Cooper-Hewitt Introduces New Purpose for Rentals at National Design Awards

For the museum's 2008 Design Awards, the Cooper-Hewitt and designer David Stark created a technicolor wonderland made entirely out of rented—and reusable—dishes, silverware, and textiles.

By Michael O'Connell October 28, 2008, 9:00 AM EDT

Seat cushions and tablecloths taking flight at Cooper-Hewitt

Photo: Emily Gilbert for BizBash

Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards Gala
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Plenty of people—guests and producers alike—suffer from green fatigue these days. Making a legitimately environmentally conscious event, after all, requires more than a couple dollars thrown toward carbon offsets. How to achieve that may be simpler than expected. For the 2008 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards gala Thursday night at the museum, designer David Stark stayed green by incorporating reusable rentals into every element of the decor.

Coffee pots, napkins, and forks don’t generally spring to mind as focal elements at a dinner party, but they’re always there, hiding on the buffet tables or discretely tucked away on laps. So, to approach the idea of sustainable decor from another angle at this year’s gala—last year he used 6,000 pounds of discarded paper to make sculptural decorations—Stark turned to the often forgotten building blocks of every party. His order with Party Rental Ltd. accommodated the logistical demands of seating several hundred guests and also worked into centerpieces, larger installations, and the stage.  

Under the direction of Cooper-Hewitt deputy director Caroline Baumann and her team, Stark worked with teen participants in Cooper-Hewitt's Design Directions program to make ample use of the rentals to eliminate substantial waste from the proceedings. The glasses, tablecloths, and seat cushions that were used returned to the crates they came from at the end of the party, and each item will eventually be put to more conventional use at future events. Stark praised Party Rental, which uses items over and over again, as one of the unsung forces for green action in the events industry.

The method behind the sustainable theme wasn’t the only difference at the gala this year. In stark contrast to last year's more subdued, monochromatic event, the rental-filled decor embraced every color of the rainbow. Multicolored tables haphazardly stacked with dishes and cups joined vibrant installations hanging from the ceiling, recalling the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice in Wonderland. And the backdrop of the stage featured a tiled wall of seat cushions fashioned into a technicolor table of elements.

Of course, there were awards as well. The Zon hearing aid, designed by Stuart Karten Design for Starkey, snagged the People's Design Award for its small, stylish reworking of a stigmatized object that typically draws unwanted attention.

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