Under cover in the Big Outdoors: what’s involved in DIY weddings

Want to go it alone and have a marquee wedding in your garden instead of celebrating at a plush venue? Many couples think that choosing the DIY route is an easy option and great on the budget, but this isn’t always the case.

Firstly, don’t underestimate just how much work is involved, from the months of preparation to the final set-up on the big day.

It’s a much greater challenge than a hotel or country house venue because you have to organise everything from scratch, while most venues provide professional planners to help you get everything right.

If you opt for a DIY event, here are some important factors to consider:


The free range option

The attraction of having a marquee at your home is that you have a blank canvas to play with. A marquee is ideal for themed weddings – it’s not as formal as a venue where couples are tied by its restrictions and rules. For example, you have don’t have the strict limits on guest numbers that venues impose, there aren’t the corkage costs and you can choose your own caterer instead of having to use the one linked to the venue.

There is a vast choice of marquee designs so it is important to consider the size and style of the reception and how the marquee’s design and inside layout will accommodate this.

It’s best to research the benefits and limitations of different sizes and styles. Even in summer, be prepared for our unpredictable British weather by choosing a heavy-duty marquee that can withstand windy conditions or heavy rain.


Under cover in the Big Outdoors: what’s involved in DIY weddings

Keep cool – and warm

If the day could be hot, you need to know that the sides of your marquee will open to keep everyone cool. Likewise, the ability to heat it is important for those chilly summer evenings or late autumn days. No-one wants to see their guests huddled up in their coats, or worse, leaving early because they are too cold. Having a sub-frame wooden floor will also help keep guests warm and dry underfoot, avoiding the danger of heels being ruined.

Wooden floors aren’t essential but very stylish. Marquee companies recommend that if a marquee goes up on hard standing, it’s best to use a wooden floor to avoid puddles should it rain. Other options are hard-wearing carpets or matting in a range of shades to fit in with your colour scheme.


Under cover in the Big Outdoors: what’s involved in DIY weddings

What type of marquee?

Pole tent: This is supported by poles and guy-wires. It’s elegant and has one or more peaks to the roof. Poles have to be staked into the ground. Not as versatile as other tents.

Frame tent: this freestanding tent is supported by a metal frame instead of poles. It’s ideal on concrete and most other surfaces. The metal struts can be hidden by decorating with luxuriously draped fabric or used to hang lights.

Marquee tent: A cross between a pole tent and frame tent. It has the aesthetic appearance of the pole tent’s peaked roof.

Clear tent: Frame-based with a clear vinyl top. It gives protection from the weather but everyone can still see the sky or the stars.

Sailcloth tent: It’s not suitable for all surfaces and needs staking with guy-wires. It is a type of pole tent with sailcloth used instead of vinyl.

Safari/beach style tent: More decorative than practical, but who cares when it looks good? Light fabric such as fine linen or muslin is used to drape around and over a wooden frame to provide slight shade for guests. A light and airy look that works better in warmer weather.

Themed tent: If you want a themed wedding you could explore hiring a circus-like pole tent in red and white striped fabric. Alternatively, how about dressing a marquee or pole tent in sumptuous fabrics and trimming with lighting to match to create a Moroccan look or the days of the Raj?

Teepee-style tent: This is another beautiful aesthetic tent due to its shape and intimate feel. The teepee comes in a variety of sizes and configurations so would be ideal for everything from a small wedding to a large one.

Yurt: A yurt is round with a lattice frame wall and a wooden roof frame, covered in fabric, usually canvas, and insulated inside. Yurts come in various sizes but are unsuitable for large weddings.

Bell tent: An affordable way for guests to stay overnight is to have a bell tent village – good fun on a summer’s night.


Complete the look

Once you’ve decided on the type of marquee and where it will go, there are some important points to think about:

Props: Various rental companies will offer props such as lighting, fabrics and low-level furniture to complete the look.

Parking: Where will it be? If parking is in a nearby field, provide a solid walkway – people will appreciate it if it’s raining. Some weddings provide a shuttle service from a parking area.

Toilets: We’ve all been to weddings where there aren’t enough mobile toilets. Work out how many you need, especially for a large number of guests; there are posh loos for hire at the top end of the market.


Don’t skimp

Generator: Ensure that you hire the right size of generator to power everything on site. Lighting a marquee well uses a fair bit of electricity, and then the DJ and caterers all need power, so it would be a mistake to skimp on size.

Access: Check on access for suppliers coming on site. Think about the space large vehicles need when delivering mobile toilets and generators. Flag up to suppliers if the access is narrow and schedule timed slots for deliveries.

Insurance: It’s import to get the right level of insurance cover in case anything goes wrong. Find out from the marquee company what the marquee is worth so you can make sure you have the right amount of cover, and shop around for quotes.

Caterers: Check what size of catering marquee they need, and they will also require access to water and electricity/gas.


Lighting for impact

Lighting plays a big part in creating a look as it sets off a marquee and makes it look magical. The lighting available for creating your special look in a marquee includes:

Functional lighting – This means pendant lights, chandeliers and up-lighters that can be operated via dimmer switches to move from day to night.
Fairy lights – We all love them and they come in various shapes, sizes and colours.

Festoon lighting – Traditional strings of large bulb lights, ideal for country weddings.
Candles – They don’t give out much light but are so romantic. Biggest impact is from grouping them; vases and jam jars with tea lights look especially pretty lit up.

Paper lanterns – Lots of these can be effective: the higher the ceiling, the bigger the lantern.

Pin spot lighting – Subtle, directional lighting on areas such as table centerpieces; it changes to create a more relaxed feel.

Chandeliers – A glamorous, decorative look that’s ideal in a large space.

Starcloth linings – Hung across the ceiling, these are fabulous for the twinkle look and work beautifully in photographs.


Under cover in the Big Outdoors: what’s involved in DIY weddings

Outdoor lighting

Outdoor lighting needs to be welcoming and practical. It’s important to light pathways and the toilets. Try solar-powered lights, festoon lighting strung between poles, storm lanterns or candles in jars. Floating candles look gorgeous on ponds.


Take the pressure off you

You can either find a marquee company that will supply much of the ancillary equipment such as tables, chairs, generator and toilets, or you can find suppliers yourself. Some marquee companies will also source props for your themed day if they don’t have them and arrange delivery, which will save you having to chase up suppliers.

Likewise, caterers can source or provide linen, cutlery, glassware and crockery. Couples have traditionally used round tables at weddings, but long banqueting tables are becoming more popular and work well for rustic themes.

There are a lot of options to consider with a marquee wedding but in the end, you have more freedom to make the celebration as unique as possible. All it takes is imagination, careful planning, keeping your eye on the detail and maintaining a cool head on the day.