BEHOLD the sports-theme bar mitzvah, perennial favorite of coming-of-age Jewish males from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine. With such demand for athletic ambience on the mitzvah-party circuit, it's the enterprising professional who is able to design a sports event that looks original, feels exciting and appeals both to children and adults. Carolyn Dempsey — creator of a 2006 Gala Award-nominated hockey-theme bar mitzvah — is just that pro.

GOOD SPORT

The president of Port Chester, N.Y.-based Carolyn Dempsey Design says she moved ahead with the event decor look by turning back to a popular prop.

Dempsey explains that she first introduced hockey player “mannequins” at a bar mitzvah she had designed for a previous client. Made from straw-filled hockey jerseys, the mannequins won the admiration of her new client, a close friend of the original mitzvah family.

With the approval of her previous client, Dempsey decided to use the mannequins once again. But the stuffed shirts proved to be a mixed blessing. While the designer was glad to have a firm foundation on which to build the winter bar mitzvah, she knew she would have to totally rethink the design for her new client in order to create a hot look rather than a warmed-over one. “The solution was to have the mannequins stuffed with white birch branches to complement the ‘icy’ color scheme as opposed to straw, which was used for the [first] fall-inspired event,” she says.

Other original, authentic touches included the event's venue — a local Boys & Girls Club ice rink. Hockey team pennants further enhanced the thematic environment while visually lowering the ceiling in the cavernous event space, creating a more intimate setting for the fewer than 200 guests. Also on hand was a real Zamboni — the big, tractor-like machine used to smooth an ice rink's surface — and regulation hockey goal nets, also courtesy of the club.

SPLIT THE DIFFERENCE

Updating a previous concept was just one of Dempsey's big design challenges. The other was creating a space that would win over young invitees while still scoring points with the grown-up guests.

Dempsey started by dividing the party space into two distinct sections. In the adults' area, a palette of white with royal blue accents set the tone for “sleek, artistic guest tables,” the designer says. Table “runners” consisted of glass cylinders filled with faux ice and topped with floating candles, combined with modern white vases filled with white hydrangeas, calla lilies, peonies and tulips. “Authentic hockey pucks with hand-painted white numbers served as the table numbers, adding a small touch of theme to the adult tables,” Dempsey notes.

In the kids' area, theme elements ruled. A vast backdrop of skating hockey players gave a dynamic energy to the space, Dempsey says. Custom wood tables covered in white faux leather were painted to resemble a hockey rink. And, of course, those life-size branch-filled mannequins placed in action poses atop illuminated plexiglass boxes on each kids' dining table created winning focal points for young attendees.

Wherever they sat, guests were sure to enjoy a sumptuous meal prepared by Cos Cob, Conn.-based Plum Pure Foods. Meanwhile, a glowing blue plexiglass-topped service bar accented with clear glass cylinders holding white cymbidium orchids didn't just help the busy beverage servers but made for an “elegant, sophisticated” decor touch, according to Dempsey.

GENEROUS SPIRIT

Dempsey says one of her most satisfying accomplishments with the event was creating a “warm yet icy environment” — a must for both ensuring the appropriate emotional tone of the occasion and fulfilling its thematic design demands.

Perhaps equally satisfying was the knowledge that budget dollars allocated for the venue would provide an added benefit. Not only did those dollars help support the much beloved club, but “all of the hockey uniforms, gear, padding, skates, sticks, helmets and banners [used in the event] were provided by the client family and later donated to the club — a gracious gesture to the community,” the designer adds.


Carolyn Dempsey Design 189 1/2 N. Main St., Port Chester, NY 10801; 914/937-7504; www.carolyndempseydesign.com. Turn to page 135 for a list of resources for this event.

DINNER OF CHAMPIONS

FOR THE GROWN-UPS

Baby Spinach and Wild Arugula Salad with Shallot-Sherry Vinaigrette

Filet of Yellowtail Snapper or Truffle-Roasted Chicken Breast with Horseradish Mashed Potatoes, French Bean and Red Pepper Bundle, and Rosemary-Thyme Reduction

FOR THE KIDS

Caesar Salad with Brioche Croutons

Penne Pasta with Tomato Sauce and Basil, Chicken Fingers with a Choice of Sauce, and Cheese Quesadillas with Guacamole and Salsa Fresca