Function-Driven Design: 5 Tips for a Beautiful and Practical Event
Designing a good event isn’t just about having impeccable aesthetic taste. The best environments are products of form and function — spaces that are beautiful, but also practical. Curated, but also intentional. Have one but not the other? You’ve missed your mark. Below are five quick tips for how to span that chasm and enjoy the best of both worlds.
Tables are often the centerpiece of the room and as such they’re primed for aesthetic attention. It’s exciting to think about how to bring more beauty into that space of community where people will sit and drink and laugh and make memories. But you can only get so far on your looks. At their foundation, tables need to be practical. They need to have space to house plates and glassware, centerpieces and unmannered elbows. So before you start designing your tablescape, first make a list of what will live on it. From there, work backward and see what design you can implement that allows guests to also enjoy the dining experience both aesthetically and practically. (Tip: if you have an extensive design or are serving a large family-style meal, try to work with king’s tables. The standard folding table is 30” wide. King’s tables are 48” wide, giving you a whole extra foot to incorporate your design elements.)
2. KNOW YOUR TIMELINE.
One of the main reasons design concepts fall flat isn’t due to lack of vision, but lack of planning. When you’re setting up for an event, you often have a finite window to get everything set before guests arrive. And it’s oh-so-common for people to under-budget the amount of time and people it takes to execute a project. The day speeds by fast, and all of a sudden only half the design is complete and guests are going to be at your threshold in 30. Save yourself the heart palpitations and be realistic on the front end about the amount of time and resources you need to make your vision happen. Not enough time? Hire extra hands. No hands available? Scale back the space. It’s better to execute a less elaborate design well than to execute a brilliant design half-heartedly.
Good design for an event isn’t just about what elements you’re using; it’s also about how the space feels and how people move in it. What is the flow and the tempo? Does this set-up create the best guest experience? When designing a layout, the prime inclination is to place items where they’ll look best rather than where they’ll work best. And while I love to pitch my tent in the aesthetic camp, nothing is uglier than a long line of people at the bar. Here are some good questions to think on when drafting your layout:
> Is there enough room around the tables for servers to attend to guests, and for guests to comfortably get in and out?
> Are the bars strategically placed in different areas of the venue so people don’t bottleneck while waiting on their cocktails?
> Where is the catering kitchen? Are food/drink stations placed close by so service staff can access them easily?
> Is there enough seating for your guests? Even if you aren’t doing traditional seating, people love to take a load off. Could you incorporate some additional bar stools or lounge to help out?
4. SURFACE SPACE.
It’s a party. People eat, people drink, people dance. The question is: where did they put that gin and tonic while they’re dancing under the disco ball? While this seems so basic, take heed and order tables. Plenty of tables. High tops. Side tables. Coffee tables. Is there another kind of table? Order that, too. When people are mingling they’re always looking for a place to set things. Any surface becomes a viable place to discard their drinks. And their judgment/discretion will only go exceedingly downhill as the night progresses. Make sure to help in this process by being surface-minded.
5. DON'T SKIMP WHERE IT MATTERS MOST.
One of the first places people will try to save money is with staff. They’ll cut servers and bartenders and floaters. They’ll say: What are all these people doing? We don’t need them. But let me tell you: you need them. What these people do is everything. They are your quiet, magical, fairy godmothers who make sure your event goes beautifully and that you look good doing it. If you’re thinking about cutting staff, ask yourself these questions first: Am I prepared to set this event up by myself? How will I feel if guests start to arrive and the space isn’t complete? Do I want my guests waiting in a long line for food/drinks? Do I care if plates and glasses pile up on tables? If something goes wrong in the middle of the event, who is going to handle it? And what about the clean -up afterward? In summary: save elsewhere. Nothing will make your event look better than having the right people with you.