Top special event professionals offer tips for solving room decor, centerpiece, tabletop, and floral challenges.
1. SWEET THEMES: Fun themes guests will enjoy
To create an exciting, interactive “Iron Chef” theme (see photo), design centerpieces featuring ikebana-style palm stalks placed in a wok filled with long-grain rice. Accent centerpieces with small, seaweed-wrapped candles set in square plates filled with soy sauce. Add tabletop props such as samurai swords, geisha fans and plastic sumo bellies, and send guests home with favors including sake cups, lacquered chopsticks and wind-up “walking sushi” toys.
— Carla Felicella, Rare Indigo, Vancouver, British Columbia
For a '60s theme event, use scaffolding as anchors for large fabric swags and oversized graphics. Ultraviolet paint can make fabric stand out, as can a wash of amber lighting. Have Day-Glo items such as buttons, glow sticks and decals on tables for attendees to play with.
— Gary Davis, Freeman Decorating, Orlando, Fla.
2. BIG DEAL: How to handle oversize rooms
To drop a ceiling in a large hall, use weather balloons, which can inflate safely up to 24 feet in diameter. Suspended from the ceiling, the white balloons take lighting effects well and also help with sound issues commonly found in larger spaces.
— Charles Banfield, Charles Banfield Productions, Los Angeles
To minimize a large room, try running a wide roll of color cellophane horizontally along the walls at the entrance of the space — the static in the air will make it adhere with no tape. Continue running the cello into the space along walls and windows. At the point where you want to create a barrier, simply take the cello and cross the room or space that you want to restrict. Done with flair, this will give guests a visual perimeter of the party area, and the cello color can be incorporated into table covers, centerpieces, etc. You can also group candles in the far reaches of the area you are containing to give the space a more magical feel.
— Constance Sherman, Wink Studio, New York
To fill a large space in a unique and interesting way, hang picture frames of many different shapes, sizes and colors from the ceiling and around the walls. You can instantly transform vast spaces into works of art.
— Janet Elkins, EventWorks, Los Angeles
For tables at a “Zen Garden” theme event, use muslin fabric over burlap with a green light underneath (see photo). The light gives a peaceful “aura” and allows the burlap texture to show through the smooth muslin while still covering the table mechanics. Use sheet moss on top to complete the look.
— Lauren Fine, Boca by Design, Boca Raton, Fla.
3. SPECIAL SPACES: How to cope with troublesome event spaces
For tricky spaces with columns or other view obstructions, use personal-view monitors as centerpieces. The stage can be filmed and the live feed seen at each table through small screens with battery backs standing on their own, or incorporated into more elaborate centerpieces.
— Lauren Fine, Boca by Design
When you are faced with floor space limitations in your venue, make a powerful and captivating decor statement on the ceiling by using projectors to cast vivid images onto wide fabric panels (see photo). The images can change throughout the event, which will change the mood and atmosphere in the room continually.
— Sean De Freitas, Designs by Sean, Dania, Fla.
Create the feel of more space by using color saturation to fuse separate areas into one large event venue. By “connecting” two ballrooms and an outdoor walkway between two hotels with red, green and blue color saturation, each room can embody a unique theme but remain conceptually linked because of the collective color grouping.
— Brynne Frost, Destination Concepts, San Diego
4. TABLE FOR FUN: Great ideas for centerpieces and table settings
Are you tired of seeing the incredible centerpieces that your floral designer worked on tirelessly be taken apart by guests — or worse, taken at the end of the event under a coat? If budget allows, have your floral designer create miniatures of the centerpieces and set one at each place setting for each guest to bring home.
— Kellie Mathas, USA Hosts, New Orleans
For a romantic wedding place setting, tie every napkin in a ribbon matching the table overlay and tuck in a single rose (see photo). Decorate each setting with a miniature silver picture frame, a miniature vase of flowers and a truffle favor shaped like a wedding cake.
— Frank Andonoplas, Frank Event Design, Chicago
A collection of inexpensive old lamps that are similar in style can easily be adapted to create individual centerpieces by attaching decor bowls to the light sockets.
— Theresa Day, Legendary Events, Atlanta
Design a custom cake-table skirt for your wedding from a beautiful embroidered or beaded fabric. Have your seamstress turn it into a Christmas tree skirt for the couple following the wedding as a permanent reminder of their special day.
— Timot McGonagle, Nashville, Tenn.
Use clear glass charger plates; under the plate you can create a design to complement your table dressing and enhance your theme for each individual guest.
— John J. Daly Jr., CSEP, John Daly Inc. International, Santa Barbara, Calif.
5. COOLER WITH COLOR: Creative color palettes for special events
With the stroke of an artist's brush, even clients on a budget can have the look of the latest in designer colored-glass vases at their events. Simply create a pattern that best suits your party's design scheme and roll the pattern inside a clear vase. Then, utilizing the event color palette, paint on the pattern with water-base paint (see photo). Murano glass, eat your heart out!
— Cheryl Fish, MGM Mirage Events, Las Vegas
For instant color at minimal cost, multi-colored Slinkies can be used as votive holders, chair ties or centerpiece accents.
— Lisa Cook, Affair with Flair, Englewood, Colo.
Is ivory too airy for an evening party? Bring it down a notch by adding black carpet and chairs. The black will soak up the light and will punctuate your decor elements, making them appear more prominent. The look is dramatic, and it will hide all of the cables and production equipment in the shadows.
— Charles Banfield, Charles Banfield Productions
Add a touch of elegance to an event by swagging existing staircases with colorful fabrics. Not only do the fabrics add a touch of flair to a room, but they also allow you to cover unwanted elements without getting into messy liability issues that may come up if you conceal railings or steps.
— Janet Elkins, EventWorks
6. SEATING SMART: Seating ideas for galas and other special events
Instead of always relying on traditional guest seating like folding chairs or chiavaris, try using an 8-by-8-foot daybed fashioned from staging elements, or a 32-foot-long bench constructed with Bil-Jax platforms (see photo).
— Dave Merrell, An Original Occasion, Los Angeles
Rather than relying on standard hotel rounds for guest seating, create a new twist by incorporating two or more rectangular banquet tables and placing them together to form large, square tables. Custom linens can then be added for a truly unique look.
— Janet Elkins, EventWorks
To make everyone feel at home and connected at an intimate wedding, seat guests at one long rectangular table instead of multiple rounds.
— Frank Andonoplas, Frank Event Design
7. VALUE ADDED: How to stretch your special event budget
When having a set designed for a general session stage, ask the property that will be hosting your group for contact information for the group that occupies the ballroom directly before or after you. Call the producer of that meeting and discuss designing a set that can be shared by both groups. Both clients will get a bigger bang for their buck, plus the savings that can be passed on to both clients will be phenomenal.
— Steve Kemble, Steve Kemble Event Design, Dallas
When you have a limited budget for decor, go for one large statement in the middle of the room to grab guests' attention, rather than putting small vignettes all around the room, which won't have the same impact.
— Dave Merrell, An Original Occasion
No budget for your next cocktail party? No problem. Rather than renting standard silver trays, buy large terra cotta pot liner trays and fill them with an ingredient of the food you are passing. For example, chicken satay skewers can be served on a bed of sesame seeds, and empanadas look great on a blanket of chopped cilantro.
— Charles Banfield, Charles Banfield Productions
There is nothing like fresh greenery to add life to your event. If the event is at a major hotel property, ask your sales representative in advance of signing the contract if you can use some of the in-house plants. Many times at large hotels, there are many portions of the hotel not being used for events on any given night, and the plants in the foyers and other parts of these areas can simply be transferred to the ballroom you are using for a glorious — and free — enhancement.
— Steve Kemble, Steve Kemble Event Design