DIFFA Dining by Design SF 2009: Part 2 – The Event

After toiling about six months to design and fabricate our space, from Cary and I’s first conversations to the last nail we hammered in at our studio (OK, my garage), DBD had arrived on November 18 and 19.  The first evening was what they called “Table Hop and Taste” where a $100 ticket gained you entry plus all the food and drink you could take in while admiring the approximately 35 designer tables.  The second evening was the gala dinner where tickets cost $500 a piece and got your a seat at one of the tables for an entire meal.  Many attendees on the second night did not actually pay for their tickets; large design firms and corporate / individual sponsors bought entire tables for $5,000 and invited their employees, clients and friends.

Lucky for Cary and I we got to participate both nights including getting seated for dinner at the gala.  Sadly, we didn’t sit at our own table – instead it was occupied by our gracious sponsor Dr. John Greenspan, his wife and friends.  But at the end of the first night, we did sit down at our table with our friends that remained til the end (thanks guys!) for about 10 minutes to take it all in.  I have to say, the ambiance was even nicer than I imagined.  The space had amazing lighting that was both cool around the edges but warm from above; it was comfortable and warm because of the warm-toned benches, flowers and green-colored accents; and it was cozy and modern at the same time with the small scale and intimate seating but clean lines and sleek walls.  Those 10 minutes were among my most memorable from the whole event and process.

When it came to assembling our booth, Cary and I were first confronted by the challenges of the logistics – how to get all our stuff from Berkeley to San Francisco.  In the end, it took about 5 pickup truck loads over 2 days to get all our materials to the site by Tuesday morning, including using Cary’s condo just blocks away from the San Francisco Design Center Galleria as a temporary storage and staging area.  Luckily, our modular design (of the platforms, frames, walls, etc.) made moving this stuff by ourselves even possible.  As we would see on Tuesday morning during setup, most designers had professional movers with big moving trucks.  This was quite the contrast to our mom and pop “two guys with a truck” style.  Fortunately, one of our friends, Louis, volunteered to help so our team had grown 50% for the day.

While simply getting all our materials loaded, offloaded and into the Galleria was quite the challenge in and of itself (imagine sharing one freight elevator with the all design, production, moving, fabricating, catering and building people moving across 5 floors!), the assembly of our space took much more time than we anticipated.  Though our entire space was essentially pre-fabbed at my house and disassembled and moved, reconstructing it took forever.  To be fair, we had never really put everything together all at once, only individual pieces and sections like the whole floor, the whole table, etc.  Moreover, when it came to showtime, we assembled everything with care and precision, not like a dry run at my house which was less meticulous.  Whether it was touching up the stain and paint on the floors and table, or cutting up the vegetables for the place settings, or tacking up our backside wall draping, or hiding our extension cords, everything took forever because we wanted it perfect.  Unbelievably, our homemade space came together like a precise Swiss watch – I personally was super amazed at the sharp corners and edges and the close tolerances.  Cary, the architect, was less impressed and claimed he knew it would come together just as we drew it up lol – that’s why he was my partner.

In the end, the whole assembly process took a remarkable 17 hours – it began at my house on Tuesday at 8am and ended when the Galleria closed for setup at 10pm, and then continued again at 3pm – 6pm on Wednesday, the day of the event!  Unbelievably, Cary and I still went to work during the day on Wednesday and Thursday!  We were running on fumes but the adrenaline from the event kept us going.

One nice touch that I insisted on for our space was having a nice handout.  Besides being a marketing pieces for ourselves, I wanted the piece to demystify and “unlock the secrets” to our space.  I wanted it to list and describe all the materials we used so that people who couldn’t tell or who weren’t sure knew that we were hanging a $40 planter from Home Depot upside down over my table and calling it a chandelier.  The handout was designed to spark the “a-ha” moment for visitors.

As a professional communicator / marketer by day, making something like this was what I did everyday so I knew just what to do.  But whereas I usually make things for clients, this one was for me.   So I tapped an ex-colleague, Heather Wihl, to design our handout.  The front side was our “design statement”, bios and contact info, and the back had the schematic of our space with all the materials called out.  Like any custom design piece, Heather and I did about three rounds of revisions on this to get it right, including the help of one of Cary’s colleagues to draw up the Revit-based schematic.  When the design was completed, I had the 6″ x 9″ card printed on recycled 100lb matter cover stock with an acqueous coating and using soy-based inks – sustainable all the way baby!  Over the course of both nights I think we gave out about 300 cards not including all our personal business cards.  Here was the handout:

Staffing our space for both nights was like making a 30-second elevator pitch over and over again for hours on end.  That’s why the handout was nice – it covered everything in case we forgot a detail or didn’t have time to give the whole speech.  I definitely printed a few extra handouts but now I have some extra marketing collateral for the future.

After the event was completed, Cary and I were back at work by 8am on Friday to take down the space!  Though it had only been hours since our space hosted a gala dinner, there we were – bleary-eyed from the two days before but at work again.  Fortunately as everyone predicted, take down went surprisingly quickly.  We were done in about four hours, not including the subsequent trips we would have to make to recycle all our materials.  While a lot of the raw materials that we used are now gone, I have a chair, a couple of benches, a chandelier, a centerpiece, and the two of the coolest sawhorses ever as souvenirs.  One DBD staff member wanted to buy a bench from us and he had been so nice to us throughout so we thought why not; now owns a Cantilever Design original piece of furniture.

In the end, I have to say that all the effort was worth it.  So yes, the event took a lot of time and a lot of money.  “A lot of money?” you ask, “I thought you bought inexpensive materials?”  Yes, but…. when you factor in all the inexpensive materials added together, the many soft costs in fees and services, my handout with design and printing, etc. it was a lot, at least for me.  On a percentage of revenue basis, I am sure I spent more than anyone else there – remember I didn’t borrow anything, I owned it all.  I digress… the buzz of working an event like that is a thrill, especially when people give you great feedback.  People seemed genuinely surprised, impressed and appreciative of what we did – on a budget, with a small team.  More than anything though, they seemed to really just enjoy the design, which is all we could ask.  Will I do it again?  I cannot commit just yet.  I am eager to see what nets out of this for us, though we are already slated for several press articles in early 2010.  But, given everything I have learned throughout this process and how much fun I’ve had – all in the name of charity – I just might…

Here’s a few more pics of the final product (and a preview of my updated website to come):

Photos by Victoria Chow

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About Cantilever Design

Designs for Modern Luxury is a blog by Karman Ng, principal of Cantilever Design, an award-winning interior design firm located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Always reading, researching and reveling in “the best of design” for himself and his clients, Karman began his blog as a way to share his thoughts and finds-from furniture to fashion to food. Karman hopes his blog fosters dialogue and sharing of design-related products, news, tips, ideas and secrets so that everyone can enjoy a little bit more modern luxury in their lives. For more information about Cantilever Design, visit http:///www.cantilever-design.com or follow Karman at http://twitter.com/karmanng.
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