BY THE BOOK
It was her clients' love of author Anita Diamant's novel “The Red Tent” that formed the foundation of her biblical-theme design scheme, Symans-Hassel says. She notes that the book, which explores the lives of a group of Old Testament women, provided a twofold source of inspiration. Not only did it offer a strong statement in celebration of womanhood — ideal for the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony — it also suggested the event's rich palette.
Most important to her clients, Symans-Hassel says, was making sure decor items accurately represented the novel's Middle Eastern landscape and historical period. “On our end, that meant being willing to take things to the client that we were fairly confident were authentic, and getting their approval,” she explains. Items she offered for her clients' approval during the tight four-month lead time included genuine flagstones, earthenware and brass urns and bowls, and an abundance of fruit and floral, including rushes, reeds, figs and dates.
A journey through downtown Los Angeles' fabric district gave Symans-Hassel ideas for textile patterns, including paisleys, geometrics and “a lot of rich jewel colors,” she says. It also yielded the more than 2,000 yards of crushed red velvet she would use to transform the city's Skirball Cultural Center into an elegant setting resonant of an ancient nomadic encampment.
PEAK OF SUCCESS
Accommodated by generous clients, who bought out the Skirball space for two days instead of one, the S&R team set forth with the lengthy event setup.
To convert the sleek space into a desert-camp scene, decorators upholstered the reception area with velvet in shades of olive, gold, red and purple. In the center of the area they created the illusion of a “watering hole,” topping painted foamboard with iridescent cellophane, then shining a wave-effect light on the surface to mimic the movement of water. Red velvet curtains divided the area from the main event space, where Symans-Hassel used the building's structure to best effect.
“This is the one time in my life I actually talked my client out of draping the ceiling,” she says. Instead, she saturated the room's high-pitched, peaked ceiling with red light overlayed with a lace-pattern projection. Not only did the technique produce the appearance of a tent interior, she says, but it also saved $10,000 in decor costs.
Completing the look, perimeter food stations, each draped to look like an open market food stall, featured giant brass tubs, earthenware urns and whole fruits as decoration. Tables topped with hand-woven linen from Reseda, Calif.-based Resource One were highlighted with centerpiece displays of water jugs, reeds and prop gems.
Guests arriving at the Skirball for the evening event encountered a “Bedouin trader” bearing small sacks of gilt-wrapped chocolate coins. Attached to the sacks, miniature parchment scrolls bore guests' names and table numbers, as well as short biographies of famous biblical and contemporary Jewish women. After cocktails and klezmer music, the crowd moved on to the crescent-shaped main space. There, Italian, Chinese and Middle Eastern food stations — all meatless, as requested by the vegetarian bat mitzvah girl — featured everything from potstickers to polenta. A band versed in contemporary and traditional Jewish music took to the palm-tree-flanked stage as guests took to the wooden dance floor.
Reflecting on the event's success, Symans-Hassel credits her clients for the courage of their convictions. “I think sometimes we're afraid to do spiritual themes,” she says. Besides causing apprehension for the bar or bat mitzvah honoree — “Kids are always afraid it's going to be boring and their friends aren't going to like it,” she explains — spiritual themes can be limiting from a design perspective. “Short of blue stars of David and palm trees depicting Israel, there's nothing that strongly suggests Judaica,” she says.
But, she insists, “I don't think we should be afraid. In this day and age, with everything going on in the world, we should celebrate spirituality. And I think we can do the decorating without being garish. Those are the lessons I learned from this event. This was so visually gorgeous, even the kids walked in and went, ‘Wow.’”
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Soba Noodle Salad with Sesame Vinaigrette
Wild Mushroom Potstickers with Ponzu Sauce
Roasted Peppers, Portobello Mushrooms, Roma Tomatoes and Zucchini
Hummus and Baba Ghanoush with Pita Chips
French Fries with Barbecue Sauce, Ranch Dressing or Ketchup