Rent a Tent
Protect against the elements and create an instant party space.
Location, Location, Location
The ideal spot for a tent is on high, level ground. Pick a possible site, then check after a rainstorm to see if any puddles remain. If there is any water accumulation, the terrain may be uneven, and subflooring (plywood, vinyl) may need to be installed. Also make sure that the area is free of overhead utility lines.
Tent size depends not only on the number of guests but also on its purpose. For example, a 30' x 30' tent that holds 140 guests for cocktails can comfortably seat only half that number for dinner (and leaves scant room for buffet stations and dancing).
A general formula: Allow a minimum of 12 square feet per person seated at round tables, ten square feet at rectangular tables, and six square feet for cocktails or for ceremony seating. Then figure in the square footage of any extras like the cake table, buffet tables, and dance floor.
Pole tents, with their sweeping, peaked roofs, are the most traditional option, as well as the least expensive. Because of their staking system, these tents are ideal on grass or sand, but can be installed on asphalt with drilling. The downside: Their center poles take up space and block views.
Clear-span frame tents are freestanding vinyl-and-pipe structures with no center poles and are so named because they have unobstructed views. They cost about 40 percent more than pole tents, but fit into tighter spaces, such as narrow backyards, without the drawbacks of stakes sticking out. Though the most expensive to rent, they're also the easiest to heat and cool and, because of their sturdy nature, you can hang objects from the ceiling, like the speakers of a full sound system.
Rental firms also carry accessories—flags that attach to tent tops for a fairy-tale or medieval look; silk Japanese lanterns; columns that conceal poles, often with shelves for placing potted plants or small flower arrangements; entrance canopies; pole valances; and wall and ceiling liners—in taffeta!—to disguise mechanics like wires and outlets.
Besides white, tents can be rented in a variety of stripes and solids in just about any color. They can be opaque, translucent, or clear, with plastic or even glass windows and doors. If you want to see the stars at night, rent a tent with a clear ceiling or skylights. Also consider renting a tent "village"—smaller pagodas and hexagonal shapes arranged to create a courtyard.
Most rental companies schedule tent setup for one to three days before the wedding (the extra time is necessary for floral and other prep work). Removal is usually a day or two afterward. You'll pay a flat fee rather than a per-day charge. To find a company in your area, type "party rentals" in a search engine.
You can dress up your tent's interior, from ceiling to floor. Some possibilities:
Create a sultan's palace with low tables and pillows. Cover the floor with Oriental rugs over a sisal base.
Instead of using centerpieces, fill the vertical space: "Fly" floral or curly-willow balls over tabletops by suspending them with thin-gauge wire.
Since fire codes often ban open flames, create romantic ambience with battery-operated wax candles. Check out the Flameless Décor candles at technoscout.com.
Use the tent as a canvas for patterned lighting effects with gobos, transparent disks placed in front of a light source that project an image, such as flowers or letters.