Building my DIY Art Fair Booth: Version 0

First of all, sorry for the lack of actual photos in this post. I didn’t document my assembly thus far, but I assure you that you will see the final version when it comes together in the very near future. In the meantime, my ‘diagrams’ will have to suffice. My current design is quite different from what I initially planned. This post will document the evolution of my art fair booth’s design. I’ll describe my design goals, materials used, and explain the problems I faced and how I addressed them. I truly enjoy DIY projects like this. I enjoy the problem analysis, the process of designing a rough concept and distillation into a final product. I kind of have a physics fetish, if you can imagine such a thing. My father in law, Perry Deutsch, is a very skilled carpenter and engineer, and I tapped his encyclopedic knowledge throughout most of this project.

Sometimes I think I’m in photography so I can feed my tinkering habit. In any case, here we go.

Design Goals:

Before I start on any DIY project, I like to set aside some time to decide what features my design should have. In this case, I wanted my booth to:

Break Down Compactly:

I don’t own a truck. Most of the time, I travel in my Honda Civic, and if I need more space, I take my wife’s Toyota Scion XB, which can haul quite a bit, but the length of the car prohibits my having any parts longer than 5″.

Assemble Easily:

You usually have to set up the morning of an art fair, and you don’t have a lot of time to dicker around with instructions and proprietary parts. I will stick with universally standardized materials.

Prints mount easily:

I display a large number of very small prints, so it must be dirt simple to hang prints and have them stay put.

Adjust to Different Dimensions:

The dimensions provided for your booth space at various art fairs are far from universal. There is a great deal of variety. Most I’ve seen so far are in the 8×10, 10×10 or 10×12 range. I need to be able to easily reformulate my booth to accommodate these changing conditions.

Initial Concept:

With these design principles, I started drawing up my first version. I designed a 10x10x10 square frame made of 5′ lengths of 1.5″ PVC. I started with PVC because it addressed all of my design concerns: easy assembly, adjustability, and small break-down. This choice was ultimately a bad one, as you will see further down as I refined my design.

We’ll call this initial design version 0.

Imagine a cube. The front, top and bottom are open, as they are the opening, ceiling and floor, respectively. The 3 remaining surfaces would be reinforced internally with a cross-shaped pattern. See the diagram below:

I definitely did not slap this together in 10 minutes in photoshop.

Totally not slapped together in photoshop.

With the frame designed, I then tackled the problem of hanging my prints. I needed surface area in order to hang my print mosaics, but I needed the material to address all of my design goals. I decided on 11 foot lengths of dark grey industrial carpeting, a durable, fuzzy-velcro like material. I would mount the carpet to the frame by installing grommets into the material and wrapping it around the top and bottom edges of the 10′ tall frame, leaving 6″ of tail on each end. Bungee cords run from the grommets on one edge to the other would provide the tension to keep my carpet in place. I lined the backs of my frames with hook velcro (I happened to have a ton of it around), which attaches strongly to the carpet.

This design looked great because it solved all my problems, and I could get the whole thing built for about $300. Not bad!


The corner PVC connector piece, the one that links the ‘planes’ to each other, does not exist.

10 foot tall walls are extremely unstable, and far too tall to be useful.

My bungee cords could not stretch the 9 feet necessary to reach from one end of the carpet to the other.

Version 0.5:

Use long bolts through the vertical PVC sections and hand-twistable nuts to attach planes to each-other. I cut some PVC sections down from 5′ to 4′. I lost some of the universality of my parts, but 10′ walls were just untenable. This also solved my bungee cord problem, because my 11′ carpet now wraps around the 8′ wall with a 1.5′ tail on each side. My bungee cords only need to stretch 5′ now, which is about perfect for their tension. At this point, I am able to assemble my booth and stand it up, which revealed more serious issues.


The PVC is still too flexible. Whole structure sags inwardly.

The carpet is very heavy. It causes significant strain on the structure, causing more leaning.

The carpet also makes the structure very vulnerable to wind. I have 3 sides of my surface covered with this material, a total of 320 square feet of material. If a strong wind picks up, I basically have a 320 square foot sail. Without going into too much math, if a stiff wind picks up, I am in big trouble.

Version .75

I abandoned using the carpet and went back to square one in terms of mounting my prints. Perry pointed me in the direction of this stuff. If you can’t tell exactly what it is from the website, go to your local big box superstore, go to the covered garden section and look up. It’s that dark mesh stuff. It’s cheap, light, durable, you can buy it in variable light densities, and wind passes through it exerting very little force. This stuff is great. Velcro doesn’t stick to it, though. So, I rethought my system for mounting the frames, and settled on rare earth magnets, which are extremely powerful for their size. I could glue them to the corners of my frames, and stick them to other magnets on the opposite side of my mounting material and once again have a mounting system that is easy, durable and strong.

To try and deal with the internal sagging of the structure, Perry and I drilled hooks into the corner pieces of our PVC frames, to attach adjustable tension cables. A tension cable is like the string on a bow. Instead of pulling a straight piece of material into something curved, I tried using them to make my sagging walls straight. The tension cables would pull together the top front and bottom rear corners of my side walls. Since these two corners are linked with a cross beam, the opposite forces pulled against each other, stabilizing the whole structure. This worked, but not as well as I need it to be. The structural problems of the PVC were becoming an unsolvable issue. At this point, I decided to abandon the PVC design altogether, and start fresh from square one, with updated design goals and materials.

When DIY projects go wrong, repurpose!

Even though this DIY project was a bust, I’ve held on to my materials, and am repurposing a great deal of my PVC into an overhead truss system for mounting lights and such for my studio space. I will be building that this weekend, so expect a more detailed post on that coming soon. The thing to take away from this post is that when you’re designing something from scratch, you have to expect unforeseen issues, and always be prepared to approach your process without emotion or attachment. Sometimes solving one problem can create several others. Make sure that you are always making progress towards your goal.

Stay tuned for version 1, coming soon. I’m through the design phase and should start assembly soon. This time with pictures.


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