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CHICAGO “This looks like a serial killer's home. There should be conspiracy theories written on the wall,” said one guest at Thursday night's Cocktails by Design event, which served as a kickoff for a three-day Dining by Design benefit hosted by Design Industries Foundations Fighting AIDS. The event filled the eighth floor of the Merchandise Mart with 42 dining environments decorated by design-industry professionals ranging from painters to architects to fashion designer Maria Pinto. With so many creative professionals behind the tables, the environments ranged from a wooden box tacked with newspaper clippings and bathed in an eerie blue light—which inspired the serial-killer comment—to a cozy gazebo setting filled with fairy lights and plush Ralph Lauren pillows.
Though there were tables that defied categorization, some dining environments illustrated popular design trends; one theme was “dark and sexy atmospheres, which we're seeing everywhere this year,” said Diffa's director of special events, Peggy Bellar. At an installation from Interior Investments by Gensler, black moving blankets hung behind a table surrounded with dark leather chairs; a chandelier made of painted black cardboard crowned the scene. Hermes glasses in deep purple hues spruced up place settings at a table that Herman Miller by Richard Bliss and Solomon Cordwell Bunez designed; and lacy black napkins dotted the table that Maria Pinto decorated with Scott A. Heuvelhorst Interiors. Artist Francine Turk's design also created a dark, moody ambience with black chalkboard walls, charcoal sketches of crows, and framed paintings of gold Gothic crosses.
Animal-inspired decor also appeared at several tables, taking the form of everything from rows of waving Chinese cats at Kaufman Segal Design's installation to the sepia-toned horse picture that Richar Interiors Inc. used as a backdrop for its table. Decorative antlers and a white fur table runner gave Allsteel by Epstein International's table a woodsy feel, and white trophy heads decked the orange-and-fuchsia walls in Julie Bova Interior Design's vibrant scene.
Now in its 12th year, the benefit (which Diffa also stages in other cities) underwent a few changes for last week's iteration, including a new floor plan. “We took the tables off of a grid layout to give the event a more spacious, sexy vibe,” Bellar explained on Thursday night. “We wanted to fight the feeling of a trade-show floor.” For the first time, event planners partnered with a decor company, tapping Event Creative to bring in lighting, pipe and drape, and illuminated Lucite bars. Also new to this year's event were 12 dining environments designated as the “Believe" tables. Decorated by design-industry professionals hand-selected by Diffa Chicago's board of directors, the tables were meant to showcase local talent and required no sponsorship dollars from their designers.
Along with the cocktail party, Dining by Design events included a public table viewing on Friday and the “Table Hop and Taste” event on Saturday, which offered tasting stations from local restaurants such as Duchamp and Chaise Lounge. The event wrapped up on Saturday evening with a gala dinner, which allowed guests to eat in one of the ornate dining environments.