Skip navigation
Special Events

Theme Weavers Fashion Theme Decor

Theme Weavers Fashion Theme Decor

WHILE POPULAR THEMES may come and go, theme events themselves remain a hot commodity. Design-minded event experts share how they are keeping themes fresh and relevant to client needs.


When it comes to themes, “It is the year 2003 — we can say everything's been done before,” says Laurie Sharp, CMP. As a result, explains the president of San Francisco-based Sharp Events, effective theming is not about dreaming up new motifs, but rethinking enduring favorites.

A corporate event for a San Francisco Bay area client that her company produced in May at Ellis Island Immigration Museum, New York, stands out as a stellar example.

Development of the event theme started with a simple notion: “Use what you've got,” Sharp says. “This was Ellis Island, so we weren't going to do a Hawaiian theme.” Instead, Sharp and crew elected “Americana with white-glove service” as its design foundation.

In the museum's main hall, where dinner was served, guests came upon a scene of understated American-theme elegance, punctuated by two long, rectangular banquet tables set parallel to each other. Topping tables were deep-blue linen, white china, blue water glasses and candelabra brimming with rich red roses.

While the meal itself enhanced the Americana theme, “there was no hot dog or apple pie,” Sharp recounts. Instead, diners were treated to a menu featuring classic American cooking and a range of regional and seasonal items. Among favorites were a trio of spring soups and herb-crusted rack of spring lamb.

As for room decor, Sharp opted to let the space's existing elements shine, with a little help from “abstract star gobos” and a wash of patriotic blue. According to Sharp, professional lighting often is one of the most underrated components of theme design. “If the lighting's off, anything else you have in the room can be completely lost and meaningless,” she explains.


For Orlando, Fla.-Based Art of the Party's Jean-Michel Santacreu, event themes must communicate at the same time that they entertain. He says thoughtful theming starts with a clear understanding of the corporate client's message.

A recent event for 1,200 guests that his company created in conjunction with a pharmaceutical client's multi-day meeting in San Francisco emerged from this approach. Santacreu says his client's “Unleash the Power” meeting title and its desire to give guests an Alcatraz experience determined Art of the Party's path.

Santacreu first tapped a naval hangar as his venue, due to space constraints at historic Alcatraz prison. Development of the theme itself keyed on the idea of freedom from restraint. To prepare guests for the event experience, Santacreu had “prison-release forms” circulated to each attendee the night before the party.

“What's the first thing anybody does when they get released from jail? They go to a bar,” Santacreu says, citing the first in a series of themed spaces guests encountered at the event. In this case, the bar had a Harley-Davidson motif, complete with pool tables and motorcycles positioned throughout the cocktail area.

The event's main dining space brought the international flavor of San Francisco's culinary scene. Food stations representing Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf were among the choices, while “giant dragon kites” suspended over dining tables helped lower the hangar's high ceiling, Santacreu adds.


When designing the elaborate social celebrations that are his specialty, “You always look at who the child is,” states theme expert Randy Fuhrman.

In the case of a spring bat mitzvah he created for 225 guests, looking at the child's personality meant looking to Broadway — especially '50s-theme musical “Grease” — for inspiration. Working within the walls of the client's chosen venue — warehouse-like Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom in Los Angeles — the owner of Los Angeles-based Randy Fuhrman's Creative Concept blended theater, pop culture and '50s kitsch into a colorful evening affair.

The fun started with strolling waiters costumed in garage-issue coveralls, who served arriving guests hors d'oeuvre from vinyl 33n rpm record “trays.”

Next, guests proceeded to a main dining space decorated in shades of pink, black and white. There, the guest of honor made her entrance on the back of a gleaming motorcycle, dismounting to sing a welcome to friends and family in the character of Sandra Dee. Buffet stations ran the gamut from turkey meatloaf to corn dogs to Chinese food served from a space decked out with pink paper parasols and white lanterns with a black cherry-blossom pattern.

Fuhrman counts the event's over-the-top dessert buffet as a guest favorite. The horseshoe-shaped bar, decorated with Barbie dolls in pink outfits, “had jars of every type of candy from [the '50s] era,” he says. Also available were Hostess pastries, including Ding Dongs and hot pink Sno-Balls, plus “a killer sundae bar,” he adds.


Art of the Party, 888/607-7474; Clegg & Son, 407/859-8571; Eclectic Props, 212/645-8880; Randy Fuhrman's Creative Concept, 323/860-0900; Sharp Events, 415/912-5650; 20th Century Props, 818/759-1190

PULL OUT ALL THE PROPS Prop pros note hot themes and the goods that make them great

Latin Look: Orange velvet round couches, upside-down metal trash can “tables,” cowhide-covered bar tables, chandeliers made from bird cages holding live birds.
Laird McClure, 20th Century Props, North Hollywood, Calif.

Futuristic/Disco: 34-by-32-foot underlit dance floor, lit performance risers, perforated metal wall panels, aluminum truss towers for lights, spandex panels for projecting gobos and motion-lighting.
Dennis L. Clegg, Clegg & Son, Orlando, Fla.

Movie Set: Director's chairs, movie cameras, stage lights, theater seats, velvet rope and stanchions.
Eliot Brodsky, Eclectic Props, New York

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.