Helen Lowe’s top tips for using furniture to the max to create a fantastic function whatever the venue.
Anyone else operating in the event and hospitality industry guilty of spending their days thinking about how to turn a seemingly innocuous venue into the fabulous space of your client’s dreams? Do you find your creative juices flowing every time you pass a cow pat covered field, a dilapidated old building or a somewhat spooky warehouse?
Just imagine what you could do with all that wonderful character or that totally blank canvas. From teepees to marquees, castles to stately homes, country pubs to night clubs, and planes to trains and automobiles; nothing and nowhere need be off limits in this day and age. In this article, I’m going to give you some insight into why.
Firstly, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. While it’s pretty common for clients to pull the ‘I want something different’ card, the fundamentals of any event – be it intimate and private, or elaborate and extravagant – are pretty much set in stone.
Give them shelter from the inevitably unpredictable British weather, somewhere to sit, somewhere to give a speech, somewhere to rest a drink and a plate of food, and somewhere to have a boogie when the serious part is done and dusted, and you have the makings of a pretty successful do.
But just imagine if everyone simply delivered against the above… How long would it take us all to die of utter boredom? If all we did was line up a row of chairs beside a row of tables facing a stage, we wouldn’t really be doing our bit to enhance the atmosphere, now would we?
So, when it comes to an event in any location, it is true that the basics are easily definable, but the minutiae is not to be underestimated, especially if you are working in a less traditional venue.
The decorations are what set the tone, the ‘zones’ can have a major role in managing the order of the day, and the furniture could just as easily break the day as it could make it.
On that note, here are some of my top tips for making the most of any space – pop up or otherwise!
The art of ‘zoning’
We’ve all found ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place at a marquee wedding, haven’t we? Desperately avoiding the terribly exposed dance floor while attempting to give great aunt Doris a wide berth. Short of setting up camp in the beautifully themed portaloos for the foreseeable, there’s nowhere to hide.
The inevitable happens. You succumb to getting on down to the Macarena with the rest of the guests, someone films it on their phone and within hours it’s on YouTube. #Sigh.
Now imagine how easily that heartache could have been avoided if the organiser had been aware of the wonderfully diverse and creative furnishing options available to help break up the space and make it just a little bit less, well, spacious.
The VIP feel (very important products)
Once you have your areas right, the flow of ‘traffic’ will be much easier to predict and influence, leaving you free to think about what else is needed to ensure the guests have the time of their lives.
Who doesn’t like to be made to feel a little bit special? It doesn’t really matter what the event is – be it corporate or celebrity fuelled? What does matter, however, is ensuring that the furnishings and furniture you commission to help you achieve that look is appropriate for the surroundings.
A red carpet is all well and good, but if you are inviting 80 guests to a launch party in a petting zoo is it really going to have the desired effect? Imagine trying to ‘corner off’ a VIP area in a lighthouse. I’ve no doubt that by working with the right supplier who gets your vision and knows their stuff you’ll find it can be done, but your typical L shape sofa and event ropes probably ain’t gonna cut it!
The bar, regardless of whether it’s dishing out oodles of booze or simply cups of tea and bottles of water, is normally one of the most heavily populated areas at any event. With that in mind is it worth considering how to better utilise the area?
You could add some high bar tables and stools to prevent people loitering after they have been served, while also allowing them another space to congregate, network and relax. The beauty of this approach is that just a few can have a massive visual impact, and as they are quite small and unobtrusive they are likely to work in even the quirkiest and most awkward of venues.
There are all sorts of options for anyone wanting to create an atmosphere, and my favourite has to be illuminated tables. If you’re working with a really challenging space in terms of natural light then thinking about how to make that a plus point, could be the way forward.
It’s easy to get carried away when you have a stunning venue oozing with character to work with, or the vast empty space available in a field or an old barn. It’s equally tempting to get hung up on themes and colours and quirky concepts, but if you haven’t got the basics right, you haven’t got an event.
It’s all well and good ordering chairs, but have you got enough? If the delegates need to register, how and where will they do it? Do your exhibitors need access to electricity, and can you provide it?
Don’t forget to lean on your trusty suppliers for this side of things. If they’re good at what they do, they should allow you to focus on the bigger picture, while they make sure your guests have what they need in the right quantities.
Choose your friends wisely
Talking about leaning on suppliers, the importance of having a strong relationship with people and companies that you trust and can rely on is never more apparent than when you are under pressure to deliver a stunning event in a less than conventional venue.
There’s no point sitting head in hands fretting about the mounting number of tasks on your to do list when your extended team could (and should) be on hand to offer valuable advice and guidance.
Whether that be the most appropriate and practical catering option for a remote venue, the right entertainment for a room full of funeral directors, or the right furniture options for an undeniably awkward space; they’re experts in their field just like you and have probably got some experience of similar scenarios, no matter how obscure. So remember to make the most of them!
Take a bow
Finally, and this tip is particularly important, remember to take a little time to pat yourself on the back. Pulling off an event in any venue is tough, and even more so when competing with non-permanent structures or buildings that were designed to house little more than the lady of the manor and her servants.
With that in mind you might want to pull up one of those stools alongside the luminous bar that you so conscientiously ordered, get yourself a drink and remind yourself that you did good. After all, you don’t have long until the next challenge comes your way and you’ll find yourself back in the thick of planning and delivering.
About the Author
Helen Lowe is the events and marketing manager at Europa International. For over 50 years, Europa has been supplying furniture and floor coverings for hire to the events industries. It specialises in chair, sofa, stool and table hire at affordable prices, and carries a stock of items for those who want ‘something a little different.’ A truly independent furniture and event hire company, it is family run, with family values. Other services include floor covering, registration desks, panel hire, electrical, graphics, conference seating and shell scheme hire. Tel: 020 8676 0062 / www.europainternational.com/oaa or Tweet @Europa_Int