HMR Inspiration Report: Unique Materials // April, 2021

As creatives and artists in our trade, we are always pushing the envelope to ideate unique new ways to encompass or communicate a space. The most remarkable thing about an event is that it will never be duplicated. That exact group of people, at that time, for that purpose, in that environment, feeling those emotions, is a one-time collective experience – and it is not lost on us that a part of that relates to the vibe and aesthetic of the space they find themselves together in.

HMR Designs’ CEO, Rishi Patel, has made designing with unique materials somewhat of a way of life.

“My unconventional material is CREATIVITY.  Taking a concept, material, hobby, or activity and deconstructing it (literally, at times), pushes me to create the unique or never seen before design elements.   I often peruse through Uline catalogs or dream as I walk down the aisle of a hardware store.

Some of my favorite unconventional materials used to create exquisite experiences (shown below) range from neon zip tie sculptures, charcoal bubble wrapped tables and hurricanes, skateboard adirondack chairs,  green banana and orange chandeliers, sonotube shelving and back bar units, painted zippers stitched together to create lampshades, to name a few…”


Creative Director Bill Heffernan is all about maximizing use of a distinctive material, such as paper.

“About 8 years back I did a party in all cardboard.  I have always want to do one in all paper.  The image below left is made from cash register rolls of paper.  I imagine this sort of installation at the Art Institute where these wavy walls irregularly dissect the space to create areas for small dining clusters on white paper tables.

Light becomes a key feature here with beams shooting thru the paper cascades as well as changing glow of light so that the paper constantly and slowly illuminates, making the newly formed space gently come alive.  I also see a very dramatic light show at the end of the evening accompanied by dramatic sound effects and soaring music.  I see the light being white but colored light would create a whole new experience, as well.  These images are for inspiration purposes, but the idea can be reimagined in many many ways, such as paper cones, airplanes or the rolled paper, bottom right.  Cheap material, lots of labor, big bang!”

Director of Sales + Partnerships, Marley Finnegan, is inspired by the versatility and sustainability of bamboo.

Sustainability experts  agree that bamboo is one of the most eco-friendly building materials on the planet. The rate of self-generation is incredibly high, with some species growing up to three feet in 24 hours. Bamboo technically is a perennial grass, not a wood, and it continues spreading and growing without having to be replanted after harvest. It is prevalent around the world and can be found on nearly every continent with the exception of Europe + Antarctica.

“I am inspired by bamboo in a more modern context. When people think of bamboo it’s typically in a raw, natural form, which can feel dated or transient, depending on use. The ways in which I see bamboo being used is through more unique manufacturing practices (like the chandeliers shown below) to design entirely new material forms or to use it in a more intentional, architectural practices to manipulate or create space and bring intimacy.”

Jessica Griffin, Event Designer, feels akin to living greens as another sustainably-minded design option.

“We have seen countless greenery backdrops over the years in both social and corporate events. While beautiful and lush, it takes a lot of cut product to create these structures and though we can often get a couple uses from them, ultimately the green product ends up in the trash.

Alternatively, there is a large variety of potted plants that are suitable for creating the beautiful green walls that so many people adore. Living plants add a ton of visual interest to backdrops and even tabletops with the many textures from the different plant species.  They are also a great option for extended events or permanent installations.  After their intended use, they can be deconstructed and used again and again.”

Bari Singh, Event Designer, finds new life in the reuse of unexpected materials to create something interesting.

“In events, we work with a lot of various materials, many of them are the usual suspects: flowers, paint, wood, metal, fabric and more. The real creativity emerges when you can tap into something more unexpected. As we look to more sustainable solutions for our clients, the concept of REUSE comes into play again and again. Figuring out how to make something fresh, beautiful and artistic out of materials that most consider garbage offers the ultimate in REUSE and amazement.

Chandeliers made of used water bottles, topiaries created with excess newspapers, and a backdrop of colorful aluminum cans show a few ways how exciting and impressive these materials can be when combined in a unique and thoughtful way. ”

Event Designer Natalie Walsh is ever inspired by the minimalism of impactful and strategic lighting treatments.

“I’m very intrigued with bare but bold lighting elements in color, and how that can be utilized as decor, for the creation of implied spaces, and endlessly transformative ambient displays and focals within any type of event. I look forward to incorporating creative lighting focals into designs for bars, room dividers, hallways and event transitions, photo booths, branding elements, and even ceremonies.”


David Epstein, Event Designer, finds inspiration in the textured nature of contra fabric.

“One of my favorite design elements to work with is an unconventional, textured fabric called contra. Up close it looks like a chaotic mess of coiled fibers, however when viewed from a distance it forms a smooth surface perfect for lighting projections and other creative applications. The weave of the fabric incorporates intermittent openings formed when a liquid resin is poured over randomly strewn fibers and allowed to harden.

I first came across this material while designing an 80-foot tall fabric tower at Chicago’s Navy Pier (photo below, center). Our initial design incorporated a stretch material that fell short of local fire regulations requiring water from sprinklers to penetrate any such large structure. Contra was the perfect solution, creating a magnificent palette for projection with its own unique depth and texture. Since that first use, we’ve had a lot of fun with contra for convention displays, projection panels and even the walls of a Halloween spider’s lair!”

Event Designer Nick Watts has been inspired by light-weight foam board as a useful design problem solver.

“A printed sheet of foam core is a sturdy and effective way to produce a backdrop, but that is only where its light-weight and printable qualities begin to come in handy. For one project, I was tasked with covering a venue’s off-hours gift shop without the use of drapery. I was able to closely match the millwork of the space and create a printed temporary wall. I’ve used it as a cut-to-suit moulding valance to add permanence to a standard run of event drapery. It also worked beautifully stacked in vibrant, graduated-size boxes that towered 20 feet above dinner tables for a charity gala.”


“Vinyl to be an extremely versatile design element,” believes Burt Rubenstein, Event Designer. 

Vinyl provides a flexible way to excite a social event as well as engage guests at a corporate event. With social clients, we create photo opportunities as step and repeat walls, cover dance floors with unique patterns or monograms and even play with restroom mirrors to promote an event’s theme. Table top decor is another way of reiterating the event theme.

With Corporate Events we often times create wall murals to draw attention to the product or brand, floor graphics as a playful way of way-finding or marketing and window decals to enhance plain windows or create privacy. Vinyl has so many unique uses, from custom banners to a branded ping pong table – it helps to generate, even subliminally, overall excitement.

Floral Designer Larissa Schroeder is enthralled with the natural beauty of camphor vine.

“The obvious choices for me are always found in nature. Nothing man made or manufactured. My first thought was bark, moss, roots, trees but after looking through my photos camphor vine was the winner.

I am inspired by its uniqueness, ability to reuse, it can be used in modern and traditional settings, and is a conversation starter as most are not familiar with this playful vine.”


Some other notable material mentions which didn’t make it by press time include felt, mirror, acrylic and mylar – we’ve even seen inspiration in multiple mannequins and bicycles (that’s a story for another time).

Join us back here next month as we dish on the wide world of Graphic Design and which elements are giving us life in that unique and ever-evolving realm of work. Thanks for tuning in!