Skip navigation
Nature-inspired gala design Photo courtesy Destination Concepts Inc.
Greenery makes for a lovely escort card table at a gala from Destination Concepts Inc.

Gala Design Gets a Refresh

Stuffy ceremonies and strict seating charts? Not today. Galas are loosening up, with fresh new looks and innovative programming.

The gala, once the stiff black-tie stereotype of the event world, is loosening up. Nature-inspired styling and bolder looks are breathing new life into the traditionally formal fête, while the event’s program gets a switch-up.

GO GREEN Dakota Long, senior designer, and Jackie Fennelly, designer, at San Diego-based Destination Concepts Inc. say that while the term “gala” is open to interpretation, they are seeing a shift from traditionally fancy gala events to design themes that draw upon nature.

Sharing an example of a gala they produced in Orange, Calif., Long and Fennelly say the client wanted oranges in the decor to create a statement that would be both memorable and indicative of the destination.

“We were able to take the natural inspiration of orange trees and turn it into an upscale event for their gala, even though oranges weren’t in season,” Long says. “It was an unconventional look but truly made for a more interesting event.”

Long and Fennelly say that garden-inspired looks and centerpieces with natural elements--such as ferns, succulents and plants versus roses and other floral--are gaining popularity. Mixing tables of different styles—big communal tables with rounds, for instance—is also a big hit for creating dramatic spaces.

“Clever, intricate details in the decor, whether it be for name cards, table numbers or bar treatments, is a great way to enhance the mood while not distracting from the real reason the guests are there,” Long says.

NEW THIS YEAR Because they are often annual events, galas can fall victim to stale design and robotic programming. But with inspiration popping up around every corner of the social-media sphere, clients are challenging event professionals to spruce up the standard.

“Our clients are reaching a point where they have seen all types of decor ideas, whether from their many years in the industry, endless Pinterest boards or Instagram posts,” Fennelly adds.

Now more than ever, clients want their gala to be something they have never seen before.

RIGHTFUL RECOGNITION Redefining the gala awards ceremony has been a big hurdle for designers, but the move away from ultra-formal events has helped the cause.

Barb Smith, CMCP, partner with ACCESS Palm Springs, in Palm Springs, Calif., says she’s reorganized the typical awards ceremony schedule to shake things up.

“If there is an awards element, the dinner is not in the middle of the program and not the final night,” she says. “The thought is when people are recognized for their achievements, they are able to interact and receive accolades from their associates for several days instead of leaving the following morning.”

Designers are also moving away from heavily themed galas, which can steal attention away from honorees. Instead, a focus on creating a mood can enhance and enchant without becoming the ultimate focus …

The complete article will appear in the Fall issue of Special Events. Not a subscriber? We can fix that--just click here.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.