| Preston Bailey's Design For Entertaining |
By Preston Bailey
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"What is the overall impression you'd like to convey to your guests?" I ask when working with my clients. "What statement would you like to make?" Most clients know the answer but have difficulty expressing it. Or they are able to answer with a word or two that encapsulate what they have in mind but haven't a clue how to make their idea a reality. What I do in my work as a designer of event decor is to help my clients conceptualize and articulate a vision or style and then communicate this to their guests. In this chapter I show you how I work with my clients to achieve that deeply personal touch so that you will be inspired to do the same for your own events, large or small.
What makes an event a success?
In the course of my career I have helped my clients design some of their most special occasions. For me an event is a success when, long afterward, people experience a feeling of joy when they remember it. Moreover, what comes back to mind for them isn't so much specific details as an overall sense of the event's theme, ambience, and mood. In short, they recall that they have had a unique and uplifting experience, one punctuated by certain emotional highlights. And this is really at the heart of what every host or hostess hopes to achieve. Everyone wants a special event to be a success. And the most successful events are always the ones that leave a long-lasting impression.
Before planning an eventwhether a wedding, dinner, anniversary, birthday celebration, or business affairconsider what overall effect you are hoping to achieve. More than the details, the location, or the food, it is the overall feeling that will be remembered. The ambience you create is vital because, whether consciously or not, your guests will absorb it during the course of your event. An event's decor is an environment, womblike, that for some short period of time envelopes and nurtures your guests, feeds them and entertains them. And in so doing you are influencing how they will feel and what they will remember in the years to come. What is the overall impression you'd like to convey?
Almost all events are occasions for celebration, and as such they are always, no matter how large, intimate occasions. This is because you are sharing something special to you with people that you care about. So it is natural for you to wish to ensure the success of your event and that your guests have a wonderful experience. The intimate relationship that exists between the host or hosts of an event and their guests is one I work with and try to honor and respect, and you should too. By inviting your guests to partake in your occasion, you are giving of yourself. Generosity of spirit should be your main goal. All else follows from there. Give as much of yourself as possible to ensure a truly memorable event. Show who you are, and your guests are certain to be touched. Remember, whether your party is a wedding or a corporate luncheon for clients, you are gathering together people that are important to you. There is no better way to show that you care than to give generously of yourself. Better yet, communicate a sense of joy and you will make your event an experience your guests will remember for a lifetime.
When you design an event or its theme, you are surrounding your guests with a part of who you arein fact, with your own deeply held sense of style. Keep this in mind as encouragement to make every effort to express yourself. There is an added benefit to this as well. It can represent the difference between a fine party and one that is truly unique. What could be more personal than your own combination of likes and dislikes? If you start from the center of who you are and stay true to your self, you are unlikely to duplicate anything that anyone has ever done before. Your guests are certain to be charmed and excited by what you create because it is unlikely to be in any way ordinary.
Another measure of the success of any party, event, or celebration is in how it leaves your guests feeling. You want those in attendance to experience a myriad of uplifting emotions during the course of the event, ranging from excitement to elation. In addition, your guests may experience joy, surprise; feel deeply touched or amused; as well as be entertained. How you conceive of your event, how you manage the ambience you create for your guests, will have an impact on their feelings. When a party is designed and planned properly, it will be the range of emotional reactions that makes your party memorable.
Designing a theme what matters to you?
One of the most important things I do for my clients is to help them express what they are aiming for, to articulate their own vision. When I sit down to work with a client, first we discuss the type of event that is being planned, then we think about style, and ultimately a concept or theme develops, including color and mood. The key is to be as original as you can and to design something as different as possible so long as that reflects who you are and what you are comfortable with. My staff and I are always trying to think of ways to translate what the client wants and then to create it from scratch so that it will be wholly original.
Usually I encourage my clients to come up with one or two words, keywords, that represent the effect they are interested in achieving. While I have begun the design process with many different keywords, from romantic to masculine to lighthearted, by far the most common word I hear is elegant. You'd be surprised how many different notions people have of what that is. Moreover, elegance can be translated in many ways. For example, it can be understated or very elaborate, simple or traditional. It is up to me to enable my clients to pinpoint what elegance means to them and to execute that.
One gentleman came to me with a very specific vision for his daughter's wedding. For him, elegance was about simplicity and the use of white. For my client, white French tulips represent an ideal of elegance, with their long willow-colored stems and the perfection and simplicity of their oversized petals. Because they had a meaning for him, we designed a room around these flowers, mirroring their shape, color, and elegance wherever we could. To match the petals of the flowers and to frame them, we covered the room in white: drapes, table linens, tableware, and seat covers. And on every table, in sparklingly clear, crystal vases, we placed magnificent groupings of the beloved French tulips that had been specially flown in for the wedding.
In many ways what I do is a cross between interior design and set decoration. Just as an interior designer translates someone's personal style onto the interior of a home, I transmit their style to the decor of their party. My relationship with a client is just as intimate as that between you and your interior decorator, though of course that is a much longer relationship. The set design analogy comes into play in the sense that event decor is also a one-time situation, one designed to leave a specific, abiding impression on an audience.
Style is versatile; it can be anything for anyone. For some it is colorful and dynamic, while for others it is pared-down-to-the-essentials simplicity. Any special occasion is an opportunity for you reflect on or play with your own personal style. Style is a buzzword today, but its importance cannot be overestimated. Style is a personal statement, since it represents what is of interest or matters to you. It is also an act of creation, because you as the creator are assembling those elements into a coherent and, it is hoped, harmonious whole. To me style is a kind of joyful flow between the inner person and presentation of the outer person. Successfully extending this flow even further onto your event will leave your guests feeling closer to you, happy, and satisfied.
Much of what I do involves exploration and translation. I encourage my clients to set aside their fears and explore what style means to them as freely as possible. Often this entails helping them understand what makes them comfortable and then working to translate it into something with style. When I interview clients I ask them about their likes and dislikes. I look for clues as to the style in their home. Is the decor elaborate or understated? I ask my clients about their favorite color schemes. Certain people love pastels and creams, while others are totally passionate about vibrant color. These preferences are important because clients must feel absolutely comfortable with the decor created for their event. If you create an environment that makes you feel at home, then your guests will feel at home as well.
Even for a business event, comfort can come into play. A company's management may not be comfortable creating an over-the-top or lavish affair for clients or owners for fear of appearing to be spendthrifts. On the other hand, a company may not wish to seem overly budget conscious and appear as though they don't value their guests. Balance, as always, is the best guide, but finding your comfort level is crucial.
Developing a unique vision
As you start to think about what idea, keyword, or theme you'd like to have inform your event, keep in mind that it should matter to you. Put all limitations aside for the time being. And do not consider what anyone else will think. Free your spirit. Permit yourself to become enchanted by the possibilities. Indulge your quirks, and more than anything: break the rules! If you plan to nurture, value, and honor your guests, then offer these qualities to yourself as you begin the planning process. Listen to that little voice whispering to you. Trust your intuition. Do what you like. It's your party.
Sometimes the time of year comes into play when developing the design concept for an event. The seasons often influence the overall look of an affair. And certainly this is the easiest idea around which to base a theme. A Thanksgiving event will emphasize the abundance of the season; it might reflect the generosity of the harvest and be colored with the hues of autumn leaves. A spring wedding, on the other hand, might be designed around the bright promise of springtime, with pastels in pinks and greens and an overall light and airy look. Winter can inspire a more subdued environment for a gathering, one that speaks with rich crimsons set off by stark whites.
What's important is that the theme reflects your feelings, likes, and dislikes. Use the seasons as a starting place if a particular season speaks to you. If you love autumn and its rich golden colors, by all means use this as a basis for your event. But don't ever feel bound by the time of year. Use it only if it means something to you.
One of my clients is a woman whose self-assurance in terms of her own tastes and style is simply inspiring. She's a lesson to us all because she allows herself the luxury of indulging what she likes. Because she loves pink and blue, her exquisite home is decorated entirely in these two colors in an amazing array of textures, fabrics, and mediums. But they are not just any pink and blue. They are such specific hues that I wouldn't even attempt to describe them in words. She has surrounded herself and her family with what she loves. So, why stop there? When she and her husband decided to create a joint birthday celebration, she decided the concept for her party should be an extension of this same theme. Pink and blue. So she had me re-create the design and theme of her home. The effect was fabulous and breathtaking. And her guests were left feeling as though they had truly been invited into her life and its celebration.
Excerpted from Preston Bailey's Design For Entertaining , by Preston Bailey . Copyright (c) 2002 by Preston Bailey . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top