Lighting is an essential element for tented events. It not only illuminates the area, but it also is key to creating a mood, a feeling and an overall energy in the room, rental operators, manufacturers and décor specialists say.
“Lighting has to be a huge emphasis for any tented event,” says Mike Tatum, owner, Majestic Tent & Event, Shreveport, La. “For one thing, without the proper lighting, my client’s pictures will be terrible.”
Many times, rental operators find that their bridal clients do not always know what lighting to ask for. “Customers have an idea what they want, but they don’t know how to achieve it. That is where I come in and say, ‘This is what you can do,’” Tatum says.
Cyndi Shifrel, CERP, CEO, Orlando Wedding & Party Rentals, Lake Mary, Fla., caters to both corporate and wedding planners and brides. “The planners know what they need and what they want, but a lot of the time the brides don’t even realize the need for lights until they start talking to us,” she says.
Just as in drapery, the hot trends for lighting are impacted in large part by Instagram and Pinterest.
Elwood Bakken, sales/marketing manager, Action Lighting, Bozeman, Mont., a lighting manufacturer and supplier, says the hot lighting options he sees his rental clients purchasing are the market — or what some call bistro or café — lighting with LED bulbs that have plastic covers, twinkle lights and wall lights.
“We use market, bistro and café interchangeably, but some make the distinction that market and bistro lighting have a 5-in. drop, whereas café lighting usually involves the socket that is way up on the wire,” he says.
Bakken says other lighting options have been gaining in popularity in recent years — neon lights that can be customized with the bride and groom’s names that hang behind the head table as well as free-standing, 48-in.-high letter lights that can be used as a prop for family photos.
“Many of these free-standing lights will have the word ‘LOVE’ lit up or another similar word,” he says.
Even disco balls are coming back. “We have 8-, 12- and 16-in. balls. We have white or RGB lights, which change colors. Both can be mounted by the ball. That retro look is coming back, particularly for weddings,” Bakken says.
Amanda Jones, CERP, owner, Tyler Tents and Events and Mirabella Décor, both in Tyler, Texas, has been offering “more café lighting than ever before,” she says, noting that she uses 1.5-in. round bulbs for her café lighting.
“Ours are on a wide string in a white or cream color. We use round bulbs because they look more like stars, which we use with our cleartop tents. Instead of doing draping on the ceiling, we are lining the entire ceiling with café or twinkle lights. For the guests, it looks like they are dining and dancing under the stars. That is very popular with weddings as well as corporate and charity galas,” she says.
Her café lights are LED and dimmable. “That is a huge selling point for us as it helps with the ambiance and power issues,” she says.
Kathy Newby, CERP, Northern California account executive, AFR Special Event Furniture Rentals, Hayward, Calif., says bistro, or market, lights “are still the most popular. They have been around for years and you can put them inside and outside the tent. They also can be placed on free-standing poles if there is no tent — over the dining tables in straight lines or in a
zig-zag pattern. You also can rig the lights to trees or in the eaves of the house.”
The same is true for Shifrel. “Market lighting is No. 1 for us. It is out all the time. The trend has been there for a long time. It increased during COVID. We carry a lot of lighting. Because more events have been happening outside, it has offered more of an opportunity to use them. We always have used the market lighting that you put around the perimeter of the tent or put in a certain kind of pattern inside the tent, like an X-pattern or zig-zag. We have the white strand market lights, which are pretty popular for our tents. For the lounge areas outside the tent, a lot of times we will use our heavier bulbs, like Edison market lighting, which have the black, heavy strands. We also offer the green strands, but we don’t use them a lot. The white is the most popular,” she says.
IYN Stands, a division of Allsop, Bellingham, Wash., manufactures patented free-standing string light pole stands with molded plastic tanks that can be filled with water or sand and used indoors or outdoors.
“The IYN Stands founder was coordinating events and was trying to come up with a quick and flexible solution to hang string lights at venues, including placement underneath tents. The tank stand system she invented allows you to hang string lights anywhere with no additional hardware necessary,” says David Brewin, marketing manager. Rental operators may use their own lights or purchase string lights from the company that are offered with white or black wires.
Tatum likes the bistro lights “for a party atmosphere, but if the event is more formal, we usually go with the chandeliers. We use LED lights for the bistro lighting, but I am old school and want to see that yellow carbon glow that you get with the old-style bulbs in the chandeliers. No matter what color chandelier you are putting up, it accentuates it,” he says.
Jones also has crystal chandeliers. While they are used to give that romantic feel, they are not as popular as the other lighting options.
Jennifer Gullins, president and CEO, PEAK Event Services, based in Woburn, Mass., offers “basic lighting installations with our tenting such as string and globe lights. For the higher-end customers who are looking to do more elaborate lighting installations, we outsource for them and work with another company or refer them to a lighting specialist. We don’t handle extreme lighting. We are noticing a trend toward chandeliers and seeing a lot of our customers work with professional interior lighting companies to produce something more unique with them,” she says.
Monica Flynn, owner, Drape Art Designs, Warwick, R.I., works with a lot of Gullins’ clients on their custom lighting needs. The twist is a floral chandelier. “It is very popular. It is a circular structure that is hung instead of a traditional chandelier. It is covered with greenery and flowers, usually wisteria flowers because they cascade very nicely. It lends to that natural look,” she says.
Another twist, which also is very popular in her area, is the use of pendant or basket lamps, many times made out of wicker. “It is a very natural look, but it can be upgraded to be very elegant as well. It is a light fixture like you would see over your kitchen counter or bar. These fixtures have a single light bulb in them. We can put up 100 or so in a tent. Many times we incorporate that greenery and additional lights on the power cord as well,” she says.
An even different take on this involves a lattice panel. “It offers purposeful lighting and greenery that is suspended directly over the head table to make that a feature point. We are putting lights — small chandeliers, sometimes even small crystal chandeliers — in those and then have a single pendant light coming off the lattice panel,” she says.
Shifrel also is seeing that trend toward pendant lighting. “Brides are wanting something different as far as lighting. They want to do a rattan or wicker pendant light that you hang from the tent with floral chandeliers mixed in there. We have seen more of those natural-looking elements like the rattan and the wicker hanging type of lighting. We are looking into whether this a trend that is going to stay,” she says.
All say that twinkle lighting continues to be a go-to option.
“Twinkle lighting is at an all-time high,” Flynn says. “Twinkle-lit canopies are all the rage. We also offer free-standing arbor structures that can go 60-ft. in length and offer a dense canopy of twinkle lights. They are hung very low and then create walls of twinkle lights that flow to the ground.”
In addition to the twinkle light canopies, Jones has created walls of either twinkle lights or curtain lights, which do not twinkle, for a walkway. “We create a wall of lights on pipe and drape that the lights hang from to the ground. People can walk through a tunnel of lights. It creates a huge ambiance and look before you actually go into the tent,” she says.
Shifrel says she uses a lot of twinkle lights for backdrops behind the cake table. “We use a sheer draping and put the twinkle lights behind the draping,” she says.
Many of these options come in LED. “I use LED lighting for the twinkle lights and the bistro lights. The advantage is that it requires less electricity,” Tatum says.
“Every LED light has a light-blue hue to it. I always thought light should be natural, but they work great. I also have battery-operated LED PAR lights that are wonderful. The PARs can be primarily a light source if you focus them on the top of the tent. It will give you a nice ambient wash. Depending on the size of the tent, you might use six, eight or a dozen of them. They are programmable with about 27 different colors. Most of the time it will be pink or an amber color,” he says.
Newby has used LEDs to uplight the swags and pole drapes and for landscape lighting. “You can uplight the trees and different areas around the tent, too. All are battery-operated and remote-controlled, either through a mixing board or an individual hand-held remote and can change color,” she says.
Shifrel uses a lot of LED lighting. “Most go inside the tent by the poles that have nice drapery, or we will attach them up to the crossbars of the tent to light up the top of the tent. They offer a wash with a particular type of color. All of our LED lighting is battery-powered and has a square, flat, sleeker design. We think the wiring gets messy and is a trip hazard. It is a lot easier and cleaner look to use the battery,” she says.