An insider’s guide to planning the perfect marquee wedding

 Words by Claire Moulds

A marquee offers enormous flexibility compared to a traditional venue and is the perfect blank canvas for creating your dream day. From the location to the layout, and the furniture to the lighting, every aspect of a marquee is, quite literally, built to meet your specific needs.

One of the main benefits of a marquee wedding is being able to choose exactly where it takes place – within reason, of course! You may have always wanted to get married in your parents’ back garden, or overlooking the loch where your fiancé proposed, and a marquee makes both feasible.

Equally, many couples decide to go down the marquee route as it means they won’t be constrained by minimum or maximum guest numbers, as they would be at a hotel, and can tailor the layout to suit their own particular requirements – for example, having a large stage area and dancefloor if live music is going to play a key role in the evening’s entertainment.

A marquee can be an expensive option, though, so it’s vital to do your homework.

Get-Knotted.net Decorastive Branches £28.50 and Circles £POA

A circle of flowers is suspended from the ceiling, matching the dramatic branches on the tables, www.get-knotted.net

As with all weddings, your ideas will evolve over time, so suppliers won’t be expecting you to approach them with a plan that is set in stone. At the same time, the more detail you can provide in the early stages, the more accurate your first quote will be. As with traditional venues, the price varies seasonally, so it’s important to have a specific date or, at the very least, a month of the year in mind when making your initial enquiries, as well as a clear idea of guest numbers.

If a company isn’t familiar with the location you’ve chosen, having photos of the layout of the site – especially if there is a slope or potential access issues – is very helpful. Also, if you’re planning on having the marquee in the grounds of a property, confirm beforehand whether you can use
its power supply, kitchens and toilets or whether these facilities will all have to be provided, so that a supplier can allow for this in the quote.

You might not have got beyond when, where and the number of guests but, if you have, do share your ideas so companies can tell you the additional costs involved with each option. That way, you can decide on your ‘must haves’ and your ‘nice to haves’ and prioritise your budget accordingly.

So, what should you look for in a supplier?

“Ideally, get a recommendation from someone you know,” advises Grant Campbell of North of Scotland Marquees (northofscotlandmarquees.com). “Failing that, check out different supplier websites and note the speed and quality of the response you get to your enquiry.”

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A dedicated outside seating area gives your guests a focused meeting place, while a walkway will keep every­one’s feet dry, www.northofscotlandmarquees.com

“Try to see a marquee in the flesh if possible prior to booking,” recommends Jane Henderson of Henderson Marquee Hire (hendersonmarqueehire.co.uk). “Some marquees can be cheaper to hire but may not be of the quality of a more expensive option. It’s also worth asking people with experience of marquees, such as caterers and mobile toilet companies, for their thoughts.”   

Inviting local companies to quote can help to keep costs down – transport can be an expensive component – and makes it easier to meet the people who would ultimately be responsible for creating your perfect venue to see how comfortable you’d be working with them.

“Avoid suppliers who seem rigid in the style and layout they can offer – a marquee should be a flexible and fun option,” says Katherine Self of Finesse Marquees (finessemarquees.co.uk). “Do listen to advice, however, as years of experience means suppliers know how to get the best from a site.”

When comparing quotes, always make sure that suppliers have done their sums on a like-for-like basis – that way, you can see at a glance where costs vary.

“Once you have had an initial price sent through that you are happy with, organise a site visit,” suggests Katherine. “It’s not always required, as some sites are very straightforward and a visit won’t change the price, but it is almost always necessary if you are looking at a private site or something a little bit different, such as an awkward shape or a remote location.”

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Lots of foliage brings the natural touch to this Finesse Marquees tent, www.finessemarquees.co.uk

When it comes to personalising your marquee, the options are endless. First and foremost, consider how you want to use the space and whether you’d prefer to have it broken up or as one big ‘room’. For example, you could use a curtain to section off the main reception area during the welcome drinks; when guests are invited to take their seat for the wedding breakfast, the curtain is pulled back and the grand unveiling gives maximum wow factor.

“Comfortable chill-out areas with sofas are becoming increasingly popular,” says Paula Murdoch of Inverhall Marquees (inverhall.com). “We also recently did a wedding where the marquee had a dedicated area for children, with a soft-play section and a games table.”

“For the guests’ comfort, an adjoining marquee to house the toilets could also include coat rails and a changing area,” suggests Grant. “Another option is to make a real feature of the bar by housing it in its own separate marquee.”

If you have chosen your location for its sweeping vistas or stunning landscaping, windows will be a key feature of your marquee’s design. Options include PVC Georgian arched windows, for a traditional look, or PVC panoramic window walling for an uninterrupted view of your surroundings. Glazed window walls provide a high level of insulation compared to PVC – perfect in the cooler months – while glass bi-fold doors bring the outside in. If it really is all about the view, you could also consider adding a clear gable.        

The weather can present a challenge when it comes to a marquee wedding simply because of the nature of the structure. With advance planning and the specification of certain key features, though, much can be done to stop it spoiling your big day.

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Bold red plaid stands out vividly against this white backdrop

If the forecast is for a scorcher, removable walls will ensure that fresh air can circulate easily through the marquee and keep your guests at a comfortable temperature. A good marquee supplier will take into account which direction the sun will be facing as the day progresses so that the marquee is positioned accordingly. Break-out terraces with outdoor furniture also give people specific places to socialise outside of the marquee rather than having your guests scattered randomly across the lawn.

Realistically, it’s more likely you’ll face wet, windy and cold conditions where your focus will be on keeping your guests and the marquee sheltered from the elements. An enclosed site, which provides some degree of wind protection, is preferable to an exposed one in this situation, while a flooring system that elevates the finished surface off the ground will ensure the interior remains dry in the event of rain. A covered walkway for guests moving between the marquee and the main building or car park will protect them from the worst of the weather, while a thermostatically controlled heating system will make sure everyone is kept warm once safely inside.   

In terms of design, one of the major advantages of a marquee is its chameleon-like ability to transform its look and mood over the course of a day. Lighting is a key tool for achieving this and something that is worth investing time and effort in.

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If your parents have a house and garden like this, a marquee wedding makes perfect sense, www.hendersonmarqueehire.co.uk;

“Chandeliers are one of the most effective means of adding lighting,” says Jane. “Up-lighters and roof colour washes are also good for adding atmospheric lighting in the evening and can sit behind the lining of the marquee so that you can’t see the units, just the effect. They can also be set to a tone of your choice to complement your colour scheme.

“Pin-spots can be used to light individual tables, while disco lighting can be suspended over the dancefloor,” she adds. “Another option is to have a starlight roof lining where small LED lights are embedded into the material to give a night-sky effect – the lights can even be made to twinkle.”   

Grant has another suggestion: “Outside tree lighting is also very popular now to create that extra bit of magic.”

When it comes to making arrangements for the week before the wedding, and the days after, it’s worth bearing in mind that it will take up to 48 hours to erect your marquee and only then will you or the design team be able to decorate it. Equally, there is normally a reasonable amount of clearing up to do after the event before your supplier can come in to dismantle the structure, so you might need a day to tidy up before they come back on site.    

Marquee companies also offer varying levels of support on the day itself, whether it’s just someone being on call, to a full event-management service. Be clear from your initial meeting what your expectations are and, if there won’t be anybody on the ground, make sure the best man and ushers know how to remove the walls, alter the lighting and operate the heaters etc.

Finally, do bear in mind the impact that the marquee will have on its surroundings and any stipulations that a venue may make in terms of the condition that the site should be left in post-event.

“We always aim to leave the site in a state as close as possible to the way it was when we arrived,” says Katherine. “You may experience some temporary discolouration to your grass if the marquee is up for a few days and, if the site is very wet during the set-up, this can make it difficult to leave everything perfect. But a good supplier will do their best to minimise the damage from vehicles and foot traffic.”

So, whether you’ve always dreamt of having a marquee wedding or are currently considering one, rest assured that there is a team out there ready to help you to create your perfect wedding venue.