SENSORY OVERLOAD These days, simply designing a beautiful room is not nearly enough. “I think the proper design term here is ‘immersive’—anything that is added to the design to take guests deeper on a journey or towards a message, be it scent, social media, video, interactive food displays, artisanal cocktails, choreographed entertainment, and so much more” says David Merrell, owner/president of Los Angeles-based AOO Events. “The key is to not limit oneself to something as one-dimensional as the ‘look’ of an event.”
Hana April Chughtai, principal of Minneapolis-based Mani Mela, agrees. “Decor has definitely moved beyond color palettes and props to include more sensory elements,” she says. “Instead of thinking color scheme, focus more on guest experience, and the energy they will feel when they are in the space. That will fuel your creativity to a whole new level.”
According to Danielle Couick, CPCE, principal of Columbia, Md.-based Magnolia Bluebird Design and Events, creating the perfect space means following your nose. “One of the more overlooked elements in event design is scent technology,” she says. She recently created a bat mitzvah that featured an LED cotton candy wall and fizz bar offering brightly colored custom sodas. “The sweet smell of cotton candy was reminiscent of a Katy Perry concert, which was apropos for the demographic," she says. "They loved that they could nosh on freshly spun cotton candy while they explored their new environment.”
WORKING THE ROOM Where and how guests sit at events is constantly evolving, and not just in terms of chair styles and configurations. “The biggest external force guiding furniture placement and design at events has much do with the fact that everything is mobile these days,” Merrell says. “Convenience for the mobile world and connectivity is turning everything on its head. Plug-in lines are popping up everywhere, and the infrastructure to support this trend is changing everything, especially furniture.” Another important room design element, he says, is incorporating statement pieces—a few oversized, high impact pieces of furniture, such as a lamp or mirror, that add a focal point or dimension to the space.
Chughtai is also a fan of the statement piece, and the more eclectic the better. “An interesting piece of furniture in in the middle of a room is still a conversation starter,” she says. Another must-have—wall treatments, such a dessert walls, that serve both a visual and practical purpose.
“Upright buffets and food walls are blending form and function nicely, and can take up a smaller footprint than a traditional buffet,” Couick adds. “We are also producing more cocktail-style receptions for all types of events. This means seating and lounge areas need to be creative and appropriate for the space and count. It also means buffet and bar designs are playing heavily into the decor budget.”
Julie Shanklin, president and creative director of Gaithersburg, Md.-based Syzygy Events, finds staying power in lounge settings with modular furniture. “Modular furniture is taking on a new look,” she says, citing extra-large serpentine couches, poofs and ottomans as popular choices. “We are even getting requests for this type of set-up for large corporate meetings. This past year we did a general session set-up with 70 lounge groupings.”
GOING GLOBAL “Event design is being driven by creative momentum from across the globe,” Chughtai notes. “The ease of social media outlets has been a breakthrough for event design, since we can now easily get our inspiration from all around the world, from Hong Kong to Madrid. Our boundaries are endless.” Case in point: Chughtai recently created a five-day Southeast Asian-themed pop-up wedding in Minneapolis with vendors and sources from around the country, including a 60-year-old elephant. “We built two custom tents for the event that took over two weeks to install, and held five days of non-stop events—each with its own color scheme and design inspiration.”
Bridget Frizzie, creative director of Chicago-based Kehoe Designs, credits the global community with Hollywood’s strong influence on event design. “Blockbuster movies have rich content that heavily influences the event design industry, and these mega-branded movies have such a global reach," she explains. "They have a pre-set audience, are highly anticipated, and are very well connected to other supporting brands,” citing the latest James Bond film, "Spectre," and its connection to Jaguar as an example. “As a result [of this movie], we are going to be seeing an uptick in formal black-tie events,” she says, adding, “Look for set designs featuring exotic locations such as Rome, the Austrian Alps, Morocco, Mexico City and London--of course.”
MAGNOLIA BLUEBIRD DESIGN AND EVENTS