Turning a tent into a hot night club
By Connie Lannan
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Turning a tent into a hot night club

Draping can change the look and feel of an event

Tented events are being transformed thanks to the magic of draping. Creative use of tent liners, swags — fabric that starts at the top of the tent and billows down in soft curves — and full-length curtains as well as pole drapes and sleeves to cover aluminum tent legs, including wood-grain velon or vinyl, can make a tented event look like everything from a lush cascade of elegant softness to a hot nightclub.

Amanda Jones, CERP, owner, Tyler Tents and Events and Mirabella Décor, both in Tyler, Texas, knows that so well.

Jones’ décor company makes custom drapery for her Tyler Tents and Events rental clients. “It used to be predominantly in weddings, but since Texas has opened up from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic restrictions, we have seen a lot more corporate draping jobs and lots of bright colors,” she says.

For instance, she recently turned a tent into a salsa club for a client who brought in dancers and a hot fusion band. “We did draping on the ceiling in bright neon, pink, orange, blue and green. We did the custom flooring for them, too, which was all in black, and put black draping around the walls. It made everyone who walked into the tent feel like they were in a salsa nightclub,” she says.

Mike Tatum, owner, Majestic Tent & Event, Shreveport, La., has noticed the evolution of draping. “My clients, including my brides, want all these swags and curves in different colors. Here in Louisiana, we can be a little wild. Many times, people want the top of the tent to look like Mardi Gras with draping in pink, green and gold,” he says.

Kathy Newby, CERP, vice president, major accounts, Abbey Party Rents SF, Daly City, Calif., created a Havana Nights tropical feel in a tent by incorporating a custom fabric ceiling liner, tablecloths, and pipe and drape that was hung around several of the solid white walls of the tent. “We make most all of our pipe and drape. We used various types of colors and fabric with bamboo reed on it at this one event. The custom fabric was used in many applications in the tent, including wrapping several internal wall poles where the tents came together with the fabric and valance for the eave line,” she says.

Draping is nothing new. Tent manufacturers Aztec Tents, Torrance, Calif., and Rainier Industries, based in Tukwila, Wash., have been offering everything from tent liners to leg covers and sleeves for a long time.

“We have offered pleated and solid tent liners to cover the inside of the tent for years as they create a softer texture inside a frame tent,” says Eric Christensen, regional account manager at Aztec Tents.

“The trend for them ebbs and flows. I feel like we are in somewhat of a liner lull based on my conversations with clients. I think the aesthetics of tenting have gotten better and better to the point where the beauty of the tent has become ‘the thing.’ We are not trying to cover up the tent anymore. We are trying to showcase it. For example, our Tidewater® Sailcloth pole tent, in which the light transfers through the translucent fabric, is the point of that tent. If you would put a liner in, you would miss the point,” he says.

By contrast, Michael Tharpe, sales manager – shelter division at Rainier Industries, says the Baytex tent liners his company offers for frame, pole and structure tents “have been a very hot item for us this year. Generally, we offer them in white, champagne, black and custom colors. I think the No. 1 reason they have been so popular is that tents are getting released from long-term rentals at restaurants and COVID testing sites, etc. Perhaps they are not A-1 quality. When you put the liner underneath, all you see is a nice clean tent on the outside and a beautiful liner underneath,” he says.

Tharpe has seen a 20 percent-plus increase over COVID numbers in the sale of his liners, leg drapes and center pole drapes this year, noting that his company also offers SkyLiners for cleartop tents. “It gives you the advantage of a liner underneath the tent, yet it takes full advantage of the clear view that one would get out of it as well. It is designed for reducing the heat underneath the cleartop. If you have a cleartop in a warmer climate, it can be like a greenhouse in the hot summer sun. This reflects some of the heat off of it and some of the sunlight, yet it allows you to still see the starry nights. It is a stretchy liner material. It has splits in it and gives you the curvatures and arches. It is translucent material. That is very popular,” he says.

The popularity of the Sailcloth tents has had manufacturers seeing an increase in requests for the wood pole look.

“After we introduced our Tidewater Sailcloth tents, we saw the wood pole look — side and center poles — make a resurgence. What we have is this look that has become the rage. It is very much an organic-toned feeling. The wood center and side poles are very popular except that we have rental operators who own aluminum center and side poles. For our Tidewater, we make wood-grained fabric-printed pole sleeves. They are very convincing and can be installed quickly, allowing the customer to use their existing aluminum inventory and achieve the wood-grained look. It is a hot item that we see growing,” Christensen says, adding that he has even received requests for the wood-grain pole sleeves for all types of tents, not just the Sailcloth.

Jennifer Gullins, senior vice president of sales, PEAK Event Services, based in Woburn, Mass., says the Sailcloth tents are very popular in her region. “Our Sailcloth tents have wooden poles; however, pole covers for frame tents are increasingly popular and come in a variety of colors or even prints such as birch wood.”

Shay Watson Vitale, vice president, Party Tables, based in Durham, N.C., offers custom draping for clients. Her company has made a slightly different twist on this concept for a couple of clients. “We recently manufactured wood columns that go over the existing perimeter poles. We have teamed up with a carpenter on our staff for a couple of weddings,” she says.

No matter how you use it, rental operators and suppliers have found that draping continues to be requested, particularly with more swag and more colors being introduced.

“The material varies. Whatever one’s budget allows, we can accommodate. The colors vary, too. Most are still traditional — ivory to white to gray to beige and then the customers might want to add an accent color — peach, lavender, green, etc.,” Watson Vitale says. “Some people want the bold and bright colors, but that is not the majority. A lot of times people will want the traditional feel with a custom flair. It makes it a little bit different. For instance, we can make a cornice board in the tent ceiling and the drape comes off of that. It is a little different.”

The goal of the draping is to create a feeling as well as cover the tent hardware.

Monica Flynn, owner, Drape Art Designs, Warwick, R.I., who handles the custom draping and lighting needs of many of the clients of PEAK Event Services and other companies, believes the increased use of structure tents has pushed the draping.

“The engineered structure tents are very industrial looking. I think drapery has come back even stronger partly due to that. Draping softens it up and disguises those metal beams,” she says. “As far as colors, we in New England are not necessarily seeing bold colors, but rather more nude-blush-toned swag besides the white. Some are going with the light blues and grays. Some are fusing their heritage and culture together and incorporating bolder colors such as red.”

Watson Vitale is finding that desire even when using a cleartop or clear structure tent. “They want to cover the hardware. We soften that with what we call ceiling strips — just to cover up the hardware, but you still get to see through that clear roof of the ceiling. We can make our ceiling strips billowy or tight. It all depends on the style of the wedding,” she says.

Cyndi Shifrel, CERP, CEO, Orlando Wedding & Party Rentals, Lake Mary, Fla., and an ARA of Florida board member, agrees. “Most of our inventory is frame tents. The frame tents we offer have the traditional white top or the cleartop. We are seeing that drapery is being used in both the clear and the white top. It is about the look,” she says, noting that in her area cleartop tents are not used in the hot summer months because of the heat issue.

“I am doing a lot more swag,” Jones says. “My clients want to bring in more colors. Sometimes that is with the same fabric as the pole drapes or sometimes it is adding greenery to the fabric,” she says.

Shifrel agrees. “We have an elegant tent liner that is very nice, but it is not as popular these days as the ceiling drapery. That is more popular — in white or ivory,” she says

The intermingling of swag with greenery and flowers is another growing trend, Flynn notes. “We are starting to see more garland, greenery and floral being used in between the swag fabric. It creates this enchanting canopy throughout the ceiling of the tent,” she says.

Perimeter draping — “sheer drapery in the entryways or tied into the poles of the tents also is popular,” Gullins says.

Jones has seen that in her area of Texas, too. “We offer a curtain wall around the entire tent. That is one of our most popular things. We put up tent walls and then we go in front of the tent walls and put up fabric with curtains hanging around it. It gives it a softer and more romantic feel. We cover the poles, so it looks like a whole wall of curtains — everything is covered up. People forget that they are in a tent and they think they are in a draped ballroom. We have more requests for it now, lots more requests — more interest now. It seems to be of the trend for us this year. It is more for the brides about changing where they are. They don’t want to be in that traditional tent. They want it to look like something different,” she says.

While Newby has done her fair share of pipe and drape that goes around the inside perimeter of the entire or part of the tent, many of her clients request what she refers to as “crown rafter cover.” That is where all the pipes in the ceiling are wrapped in white velon, also known as vinyl taffeta or convention taffeta, a thin, lightweight plastic that is very flame-retardant.

“The velon is more cost-effective than fabric. When doing projection lighting into the ceiling, it looks clean and you don’t have all the pipes that break up the light” she says, adding that she has used the velon for both leg drapes and swag. “It is very soft and pliable like fabric,” she says.

The desire to cover up the side poles is still dominant. Some brides are turning the traditional billowy pole drape with a sash into something unique to them, Watson Vitale adds.

“We are finding that the colors of the drapes are still that ivory, white, gray or beige, but they are adding a 6-in. border to the drape in pale pink or a contrasting color and adding piping to the cuff, or what others would term as the sash. Those little details make the wedding specific to the bride and don’t cost a lot of money,” she says.

Flynn also is using floral around the center poles instead of draping. “People are really into the greenery. It continues to build in popularity,” she says, adding that it is a style being incorporated in all different ways in the tent.

The only tent in which swag is not being used is the Sailcloth model.

“We have one Sailcloth tent. When our clients get that tent, they don’t want any drape,” Shifrel says.

However, some are using leg drapes in these types of tents as it “softens that area,” Flynn says.

Tatum has even used translucent liners inside the top of his Sailcloth tents. “I can use less draping as the idea is for the whole top to glow, and it does,” he says.

While all interviewed admit that Instagram and Pinterest have been strong influencers on how drapery is used, it all boils down to the bride or corporate planner’s vision for how they want the tent to look and feel as a way of making their event unique and special to them.

“Trends are interesting. I tell people the trend is what they want it to be. A lot of brides just want something a little different and unique that goes with their style,” Watson Vitale says.

Connie Lannan

Connie LannanConnie Lannan

Connie Lannan is special projects editor for Rental Management. She helps plan, coordinate, write and edit ARA’s quarterly regional newsletters, In Your Region. She also researches, writes and edits news and feature articles for Rental Management, Rental Pulse, supplements, special reports and other special projects. Outside of work, she loves to bake for others, go for walks with her husband and volunteer for her church and causes she believes in.

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