Party-rental supply stores have become a lot like your local mall, offering a dazzling choice of goods at a variety of prices. Whether you want dishes in basic black, tablecloths in hot pink, or gauzy overlays with beaded fringe, the wishes of design-conscious couples have become the rental industry's command. Of course, big cities offer the most choices. But if you're willing to play detective, you can find just about anything, no matter where you live. (Keep in mind that the further away you are from the rental source, the more you'll have to pay in delivery fees.)
Now that caterers' creations have started to resemble the menus of star chefs, rentable tableware is following suit with sophisticated styles and international flair. Even the most esoteric items are becoming commonplace, like Riedel crystal glasses, whose many shapes are designed for specific types of wine. Couples who don't want to follow the white-china route can choose from oversized shallow bowls with broad rims, mirrored chargers, colored goblets in elongated silhouettes, and chunky Mexican glass tumblers. Planning a feast with pan-Pacific fare? Party Rental Ltd., with branches in several East Coast cities, including Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., offers bamboo-handled flatware and Asian sandstone plates among its stock.
The beauty of fabric is that it's lightweight, so mail-order rental houses with vast selections will ship anywhere. "I can't remember the last time I used white linens," says Austin, Texas, wedding consultant Amy Mader, of Amy's Platinum Weddings. "We've done kiwi and salmon stripes in taffeta, and topped taupe satin with embroidered lace." At Just Linens in New York City, Linda Lieberman is up to her ears in organzas and silks. "We have quilted, pleated, embroidered, beaded, hand-painted, plaid, striped, polka dot—you name it." If luxe is your look, rent gold lamé napkins backed with red velvet, or satin-edge Tiffany-blue squares; cinch them with tassels, cording, or metal scrolls.
In the past, the only way to disguise ballroom chairs was by covering them with plain, loose-fitting slipcovers. Nowadays, you can lease contoured versions for a tailored look, or create texture by using chair caps (fabric covers that fit on chair backs) embellished with wooden or crystal beads. You can even find shirt-back chair covers with corset-style lace-ups and button accents. If you prefer to go contemporary with your seating, seek out the Bellini, a sleek plastic stacking chair. Backless is also big. "We're doing a lot of benches with square tables put together in a row to create a feasting table," says Victoria Canada, a wedding planner in Phoenix. Ottomans, too, are popular, observes Susan Allen, of Elizabeth K. Allen, a wedding-consultant firm in Boston and New York City. "We also rent longer benches with room for four or five people." Allen's innovative seating has also included banquettes (built-in upholstered benches with high backs) that evoke café-society glamour.
Whether tucked away in a corner of a ballroom or occupying a separate tent, lounges are wonderful oases of calm. Many of the bigger rental houses carry everything you'll need to invent a living room away from home—sofas, end tables, area rugs—but prop houses offer even greater selection. Choose among shabby-chic sofas and Scandinavian-modern divans, plus statues, mantels, chandeliers, even birdcages. Some antique stores also rent their wares, from oversized tufted sofas to Oriental rugs. Think about purchasing liability insurance at wedsafe.com to cover possible damage of expensive rentals.
Prop houses encourage thinking outside of the box. "One couple rented an antique clawfoot bathtub to use as an ice bucket," says Jennifer Ginsberg of Props for Today in New York. At the Propper Source in Atlanta, Hilary Henkin has leased his-and-her thrones, vintage fabric bunting for a Fourth of July wedding, and old columns that were reborn as huppah supports. Even photo booths are available. "They're interactive and fun for the guests," says Chicago wedding planner Susan Jablonski. "You can post the pictures on a bulletin board for an instant wedding album." Party animals can fill their festivities with a flock or two: Amazing Animal Actors in Malibu, California, offers creatures from leopards to lovebirds. Another source for cute critters: private wildlife and game parks licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For a nationwide list of renters, visit aphis.usda.gov/ac/publications.html, scroll down to "facility lists" and click on "licensed exhibitors."
With plant rentals branching out into trees, it's not far-fetched to decorate your entrance with a pine or palm, or have topiaries surrounding your outdoor ceremony. "We have an entire division devoted to tree rentals alone," says Heidi Bianchi, of Hartmann Studios, an event-design company in Richmond, California. "You can get ones as tall as fourteen feet." From tropical trees and standards like ligustrum and plumbago, available at the New York floral-design firm of Renny and Reed, to blossoming fruit trees, rentable flora are turning wedding halls into virtual forests. Event planner Sidni Greenblat, of Rave Reviews, in Washington, D.C., uses flowering fruit trees as centerpieces. "The tree can fit right through the hole formed by four quarter round tables that have been fitted together in a circle," he says. Greenblat also fashions indoor courtyards using live hedges and black olive trees. Can't find the right specimens at your party-rental store or florist? Head for a local nursery, where you can often rent plants and other foliage at excellent prices.
Nowadays, your event can take place anywhere from a mountaintop to a rocky coastline, thanks to subflooring options. "We once built a dance-floor balcony that extended over a lake," says Dennis Coppi, of HDO Productions, which has offices in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Another way to walk on water is with a clear dance floor that fits over an in-ground pool. "You can light it from below and put bubble machines in the water for a really dramatic effect," says Coppi. Transparent and frosted Plexiglas dance floors can also move indoors, along with flooring painted with flagstone or floral motifs.
Once mere utilitarian structures, these temporary shelters have become ultracomfortable, outfitted with everything from air conditioning to entrance canopies. And they're as decorative as the receptions they hold. Sperry Tents, in Marion, Massachusetts, makes luminous sailcloth designs with a nautical look, some in midnight blue strewn with white stars. To create an ambience fit for a maharaja, rent an earth-toned Indian-style canvas tent with printed patterns from Big Sky Tents, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Some look like miniature sultans’ palaces; others are simple canopies with crenellated (notched) edges. But what can beat Mother Nature when it comes to romance? That's where clear-top tents come in, says John H. Crabbed Jr., of the Vermont Tent Company in Burlington. "It's magical to look up and see the night sky."
Where To Rent It: Sources
Look in the yellow pages under "rentals," "party stores," and "theatrical prop houses."
- Organizations: the American Rental Association (ararental.org); the International Special Events Society (ises.com)
- Tableware: Party Rental Ltd., partyrentalltd.com ‘Linens: Just Linens, 212-688-8808
- Furnishings: Propper Source, proppersource.com; Props for Today, propsfortoday.com
- Foliage: Hartmann Studios, hartmann-studios.com; Renny and Reed, rennyandreed.com
- Floors (and tents): HDO Productions, hdotents.com
- Tents: Big Sky Tents, bigskytent.com; Sperry Tents, sperrytents.com; Vermont Tent Company, vttent.com
- Miscellaneous: Amazing Animal Actors, amazinganimalactors.com