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Galas: There's No Place Like Office Space

It's one thing to turn a beautiful event venue into a beautiful event. Accomplishing such a transformation with an austere corporate dining facility at the top of a 60-story downtown office building is something else altogether.

Meryl Hillsberg, CSEP, of Upper Montclair, N.J.-based Impressive Events, says global financial services firm JPMorgan Chase was very clear about its demands when it hired her to produce the April “Chase All-Star Gala” at its Manhattan headquarters. “They needed to transform the space so the guests coming in were not looking at the same old, same old,” Hillsberg explains. She says her creative concept for the 240-guest event — an “Art Deco supper club of the 1920s” — allowed her team to “convert the space visually, transporting VIP guests into another place and time.”


Among Hillsberg's challenges was the corporate dining room's awkward L shape. Ultimately, she took advantage of the odd configuration by using it to divide the space into a cocktail reception area and the area in which an awards ceremony would be held.

“We designed a curtain that would have full rigging to cross the 60-foot expanse of the middle of the room,” she says, crediting New York-based Spaeth Design with curtain's creation. “We used two sets of sheer fabrics and shot gobos through them to diffuse the light,” she continues. “It wasn't like a pipe and drape — it was like a theatrical curtain.”

Also problematic was figuring out a way to deal with the almost 200 feet of bare marble wall that JPMorgan Chase vice president of treasury and securities services Marsha Anderson wanted completely covered, floor to ceiling. Again, Hillsberg and staff worked with Spaeth to create and install 60-foot hand-painted panels, as well as columns bearing stylized depictions of plants.

Along with going big, Hillsberg and crew had to go bright. “Normally an Art Deco look would have a lot of earth tones — blacks and browns and tans,” she says. “But the client wanted to have more of a springtime look because it was the beginning of spring and we had just come out of the doldrums of winter.” She fulfilled the request by using a color scheme of muted pastels, terra-cotta and peacock-blue, as well as peppering the space with huge arrangements of white ostrich feathers, palm fronds, orchids and calla lilies.


Arriving guests immediately found themselves immersed in the event's Deco theme, as they walked out of the elevator and through an entrance flanked by enormous palm-and-peacock-feather floral displays. Making their way through the long, narrow reception space, they were invited to partake of cocktails reminiscent of the time, Hillsberg says, ticking off such classics as martinis, Manhattans, sidecars and cosmopolitans. The menu also featured a large variety of supper-club-inspired items including ballotine of chicken, oysters Rockefeller and beef tenderloin, plus contemporary catering requisites such as sushi, bruschetta and a mashed potato bar. Despite the fact that the event was not a full dinner, “You could not leave there hungry,” Hillsberg insists.

She says careful organization of the 150-foot-by-60-foot space kept guests circulating. Food stations were all along the left side of the room and bars were on the right, both as close to the walls as possible. “We only had seven or eight highboys down the middle of the room,” she adds, “so nobody could really flop themselves in any one place.”

A live jazz band encouraged socializing until the opening of the dividing curtain made for what Hillsberg calls “a dramatic reveal of the dining area.” Guests enjoyed an awards ceremony in the adjoining space, which was decked out with oversized Deco fans, blue organza swags, tables dressed in burnt-orange satin linens, and a buffet of profiteroles, truffles and petit fours.


With the 2001 Chase All-Star Gala, Impressive Events lived up to its name as far as its client was concerned. “Your creative ideas, dedicated execution and oversight, and cooperative attitude throughout made this event one of the best and most talked-about ever,” wrote Anderson in a glowing letter of thanks. “And, of equal importance, you came in on budget,” she added.

Hillsberg, too, was delighted with the outcome, though she says the event has taught her something about working with high expectations and a limited budget. If she had it to do again, she says, “My contract would be much more specific.” She explains that the event's budget — about $120,000 — didn't leave a lot of wiggle room, making it difficult for her to maintain a sufficient profit margin. “Next time I would say, ‘Within the confines of this contract, the following is included, and past that there will be additional costs.’”

Still, she says, doing the event was worth the response. “People looked at this room and their mouths dropped open,” she says. “Their reactions were overwhelming.”

Turn to page 67 for a list of resources for this event.


Passed Hors d'Oeuvre
Caesar Salad
Oven-Roasted Ballotine of Chicken
Cumin-Crusted Beef Tenderloin
Grilled or Steamed Shrimp
Oysters Rockefeller
Assortment of Sushi
Wild Mushroom Ravioli
Mashed Potato Martini Bar
Individual Dessert Assortment.

Impressive Events
209 Cooper Ave., Suite 8A
Upper Montclair, NJ 07043

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