating,” Otto says. 

The DesignLight team is also seeing an increased interest in hanging chandeliers in trees to bring the “inside, out.” And both outside and inside the tent the company is seeing couples add greenery to their designs. “We custom build many of our chandeliers and assist with adding floral elements to them to tie in the designs of the wedding bouquets and guest table centerpieces,” Mulrey says. “It’s also very popular to add garlands of greenery to bistro light strings. I hope this never goes out of style. It’s a great way to personalize any celebration.” 

Maura Keller is a freelance writer based in Plymouth, Minn.

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