With precise detail and expansive imagination, innovative designers created entire worlds atop tables for the 2008 Tabletop Gallery at The Special Event in January in Atlanta. From green scenes to urban dreams, from geisha allure to finding the cure, the creative teams behind the themes reveal how they crafted their terrific tablescapes.

TABLETOPS UNDER $1,000 EACH

“By the Sea”

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

C.P. Ross Designs, Fayetteville, N.C.; 910/481-9905; www.cprossdesigns.com

Inspired by “the style of Ernest Hemingway and the romance of a bygone era,” C.P. Ross Designs' owner Cynthia Ross says that “decorative items made the table.” “China and plates were simple in nature, with white plates and clear glasses, wineglasses and brandy snifters,” she adds. “Lit candles were accomplished by burning a real candle down enough to fit an LED light inside. It worked great and looked real.” Ross notes that her greatest challenge lay in creating a tabletop “that was oriented toward men but still appealed to the ladies.” In retrospect, she adds, “I have never created a tablescape that I liked as much as this one, the reason being that everything is always oriented around the ladies. Men attend events, too!”

VENDORS

BBJ Linen (napkins, cloth), 615/399-6900; CJ Designs (lanterns, overlay, seashells), 910/483-9696; Panache, A Classic Party Rentals Co. (chargers, china, flatware, glasses), 954/935-9422; Limil Wholesale Flowers (floral), 800/910-8859; We Rent Atlanta (bamboo chairs), 404/633-2727

“What a Girl Wants … Hope to Find a Cure for Breast Cancer”

Dressed Up Tables and Events, Palmdale, Calif.; 661/406-5320; www.dresseduptables.com

“I had been searching for ideas for a ‘glamour’ theme,” recalls Dressed Up Tables' Shola Ayodele. A breast cancer survivor herself, Ayodele transformed her original idea into a celebration of life's pleasures using the color pink to both symbolize the importance of a search for the cure and “to represent the softness of a woman and of romance.” The designer's tabletop featured representations of things beloved by many women such as lace, flowers, handbags, jewelry, shoes, chocolates and candlelight dinners. The theme was underscored with pink chargers and breast-cancer-awareness scarves and hair clips that doubled as chair sashes and party favors. “I would love to duplicate this design for a client,” Ayodele notes. “I think this theme would translate well into a fundraising or benefit dinner or an event for a breast cancer organization.”

VENDORS

Royal Doulton (glassware), www.royaldoulton.com; Saro Trading (white lace overlay), 818/846-3314; Villeroy & Boch (pink chargers, china), www.villeroy-boch.com

“A Green Picnic”

Gary Jones Presents, San Antonio; 210/875-1060; www.garyjonespresents.com

For Gary Jones, inspiration for a “return to nature and its elements” came from a glimpse at an enamelware-filled picnic basket in a catalogue. Jones' resulting tabletop was a study in natural elements and classic picnic motifs, from cotton dish towels used as napkins to a homey red-plaid bench cushion. To give the feeling of “running your fingers through the grass at a picnic,” Jones wanted a layer of grass instead of linen on the table. But due to The Special Event's winter date, green sod was hard to find. “We were able to obtain sod, but it was dormant,” Jones says, “so we did have to spray-paint the grass.” With that resourceful touch, plus a sprinkling of such whimsical picnic-theme pieces as blue-speckled enamelware and a centerpiece made from an oak tree cutting filled with birch and forsythia branches dappled with “birds” and “butterflies,” Jones' tabletop gave spring picnic season a stylish head start.

VENDORS

The picnic elements such as speckled enamelware and cotton dish towels are readily available online, Jones notes.

“Broadway on Tour”

Markei Events & Productions, Coral Springs, Fla.; 954/205-4775; www.markeieventplanners.com

Designer Marjorie Stanbury cites her lifelong love of theater as inspiration for her tabletop, which was created to “depict four couples out to dinner and the theater,” she says. The design's palette took its cue from purple-and-green “cabbage” chargers. Stanbury's team paired custom-made pewter velvet floor-length tablecloths with eight custom chair covers: four representing men's black tuxedos and four representing women in pewter satin evening dresses. Centerpiece cylinder vases featured color transparencies of logos from Broadway shows including “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “Phantom of the Opera.” A menu card in the form of a Broadway playbill sat at each setting , while each place card was a theater ticket.

VENDORS

Classic Party Rentals (chairs, stemware), 404/351-9222; Berkeley Florist Supplies (floral), 305/638-4141

“Origami”

Joanne Hulme's Creativity, Philadelphia; 908/878-2244

Simplicity was at the soul of Joanne Hulme's tabletop. Noting that she wanted to get away from “over-the-top design,” the Philadelphia-based event pro opted instead for “one color and one product” — paper. Hulme says her first hurdle was locating paper that was red on both sides, which she finally found at a local craft store. Also challenging was the creation of a thick paper tablecloth, for which Hulme hand-carried 17 rolls of paper to Atlanta in order to avoid creases. In the final tabletop, “All items were paper or a paper byproduct except for small metal armatures that came from Ikea,” Hulme notes. Trays used in the design actually were custom-stamped paper box lids, while food containers were folded origami “crane” containers. The entire design was custom created specifically for the Tabletop Gallery, notes Hulme, who adds, “The tabletop competition is my time to create my own challenge or concept.” Reflecting on her design, she notes, “Show attendees thought this table was about origami, but it was really about the challenge of doing paper only.”

VENDORS

Panache, A Classic Party Rentals Co. (ballroom chairs), 954/971-8484

TABLETOPS $1,000 AND ABOVE EACH

“Geisha Visions”

All Over Miami, Miami; 305/754-0392; www.allovermiami.com

Highlighted by a centerpiece designed to be a floral representation of an actual Japanese kimono, All Over Miami's Tabletop Gallery submission took its inspiration from “the great number of Asian-influenced interior accessories dominating the home scene today,” says designer Ira Mitchell-Steiman. For table linen, “Buddha”-print satin joined forces with floor-length pleated brown silk. Meanwhile, black lacquer chargers, palmwood-footed trays and amber-footed stemware added height and drama. Then there was the kimono centerpiece — a pattern of fresh and permanent floral materials applied to a woven textile kimono paired with a headdress featuring “spheres and orbs of fresh flowers, including beautiful roses, deeply toned carnations and especially long colossal oncidium orchids and shoots of lucky bamboo,” Mitchell-Steiman notes. All Over Miami added 85 pounds of additional base weight to balance and secure the final creation.

VENDORS

Panache, A Classic Party Rentals Co. (china, flatware, glassware, linen), 954/935-9422; Smithers-Oasis (floral, sisal, tools, wire), www.smithers-oasis.com

“Violet Urban Landscape”

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

“Mosaic often is asked to create designs for affairs that are current and cutting-edge for a younger, fashion-forward and well-heeled crowd,” says the company's Susie Perelman. In response, her tabletop featured sleek reflective surfaces and modern angles. The design included hand-pleated pewter dupioni silk skirting with amethyst overlays along with pewter raw silk napkins accented by purple thread trim. Table settings included white square plates and Riedel's hip “O” wineglasses. Perelman added sleek sheets of glass that “seamlessly supported a linear arrangement of black calla lilies, purple roses and Vanda orchids.” “Mirror shards and dangling cut crystal add to the lush raw silks and jewel-encrusted overlays,” she notes.

VENDORS

All Occasions Party Rental (flatware, glassware, plates, table), 412/788-8100; Design Space (floral), 412/393-2120

“Rainy Days”

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

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

Inspiration from a humble pair of rubber boots used as planters in a home decor magazine led to this design. Planning Factory's Cher Przelomski says art director Susan Simmons' ingenuity provided the design's highlight: a fountain centerpiece “that replicated rain falling over the top of an umbrella into a moss-covered basin.” Clear Ghost chairs and elegant chargers accompanied a custom Lucite tabletop covering more than 6,000 pennies — hand-polished to a sheen by Planning Factory staff — scattered over a shiny ocean-blue table overlay. Other eye-catching components included splits of champagne dressed in yellow rain slickers and hats, rubber rain boot favors containing blue-tissue-wrapped bottles of cognac, and rubber-duck place cards holding names associated with rainy days, such as Gene Kelly (“Singing in the Rain”) and Prince (“Purple Rain”). Notes Przelomski: “Post-event, we actually sold the entire tabletop design using all the elements — except the alcoholic beverages and the Ghost chairs — to a not-for-profit client as a fundraising auction item.”

VENDORS

Ducky Depot (rubber ducks), www.theduckydepot.com; Ten Strawberry Street (chargers), 800/428-9397; Webkinz (raincoats and hats for champagne bottles), www.webkinz.com

“Green with Envy”

Deco Productions, Hialeah, Fla.; 800/553-0800; www.decoproductions.com

Citing a “recognition of our industry's opportunity to play a major role in responding to the world's need to clean up the environment,” Deco's Isaac Ribas says his choice of a tabletop theme was a natural — although finding eco-friendly products to fulfill his vision was not so easy. After extensive research and talking with both decor specialists and big home improvement stores, Ribas turned his green vision into reality. Key design elements included river rocks, recycled glassware, organic cotton sateen napkins and wood products made using eco-conscious resins and wood remnants. Ribas acknowledges that, for transportation reasons, he had to compromise on his plan for a recycled-glass-top table and go with acrylic instead. Nevertheless, he says, he's happy with his green-minded design, which “can easily be produced for an actual event.”

VENDORS

Decotone Surfaces (wood products), 908/301-0600; Home Depot (river rocks), www.homedepot.com; Ikea (natural woven chairs), www.ikea.com; Natural Home Rugs (natural fiber rug), 800/601-6062; Rose Brand (LED lighting), 800/223-1624; Viva Terra (recycled glassware), 800/233-6011

Photos by Catch the Moment/catchthemoment.com