Go Glamping, Backyard-style

With a little (or a lot) of help, your summer party can be the talk of the town.

The staycation phenomenon spotlighted the pleasures of hanging out inside your home, offering you a chance to relax and unwind in the comfort of your own recliner or bed, where you can get lost in an assortment of Netflix-binging options. And a new trend aims to reintroduce you to your patio, porch, deck and backyard in ways you didn’t think possible.

Now glamping, or luxurious camping — combining a nature experience with lavish furnishings — is hitting closer to home. Backyard barbecues are becoming more extravagant, baby showers more memorable. Birthday sleepovers are celebrated with enchanted flair, and simple family gatherings are benefiting from greater creativity.

Backyard glamping is officially a thing. Just scan Pinterest and see the thousands of images folks are posting of their elaborate thematic setups, their clever use of lighting draped inside and outside of canvas tents that are artfully decorated with throw pillows, Moroccan rugs and hanging chandeliers. Kids’ sleepover parties are enhanced with Martha Stewart–inspired crafts, tasteful design elements encircling the “campfire” (a.k.a. fire pit) and giant outdoor versions of Jenga and Connect Four.

If these extras sound exhausting for the time-crunched host and hostess, don’t worry. A handful of companies are making it easier for clients to throw a backyard glamping experience, because organizing a gathering — no matter how big or small — comes with its own set of stresses. Hosts work with designers to tailor the events (such as bridal showers, graduations, book-club meetings or girls’ night-outs) to be as elaborate or simple as needed. On the day of the event, all the necessary gear and accessories will be delivered and often set up for you. After the shindig, crews pack everything up so there’s no post-party hassle and cleanup.

“We started thinking we would focus on children, but we learned quickly that adults want these kinds of experiences as much as kids do,” says Trish Healy, founder of Studio City–based WonderTent Parties, launched in 2017. Originally from Australia, Healy said the idea for the company was sparked by a request from 13-year-old Celia, a child she and her husband were fostering at the time. Celia’s Christmas wish list included a sleepover, something she had yet to experience. This simple request turned into not just an unforgettable event for Celia (who’s now officially adopted by the couple) but a business opportunity for Healy, who decided to elevate the humble slumber party into a memory-making event.

And who can blame parents when they see kids having fun with their friends in a relatively nondigital manner? In addition to tents, sleeping bags, mattresses and lanterns, parties can include a karaoke machine, popcorn cart, dress-up clothes and more. Adults, says Healy, have options to kick it up a notch with five-star experiences that have included gourmet dining on low tables, wine or tequila tastings, massage tables, sushi sampling, a Tiki bar, tarot card readings and more.

Of course, low-key requests are also popular. Healy once organized a Father’s Day backyard glamping party for a few families that involved a dinner, a movie and tents. “The families brought the dads’ favorite recliners outside for them to watch the movie,” she says, explaining that clients often personalize their parties with items they already own. “Backyard glamping is all about creating a shared experience with others.”

Another company that serendipitously fell into serving backyard glampers is Los Angeles–based Joymode, which has been offering camping bundles for folks wanting to camp — without the ruggedness and/or the gear hassle — at such far-flung destinations as Joshua Tree and the Pacific Coast. Joymode drops off all the gear for you at the campsite (yes, you have to set it up yourself) and picks it up afterward. In addition to warm canvas tents, they supply rugs, air mattresses, sturdy camp chairs and other accoutrements to make your campsite the envy of the others.

Realizing that a campsite can be a close as a client’s own backyard, Joymode started offering home glamping bundles which can, according to Molly Schmidt, the company’s head of merchandise, “take an ordinary weekend or sleepover party and turn it into a magical event because you are outdoors. You can do all the traditional camping things — roast marshmallows, tell ghost stories, snuggle in your sleeping bags — but you’re not far from home. It’s the ultimate in low-tech comfort.”

Camping gear is bulky and often needed only sporadically, so renting from a company that will supply and sanitize everything is a popular choice, says Schmidt. If a person has never set up a tent before, detailed but simple instructions are included for novices. Rental products are intensely curated so folks will experience the crème de la crème of blenders, projection screens, Go-Pro cameras, even TheraGun professional massagers. “This is a way for many of our clients to get access to these items and test them out,” says Schmidt. Clients often suggest items for the company to carry; a big request lately is baby gear available for traveling parents who don’t want to lug all the extras with them. Likewise, Healy has had clients who have fallen in love with certain items (usually cushions and tableware along with kids’ products) and want to purchase them outright. “That’s another area we never thought about before,” she says.

But cool accessories aside, the experience is what really matters. When her preschool daughter’s annual camping trip to Big Pines was rained out earlier this year, Mary Everard of West Los Angeles canceled her Joymode gear delivery but decided to rent a backyard tent package that included a projector and screen for Disney movies. “It was really fun, we made a weekend of it,” she says, explaining that she wanted her two older children (ages 3 and 5) to have good memories of these “little things that are out of the ordinary that they did with their family when they were young.”

At its core, backyard glamping is about human connection, explains Healy. “We are living in an age when people are a little removed from each other, even with social media,” she says. “This is about bringing friends and family together in a loving home environment where you can create amazing experiences. It’s a natural extension of the comfort and warmth of your home — and how wonderful that you want to share that with friends and others around you.”

Should You Backyard Glamp?

Hosting an event in your own backyard has pros and cons, says Kelsey Sheofsky, the founder of Shelter Co., a luxury pop-up camping and outdoor-events supplier based in Northern California. In addition to managing large events, Sheofsky has overseen numerous backyard kid’s parties, bar mitzvahs and 50th birthdays as well as large weddings and other formal events.

Smaller events are easier to plan, and “when you are in your backyard, you are on familiar ground,” she adds. Crowd control is not the only issue with large events. “There are lots of considerations and costs, especially things you might not automatically think about, like landscape lighting, parking and how a septic system will hold up,” she says.

For overnight events, there is always a fear that guests won’t enjoy the experience. “People are always concerned, saying that ‘My family doesn’t camp!’ They don’t like being outdoors” says Sheofsky. “But 100 percent of the time, we get people telling us that they have had the best sleep in years in our tents. So warm and cozy. Don’t be afraid if you think you don’t have an outdoor crowd — they will really enjoy themselves.”

Thinking about a summer backyard glamping event? Designers and party-planners say to let your own creativity be your guide, especially when you want to keep the budget low but fun factor high. Keep the audience in mind, whether it’s adolescent girls, middle-school boys, members of your book club or out-of-town family members.

In general, look around your closets and garage for items that can — with a few glam touches — be repurposed outside. Maybe a trip to local thrift stores, Ikea, Cost Plus, Costco and Target is in order.  Remember, style and substance along with unusual activities can transform a simple gathering into the Best Summer Party Ever.

Here are suggestions to get your
glamping started:

1) It’s glamping, so you’ve got to have a tent or a tent-like enclosure to define a party-mood space. You can dust off that extra-large tent that’s been in your garage for years, or assemble a series of pop-up canopies decorated with fabric swaths to create a breezy gazebo structure. There’s always the “tie a rope between tall trees and create tipi-like structures” approach as well. Depending on your gathering, you may want just one main party space or a series of rooms. Will there be a food tent? Lounge tent? Movie tent? Sleeping tent? Even for the budget-minded, this is one item you may want to rent since it’s the main piece of infrastructure. You might want to think beyond traditional canvas tents; consider inflatable bubble tents, which are all the rage in the eco-glamping community. Based in Arizona, Bubble Huts (bubblehuts.com) offers a selection of see-through structures so you can feel like you are outside…even when you are technically inside.

2) Furnishings: From mud-cloth to frills, from velvety to plush — pillows of all sizes and shapes will make your backyard event even glampier. Woven rugs add earthy textures to the landscape. Colorful rugs beckon guests to sit, stretch out and relax among friends. Low tables encourage lounging.

3) Eating spaces can be tricky. How formal or casual is the event? Simple dishware can be easier to clean up. Will there be a sit-down area or buffet line? Maybe food will be sprinkled throughout various tables and tents? Prepare food in advance so you’re not stuck behind a grill the entire party. Finger foods are perfect. Of course, what’s a camping dessert without the obligatory s’mores? Use dark chocolate, trendy flavored marshmallows and toast over your fire pit.

4) Lighting: The event will probably incorporate dusk and nighttime — it’s camping! Light up the Tiki torches and string twinkly white lights around the landscape. Strategically position camping lanterns to set the mood. Opt for flameless candles. Solar-powered wine-bottle lights cast a rosy golden glow after the sun goes down. Create a kaleidoscope of color with Bliss Lights laser projections (blisslights.com), which fling a whirl of rainbow colors onto trees, fences and outdoor walls.

5) Forgo the candles and bug spray, and glam up your insect deterrent. The Mosquito Repellent DecoShield Lantern (decoshield.com) uses pleasant-smelling all-natural essential oils and repels mosquitos and biting flies within a 300-square-foot space. It’s encased in a stylish cover and also serves as a lantern, casting a soft glow.

6) The details: As with all creative endeavors, the devil is in the details. Arrange cut flowers in mason jars. Incorporate antique sculptures and colorful swaths of flowy scarves and other materials, lacy hangings and art weavings. Possibilities are endless.

7) But in the end, it’s the shared activities that will make your party. Have friends bring over their guitars, ukuleles, bongos and keyboards for an impromptu jam session. If it’s warm, splurge on a three-person adult-size inflatable pool (from Target) and take turns. Oversized Jenga and Connect Four seem more fun outdoors. But hands down, watching a movie on a large outdoor screen — maybe a GPX projection screen — while you are snuggled up in a sleeping bag with your kids or cozying up to your sweetie could be the ultimate in backyard glamping. Now, the big decision: Which movie will you watch?