Congratulations, you've decided on a date for your wedding. Now it's time to give some thought as to where the celebrations will take place. Perhaps you're planning a sophisticated reception in a hotel or you're happy with the down-to-earth appeal of the local village hall. But for many couples a marquee is a popular choice, especially if you're getting married during the warm summer months.
Come into the garden
A marquee can set a spectacular scene and has several advantages over other venues. It can cater for weddings of all sizes and can be flexible if numbers increase or drop at the last minute. All Bacchanalian festivities are nicely contained so, if you want to erect a marquee in your parents' garden, there's no need to worry about your mum's white carpet and you can dance until dawn, unrestricted by hotel regulations. A marquee is not a budget option but it can be more reasonable than a hotel venue.
Or if youve found the venue of your dreams and its only failing is that it doesnt quite accommodate the number of guests you would like to invite, a marquee can be the ideal solution. View a marquee as an extension to the building - a good marquee company will suggest a way in which it can be constructed to really become part of the venue, making the most of existing rooms and any beautiful views.
Do bear in mind that this is something you need to ask your venue - some will not allow marquees or will simply not have suitable facilities to accommodate one. If, for example, your venue is built on a hillside, a marquee is unlikely to be a possibility. Equally, some venues might welcome the idea and recommend a company who regularly work with them.
Its also a great idea for brides wanting to marry at home but without the space inside to accommodate all their guests. Gardens dont have to be enormous and marquees can be cleverly constructed to fit a space perfectly, so its a good idea to call a few local companies to ask what their suggestions and prices would be. The major benefit of having a marquee at home is that you can create the wedding reception you really want without having to stick to a specific wedding package, and of course, theres no need for transport at the end of the night when youre ready to fall into bed!
Where do we start?
Marquees come in various shapes and sizes and in two basic forms: the traditional shape, which has centre poles and guy ropes, and the more modern metal-framed, clear-span variety. "Although the traditional style is often favoured for its aesthetic qualities, a clear-span marquee is the most popular choice these days as there are no poles to get in the way of the tables or dance floor, and no ropes to trip over," says Roger Dipper of the British Marquee Company (01797-260303).
Do consider that a marquee has to be constructed and taken down, so you will have disruption at home for a week or two, and that you need to provide cooking facilities, loos and possibly heating. Unless you want guests to use the facilities inside your home, youll probably want to hire portable loos for the occasion.
You should expect to pay about £2500 for a marquee large enough for 100 guests, but remember to budget for other essential elements such as flooring, linings and lighting. Jeremy Nichols of Town and Country Marquee Hire (01628-671110) always recommends flooring, even if your lawn is perfectly flat. "You can never be sure of the weather and it will save the lawn from being ruined," he says.
Coconut or coir matting is the standard and most economical choice, although Jeremy recommends a wooden floor if the ground is very uneven. If you really want to push the boat out, you can choose carpet or even a suspended wooden floor.
When it comes to colour schemes, a marquee has the huge advantage of being a blank canvas. So, whether you like the idea of dramatic black and white, or delicate pink and silver, your colour scheme cant fail to work. In fact, the only colour to be wary of is white. A white wedding with white flowers, white linen, white china and a white marquee can all blend in to a mass of insignificant white, so its a good idea to at least have a splash of greenery in your flowers.
For a dramatic look, consider hiring a marquee lining so that your ceiling area effectively co-ordinates with the rest of the room (it also hides the metal frame). Linings are a must for a clear-span marquee although you might get away without one in a traditional tent, especially if you decorate it with hanging baskets and floral arrangements. Linings are usually pleated swathes of ivory fabric, and some companies also offer tinted panels to tie in with your colour theme and even patterned linings.
To add atmosphere to your marquee, you can make clever use of lighting options. "Uplighters give a soft light, while chandeliers can add a touch of class," explains Roger. If you have a fabulous view it's worth choosing a marquee with windows. "There are some other important extras to consider that are often overlooked," says Roger. "Your caterers will probably need a separate catering tent, so find out how much space they require for your specific menu."
Make sure your caterers and your marquee company communicate to establish how much power is needed to run the ovens, the lights and so on. Heating also needs to be considered. Roger recommends leaving the decision until roughly a week before the wedding, as even summer temperatures can be unreliable.
Dare to be different
If a classic marquee is not for you, you might want to consider something a little more unusual. The Raj Tent Club (020-7376 9066) has a great range of exotic handmade canopies and tents, priced from £500. Fantaysia (01709-894090) can supply large medieval-style tents and a Triple Tournament Tent seating up to 140 people costs from about £2115. Past Tents (01623-862480) specialises in made-to-order medieval- and Tudor-style tents from about £135 for a small 17th century style.
If you're on a small budget or you don't have the space for a large marquee, consider a smaller open structure or gazebo instead. This is a perfect solution for a more intimate reception where you're not serving a sit-down meal. Sunset Marquees (020-8874 4897) can supply small gazebos and prices start at about £190 for a 10ft x 10ft structure.
So whether you're looking for a traditional marquee, a Raj-style tent or pretty canopy, your wedding reception will be well covered.
What should you ask your venue? Download our handy checklist here
Find out how to create a party atmosphere in your marquee here
To make sure you keep your guests - young and old - entertained, click here