Universally admired for their durability, functionality, and overall uniqueness, tents can offer a plethora of playful design options to any outdoor wedding space. Whether white, clear, or colorful, these resilient structures make for a stylish addition to cocktail hour, an outdoor ceremony, or al fresco reception. With significant aspects of a tent often overlooked—like creating a solid surface and foundation, as well as allocating plenty of space for rentals and entertainment—we sought out the industry’s top planners, florists, and rental experts to classify what’s necessary when constructing a tented area.
What are some of the innovative ways you can embrace the uniqueness of a tented structure? Crafting an inviting tented entry fit for a grand entrance, creating softness with cascading drapery, bringing the outdoors in with live plants and trees, and setting the tone for your post-ceremony design with a collection of ceiling installations are some ideas for modifying your tented space. An assortment of whimsical décor, creative lighting, and custom flooring are characteristics that help to distinguish these weather-proof foundations to your wedding.
Our experts recommend turning unsightly metal poles into stunning displays of lush greenery and lofty vines.
Whether as a part of your initial wedding day layout or secured as a backup plan in case of rain, an assortment of sizes and materials make opting for these covered configurations anything but limiting. Tips for elevating the inside of your tent, understanding the structure that’s right for you, and incorporating warmth into your sleek design are all questions to ask before securing tents for your big day. For ideas that go beyond the wedding norm, some of the industry’s top vendors lend their expertise on ways to make these foundations even more memorable.
Bring Focus to Your Head Table
Conceptualizing a floral display that hangs horizontally above your head table (typically where the newly married couple is seated) is a unique way to create a focal point inside of your tent. Francie Dorman and Britt Cole, co-founders of 42 North, crafted this striking installation using soft florals, chandeliers, and romantic drapery. “We played with the tent’s negative space elsewhere using layers of draping for a luxurious and intimate environment,” they said.
Elect for a Canopy
Morgan Childs, founder and creative director of Moana Events, suggests selecting a canopy to allow for plenty of sunlight to permeate throughout your space. “The open sides are great for integrating your surroundings into the design of your day while still creating shade with the overhead cover,” says Childs.
One way to add glamour to the construction of your tent—while eliminating the use of additional rentals—is to integrate soft draping. “Instead of chandeliers, use draping to add a special touch to an outdoor tent,” suggests Kaitlyn Hostetler, event planner and director of marketing for EVOKE. “The depth created by the design generates the perfect ambiance for an elegant outdoor event."
Assemble a Level Foundation
When constructing a tent outside, the ground you are building on can be unpredictable. Kristin Doggett, owner and creative director at Bellafare, recommends creating a solid surface that you can rely on for your tent’s foundation. “A solid surface is always a good idea to ensure a level dance floor, to avoid heels from sinking into the ground, and to create an environment that feels comfortable and inviting as if you were indoors,” says Kristin.
Anticipate Unforeseen Weather
“A beautifully draped tent creates an intimate space while sheltering guests from the elements,” says Tina Reikes, owner of Bear Flag Farm, who promotes the use of a covered structure for an outdoor ceremony. For this wedding, the sides of the tent were left open to allow for a scenic view of the property.
Draw the Eye Up
Not only are hanging floral installations a major trend, but they are ideal for bringing the focus to the height of your tent. “A floral installation will draw your guests’ eyes upwards, allowing them to enjoy the full beauty of your tent,” says Carrie Wilcox, owner of Carrie Wilcox Floral Design. Elevated floral designs can also free up space on your table, enabling the elimination of a centerpiece altogether.
Distinguish a Seating Area
“Create a living room in the middle of the tent to give purpose and focus near the dance floor,” suggests Aleah and Nick Valley, founders of Valley & Company Events. “Stage oversized comfy chairs, coffee tables, and pews as you would in your own home, and accent with chandeliers overhead to bring the indoors out." A cozy space will encourage guests to sit and chat all night, all while admiring the tent’s ambiance and décor.
Curate a Striking Entrance
Set the tone for your tent by crafting an entry worthy of a one-of-a-kind event. Caitlin Campbell, senior event coordinator and designer at True Event, recommends grabbing your guests’ attention with an entrance adorned in eye-catching décor. “We love when a couple wants to go bold with flowers or other décor options to get everyone’s attention,” she says.
Create Height With Centerpieces
When utilizing a sailcloth tent, Lauren Emerson, owner of Lauren Emerson Events & Design, wants to remind couples to create height with the components of your tablescape. “Sailcloth tents have such beautiful high peaks that shouldn’t go unnoticed,” she says, suggesting that multiple levels of tall arrangements will ensure your design doesn’t fall flat.
Consider a Clear Top
Chelsey Morrison, owner of Gather Together Events, favors clear top tents to tie in aspects of the outdoors. “When you have a beautiful setting, there is no better way to feel connected to the landscape while still protecting your guests from the elements,” she says. One of her most favored benefits of translucent structures? The silhouettes created from surrounding trees and landscapes that can be seen at dusk.
Strategize Cohesive Décor Elements
For an al fresco wedding, Emily Clarke, creative director of Emily Clarke Events, tied in magnolia trees throughout features of the reception and the tent’s overall design. “To complement the trees, we created a grand tent entryway with woven vines, magnolia leaves, and overflowing greenery. We then covered the interior tent poles in ivy. Finally, we hung large magnolia-leaf wreathes from the ceiling," she explains.
Amplify Your Color Scheme
For this reception, hints of purple were integrated throughout facets of the event’s décor, as well as within details of the structure itself. Alicia Fritz, founder of A Day in May Event Planning & Design, suggests incorporating subtle hints of color towards the top of your tent to help create a cohesive theme overall. “Depending on your day-of color palette," she says, "you can elevate your space and structure with varying tones, shades, and hues.”
Bring the Outdoors In
With your surroundings proving to be a significant influence on your overall theme and tented design, why not bring elements of nature into the interior of your day-of space? “We love to add natural components to our tented weddings by cutting saplings from the land and bringing the outside in,” says Sherry Spencer, partner at Southern Blooms, adding that this helps create a more intimate space by filling the high ceiling.
Integrate Unexpected Sparkle
For a chic and playful way to incorporate shine to the inside of your tent, Victoria Love, owner of V. Love Events, recommends strands of assorted twinkle lights. “Let your guests feel as if they are dancing amongst the stars with twinkle lights overhead.” she says. The added feature will evoke romanticism and make for a soft ambiance.
Make a Statement
For couples that want to set the tone for their wedding in a bold way, Eatherley Schultz, owner of Floressence Flowers, recommends renting a structure with an impressive presence. “This Sperry Tent made a serious statement,” says Schultz, referring to a past event that utilized this towering staple. “It was placed in the middle of a field and surrounded by the mountains of Western North Carolina. A stunning tent supported by a stunning backdrop.”
Adorn With Pendants
“One of our favorite elements of a tent, is that it allows us to do really beautiful overhead installations,” says Kelly Clark Leonard, owner and lead producer at Event of the Season. Various points of interest like pendants, chandeliers, and other decorative elements create thoughtful details throughout a reception space. At this particular fête, white fabric wrapped the tops of each pendant to correlate with the sophisticated design aesthetic.
Play Up the Exterior
To enhance the exterior of your structure, Heather Lowenthal, owner of Posh Parties, suggests adding a pop of color to the tent’s outer trim. “It’s important to pay attention to the exterior as much as you do the interior,” she says. Adding a pop of color to this all-white structure, the exterior was lined with draping that had a thick navy border to create a completed look.
Customize a Dance Floor
“In order for guests to properly groove to the sounds of an awesome band, a dance floor was a necessity,” says Katie Huebel, owner of WED. The classic color combination of this dance floor was a custom element requested by the bride and groom.
Hide Unflattering Details
Guests notice everything, so make sure the exterior of your tent is as breathtaking as the interior. “Don't forget to consider the structure of your tent and the materials needed to camouflage things you might not want your guests to see,” says Lynn Easton, founder and creative director of Easton Events.
Work With Natural Tones
Ashley Culicchia Cash, owner and creative director of The Graceful Host, advises couples to look to their surroundings for design inspiration. “Incorporate natural tones into your color palette that mimic the landscape of your setting,” she says. Wooden details aided in outlining the rustic design scheme of this airy tented reception.
Embellish Tables With Candlelight
A flattering component that ornaments your tablescape, as well as creates softness throughout the ambiance of your space, Melissa Davis, owner of Melissa Davis Designs, recommends adding candles—varying in height—throughout the layout of your table. “The amber glow from the candlelight will add charm to the atmosphere of your tent’s interior," she says.
Allocate Space for Entertainment
While tables, dance floors, and various décor features will take up most of the space in your tent, it’s important to leave room for other day-of elements like your live band or other entertainment essentials. “With an intimate setting as a unique benefit to a tented space, sometimes leaving too little room for a large orchestra can result in cramped spaces and limited dance room,” says Jeremy Davis, bandleader for The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra. Talk with your planner or day-of coordinator to ensure plenty of entertainment space is allocated to avoid unnecessary overcrowding.
Understand the Mechanics
“Wedding tents should include everything that a regular venue has, such as flooring, power, air conditioning/heating units, generators, lighting, and portable bathrooms,” notes Jennifer Zabinski, president and founder of JZ Events. It’s also important to consider the functionality of your tent for vendors. “For example, ensure there are proper access points for vendors to load-in and be sure to include a cook-tent if your wedding is in a remote location.”
Play With Scale, Size, and Design
If hosting an intimate affair or an event suited for a larger guest list, choosing the right size for your tent is crucial to finalizing the layout for your reception or ceremony. Christen Ryan, founder of Ryan Designs, emphasizes the importance of diversification when it comes to tent sizes and their aesthetic. “Keep in mind that some tents have poles that take up space throughout the interior, and to consider your surroundings when choosing décor pieces so that every aspect of your design relates to the overall vision," Ryan says.
Light It Up
With weddings that stretch far into the night, it’s important to illuminate your tent enough so that guests don’t feel as if they can no longer be in the space. “Whether string lights, large bulbs, or lit installations, the integration of light in your tented design is crucial for events that will continue after the sun sets,” says Tracie Domino, founder and creative director of Tracie Domino Events.