SEAN DE FREITAS' March 10 “'80s Reverb” event had an underground feel — literally. The president of Dania, Fla.-based Designs by Sean recalls how the $100,000 party — closing night of a multi-day corporate incentive event for an international information technology firm — wound up in the subterranean employee parking area of host venue the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort and Spa in Dana Point, Calif. With four events planned over the course of three days, De Freitas says, his site inspection crew was running out of fresh event spaces quickly. “We kept saying, ‘Is there anywhere we haven't seen? We're open to anything.’ And one day we ended up in the garage.”
De Freitas says his team knew immediately that the space was the place for the high-octane '80s bash they had been planning for eight months. “When we saw the garage, we said, ‘Yes. This is it,’” he recounts, describing a scene of bare concrete walls, concrete floors, metal pipes and air conditioning equipment. “Everything was exposed. You couldn't get any more raw.”
While the garage may have offered the perfect backdrop for the underground club atmosphere De Freitas and co-producers Alex Saludes and Clover Ryan hoped to create, prepping it for a video presentation — one of the client's top closing-night priorities — posed a problem.
“The challenge was making sure that everyone could see [the presentation] at the same time in a room that wasn't one big square box, and where the ceilings weren't high,” De Freitas explains. He transformed the obstacle into a theming opportunity by turning to one of the decade's most identifiable icons: music-video-era originator MTV. De Freitas and staff placed 23 plasma screens at various points on the garage's 12-foot-high walls, and topped alternating tables with 4-by-5-foot television screens for an '80s-era “video bar” effect. “We guaranteed [the client] if they went this way, they would still be able to get across the message they wanted to get across, but in a much cooler, funkier way,” De Freitas says.
GLAM I AM
Event night found 600 intrigued guests heading down into the resort's depths, where they encountered a “primp station” complete with salon chairs and costumed stylists to help get them into the groove. Many guests were doing just fine without the assistance, according to De Freitas. “People knew about the final night, so they came dressed in theme,” he says. “Fluorescent lace. Guys dressed as bikers. It was hysterical.”
Neon-lit Plexiglas tables from Palm Desert, Calif.-based Ice Magic amped up the '80s vibe, as did silk-screen chair covers featuring some of the decade's most famous faces, including Michael Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg and Yoda. De Freitas added motion to the perimeter decor with a series of 26 custom-painted black-and-white celebrity portraits, behind which color video projections of the same portrait images gave the impression of “moving wallpaper,” he says.
Even the evening's menu — California-style pizza, Sweet Tarts and Nerds candies, and diet soda Tab among them — carried through the '80s theme.
A headlining performance by '80s rock goddess Pat Benatar brought the evening's excitement to fever pitch, according to De Freitas. “We were in this garage with these 12-foot ceilings, and the sound just bounced off the walls,” he says, “It was intense.”
To make '80s Reverb a reality, garage floors had to be pressure-washed and bleached, and employees' cars temporarily relocated. On the other hand, De Freitas adds, the space required no heating or cooling equipment because the concrete retained just enough chill in the March air to keep the party comfortable while providing sufficient insulation to keep temperatures from dropping too low.
For De Freitas, worrying about the setup pros and cons of any space ultimately is less important than matching an event with its perfect venue.
In the case of '80s Reverb, he says, that match may never have been made had it not been for the host property's willingness to take a major risk. “This is a brand-new five-star hotel,” De Freitas says of the St. Regis, which opened in July 2001 and was still under construction during early site inspections for the event. “You would think the last place they would want to put guests was in the garage.”
But hotel director of catering and conference services Keith Lambert says the decision was simple: “This event was one of the few times I've experienced a design team that was so sensitive to the hotel's concerns over the look of things and the safety and care of the property.”
Designs by Sean 1300 Stirling Road, Suites 7A and 7B, Dania, FL 33004; 954/927-9232; www.designsbysean.com
See page 39 for a list of event resources. See this story on the Web at www.specialevents.com.
Retro Candy Station
Teriyaki, Buffalo, BBQ
and Country-Breaded ‘Wings of the '80s’
California Pizza Station
Caesar Salad Station
Self-Serve Wine Coolers, Beer, Tab, Snapple and Capri Sun