Easy wedding tent decorating
Looking for practical advice on how to decorate a wedding tent? Got wedding information overload? Here are some simple tips about party tent decor that may just help.
Deciding a general decorative scheme for events under canvas isn't actually very different to designing a look for any party: choose a style or theme that fits your venue and budget, pick flowers, centerpieces, lighting, tablecloths and chairs and so on and hey presto, you have implemented your chosen style.
If general wedding decor is what you want, sorry, you won't find much help here. The web is already loaded with that sort of stuff - maybe overloaded. Search Google for "wedding decor" for example, or try "wedding table decor" and you will see what I mean.
This lens is only about wedding tents and the special considerations you need to bring to bear when thinking about decorating them. There are a few differences in the details between ordinary receptions and receptions under canvas and this lens aims to cover them as simply and in as jargon-free a manner as possible.
First, some pictures of wedding tents
One of the best way to get ideas is to look how others do it. Here are some pictures of stylish yet very different tented weddings with details of how the decor was acheived. Click on any photo to see a larger view on flickr.
Traditional white wedding tent: simple and elegant with tan carpet, chiavari chairs and traditional pretty floral table centrepieces with candles of varying sizes. See this photo for a more traditional twist on the simple and elegant look using unusual green coloured wine glasses for the accent colour.
Simple and effective: nothing too fancy yet the lanterns strung across the roof and open sides of the tent (with heaters to protect against the weather) create a satisfyingly natural and celebratory look. For another simple, natural look, see this photo of a plain tent with vines and little paper lanterns informally strewn across the tent roof.
Shabby chic: another very fashionable look, maybe because it enables a bit of money saving: here the style comes with traditional bunting strung across the roof, a chill out area with sofas and vintage style accessories. You can't really see these, but all the little details are on show at UK wedding blog, Rock and Roll Bride
Blackout: Blackout walls or ceilings with starlight lighting make for a very popular look in the UK right now. Here, a single blacked out wall with starlights is combined with more traditional ivory lining and fabulous red rose floral centrepieces to stunning effect.
Themed: This dining tent is classically lit and decorated for a night time tent. What adds interest is the Venetian theme, created in the dramatic giant Carnevale masks hanging from the roof and the Venus de Milo table centerpieces
Something really special: Lit all in red with light stencilling and raised table centrepieces with white ball lights, this tent really stands out.
Modern and minimalist: this huge tent has little decoration apart from unusual white draped columns around the poles. A smart wood floor completes the effect. Maybe the decor is a little cold for a wedding?
Down to details: the tent
For standard tents, the key difference is with poles or without.
Clearspan frame tents without poles are good if you want a nice clear space uninterrupted by poles - essential for tents that double up as reception and ceremony location when an uninterrupted view is required.
They have a number of practical advantages:
- they don't absolutely have to be pegged to the ground so they can sit on hard surfaces like patios
- they can be configured into L-shapes or other shapes to fit into awkward areas
Pole tents are more traditional. There are two sorts:
- Tension tents have high center poles and striking sculpted roofs both outside and in. They feel very roomy inside and are good for grand wedding receptions. Not a budget option.
- Simple pole tents are less expansive and more affordable, with poles around the edge and in the middle.
Both sorts work well for classic weddings, or those with a romantic or fairtytale theme.
Then, there are other sorts of tents.
Eastern style wedding tents: mandaps are the canopy under which an Indian wedding ceremony takes place. They are typically elaborate and colourful and have spawned an Indian style of tent decoration with printed linings, floating drapery, metal lanterns and so on.
Bedouin or Moroccan style tents are similar, with a more Arabic flavor.
Moroccan or Indian wedding tents with associated decoration, as in the photo (by UK event decor firm Jay & I Events - who have lots more lovely Eastern tent looks on their website), are well worth a look if you are after unusual decor.
Canopies, pop-up or not, are smaller and cheaper. They serve well for weather protection, or for a chill out area away from the main tent.
Other ethnic tents: suppliers of yurts, tipis and the like have started popping up recently. Definitely not for everyone, yurts are good if you would like an unconventional wedding.
Often, they are informally laid out with brightly colored and/or ethnically appropriate decorations. The photo shows several giant hat tipis joined together into a single tent that creates a very dramatic spectacle lit up at night.
Big tops, stripey... Big tops are suitable for large fun events; stripey tents like this one on a beach suit relaxed laid back parties. For these and other more unusual tent types, you will have to see what your local supplier has in stock.
If you want more information on different types of tents, see Marquee Hire - How To Choose A Party Tent. Or simply look at local tent vendors sites to see what they have on offer.
So what's different about decorating wedding tents?
1. Lining and flooring
Lining works well if you want classic tent decor. It can go well with romantic or traditional themes (princess, victorian for example) as well.
Lining is not essential though. Unlined tents are cheaper, and look plainer and more functional, which can work well with a modern or informal style of decoration. The photo shows a simple unlined tent, white lanterns and dangling mobiles combining to create a light, informal atmosphere. This is an affordable way to decorate.
Flooring: you get to choose the floor too. There are a number of options:
- Carpet: can warm things up or make an event more formal depending on the overal decor
- Sisal or matting: the mid-range option. Works well with contemporary style wedding receptions
- Astro-turf: cheap and fun
- Hardwood floor: expensive and smart. A wise move if the weather might be poor and the ground wet
- Nothing at all: can be nice for informal wedding receptions. But only really practical if the ground beneath is nice and smooth
What else is different about decorating party tents?
But for canvas with poles, the poles need to be considered as they can look too functional alongside classic or themed decor.
Winding leaves or leaves with flowers around the poles is a common tactic. So is draped fabric.
But how about colored gauze? or stripes of material? beads? tinsel? In the photo alongside, floaty fabric and brightly-coloured flowers do the job with flair for this canopy on the beach.
There are no rules so experiment and see what works.
Let the outside in
Weather allowing, you can leave the walls open. If it's cold, you can have lots of windows, though they can push up the cost of a tent.
By letting the outside in, you are immediately stamping your event with a natural outdoors style. And even better, you don't really need much additional decor to do it!
You can see how this works in the first photo alongside. With the garden outside showing through open walls, simple table centerpieces and matting suffice as a decorative statement.
Another option is a transparent roof. Not all suppliers will have these, and they can be expensive. But the effect can be dramatic.
The clear roof of the tent in the photo alongside allows the event to feel right ouside and lets the beauty of the Florida sunset wash over the reception. Yet the roof protects the event from the elements.
Another option here which can look spectacular is to combine twinkle lights with a clear roof. For an example, see this amazing looking combination of festooned twinkle lights with a transparent roof.
So if the season and your location allow, opening the walls and/or showing the sky through a clear roof of a tent are good ways to make a statement. Depending on your approach, taking either of these options can also keep down the costs of tent decoration.
Put a dancefloor in the middle of things and the dining experience can feel a bit cold with tables a long way from each other. See the first video below for an idea of what this can feel like.
When a dancefloor is placed at one end of the wedding tent, guests eat close together which can help to unify an event.
Later on though, when guests are shaking their booty, a central dancefloor comes into its own. Everybody is part of the rave up, even if they are sitting down. (And if you want to know more about dance floors, here are some quite useful dance floor FAQs.)
Choosing table shape is another consideration. Round or rectangular are the common options.
Round are best for more formal events; rectangular tables in lines can feel fun and informal and also make most efficient use of space. Some feel (me included) that it can be harder for guests to socialize when tables are laid out like this.
Online tent planners can help with this and other layout issues.
The best we found comes from the UK where vendors purvey marquee hire instead of tent rental. See County Marquees' party tent planning tool for help deciding where to put your tables and dancefloors. This vendor also has a useful page on marquee decoration and some nice advice on wedding marquees.
Not especially for tent layouts but useful anyway is Toptableplanner, an ipad-compatible online tool for planning the seating at weddings and events. You add the guests and the tables and then work out where everybody is going to go.
The tool isn't free but starting at $20 for 5 plans and six months access, it's reasonable value for what is often one of the most difficult and inflammatory aspects of planning a wedding.
Are wedding tents a good idea?
Do you like the idea of celebrating in a tent?
Find out more about party tent decoration
Decorating a wedding tent - websites
- 50 Tent Decorating Ideas (from Weddings to Corporate Events) - Really great resource. From disco balls to ostrich feathers to ice sculptures, loads of thoughtful and fun ideas with lots of links to examples.
- Ideas for Decorating a Tent Wedding - Summary covering lighting, pole decor, flooring and flowers. This website also has ideas for all sorts of party themes - garden, fairy, backyard, rose. There are loads of sites offering ideas for wedding themes. Search on Google for an information overload.
- Tent decorating tips for weddings - some useful ideas.
- Wedding tent ideas - photos of tented weddings from The Knot, the grandaddy of wedding planning websites. You need to log in to see the photos.
- Outdoor wedding decoration tips - not about tents but some practical help on preparing a garden for tents that will be open to the elements
- Decorating Ideas For An Outdoor June Wedding Reception - not canvas again but practical and economical. A list of budget ideas submitted by users of Thrify Fun covering tablerunners, vases, painted pots, balloons and more.
- A well dressed table - again no special reference to tents but a fab source of inspiration: lots and lots of photos of decorated tables. You are bound to find something you like here.
Decorating a wedding tent - books
No tents, no outdoors - but everyone wants to save money nowadays. Very succesful book, but reviewers are split: is it an invaluable resource or a pathway to a tacky wedding? It definitely has some useful tips.
Beautiful, practical and budget minded. Not about tents or even outdoor wedding receptions, but a useful guide
Again, nice pictures but not much practical detail. This book concentrates on 12 weddings.
Everything Outdoor Wedding Book: Choose the Perfect Location, Expect the Unexpected, And Have a Beautiful Wedding Your Guests Will Remember! (Everything (Weddings))
Another outdoors book. Common sensical but few pictures. Mixed reviews.
More details: lighting
There are loads of options. Here are a few to get you started:
- Chandeliers and uplighters are the standard types of lighting. Chandeliers can be quite basic or incredibly fancy (the fancy ones may be expensive). Uplighters provide a softer, gentler form of light.
- Colored lighting can set the mood. Good party tent vendors have lights that shine soft washes of color across the walls or wherever you would like them. Pinks and yellows are gentle and flattering; blue can be striking and contemporary. The photo above shows coloured lighting in use
Candles are romantic and pretty. Popular ideas include alter candles raised high as table centerpieces, surrounded by flowers; or little tea-lights floating in bowls of water. Even a few candles - 6-8 tealights on a table for example - can really enhance the atmosphere and improve visibility at table. You will need other lighting as well. And don't forget about safety.
- Twinkle lights or fairy lights do create a magical atmosphere. Rent from your party tent supplier - some will supply dramatic black starcloth embedded with tiny lights to cover all or some of the tent roof, as in the photo to the right. Or buy strings and put them up yourself. The structure usually provides good hooks for hanging the lights. See above for a another dramatic example with twinkle lights radiating across a clear tent roof.
- Tent lighting technology has come on and sophisticated effects are affordable. Some vendors will have the latest LED control panels for multicolored zones of light. You will need a big tent to carry this look off. Projecting light shapes on the walls is another option, as is behind-lining color wash lighting. Best to see what your local vendors can offer.
- Hanging paper lanterns are affordable and popular. White or coloured, they are pretty and still unusual enough to create a decorative statement. You can hang flowers or swathes of fabric alongside. As with twinkle lights, the structure usually provides good hooks for hanging whatever you want to hang. But getting the lanterns to actually light up is not simple as each lantern needs to be either battery powered or wired up. If you do want to actually light a tent with lanterns, finding a string of them already wired up is probably the best solution if you can find such a thing.
- Be inventive As with other aspects of tent decoration, if you really want to make a statement, hard work and original ideas can really make a difference. For example, this photo shows little light shades hanging from the tent roof, not wired up for real lights in this case. But with some thought and effort, they could be, though with the same proviso that applies to paper lanterns - each light shade would need to be wired up individually.
- Smoke machines can add to the effect of directional lighting. Not too much, or the whole tent can become too hazy. But a little can add excitement to an evening event.
- Be safe with all forms lighting, above all . Ensure that you or whoever is installing the lighting knows what they are doing.
The first three use simple and white decor. The first video shows a huge tent with leaves twirled around the poles and smart hard flooring. There is a large dance floor in the middle, with tables spread far apart round the edges.
The second two are night scenes with open sides. One has ball lights all around the edge of the roof. The other has moving colored light effects.
The second last video features photos of stunning Morrocan style tents.
The last - just for fun - is one of those timelapse videos, showing a tent being put up at high speed, and then at the end a glimpse of classic tent decorative style.
So have a look at see what you think.
Last thing that's different about decorating wedding tents
Chiffon, tulle, cheesecloth or whatever fabric takes your fancy can all be strung across or hung from the roof or wound around the the top of the walls.
The photo shows swags hanging from the roof at a colorful tent wedding. Pretty chinese lanterns in matching pastel colors are also dotted across the roof. But really, the only limit is your imagination...
For practical ideas, you could ask your tent supplier. Or you could try this very good page, not specifically about tents, which has some helpful suggestions about how to attach fabric to a ceiling in different styles. Or this inspirational page of ribbon decorating ideas.
Another fabric option is bunting or strings of flags draped across the tent roof or strung along the walls, as in the photo alongside. These have become insanely popular in the UK in 2011 as part of an overall shabby chic look. Are they as popular in the US? Let us know in the comments.
The shabby chic look can also help with money saving. Typically, simple jars or jugs filled with equally simple sprays of flowers serve as table centerpieces, and other accessories tend to be vintage. If you are interested, see the Shabby chic photo above for another example with links to a wedding blog showing all the little details of how to do it.
Buy a marquee or gazebo on Amazon
But buying your own party tent is a much cheaper option that getting in a supplier every time.
Typically, these will not be as sturdy or high quality as the sort of tents you hire from a reputable supplier.
But they should be easy to put up and can be a economical option if you often have informal outdoor parties and like to offer guests some cover.
The following gazebos are just a selection. There are lots more here if you are interested.
Not a tent really, but has some good customer reviews so it might be a good option if you are just look for a bit of shade at an event
Pretty octagonal tent. Gets not perfect but overall very favourable reviews
This small pretty tent gets excellent reviews for being both pretty and economical. The walls can be removed for a "capri" style effect
Strong winds can be a problem but otherwise gets favourable reviews. Pretty.
Waterproof, with removable walls. Good reviews.
Buy a marquee or gazebo on eBay
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