At the heart of every celebration: inspiration. Sometimes glaring and conspicuous, often subtle and elusive, inspiration comes from everywhere and in every form.
As our designers often remind us, the inspiration for a celebration must acknowledge the chosen space, and how this drives design. You simply can’t ignore architecture, after all. And while this is obvious when it comes to historical ballrooms or sprawling urban loft spaces, it is also true of the most simple, seemingly blank spaces.
We followed Senior Event Designer John Hensel to the University of Chicago for the grand opening of the Gordon Parks Arts Hall earlier this month, where a wonderfully unique design welcomed the brand new space. The design for the main portion of the event–dinner in the Sherry Lansing Theater (nicknamed “the black box”)–helps take us inside the mind of a designer and to see just some of the innumerable elements they take into consideration while transforming spaces.
Design Profile: “graphic, artistically composed and elegant.”
Visiting the unfinished space during construction, John was immediately aware of the absence of any decorative elements in the room. His goal? To accentuate and highlight the special new facility rather than transform the room into something it wasn’t meant to be.
Of particular interest to John: the cat walks, suspended above the main body of the theater, as well as how to best illuminate the unadorned room.
The result? 16 beautifully illuminated, suspended steel frames hosting a melange of “naked” phalaenopsis orchid plants:
The blossoms, removed from their pots and washed clean, all lit up wonderfully along with their thick, belt strap-like leaves and sinuous roots, hanging within the frames from nearly invisible silver thread, much like a mobile:
Each frame was then hung from the cat walks–the effect below much like being beneath props which would be dropped throughout a theater production.
For John, the frames also made it clear that the whole room was being celebrated.
Up Close and Personal
Down on ground level, John gave guests a closer look at the larger atmospheric components. Tables dressed in simple but elegant linens featured structural steel frames, a multitude of candlelight, and more naked orchid plants:
A closer look at just how stunning an orchid plant is in all its naked beauty:
In the end, the room came together with a clean cohesion–both visually striking and atmospherically enveloping. John’s favorite element? The net effect of all of the elements, each carefully chosen to work seamlessly with the rest.
We can only hope that the celebration’s guests looked up and around, taking in the decor with appreciation for its creativity and singularity.
And perhaps some of them went so far as to to consider that each element was a choice, informed by an appreciation for spaces, logistics and aesthetics. Or perhaps not. That is our job, after all. And truly our pleasure to share it with you.
…to John Hensel for his significant contributions to this post.
…to our production and installation team, who never fail to impress.
…to the University of Chicago for having us.
…and finally, to Cindy Fandl Photography for capturing the essence of the evening from behind her lens.