Event Decor: 8 New Rules
By Lisa Plummer Savas
Creative, cutting-edge meeting and event decor amounts to a lot more than just pretty window dressings. When executed effectively, stunning design elements and innovative food and drink can take your event decor to the next level and enhance the attendee experience. But keeping the look and feel of your meetings fresh, appealing and imaginative means staying on top of current trends and being open to new ideas and applications. So to help you create that “wow” factor at your next conference, consider integrating one of these eight current rules offered by expert event designers.
1. Be Bright and Colorful.
As one of the key elements in event decor, color can influence the look, feel and energy of your event’s atmosphere, so select the right palette for your audience and message, choose it early in the planning process and use it wisely. If you’re apprehensive to go over the top with a color theme, incorporate bright accent colors into table linens, floral arrangements, centerpiece decor and event graphics. For groups with specific logo colors, accents are a great way to enhance without changing a company’s color scheme.
“The hottest colors are not true pastels, but they’re not crazy jewel tones,” says Deborah Elias, owner of Elias Events. “They’re a combination of those, and you’re seeing them everywhere. For corporate, you’re seeing more of the greens, oranges and purples—not necessarily the pinks or yellows—but
most of the time it’s taking whatever colors are in your logo and going from there.”
James Rota, owner of Dazzle Creative Events, says color trends can be a reflection of how people are feeling in a society at large, so in a more optimistic economy, introducing bright and intense colors in meeting environments is more acceptable than it would have been just a few years ago. “I’m using colors and textures such as leathers, pleathers and lame, and I’m mixing and layering colors in, keeping in mind who my audience is,” says Rota. “I’m not doing a hot pink party for a bunch of men.” One color to consider this year is emerald green, the 2013 Pantone Color of the Year.
2. Follow Patterns and Texturize.
Linens that make a statement on their own are an easy and inventive way to create individuality, because they can carry logo colors and branding throughout the event in a subtle way, says Jessica Moschella, managing director of MTL Communications. “Linens are a pretty easy way to infuse personality into overall decor,” says Moschella. “For corporate events, they’re a good way to show a little bit of personality and make [the tablescape] more interesting than plain white linens and napkins.” “If you choose a patterned linen, keep your usage light and only incorporate it into the napkins, seat cushions or as a peekaboo layer of the table clothes,” says Moschella. “It adds a little bit of flair and personality to the overall effect of your event decor.
If you’re going with a pattern, go pretty muted on the rest of your palette, including dinnerware [and] flowers in your event decor. If you choose textured linens, which is usually better with a monochromatic color scheme, definitely mix and match. Use one pattern for napkins and another on seat cushions or coverings. Because the color is going to be the same throughout, incorporating multiple textures will catch light differently and give dimension to the decor without being overwhelming.”
3. Harness Flower Power.
Beautiful flowers and flowering plants can spruce up an event space and lift attendee spirits. When overdone they can be obnoxious, distracting and expensive. Get clever with florals by using minimal flowers in fresh, modern ways, aiming for clean, contemporary lines rather than large, romantic arrangements that might send the wrong message, says Rota. “You have to be very careful when you’re adding floral elements to meetings, based on who your audience is,” Rota.
“You never want to put something too feminine on a table with a group of men. I find that if you do more linear things, such as branches, sticks, harder goods, woodchips, mushrooms or dried elements plus flowers, you get more of an interesting look that people will study.”
“Tulips are definitely the most popular right now,” says Moschella. “They come in a wide range of colors, are easy to arrange, can be used at full height or shortened, and they don’t cause a visibility problem. They are also odorless, so they don’t affect your taste experience if food is being served, and they’re relatively inexpensive. The types of flowers that are used also depends on the season; choosing blooms that are in season is always more cost-effective.”
4. Try Unusual Centerpieces.
Besides flowers, unique centerpieces made from alternative or interactive materials are a fun way to create visual \ appeal and break up the monotony of a typical meeting room environment. “If you are providing any takeaways for your guests, work them into the tablescapes as design elements,” says Moschella. “This cuts out visibility issues altogether, creates a unique design and reduces break down and cleanup.”
“At general sessions, consider using snacks to double as room decor, using different containers and different heights,” says Rota. He recommends using clear glass containers filled with all different kinds of white candies or for a healthier option, use homemade granola or a make-your-own trail mix. Creatively arranging goodie bags as tablescape decor is a great way to liven up a table and save money.
5. Opt for Unconventional Seating
For many events, traditional conference and dining seating stifles interaction, creates dead space or and hinders visibility. Nobody wants to crane their necks or twist around in their seats to watch a luncheon presentation. That’s why less structured seating styles that improve visibility and engagement while maximizing the event space are becoming more common at conferences.
“Mixing levels with high tops and rounds creates aesthetically unique seating and can help with visibility issues during presentations at meetings,” says Moschella. “The mix of rounds and rectangular tables allows for larger group seating without having to break up teams or coworkers who are attending as a group.”
Another great option for lectures: Instead of run-of-the-mill bleacher seats or rows of chairs, create original groupings of chairs, couches and ottomans that can promote more conversational settings. “[They] are much more comfortable if people are going to be sitting for hours at a time,” Moschella adds.
6. Step Up Your F&B.
As attendee palates become more sophisticated and discerning, taking the one-meal-fits-all approach to event menus isn’t going to cut it anymore. In fact, as more people adopt healthier eating habits, customized menus that support healthy eating and accommodate special dietary needs have gone from a trend to the new normal in meeting and event decor and cuisine “It’s not just having a vegetarian option anymore,” says Elias. Dietary concerns range from allergies to gluten-free to vegan. “Think outside the box and don’t just accept the menu [the venue offers]. I don’t ever work straight off of that. I request a meeting with the chef so that he understands what my vision is for the event and I always challenge him to come up with something that’s not on their standard menu. You’d be surprised how excited they get,” adds Elias. “They’re always up for that.” Consider incorporating into your event decor interesting buffets featuring super foods or more adventurous offerings such as kale and micro-greens or quinoa instead of pasta.
7. Foster Networking and Comfort.
Networking is one of the top reasons people attend meetings. Whether outside the meeting space during the conference or inside the ballroom at an evening reception, augment spaces with seating or standing environments that encourage people to gather together and inspire conversation.
“People want to continue to network [at evening events], but if you have your bars in the corners of the rooms, you’re splitting your group,” says Rota. “You can take 6- or 8-foot bars and combine them with pedestals or stand-to tables in the corners and make a great 12-foot-by-12-foot square or larger, so it looks like one piece. That way, you have all this space for people to belly-up to. I’m also doing a lot of communal tables, which are great for getting a group of six to eight people chatting together.”
Attendees also appreciate casual, comfortable spaces outside of the meeting or ballroom where they can catch a quick bite, interact or go off on their own. “We find that there are some people who really don’t want to sit at traditional tables for lunch because they’re involved or they’re working on their iPads or they want to have their own time,” says Rota. “So we’re creating these living-room niches, keeping the furniture very corporate but giving them other options for seating rather than the traditional semi-rounds, rectangles or squares.” These networking niches are less formal and have become very popular, he says. “I’m also augmenting with stand-tos for people who want to eat and run and not get involved in a conversation.”
8. Light the Way.
Lighting is one of the easiest and most effective ways to set the right mood and ambiance in a meeting space and event decor. It’s also a quick, affordable and dramatic way to transform a typical room into a distinctive and captivating environment. “Put a big portion of your budget aside for lighting,” advises Rota. “Good lighting can take a $1 item and make it look like a $100 item if it’s done the right way.”
“I always ask for battery-operated, programmable lighting whenever I’m working with a lighting company,” says Rota. “Some of them can be programmable to your clients’ colors, so you can light anything and you don’t have to use cables. It gives you the flexibility of where and how you want to light something.” Rota also uses motion sensor technology to make projected graphics appear, disappear and transform depending on who’s walking by it.
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