Diffa Designers Weave Marketing Into Stylish Dinner Settings

At this year's Dining By Design benefit, many designers used subtle branding  to showcase sponsors such as Benjamin Moore, Disney, and J.C. Penney.

By Lisa Cericola March 24, 2010, 12:05 PM EDT

David Stark's table for Benjamin Moore

Photo: Emily Gilbert for BizBash

Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS Dining by Design Benefit
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Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (Diffa) hosted its annual Dining by Design benefit gala at Pier 94 on Monday night. Concurrent with the Architectural Digest Home Design Show, the design showcase ran for five days of ticketed and public events and showcased 32 dining spaces created by artists, architects, and fashion, interior, and event designers. While many drew inspiration from an eclectic mix of muses (the circus, Audrey Hepburn movies, springtime), other designers based their creations around sponsors such as J.C. Penney, Ralph Lauren, and Benjamin Moore. Sponsored tables are always a part of Dining By Design, but a stronger promotional presence was felt this year.

“It's a delicate balance of showing your branding without being blatant,” said Michael Tavano, who oversaw the New York Design Center's table as well as a table created by students from the New York School of Interior Design. “There's a fine line between being cheesy and doing it artfully.” He created a straight-from-the-showroom setting for the design center, complete with tags identifying the source of each item, from furniture to pillows.

“There's an unspoken agreement that they don't overbrand,” said Steven Williams, Diffa's director of community relations and operations, who planned Dining by Design with Peggy Bellar, director of special events. “We try to encourage our designers and sponsors to be sensitive to the fact that this is a charity event and not a trade show. It should be subtle. Disney's table has a mouse, but it's not completely Disneyized.” Williams did note that the connection to the Architectural Digest show (which included Diffa in this year's ticket price for the first time) brings in more consumers, which increases the sponsors' desire to have a visible presence.

Disney's cheerful dining room had a large white Mickey Mouse sculpture, and Ralph Lauren Home used saddles, riding crops, and a chandelier trimmed with prize ribbons to create a bold equestrian theme evocative of the brand. J.C. Penney's table, designed by Shiraz Events, Atomic Design, and Sara Costello, spelled out the retailer's name on a wall in actual pennies. David Stark Design and Production wove Benjamin Moore's paint colors and line drawings of its iPhone app into wallpaper designs and, more playfully, created a candelabrum with images of candles on actual iPhones.

Opportunities to donate money were also more apparent this year. Brad Ford's piggy bank-topped table, returned for a second year, so attendees could slip change and bills into the clear tabletop. Organizers placed items for auction throughout the space, either grouped together on large tables or in small living room-style vignettes. For the first time, these items remained on display for the entire run. Also new this year, five designers, including Cole & Garrett and Razortoothdesign, decorated Vipp trash cans that guests could also bid on. 

Monday night's dinner, where 375 guests dined at the actual tables, followed a $150-a-head cocktail party on Thursday, and Sunday's Table Hop and Taste ($50 a ticket), which drew 500 and offered dishes from local restaurants such as Buddakan and Kittichai. The installations were open to the public Thursday through Saturday, which attracted an estimated 7,000. In total, the events raised $450,000 for AIDS service organizations.

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