valley & co. tips :: choosing a tent style

Wedding tents aren’t just for inclement weather! We love a beautiful tent to provide a sense of space, shade from the heat, and a sweetly designed visual space that guests can enjoy all day and night long. Whether a tent is for the ceremony, for cocktails, or for dinner and dancing, knowing what kind of tent is available in your market and what is the best fit for your space is the first step.

The most common kind of tents are:

Sailcloth or Sperry Tent – this tent is, in our humble opinion, just spectacular to look at! The poles are wood and the tent itself is made of heavy-duty sail cloth. These tents are quite stately and don’t require any interior draping. They are staked into the ground, so space needs to be clear for that – check with the venue or your property for sprinkler, electrical, and gas lines. These tents also have center poles used for support, so this needs to be take into consideration when creating your layout and seating plan. Depending on the size of the tent, a pole could be staged every 20 feet. Virtually any kind of chandelier can be suspended inside and globe lights can be strung throughout or around the perimeter like you see here (this image also happens to be the cover of our book – we love it!).

Photo: O’Malley Photographers for Valley & Company Events

Photos: Christine Chang Photography for Valley & Company Events

Clear-Top Frame Tent: a favorite tent for shady locations, these tents are a standard frame tent with a clear plastic ceiling – they really allow an enchanting feeling, allowing the trees and stars to be visible. Some clear-top tips: these tents are not ideal for weddings or parties with no shade – they can heat up really quickly and feel like a greenhouse. We recommend these tents for locations on the water not in all-day sunlight, and areas that are shaded and breezy. Talk to your rental company as well to ensure the tent is in good condition – not scratched – as you’ll be able to see that. We love chandeliers in these tents or fairy lights.

Photos by Martin + Stelling for Valley & Company Events

Cabana Structures: ideal for outdoor weddings where it’s breezy and warm (like Hawaii or Southern California), these structures are pure magic and provide that sense of space but also feel like a special open-air setting made just for you. These structures can be enhanced with draping and lights – the draping will generally feel breezy but will provide some shade, though not as much as an actual tent. This wedding was set on Maui and is one of our new favorites – we love cabanas!

Photo: O’Malley Photographers for Valley & Company Events

Venue: Steeple House, Maui   Cabanas: Rio Event Design   Catering: Sugar Beach Events

Tension Tent – similar to a sail cloth tent in style, this tent stretches and uses the tension in the poles for structure. It needs to be staked into the ground. Generally these come in a heavy-duty plastic and they’re a good option to a sail cloth tent if you don’t have a carrier of sail cloths in your area. 

Photo: C2 Photography for Valley & Company Events

Frame Tent – a common tent style, frame tents do not have poles in the center – these tents are like a big rectangle and sometimes have tension wires inside. Things to know about this kind of a tent: they need draping and pole covers, otherwise you’ll see the metal poles exposed. These can either be weighted down (with cement piers) or staked into the ground. These tents can come in all sizes and can house up to several hundred guests.

Photos: Chantal Anderson for Valley & Company Events

Tipi Structures – these authentic Native American structures can make for cozy and comfy intimate lounge settings like we created here at this private estate wedding.

Photo by Martin + Stelling for Valley & Company Events

A few other pro tent tips:

  • Ask your tent company to include pole drapes for that ethereal look – you can dress them up with greens and flowers easily for an added layer of design and magic
  • Big fans can also be installed in tents (they come in colors that can gel with your scenery) to keep air flowing on hot days and heaters can be installed with thermostats you can set
  • A whisper-quiet generator (or two) is great to have to run power for the tent lighting – keeping that lighting separate from your band or DJ means you can control the lights and quickly troubleshoot if they go out
  • Plan in advance how long a tent will take to install – does the rental company need to floor the space before hand? If so, this is a big production and can take several days. Pad this install timing into your timeline and know setting up a tent alone can take an entire day
  • All of these tent styles allow for sidewalls

We could go on and on, but these helpful tenting tips should give you a good jumping off point to determine what your tenting style is!