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PERMANENCE — IT'S WHAT the institution of marriage is all about. But for one $1.2 million Michigan wedding, it was also the concept behind a design scheme intended to transform a parcel of raw land into a fairy-tale wedding setting. In this month's “Galas,” John Daly of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based John Daly Inc. International, the creative force behind the 300-guest affair, talks about designing the August event — a 2003 Gala Award nominee.


Working in tandem with the wedding's coordinator, Lori Parks of Bloomfield, Mich.-based Lori Parks Corporate Events, Daly started by surveying the wedding site — nearly 15 acres of rolling land on which the couple plans one day to build their dream home. For the time being though, the space's only sturdy structures were an old barn and a stable — hardly venues fit for the elegant wedding that Daly's clients called upon him to design.

But, according to Daly, the raw setting had its advantages. “You have a blank canvas where every stroke of your creative brush does just what you want it to do,” he says. “You're not having to hide something.”

Indeed, he made the most of the existing structures by placing the event's “dining pavilion” in the open space between them. To make Roseville, Mich.-based Miles Event Rental's dining tent fit with the rustic scene, Daly fronted it with a 130-foot-long façade modeled after the exteriors of the barn and stables. The façade included a long porch, decorated with rocking chairs and hanging planters, which hid the nearly 5-foot-high sub-flooring structure leveling the land beneath the tent.

While Daly started from scratch with the dining tent, he brought out the barn's own rough-hewn charm to create an adjoining cigar and cordial lounge. After thoroughly cleaning a space he describes as “filthy,” the designer replaced windows and lacquered the barn's wood floors to a high gloss. Crews then brought in leather chairs, ornate oversize mirrors and a 7-foot-tall, 5-foot-diameter chandelier featuring 72 candles and thousands of crystals, affecting a look Daly describes as “really ‘Town & Country’ casual elegance, but ‘Town & Country’ of a very modern era.”


When the bride walked down the hillside stone path to the rose-blanketed wedding gazebo on event day, the pastoral scene betrayed none of the intensive efforts behind it, Daly says. How could the crowd know, for instance, that an entire sprinkler system had been installed to keep the land lush and green, or that sonic devices and even security guards had been brought in to keep out foliage-munching deer and geese during setup?

Just as the recent landscaping appeared to be a permanent feature, Daly says, so did the interior of the dining tent. Hard walls didn't just add to this impression, he explains, but also provided the soundproofing necessary for avoiding noise complaints from neighboring estates. Meanwhile, an elaborate ceiling treatment of silk charmeuse swaths and gold chandeliers both gave the appearance of sturdiness and disguised a system of customized air-conditioning ducts designed to prevent air blasts from disturbing the room's decor.

In this carefully constructed illusion, guests enjoyed a very real good time, which included dining on rack of lamb and veal tenderloin by Wolfgang Puck Catering and Events, Chicago, and dancing to the tunes of high-energy band Haute Chile.


Daly acknowledges that having a substantial budget makes the something-from-nothing approach considerably more feasible. But, on a cautionary note, he adds that the pricey wedding also exemplifies the kind of event that poses the event professional's greatest financial risk.

“The higher the budget, the easier the loss,” he explains. “If you have a million dollar budget, you might say, ‘Throw those extra couches in, and we can upgrade the linen — we'll just make it up somewhere else.’” But the risk of shortchanging one element to upgrade another is always present, he says, as is the risk of simply not compensating for the more expensive materials.

“I know I drive my team nuts over stuff like that,” Daly adds, crediting his general manager with keeping him in line while keeping an eye on the bottom line. “I'll tell them, ‘If you want to upgrade linens by $100 a table, show me where you got that $100 a table. And prove to me that in the end, that client isn't going to be disappointed with the ceremony area because you wanted nicer table linen.’”

John Daly Inc. International 8 E. Arellaga St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101; 805/963-5007;


Golden Tomatoes with Mozzarella, Micro Greens, Basil Oil and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Chinois Rack of Lamb and Sesame-Crusted Veal Tenderloin

Grilled White and Green Asparagus and Roasted Red Bell Peppers with Wasabi Puree, Preserved Lemon and Fried Ginger

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