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An elegant fundraiser from BeEvents.

Spending Smart on Decor for Fundraisers

Where to splurge efficiently? How to scrimp effectively? When every dollar counts, strategy is key.

Devynn Smith, co-owner of Los Angeles-based Edge Design and Decor, sums up the fundraising design process simply: “Sometimes we have a great budget to do whatever our hearts desire, and other times--not so much.”

MAKING AN ENTRANCE First up, the entrance. “The entrance is key in making that first impression and building excitement for the event and what is to come,” says William Fogler, principal/founder at Atlanta-based WM Events. “It sets the tone as soon as guests arrive.”

“You have to set your scene,” adds Ryan Hanson, CSEP, of Minneapolis-based BeEvents. “This is the ‘wow moment’ of walk in, the canvas upon which the rest of the elements rest.” To that end, Hanson favors large installations—balloons, paper cut-outs, glass balls. “Things installed en masse can make a remarkable impact.” As for the rest of the space, focus only on the positive. “Work to the charms of the space,” he says. “Having a few bold things to draw focus is a better use of money than investing in pipe and drape to hide the whole room.”

THAT’S SO LIT! Rule No. 1: Don’t skimp on lighting. “Lighting is a driving force in the overall design of a space,” says Kellie Hanley, partner at Las Vegas-based Sktch Events. “It’s a great way to stretch a budget and make an overall statement.” Rheana Coon, director of events at San Diego-based To Be Designed, agrees. “I think people are finally starting to understand how much design can be done with lighting—and what a major impact it makes in a space,” she says. “I’ve had less requests for stage decor and more demand for unique projections and LED walls.”

If the budget is tight, Hanley relies heavily on ambient lighting—specifically blue or amber uplights around the perimeter to establish a mood—enhanced with a wash of multicolor pulsing or moving lights to generate energy. “I always say spend on lighting because it creates the atmosphere and mood at a level you cannot get from flowers and linens,” Folger notes. “Uplighting is vital, but textural lighting, such as gobos projected around the room, is also important. Imagery on screens or abstract video imagery can play into the theme and is also very big right now.”

FINE-TUNED TABLES Guests spend a lot of time at their gala tables, so thoughtful design is key. “Splurge on specialty dining tables, especially if they are being sold in different size packages,” Smith suggests. As for linens, think texture.

“Linen is one of the easiest ways to make a ballroom pop and keep it from looking like a monochromatic sea of tables,” Fogler adds. “Incorporating texture into linens for a tactile experience adds interest and keeps the table from being flat.” The budget-conscious can achieve this look by mixing less expensive linens with designer items, or using material covers--such as cork or butcher paper--he explains. Coon notes, “Rich textures in linens are always popular, as well as popping in funky patterns here and there.”

Hanley also suggests elevating simple components—the place card, table number, napkin treatment, chargers—into statement-making design elements. For Hanson, less is more. “A clean-lined table—well draped linen, a simple napkin, and lush yet compact centerpiece in modern containers can be just as impactful. And, of course, a comfortable chair.”

Working the Room

Does your event use the same venue year after year? Design tips on keeping a fundraiser fresh:

“I always make sure the color palette is different, and ask if we can change the flow of the event or the seating style. It helps the guests stay excited about attending, knowing they aren’t going to that ‘same party’ every year.” --Rheana Coon, To Be Designed

“We change the theme each year, so there is always something new to explore and enjoy. With a new theme, centerpieces and colors can be updated, while still keeping familiar elements to stay on brand with the event. What often isn’t possible is changing the floor plan. However, we can change the format of the evening, altering the guest flow and the run of show to keep the event fresh year after year.” --William Fogler, WM Events:

“Change up the layout of the space, perhaps use a combination of table styles—some rectangle tables, some rounds. If budget allows, use elevation to transform the space by adding risers for some of the guest tables.” --Kellie Hanley, Sktch Events

“Be willing to look at your space and see new ways to do an old thing. For example, in one venue, there is a bank of windows that we regularly needed to cover with pipe and drape. Then one year, the client wanted to add its new brand visuals to the event space. Instead of covering the windows, we collaged an integration of their new graphics with event graphics and sponsor recognition and transformed the experience of the space while still accomplishing a necessary logistical task. The next year, we built on that idea, and our event theme developed around a coloring book concept. We turned it into an interactive wall of line art graphics, which guests colored in.” --Ryan Hanson, BeEvents:

“I cannot stress enough how much a change in color palette can really express the room in different ways. Also, change the linen textures and/or include a pattern, get creative with the table layout, and make cocktail hour a different experience than the dinner.” --Devynn Smith, Edge Design and Decor

Under the Influence

Designers share their design inspirations

“I attend the furniture markets twice a year to check out incoming trends. Just last week I was walking through my neighborhood and saw some incredible tables that would be cool for an event, so we built some and added them to our inventory.” --Rheana Coon, To Be Designed

“We have seen a lot of iridescent and crystal themes, which are coming from fashion and the popularity of unicorns—yes, unicorns—which bring rainbows and iridescent colors. We’re using actual crystals, as well as polygonal shapes that mimic the outlines of crystals. This same trend has also morphed into an oil slick look. When it comes to pop culture, the Kardashians have had an effect on the event world. Thanks to their baby showers, balloon installations have become huge–balloon-filled rooms are trending everywhere.” --William Fogler, WM Events

“Millennials have had a huge impact on my design lately, not only are they a powerful audience, but they value experiences over things, which is what events are leaning towards—creating an experience. They are influencing me to create more interactive, fun, live experiences for everyone to enjoy.” -- Haleema Linares, Sktch Events

“Interior design elements are having a moment in event design. Wallpaper has become a huge trend, and we have incorporated it into several elements—on walls panels for the stage or using it on a bar front. It can be an inexpensive way to give a custom element in the overall design scheme.” --Devynn Smith, Edge Design and Decor

See the full story in the Fall issue of Special Events. Not a subscriber? We can fix that—just click here.

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