As the event market becomes more experiential, it’s only natural that venue choices are, too. Ten to twenty years ago, people cared a whole lot more about material value and possessions than they do now. They crave quality experiences, not just star-studded events at the most popular or luxuriant spaces in town.
In a nutshell, today’s attendees are not as easy a sell as their predecessors. For one, they mostly can’t afford to be. For another, theirs is an experiential culture in which they don’t just seek entertainment, but belonging to a world outside their own. For a less creative group of professionals, the sophistication of today’s attendees might feel like a negative. But luckily for them, event planners are endowed with the savviness and visionary talents they need to create personalized event designs. But to find venues that support the growing sophistication of their attendees, they’ll need to think even more out of the box.
Here are some of our favorite non-traditional venue ideas for 2020!
1. Lofts, Lounges, and Rooftops
We love spacious lofts and rooftops because they offer a rare combo of cozy and elegant, creating an intimacy that puts people at ease. Whether your event is an eclectic art expo or ultra-glam party on a rooftop or swanky loft, these spaces are seriously versatile. These venues often have scenic views that add ambience and a delightful sense of luxury. Depending on the particular space and your event design, they’re also a refreshing alternative to stuffy hotel meeting rooms for conferences or workshops.
By now, you’ve probably become familiar with the “festivalization” of events as one of the biggest industry trends of 2019. But mixing business with pleasure doesn’t always mean turning up the volume and amping up the party factor. Tapping into resort culture could be as simple and elegant as a loft space with cheese, wine, and scenic views. These settings are more likely to give conferences and networking events a more relaxed, intimate feel without cramming everyone together into a small space.
As you may well know, many people especially dread networking events because they feel as if they’ll be thrust into a teeming crowd, a small fish in a big sea. Networking events- any large events, really- can make people feel claustrophobic at times. That’s why it’s important to give your attendees, many of which are introverts, breathing space. Many attendees prefer a spacious venue with natural light and changes of scenery. For example, if they get tired of the crowd, it’s nice to be able to walk outside and watch the sunset- or wander down the hall to find a small makeshift cafe or lounge area where they can decompress.
Beautiful or interesting spaces also spark creativity. Once there’s a creative flow in the room at a meeting, you can feel it; the whole crowd seems to get swept up into the tide, and communication is at its peak. People who feel comfortable are more productive- period. And it’s much easier to tell guests to “make themselves right at home” in a cozy, warmly lit loft than a stark conference room.
2. Coworking Spaces
If you haven’t researched coworking spaces as event venues, get on it. Many are dynamic, open concept spaces with 24/7 superior WiFi speeds (including in conference rooms), printing and scanning services, and even wellness areas stocked with holistic treats. Coworking spaces often have resources that other spaces don’t; for example, the Minnesota Street Project, which is a special space for entrepreneuring artists, offers print and wood shops. Some spaces are more specialized than others, but many support niches, such as the Minnesota Street Project for artists and Rocket Space for tech startups. So if you’re trying to grow a niche and are located in or near a city, you’ll probably be able to find a coworking space that caters to it.
Just like lofts, coworking spaces have character and variety. They also function holistically. The holistic ideology is at the heart of the design concept for most of these spaces, which are meant to act as an oasis for self-care as well as facilitate professional development. They feature cafes with delicious food menus, many of which offer a variety of whole and organic foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some spaces even have sophisticated gyms, wellness areas, and unique exercise structures such as climbing walls. Many offer fitness and meditate classes or spaces where people can decompress and recharge.
As you can imagine, the possibilities for events are virtually endless. Not only does the technology support digitally sophisticated live features, but open concept design makes these spaces highly versatile. Attendees never have to worry about being overwhelmed by or lost in the crowd; whenever they want some space, they can simply migrate to any number of quiet, meditative areas to be alone or talk intimately with friends.
And don’t think coworking spaces are just for artsy, eclectic events where millennials congregate and talk about vlogging and environmentalism. (That’s a stereotype, but we know some of you are thinking it). And coworking spaces are so much more than that. They’re great for luxury events as well- in fact, a popular space called Canopy was the design brainchild of the renowned Yves Behar. Its state of the art furniture and goods, including a kitchen with Heath Ceramic tiles and Herman Miller chairs, set a new standard for modern luxury. Canopy also hosts cultural programming, so it’s perfect for media industries that host talks, debates, and presentations.
We could go on all day, but trust us when we say that coworking spaces are definitely worth checking out! Events are on a decidedly progressive track- people want to mix business with pleasure, and these spaces have the best of both worlds. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re the cream of the digital crop. They have infrastructures that are able to host a diverse variety of events, and cater to many niches.
3. Art Galleries
Art galleries are often the perfect hosts for pop-up exhibits. These spaces are low-maintenance, immaculate spaces that incorporate art and style into events. There is usually a lot of room for event planners and designers to develop it in their own way, so if personalization is key to your event, galleries have the most possibilities. They act almost like a canvas onto which you paint your own vision and bring it to life. Do you want your event to have a minimalist or swanky, ultra-glam feel? Modern and monochromatic or blooming with shapes and color? The choice is yours. You get to decide on the design concept, and there is ample space for showcases or elaborate installations. The open, spacious layouts also make art galleries ideal for collaboration or events that feature exhibits from multiple businesses.
Recently, art galleries have been making big splashes in the fashion world. Jeff Koons and Louis Vuitton collaborated to showcase iconic art references on handbags; they used gallery space to exhibit the intimate relationship between art and fashion. Renting out gallery space or showrooms puts the spotlight on your creativity, so just be sure your event is as Instagrammable as you think it is! Trendy neighborhoods like SoHo flaunt thousands of top-notch gallery spaces, but art is a universal love, so you hardly have to go totally bougie. But if you’re looking to host a chain of events in multiple cities, renting out gallery space is a great way to get industry exposure.
4. Farmhouses, Cottages, and Vineyards
Here’s another option that’s no longer just for eclectic events. Giving luxury events a quaint vibe in a rambling farmhouse or on an ambient vineyard was a huge trend in 2019- and it’s only picking up in 2020. These yawning spaces have the potential to combine elegance with ambience. Vineyards have an abundance of natural light which makes them ideal for weddings and photoshoots. Farmhouses and cottages usually have the natural light advantage, too- they’re usually surrounded by acres of greenery or forest land. In the Bay Area- and virtually all of California- old-style villas are popular for scenic events.
There’s a homey, lived-in feeling that gives farmhouses and cottages sentimental value for intimate events like weddings or other celebrations. Retreats, sustainable events, and resort-style conferences also thrive in these cozy spaces. They emanate a feeling of warmth and make people feel at home even if they’re miles away. In fact, events with guests who have traveled long distances to attend provide a “home away from home” vibe that puts them at ease. This kind of environment nurtures creativity and can create positive, relaxed feelings which make people more open to learning and relating.
Even when they’re in urban cities, farmhouses and villas tend to feel like an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. If you want your conference or workshop to feel like a vacation but still carry the comforts of home, try a quaint farmhouse. Bestow the interior warm colors, cozy furniture, and lots of small nooks where guests can be alone or talk intimately in small groups. People do their best work and come up with their best ideas when they’re feeling comfortable and relaxed in their environment.
In the winter time, it can be challenging to find non-traditional values with that quaint, outdoorsy field. But farmhouses and villas have it all year around. Even in the winter, a cottage or farmhouse keeps guests warm and toasty, but being nestled in deep woods also makes them feel connected to nature. That’s another reason why they’re so great for retreats or quiet, meditative events.
Although this is a growing trend and many trendy farmhouses require reservations far in advance, there are always “hidden gems” that aren’t as popular- but are just as lovely. Do some research in your area to see what’s available to you- you’ll find more of a variety than you think!
Museums are increasingly popular for events for a host of reasons. For one thing, they’re chock full of attractions that provide inspiration and conversation fodder. Just like art exhibits, museums bring out people’s creativity and intellect. They also encourage critical thinking in a fun, unstructured way. Whether people realize it or not, museums tend to get them thinking out of the box. They bring different places and times to vivid life, which gives events character and makes them memorable. And guests associating famous works with your event is never a bad thing!
Sometimes larger events have trouble finding unique, custom spaces- but with spacious museums, it’s the more, the merrier. Many of them feature large ballroom spaces away from the main exhibit areas, which are great for conferences and workshops. (They tend to have great acoustics, too). Events held at museums can be multi-faceted, too. For example, your conference doesn’t have to be limited to a ballroom space- it can also include multiple tours of different areas. Guests can choose their area of exploration, adding personalization and intrigue to your event. Hold your presentation or just watch a feature film in a 3D amphitheater. For parents who must be children, which happens often with working parents, museums have children’s areas that keep younger and older kids busy for hours. Sometimes they’re even available on reserve.
Museums also have flexible hours. Most host events during the day and after the museum is closed, when the space becomes more private. Convenience and personalization can be tricky to find, but museums provide both.
Special Considerations for Non-Traditional Venues
We realize there are many special questions and concerns when looking for a non-traditional venue. So we want to arm you with the best questions to ask when you’re doing your research. Obviously you’ll want to know how many people the venue can accommodate and whether it’s compatible with your event design. This is true of any venue, traditional included. But sometimes non-traditional venues only rent out certain spaces, so you’ll need to ask which are available. Obviously, most non-traditional venues have their own agenda which may affect availability. Rates can also be less straightforward at non-traditional venues. So make sure you’re well informed about hourly and daily rates- or any hidden charges, deposits, or staffing and services fees.
There are also seasonal considerations. Obviously, if it’s an outdoor space, you’ll need to make sure it’s sustainable for your event. Some outdoor spaces, such as vineyards and farmhouses, have outdoor and indoor options, making them lovely at any time of year. Make sure to ask the venue if there’s a plan for unsuitable weather.
Always ask the venue owner if they have experience hosting events like yours. It’s not necessarily a hard no if they haven’t, but it’s definitely a plus if they have. For more secluded venues, you’ll need to know about parking and transportation access. Just as you would with traditional venues, keep an open line of communication and don’t be afraid to ask anything.