No Party Planning Experience Whatsoever

Margaret Russell's thoughts on this week's emotional episode.

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Now, don't even think of complaining about the subject of this week's challenge, because interior designers are often commissioned to produce events. Such projects require both enormous creativity and attention to detail and the result can have a long-lasting impact. Even decades later, people are still talking about Truman Capote's legendary Black and White ball in honor of Katherine Graham, the launch party for Yves Saint Laurent's Opium scent, and the 70th birthday bash that Malcolm Forbes threw for himself in Morocco.

These events were memorable for their guest lists, but also because of the environment and ambience their party designers conjured. What goes into a terrific party? A lot including the overall theme, decor, music, food, drink, and flowers. This week, the remaining six contestants were divided into two teams of three and asked to produce a party to celebrate the launch of Bacardi Limon. They had little time, a decent budget, and apparently no experience in party planning whatsoever. I was really surprised by this last fact; almost everyone seemed completely bewildered by the task set before them.
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The teams came up with two vastly different solutions that reflected their combined talents, interests, and teamwork. And don't underestimate the importance of teamwork in the design world: Not only does a designer have to work with clients, but also with colleagues, vendors, tradespeople, contractors, etc. No one collaborated particularly well, and the usually undivalike Goil ended up in tears of frustration. Such discord and lack of communication showed up in the design of each space.

Michael and Matt were at odds with Carissa and Andrea and Erik seemed to have ignored Goil's opinions. I wanted to send all of the contestants to therapy this week; no one was getting along. Frankly, we were all a bit disappointed with the results, although the party guests who voted were abundantly clear in their preference of the tent that Carissa, Matt, and Michael designed. The winning tent was chic, well thought-out, and totally pulled together. Nearly every detail was perfect, but I found it too safe, even a tad sterile.
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The space that Andrea, Erik, and Goil created was packed with ideas too many in fact, but not one of them was finessed. It was a mishmash of decorative tricks that was lacking in style and cohesiveness. As a guest, I preferred to enter and hang out in the winning tent (and Doc Holiday the bouncer was a brilliant replacement for Michael's "classy go-go dancers") but the losing space was more interesting, and I wanted to know about the ideas behind it.
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I was dumbfounded by its "very swank, very futuristic like a supermodel party in Iceland" theme, but impressed that Goil referenced interior designer Dorothy Draper's iconic chandeliers (created for projects including New York's Carlyle Hotel, Hampshire House apartment building lobby, and the restaurant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia; and the Quitandinha resort in Brazil). Check out Carleton Varney's In the Pink: Dorothy Draper, America's Most Fabulous Decorator to learn more. margarets_106_10_320x240.jpg

My biggest disappointment, however, was the flowers. Flowers are important in every interior, and designers are often asked to create signature flower arrangements for clients' homes and special occasions. Andrea specifically wanted something different and with flowers, that can be refreshing but "furry" is an adjective for pets and stuffed animals, not flowers. Ever.

In comparison, Michael's flowers were pretty for a desk or bedside table but they simply had no presence, and were too delicate and understated for a glamorous party to launch a citrus-flavored liquor. The overall plan for the winning tent was successful because the designers took into consideration seating, serving, the flow of guests, and creating a scene. Michael did very well at the rental company, choosing round tables for which they fashioned square tops, and Carissa's floor plan made the room more loungelike. It was clear that Matt kept the project on schedule, played interference between Michael and Carissa, and added a level of sophistication that they needed.
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Andrea made a series of unwise decisions at the rental firm, and her round tables with white cloths and folding banquet chairs reminded me of a bad wedding. She created interesting video projections of lemons (not seen on the show) but they were poorly displayed and seemed like an afterthought. Goil's wall of lemons was clever, but it wasn't a wall, and the chandeliers they ended up with weren't chandeliers either. The towers served as a dramatic display for the Bacardi bottles but seemed out of scale and too fragile to suit their purpose.
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Sadly, Erik ended up going home because he took responsibility for the overall decor of the space, and it paled in comparison to that of the winning team. His design for the entry wall was rather unwelcoming, his banquettes seemed fussy with their obi-sash detail, and he created a long, low yellow bench in front of the bar that was rickety at best. It was clearly difficult to balance the desires of two strong-minded architects, and his talent and experience in styling spaces just wasn't strong enough to pull this one together. Erik is a young designer who shows great promise, and I believe he has a brilliant career ahead of him. I will miss his sunny disposition and down-to-earth good humor on the show. I got teary when Goil started wiping his eyes in the White Room, and couldn't help but cry when Erik was latered. Emotions ran high this week; stay tuned for more.

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