If your wedding is in a marquee, tipi, barn, warehouse or any other blank canvas wedding space, then you’re essentially creating a wedding venue from scratch. There are lots of things to consider with this type of wedding and it does take more work than hosting your wedding at an established venue; even more so if you’re hosting your wedding at a family property. The good news however, is that this type of wedding gives you so many opportunities to create something this is completely unique and tailored exactly to your and your guests needs.
ASSESS THE SPACES
The first job with this type of wedding is assessing the spaces you’re working with. Access is crucial, as you’ll need room for trucks and large vans to make deliveries. If access is tricky, this can be managed – but you’ll need to budget for deliveries to be more expensive (allowing for more time or for specialist vehicles to be hired). And while marquee companies can work magic with flooring, having a reasonably level surface to begin with is very helpful. If you’re not on very solid flat ground, do considered hard flooring rather than just coir matting. Given the changeable UK weather, somewhere with good drainage is also essential.
If your wedding is at home, there may be plants, trees and other obstacles in the garden that need to be accounted for. Providing there’s enough room for a marquee in the first place, a good marquee company will be able to work these things into the layout and it can be a great way of adding colour and texture into the space. Another thing to consider is whether there are any views or key features of the garden or landscape that you’d like to be seen. Again, your marquee company can ensure that you use a clear paneled side or have that side open for your wedding day. Bear in mind however, that if you’re on a coastal site, even the stillest of days can be breezy and the sides may need to be down to protect the items on your tables.
DESIGNING THE LAYOUT
If you have the space, having separate areas for your ceremony, drinks reception and dinner really does take your wedding to the next level – creating an element of surprise for guests is always a lot of fun and it helps to avoid lulls in the day, as moving to a new space keeps things fresh.
You need to allow space for the following
- An area for drinks and canapes (with a wet weather option too)
- Enough room for guests to sit down and eat
- Bar area
- Seating area for older guests, or for guests to rest between dancing
- Catering Tent
I regularly work with Ginny of Virginia’s Vintage Hire for these types of weddings and Ginny recommends that regardless of the season, you consider outdoor seating areas. ‘If you don’t plan to have any furniture you can place outside then classically the sun will shine and everyone will want to be outdoors! However if you have planned for outdoor lounging or seating areas and the weather is wet, where will the furniture go?’ If you have hired sofas or seating with cushions / pillows, you will need to bring this under shelter and ideally indoors (especially overnight). ‘Even if you are having a winter wedding and have no plans for any outdoor activities it’s still wise to place a bench or two outdoors or some poseur tables so people can head outside to get some fresh air or have a ciggy and have somewhere to sit and something to place drinks on.’
FOOD AND DRINK SERVICE
As well as the main tent or structure, you’ll need a catering tent where your caterers can prep and serve food ready for service. Power and water sources need to be considered – if there’s no water on site, a water bowser will need to be hired. And it’s highly likely you’ll need a generator too – always check with your catering team, your musicians and any other suppliers who will need to use power how much they need to use so you can ensure you’ve got enough.
Have the catering tent tucked behind your main tent to keep everything looking lovely but do ensure that the kitchen has direct or covered access to the main tent. You also need to consider an area for rubbish – for both the food and the bar and you’ll definitely want this to be away from guests. Try to be considerate of the environment and have separate spaces for different types of rubbish and recycling – every little helps. If these areas can be viewed from the main tent Ginny suggests using ‘florals or screening to hide them.’
Make sure your caterers understand where they will be working and be prepared to talk through different ideas when it comes to food. Feeding hundreds of people from a tent in a field is no mean-feat and while wedding caterers are extremely creative, talented and experienced at doing this – it’s important to ensure everyone is on the same page with the expectations of the food.
FOCUS ON GUEST EXPERIENCE
There’s nothing worse than attending an event where you feel like an afterthought and while of course, it’s your big day – you’re still hosting a celebration and it’s important to make guests feel cared for. Understanding how guests will move around the venue, from the moment they arrive, to the moment they hit the dancefloor is absolutely key. Run through the day from a guest perspective and ensure anything that needs to be changed with suppliers or communicated to guests prior to the big day has been done.
Having somewhere to hang coats (particularly if you’re having a Winter wedding) means that they won’t end up on the back of chairs (making your reception space look messy, and limiting space for your catering team).
Perhaps another obvious one, but often missed – is signage. If you’re building a site from the ground up, make sure that people know where things are. The toilets, the bar and the parking area should all be clearly signposted. Good lighting is key and not just inside the structure. Think about walkways between the tent and the loos, the smoking area, the route to the car park – anywhere people will be moving after dark needs to be well lit.
It’s also sensible to have a couple of tables for guests to place cards and presents, along with somewhere for empty glasses to be placed during your drinks reception. Usually just inside the entrance to your event space, or next to where people are congregating for drinks.
AVOIDING THE PINTEREST TRAPS
Another top tip from Ginny – while barrel bars can look amazing and Pinterest is full of them, in reality ‘they leave nowhere to hide boxes of wine, glassware and general bar gubbings, so a bar with a closed front is preferable as it helps hide the mess!’ If you’re not hiring a bar with a closed front, then definitely consider a linen tablecloth to keep things hidden.
Hay bales are another Pinterest favourite that are actually quite different in reality (unless you have access to a farm of course). ‘Firstly hay is not cheap, it’s a feed product and can be expensive depending on the grass that has been cut the previous year. Old hay can be mouldy and smelly, and you are unlikely to find someone to hire hay bales, as after bales have been to a party the farmer is unlikely to want them back – they could have a variety of questionable substances spilled in them. The alternative is straw – really spikey and scratchy, so do make sure you have plans to cover them with throws or similar. If they get wet – that is generally the end of that – they will not dry out quickly and are heavy to move once in place – personally, I would avoid!’
One of the key trends for weddings over the last few years has been rattan and very pale linens – while this is gorgeous for editorials, do bare in mind that if you’re hiring items of this style, they may well look more used in real life than they do in photographs. These items are harder for hire companies to keep clean as the wear-and-tear on them is very visible compared to hardier dark wood items. And while we all want lovely photographs to show off our beautifully styled wedding, you want guests to actually sit on the items you’ve hired for them!
And finally, be aware of any neighbours or local businesses who may be affected by your wedding event. More cars on country lanes, parking, noise late into the night – it’s always best to communicate these things with people to ensure there are no bad feelings when the day arrives. On the whole though, most people are absolutely delighted to see a wedding being set up as it’s such a joyful occasion.
Virginia’s Vintage Hire cover the UK, with bases in the South West, London and Scotland. With an enviable reputation in the wedding industry for excellent service and the most fabulous selection of furniture, I love working with Ginny and Greg and they are my go-to for blank canvas weddings. If you’re hoping to host a marquee wedding and feel that you need some support, then do get in touch – I’m always happy to help.