Guests on the exhibit floor at The Special Event, held in Dallas in January, were treated to a very special exhibit: Tabletop Gallery, where special event professionals created 10 outstanding table designs. Here, our designers share both their inspirations and their challenges. Please be seated!

TABLETOPS UNDER $1,000 EACH

“THE SPACE BETWEEN”

Chic Events, Glendale, Calif.; 818/545-0065; www.chicevent.com

“It was really important to me that I design a table specifically for The Special Event. I wanted the look to be fresh, and pushed myself to come up with something I'd never done before. The ideal was something beautiful that reflected my own personal style; I achieved that with stunning accents plus a unique table layout to throw in a funky kick. I knew I'd have to sacrifice in some areas in order to utilize a few decadent pieces and stay on my budget. I began with silk linens (because silk is just yummy). I literally flipped through my BBJ book and picked out their gorgeous teal-colored silk because of its vibrancy. The peacock feathers were a natural choice given their teal undertones and because they just feel luxurious. Since this was my first submission, I wanted it to be unique, so I began thinking of ways I could arrange the tables (using more than one, etc.) so there was visual interest. I found the oversized urn and loved the idea of it coming up through the center of the table to define the space. We added our own unique touches like the peacock place cards in a bed of river rocks … and if you looked closely, you noticed that each card held the seat for the characters in the movie ‘Casablanca.’ I have to admit I was incredibly intimidated going into this process. My company is only two years old, and I worried that I'd make a fool of myself in front of other seasoned veterans. But when I attended my first Special Event conference in Miami, I promised myself that I would at least submit an application, and I was beyond shocked when I got in. The entire process was so much fun and I was incredibly honored to be part of it.” — Rachel Hollis

VENDORS BBJ Linen, 310/204-0363; Cort Event Furnishings, 888/CORT-YES (chairs); M&M The Special Events Co., 214/350-5373

“CONTRASTING ELEMENTS”

Named winner in this category by members of the Special Events Magazine Advisory Board

Ducky-Bob's Event Specialists, Carrollton, Texas; 972/381-8000; www.duckybobs.com

“‘Contrasting Elements’ incorporates carefully chosen textures, colors and scale creating an exotic, fantasy tablescape. The focal point is the colossal centerpiece. Inspired by the woven, free-form basket ‘vase,’ a theme was conceived. Glossy objects serve as the foil to the natural textures — iridescent crushed fabric tablecloth, jet-black china, glittering red and orange goblets and chargers. Patterns and shapes are introduced with chiavari cushions covered in an animal hide pattern, coiled copper flatware, and ultramodern tall, thin crystal stemware. Tabletop accessories include guest gifts wrapped in a batik print, glacier water in an award-winning bottle design, ceramic bowls filled with exotic snacks, and wire baskets containing fruit and peppers that are ingredients of dishes found on our creative menu.

The greatest challenge to executing this table design was installing the centerpiece securely. Including the dried yucca blossoms and orchids, the container and arrangement towered over 7 feet tall. Eighty pounds of sandbags inside the vase supported the creation. The sand had shifted during transport from the floral studio to the venue, causing the arrangement to be off balance. By covering and standing on the table, the floral designers shook and bounced the arrangement to redistribute the sand as they set it in place. A lesson learned here is to set the arrangement in place before setting the table!” — Jay Cooper

VENDORS Bella Flora of Dallas, 972/445-1200; Ducky-Bob's Event Specialists, 972/381-8000; Unique Tabletop Rentals (copper flatware), 800/709-7007

“WILD WEST”

Mosaic Inc., Pittsburgh
412/562-2800; www.partymosaic.com

“Chairs inspired the ‘Wild West’ tabletop. Chair treatments are in vogue right now, and continue to become more popular. Because most events have a large number of chairs, they make a strong statement on guests entering a room. Whether paired with a basic floor-length cloth or with a custom box-pleated linen, chair covers bring a lot of personality to the table. These dramatic chair covers feature rooster feathers sewn onto a tuxedo back of blue and brown lamour and coordinating lamour seat-cushion covers over natural chiavari chairs. A box-pleated brown suede tablecloth with blue inverted pleats covers a square table. Varying geometric shapes have become increasingly popular in tables recently, and squares are a great alternative to the traditional round or banquet-sized tables. The combination of blue and brown creates a sophisticated and elegant look. These colors remain popular for any type of event, whether it is a wedding, luncheon or birthday celebration.

A glass cylinder vase provides the perfect pedestal for a mound of antlers and hydrangeas atop this table. The antler accents, combined with rattan chargers, add to the western-chic look of the rooster feathers. Brushed antique flatware and amber glassware complete the modern country table setting.” — Meghan Cunningham

VENDORS All Occasions Party Rentals (table, dinnerware), 412/788-8100; Mosaic Inc. (linen), 866/5-MOSAIC, 412/562-2800; Tim Condron Florist (floral), 412/687-9027

“SPEED DATING 101: SEARCHING FOR MR. WONDERFUL”

Planning Factory International, Wilmington, Del.; 302/656-8400; www.planningfactory.com

“Our table came about one afternoon as we were sitting in our offices playing with a ‘Mr. Wonderful’ doll, every woman's dream of the perfect man. As someone pressed his button to reveal his comment of choice — “Let's just cuddle tonight” — someone shouted, tongue in cheek, “That's what we need, a Mr. Wonderful table!” Voila, the ‘Speed Dating 101: Searching for Mr. Wonderful’ table was created.

Always wanting to create and use a new table configuration, we decided that our ‘Speed Dating’ table would resemble a bar. To that end, we used a high-top 8-foot banquet table as the basis for our design. Of course, you can't have a bar-type table without bar stools, so these were the next element in the design. To get across the point that our speed dating would include members of both sexes, we used pink and blue sides for the tables. We also included table chargers that represented the corresponding male and female symbols. We played off the male and female stereotypes by creating fictional characters whose place cards were mock personal ads. Because we couldn't have real people seated at the table, we created ‘thought bubbles’ that represented comments that each participant may have been thinking. One ‘male’ bubble leered, ‘Hello, girls … ,’ while a ‘female’ bubble fumed, ‘Hey, creep, my eyes are up here!’

We had a few challenges to overcome during the design implementation. For one, our centerpiece did not survive the commute to Dallas. This sculpture of a man and woman embracing ended up being a woman embracing a headless man. We thought — how appropriate! However, we located some glue to repair the statue. Wish we could do that for real-life men!” — Cher Przelomski, Susan Simmons and Kate Van Graafeiland

VENDORS Fancy Faces, 800/752-3480; Sculptware, 888/282-8811

“THE EIGHT AGES OF MAN”

The Catering Co., Williamsburg, Va.; 757/220-8011; www.williamsburgoccasions.com

“‘All the world's a stage … And one man in his time plays many parts.’ Shakespeare said it best, and the Catering Co. in Williamsburg, Va., created a fun tabletop that embodied the eight ages of modern man, from infancy to old age. We started with the idea that as we grow and our lives change, we enjoy our dinners at different kinds of tables, laid with different cloths and set with different place settings. We then began to brainstorm about the various stages of life, and decided to represent infancy (complete with a bottle and jars of baby food), young childhood (with a segmented plate and kid-sized utensils), the teenage and college years (with fast food and a cellphone at the ready), a young adult's first apartment (furnished entirely from Ikea and Target), a newly-married couple's dinner table (set with the china from their registry), a special anniversary dinner (complete with crystal and candlelight), and finally a dinner at the rest home (with institutional plates and glassware). We decided to tie the eight different place settings together by placing clocks of different sizes and shapes all over the table and creating several melting clocks (think Salvador Dali's ‘The Persistence of Memory’) to accent the tall floral centerpiece created for us by a local florist.

We were fortunate to work with talented local vendors and artists who created some of the specialty items we needed for the tabletop, including a custom-made tablecloth incorporating eight different fabrics. It was so exciting to see the whole project come together into an innovative and creative tabletop, and we are thrilled with the feedback we have gotten from our colleagues at The Special Event in Dallas!” — Craig Reeves

VENDORS Florence Montealegre (custom linen fabrication), 757/220-2399; My Favorite Thing Florist (floral design, centerpiece), 800/856-6688; Williamsburg Event Rentals, 757/565-0982

TABLETOPS $1,000 AND ABOVE EACH

“MOROCCAN NIGHTS”

Named winner in this category by members of the Special Events Magazine Advisory Board

Design Group, Minneapolis; 612/522-6460; www.thedesigngroup.com

“The concept was to create a comfortable, intimate table setting where guests felt like they were dining at a private restaurant in Morocco. Morocco has a unique mystery about it, and we wanted to convey that feeling in table design.

To create the intimate setting, Design Group used chocolate-toned sheer mosquito netting edged in miniature jewels to drape the entire table. A custom hoop design had to be built in order to hold the netting without getting in the way of the guests, and also had to allow a freestanding structure that stemmed from the center of the table itself. A low-rise table was custom-built so that guests could sit on pillows instead of standard ballroom chairs. The tabletop was imprinted with a Moroccan pattern, so no linens were needed for the table. The charger plates, serviceware, silverware, pillows and jeweled napkins all coordinated in shades of rust, sage and celadon. Beaded votives were hung inside the canopy in bright, jewel-tone containers, making it look like a starry night inside the covered table. You couldn't help but want to sit at this gorgeous table!” — Pete Nelson and Teddi Sellick

“ICE PRINCESS”

The Theme Factory of Philadelphia, Philadelpha; 215/227-7677; www.thethemefactory.com

“In order to come up with new and creative tabletop themes, there must be a willingness to push the envelope. The idea for the ‘Ice Princess’ was a ‘fleeting thought’ of a person isolating herself from society. The reasoning was that the one thing that would cause someone to turn her back on friends, family and all of mankind was a totally broken heart. This quickly became the central theme to the concept: a brokenhearted, icy-cold beauty with no human interaction and, avoiding her own feelings, no desire to heal the fissure. As the sign at the tabletop display read: ‘Don't attempt to thaw her broken heart!’

Since it was a one-person installation, there was a need to have a preset yet flexible plan. Several brainstorming sessions resulted in the idea for a trough that took some time to build, but could be dismantled and taken on an airplane, eliminating the need for shipping and maintaining the secrecy of the project. The morning of the installation, before the union laborers had even located many of the other presenters' freight, the Plexiglas cliffs, ice towers, and 120 pounds of rock salt were set up and ready to go.

When possible, it is ideal to allow The Special Event attendees to touch as well as see the displays. Through touch, one can begin to understand the impact that can be obtained with a monochromatic color scheme. The table was very tactile due to the rough ‘ice,’ the smooth Plexiglas and the slick vinyl over the soft felt undercloth. The chairs wore white fur; the tigers were dusted in iridescent glitter, snowballs held the place cards, and the fog machine created the ‘chilly’ feel.” — Joanne Hulme, CSEP

VENDORS Joanne Hulme, CSEP (concept, renderings, execution), 215/227-7677; Jonathon Cutler (ice princess, tigers), 214/336-9190; Live Wire Special Events (tables, chairs, china), 866/774-0912; Nunn Better Signs (event mechanics, custom signage), 610/649-0936; Select Events Rentals (specialty glassware), 856/910-8687

“RADIANT RIBBON”

Mosaic Inc., Pittsburgh; 412/562-2800; www.partymosaic.com

“For the ‘Radiant Ribbon’ table setting, we wanted to create an artistic statement. The hand-woven ribbon overlay on this table was created for Mosaic by a local artist and is a fantastic custom-made element on which to base the look. A bright and whimsical look is popular in warmer climates and also during the spring and summer months in the Northeast. This look has been popular for children's events as well.

We wanted to create a fantasy-inspired table setting that was still practical for an event. Our biggest challenge was to produce a table setting that could be re-created without losing the fantasy element. In addition to the custom ribbon overlay, we added candies to the centerpiece to put a new spin on the brightly colored combination.

The table is anchored with a cerise bengaline, matching seat-cushion covers and lime silk napkins. A centerpiece of assorted garden flowers decorated with candy and accented with dangling gerbera daisy spheres take the look over the edge. Custom orange chiavari chairs add a personalized touch to the setting, and colorfully striped cones filled with flowers liven up the guests' seats. White square porcelain plates with modern silver and glassware finish off the look. A favor of Dylan's Candy Bar tins filled with multicolored candies allows the guests to take a part of this fantasy setting home.” — Meghan Cunningham

VENDORS All Occasions Party Rentals (table, dinnerware), 412/788-8100; Mosaic Inc. (linen) 866/5-MOSAIC, 412/562-2800; Tim Condron Florist (floral), 412/687-9027

“THE ORIGINAL TEXAS HOLD ‘EM”

Planning Factory International, Wilmington, Del. 302/656-8400; www.planningfactory.com

“We came up with the idea of designing ‘The Original Texas Hold ‘Em’ while attending The Special Event 2005, when we learned that The Special Event 2006 was to be held in Dallas. With poker making a comeback, we thought we'd hearken back to the original Wild West poker games held in saloons.

With the idea of this table in our minds throughout the next six months, we were constantly on the lookout for appropriate items that we could incorporate into the design. The most unusual element for our tabletop was the rustic barn wood table cover, which was retrieved from a renovation site and cut to fit a 72-inch round table. Chair back covers (which PFI has come to be known for in our Tabletop Gallery designs) were covered with leather vests and chaps. Toy gun holsters were the receptacles for napkins and utensils. The centerpiece was an upside-down cowboy hat overflowing with poker winnings, including the deed to a ranch.

Our biggest challenge was finding the period chairs. We struggled to find rentable ladder-back chairs, but remembering Ducky-Bob's, we were able to find suitable rental chairs.

We liked the fact that our table ended up looking as if cowboys had just stepped away from a round of poker for a moment and would return shortly for the next hand. We also liked the unique tabletop treatment using a weathered red gingham table linen and even more weathered pieces of barn wood.” — Cher Przelomski, Susan Simmons and Kate Van Graafeiland

VENDORS Ducky-Bob's Event Specialists, 972/930-2017

“CHRYSALIS ADVENT”

Taylor Rental, Shreveport, La.; 318/688-7890; www.aaproductionsinc.com

“Having entered the ‘Under $1,000’ category in previous Tabletop Gallery competitions, I decided it was time to venture into the ‘$1,000 and Above’ category. I wanted to bring movement, intrigue, fresh flowers, and a not-seen-every-day color palette presented in a fresh fashion to the tabletop design. I contacted my friend, Shreveport floral designer Chad Duggan, to team up and design a fluttering fantasy theme. An unusual color scheme of bright yellow, brown, copper and ice blue was selected to use in the design.

The giant avant-garde cocoon used as the focal centerpiece was an idea that Chad was working on for an AIFD national conference, and it was decided that this was going to become a butterfly cocoon. Groupings of battery-operated yellow and cream butterflies with handmade copper mesh floral holders and a variety of yellow flowers were mixed on the cocoon, over the tabletop and on the back of the chairs.

For the many dining elements, both refined and rustic pieces were used to create visual interest. The charger plates were created from grapevine mixed with a narrow band of yellow ribbon. The china plates featured large blue and yellow butterflies. Contemporary duotone light brown wineglasses contrasted against the yellow beaux-arts water glasses. One of the features of the table that received many comments was the skirting treatment, created with a folded 60-by-120-inch cloth in which pearl pins were used to create a scallop effect every 3 inches.

This design was created especially for the 2006 Tabletop Gallery as a way to showcase what the imagination and talent of two creative friends and business associates can do, as well as represent the many wonderful rental items available in today's event design and planning market.” — Bonne Summers

VENDORS BBJ Linen, 877/624-9020; Chad Duggan Design, 318/222-1617; Fluttering Wonders (battery-operated butterflies), 800/527-9025; RSVP Soiree, 214/350-7787; Taylor Rental/Shreveport, 318/688-7890