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February 13, 2002, 12:00 AM EST

Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS Dining by Design benefitHammerstein BallroomTuesday, 02.05.02, 6:30 PM onward
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The Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS' (Diffa) Dining by Design event is a chance for designers to go buck wild. They get to create an elaborate, fantastic tabletop--and a nice chunk of change from a corporate sponsor to help--and they don't have to worry about doing 50 copies of it for an entire ballroom. The results can be dazzling, and this year's event didn't disappoint. Held at the Hammerstein Ballroom, the benefit gathered some of the city's preeminent event, fashion and interior designers for a tabletop decor extravaganza filled with imagination, style and great ideas for event planners.

One trend we saw: Several designers shunned traditional round tables for rectangles and squares. Mark Musters of Musters & Company's table for the New York Design Center was a heavy, dark brown square number with block stools topped with red and brown geometric-pattered pillows. Fuschia orchids and a big weeping willow display decorated the tabletop. Ralph Lauren did a snow country-themed table laden with giant white pillar candles encased in tall glass vases and huge bunches of white hydrangea. The whole thing was set inside an open framework house.

Square tables weren't hip for some designers, who eschewed traditional shapes all together. Karim Rashid's dazzling Swarovski table needed no ornamentation: The oblong, crystal-encrusted table with an equally stunning chandelier dripping with more crystals was a shimmery standout. Terence Conran's retro, multilayered tabletop in shades of green also defied a regular shape in favor of a curvy piece that snaked around the chairs. And Diffa steering committee member Matthew David of Matthew David Events designed a sleek, white oval table for Sephora that featured a shallow channel shaped like Sephora's logo and filled it with water, red and pink marbles, lipsticks and small floating flowers.

The benefit began with a cocktail reception when guests could check out the tables and bid on silent auction lots of photographs and other items, and later guests sat down to eat at the extravagant tables. After dinner, DJ Jackie Christie spun for an after-party dubbed the Bubble Blast (for event sponsor Taittinger Champagne). The event raised more than $500,000 for the AIDS nonprofit.

Putting together all the different pieces of the event took some complex logistics. Matthew David, who was also the event's steering committee chairman, worked with a computer aided drafting (CAD) program to help fit 50 tabletops by 50 different New York-based designers and 10 additional club tables (designed by David) into the ballroom. Creative Edge Parties had the challenge of putting food on those gorgeous plates. And this wasn't an ordinary catering job: The folks at Creative Edge worked with all of the table designers to coordinate the plating of three courses with the 50 different kinds of plates used. They also helped designers rent tables and stemware to match their designs, and charitably donated their time and some of the food for the event.

But back to the tables: Tiffany Dubin created a prop-heavy look for Lair that featured a clear rectangular glass table with a white mannequin in a bizarre bondage pose reclining under the table. Black and white hand-shaped statues, black satin evening gloves on each plate and wine glasses hand-painted with blue eyes added to the funky look, which was topped with a chandelier of stuffed black and white satin evening gloves. Another fantastical table by Hairspray director John Waters and restaurant design guru David Rockwell featured a gigantic hair chandelier of blonde wigs and strands of silver beads suspended over a holographic black table set with bottles of Aqua Net.

Margaret Russell, editor in chief of Elle Decor (the event's main corporate sponsor) opted for a black and white op-art look for her tables, utilizing simple, pastel-colored centerpieces that looked like retro snowflakes. Fire-engine red was the color for Red Envelope's Valentine's Day-inspired table, which used red mailboxes as centerpieces and offered stationary for guests to write love letters and stick in the boxes to be sent out the next day.

Avi Adler brought some sexy props to the party for the Taittinger-sponsored table--namely hunky boys wearing little more than gold body glitter. Encased in a cylinder of transparent green plastic to give the appearance of the inside of a giant champagne bottle, the table was golden luxe all the way, with shimmering strings of gold beads suspended from above, a gold tablecloth and centerpieces of grids of poles topped with gold spheres. An inviting nest of pillows surrounding the table made for a sexy, alluring, glam display.

A few more interesting ideas: Entertaining guru Katie Brown's fun, kid-themed table made of slate for the Style Network allowed guests to write or draw on it with chalk. Marc Blackwell's square dining table was surrounded by tall plastic rectangular hedges and topped with his signature gold-detailed stemware and mismatched painted tableware atop plastic place mats that looked like grass.

--Suzanne Ito

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