WHEN DESIGNER Julie Ford first told her co-workers at An Occasion to Remember about the site they would be using for a gala event, their reaction was swift: "Are you crazy? What a dump!" "They swore to have me committed," says Ford.
Orlando, Fla., has few historic buildings. "We live and work in a young city based on tourism and Mickey Mouse," Ford explains. But an old-relatively-electric building was to serve as the city's Performing Arts Center. Ford's company was chosen to coordinate the debut party, and she quickly saw potential in the site. "I instantly fell in love with the natural brick and Palladian windows," she says.
But closer inspection revealed the challenges. As Ford relates: "No air conditioning, a 72-by-10-foot skylight that ran the length of the room, orange draperies falling off the rods thanks to sun rot, and a floor painted five shades of gray."
Undaunted, Ford and crew went to work. To make the entry welcoming, the walkway was carpeted with red runners flanked by protea luminarias and tuxedoed ushers. At the top of the staircase were stately urns filled with floral arrangements in jewel tones.
To dress up the foyer, she swagged the ceiling with fabrics complementing the table linens. Low cocktail tables draped in ivory were a showcase for glass jars filled with cherries, topped with peonies and festooned with gold cording.
The grand ballroom presented the greatest challenge. To stage the entertainment, Ford had to cover the expansive windows and skylight. "The catch here was that the view overlooking Lake Ivanhoe was so spectacular that I felt we couldn't cover it up," Ford says. Instead, she pulled the drapes back and hung shade cloth over the windows. "Amazingly enough, once the sun was shaded, the air conditioner began to work!" The rotting orange drapes were repaired and washed with red lighting.
Putting a new spin on the centerpieces, floral arrangements were suspended from the ceiling, with glass votive candles dangling alongside. Rich, jewel-tone table linens were piled on in layers: A burgundy floor-length cloth was topped with a gold shimmer crepe, topped again with a tapestry in burgundy, gold, cream and navy. Chiavari chairs were wrapped in gold shimmer crepe covers, their backs dressed with ivory tassels accented with red roses, ivy and tulips.
"This event proves that, if you have a vision and understanding partners and staff, challenges only make for an interesting story," Ford says. "A truly successful event comes from the heart."-L.H.
"I envision smarter product development. I see value in helping hotels maximize their wedding business. One of the things I'll look at in the future is how to help resorts and hotels improve their service, image and menu. Ideally, I would like to get the big production events, but have a division going after creative consultancy projects."