Windswept takes ‘custom’ to a new level
Some weddings take a year or more to plan. This past summer, Windswept Entertainment and Events, Latrobe, Pa., put on an extraordinary wedding on a farm in Ligonier, Pa., that took extreme preparations for one detail alone — the floor.
The year-long wedding project began as they always do: With a ring.
“Windswept has done small work for this entire family over the past seven years, but never anything of this size. We were contacted in May 2011 for a 200-person engagement party at their home in Pittsburgh,” says Steve Ghrist, Windswept’s director of operations.
“They told us, as we were setting up, that they planned to have an outdoor wedding on their farm in Ligonier and they wanted Windswept to assist in planning it, since we offer event planning as well as rental services,” Ghrist says.
The countdown began in July. “We had a ton of meetings and met, at minimum, once a month. The bride lived in Boston, so the mother of the bride handled most of the planning. Windswept’s planning started in July at the family’s farm in Ligonier, picking out potential locations for the tent. With the customer, we narrowed it down to four locations,” he says.
“We then called Mark Cerasi, president of Sur-Loc Flooring Systems. Mark shot all the potential locations to determine the elevation the floor would need to be at each location. Showing the customer the different elevations and quotes for what the floor would cost at these locations helped the customer pick the final location of the wedding,” Ghrist says.
“Right from the beginning, the bride wanted the wedding to be rustic and this floor was a big part of that. We looked at doing a real hardwood floor, but it didn’t look as rustic as she wanted it to. Windswept showed the bride pictures of a different event with a floor made from pine boards. The bride wanted this floor in the worst way and that’s what drove the decision,” he says.
“When you’re using pine, it doesn’t color evenly, so that gives it that reclaimed barn wood look. I bought a few 2-in.-by-12-in.-by-12-ft. boards and stained them different colors. Then I brought those to the mother of the bride and she chose the cherry stain. Sur-Loc Flooring Systems then ordered and stained the boards that would be needed to complete the floor,” he says.
In the meantime, planning was at a fever pitch.
“I can’t tell you how much time everyone at Windswept spent over the winter creating and revising CAD drawings for this event using multiple different styles of tents. For a long time we were going to use our 57-ft.-wide sail cloth tent, but after a lot of thought we decided to use a structure tent that would allow us a lot more freedom to use our imaginations while decorating. We also felt much more comfortable anchoring a structure tent on an 11-ft.-high floor than we did a pole tent,” Ghrist says.
“Anchoring was a big challenge. We had to anchor our stake bars before the floor was installed. Once the floor was installed, we anchored the tent base plates to the floor using 1-in. all thread and a mirrored base plate that secured the tent to the beams of the floor. We then attached ratchet straps from the mirrored base plate to the stake bars directly below each tent leg. Guying the tent was also a big challenge. We wanted the deck area to be usable, so we had to make sure the guy straps were high enough, so that if you walked under it, you wouldn’t clip the guy wire. However, we had to make sure the angles of the guys were still sufficient as anchors.
Most of the anchoring equipment was custom-made for this job,” he says.
Soon, the July 6 wedding date was near and plans were about to change.
“One of the biggest challenges was, about a week before we were to install, the client decided they wanted the tents on two levels instead of one. So, basically, the whole plan changed. Then we learned there were going to be 75 more people at the wedding, bringing the total to just over 300, so we added two more decks. We ended up buying more wood, staining it right there and installing it. It worked out well,” he says.
In total, the companies set up more than 21,000 sq. ft. of flooring ranging from 2 ft. to 9 ft. off the ground and 15,000 sq. ft. of tenting, not to mention two grand staircases and two highly reinforced platforms for the elevated restroom trailers.
“Windswept started setup on June 25. We squared the area the tents and scaffolding would go, and put in all the stake bars and anchors. Then Sur-Loc built the scaffolding and started on the wood beams and flooring. Just to get the wood deck down, it took almost the entire week,” Ghrist says.
Challenges with the floor included the whims of the material. Pine is a soft, knotty wood with a tendency to warp in humid conditions. During setup, temperatures reached 100 degrees on a daily basis, Ghrist says.
“Most of the places we work, you wouldn’t get that kind of time to build something. You’d have to figure out how to get the project done in two days. Had we only four days to set up, the wood floor would have caused a problem for us. We allotted time for mistakes to happen. One of the biggest lessons would be how difficult the pine floor was to install,” he says.
After the floor was done, Windswept had four days to get all the tents in, set up generators and climate control, put in the restroom trailers and decorate.
Getting the restroom trailers into the tent wasn’t a huge challenge after building the ramp at the back of the tent. However, creating enough support to hold the 10,000-lb. trailers was another matter. “One of the bigger challenges was supporting the floor beneath the trailers. It was 6 ft. in the air. The boards underneath were right next to each other and there were multiple supports below that to hold the weight,” he says.
The move from one level to two impacted a few areas. “It took us a whole day to build two sets of stairs,” Ghrist says. “Also, we own four sets of glass doors. When it was all on one level, we had enough doors. Once it went to two levels, we were scrambling. We did a lot of custom work and ended up having to build two glass doors for the event, because we couldn’t get them from our supplier in time.”
Initially, the plan was not to put walls on the side of the tents that faced the deck areas so they could be used for cocktails and relaxing after dinner. Then the temperatures rose to 100 degrees with no indication of cooling off. Due to the extreme temperatures, Windswept and the customer decided to put walls on all sides of the tents, run the air conditioning units and only access the deck areas from the glass doors. Windswept had air conditioning units available just in case of hot weather.
“It was a good thing we had it. There was a 100-ton unit on the 50-ft.-by-140-ft. dinner tent and a 60-ton unit on the 50-ft.-by-75-ft. cocktail tent. They kept the temperature very comfortable,” he says.”
To power all the air conditioning, catering and electrical needs, several generators were brought in. “All the generators were backed up, so that if one dropped off, another would have picked up in seamless fashion. It’s something we push all our customers to adopt, but only maybe 20 percent go through with it. The likeliness of a generator failing is not high, but it’s a small investment for peace of mind that everything is covered,” Ghrist says.
After the floor was done, the tent was anchored and the temperature was under control, décor managed to present challenges of its own. “We strung more than 12,000 linear ft. of twinkle lights, and it took three people 11 hours just to put them up. It was very time-consuming, but it looked great when it was done,” he says.
The lights were followed by a tent liner made by Windswept, which has an interchangeable valance. Lighting included three antiqued bronze chandeliers that were purchased for the event.
On top of the setup, the company coordinated everything, including transportation and entertainment. “To me, it’s better to be involved. We do plenty of events where we’re just providing a tent or a generator. You get to the event and you don’t know what you’re getting into. You run out of power. You set things up, not knowing what another vendor needs,” Ghrist says.
“It’s better to coordinate the whole event. I think it’s a lot easier. I know everything that’s happening and if there’s a question about anything, I have an answer. I know who’s there and what time they are arriving. It gave me a lot of peace of mind, knowing how the event is going to run,” he says.
After a year of work, much of it custom, pricing was a real question, he said. “That’s one challenge every rental store has,” he says. “An event like this is not priced out of the book. We spent a lot of time saying, ‘What do we need to charge to do this?’ ‘How long is this going to take?’ Everything is custom, so we spent a lot of time deciding what to charge.”
In the end, he says, “it really went well. It was probably our most elegant event. So much of it was custom. That’s our niche — we do a lot of custom items. It’s super time-consuming and takes a lot of attention to detail.”
That’s why rental is important, he says. “Everything there was rented. It’s completely custom. No one can say they had this event. It’s 100-percent built for their needs. It allows you to get everything you want. If you rent a hall, you’re limited. Here, if they want to stay another hour, they can. They can be in charge.”