Diffa Showcases Big Tabletop Designs in Smaller Venue

Even with a downsized venue, Diffa still packed its annual tabletop design showcase with stunning settings and ideas.

By Lisa Cericola & Mark Mavrigian April 2, 2008, 3:44 PM EDT

David Stark's table for Benjamin Moore commemorated the paint company's 125th anniversary in a playful house made mostly out of paint swatches and paper. The table's  handmade decorations included a birthday cake, party hats and horns, and candelabras.

Photo: Francine Daveta for BizBash

Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS Dining by Design Benefit
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This year, Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS’s annual Dining by Design fund-raiser moved from its most recent home at the Waterfront to the downtown venue Skylight. The new location had a strong impact on the experience of walking through the showcase, which recruits a slate of designers and sponsors to build imaginative dining environments.

Compared with the Waterfront, with its exposed brick and steel beams (and the benefit's previous homes at the Hammerstein Ballroom and Roseland) Skylight's big white box provided a brighter, less distracting background for the designers' intensely layered creations. And the new site's smaller size necessitated a tighter collection of tables (cut down from more than 50 to 39) that made for a more focused—and more easily navigable—forum for locating trends and gathering ideas.

“It’s always a challenge to find a venue here, and for us, [Skylight is] a very user-friendly venue, with two load-in points—plus it’s a blank canvas for us; it’s a gallery,” said Diffa’s special events manager, Steven Williams. “It’s a little more exclusive because it’s smaller, and we have more sponsors this year.”

So, speaking of trends and ideas, how did the designers fill the new location?

Perhaps influenced by so much recent talk of green initiatives in design, many tables incorporated repurposed materials (a theme that sometimes contrasted with the over-the-top feel of many designs). In an area set aside for local design schools, students from the School of the Visual Arts used plastic water bottles as a table sculpture, and others from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts created napkin rings and a chandelier from metal paint-can handles. Not far away, sponsor Benjamin Moore's homey, brightly colored setup designed by David Stark was covered almost entirely with paint chips.

Another trend that cropped up was the recurring use of yellow, with arrangements of lemons and sunflowers at Celebrate Flowers’ table for Gourmet and a goldenrod-hued table linen at the Ralph Lauren Home space.

The three-day event began with the Table Hop and Tasting on Sunday—a day of public viewing, with $45 tickets giving guests a chance to sip wines and dine on bites from local restaurants including Ilili, Buddakan, Country, and Centrico—followed by a cocktail reception on Monday and last night’s gala dinner, where invited guests dined at the one-of-a-kind tables.

The event kicked off the multicity tour of Dining by Design events, which travels to Kansas City (the event was founded there), Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston. Tables designed for sponsors Beringer, Benjamin Moore, Hewlett-Packard, and Stolichnaya Elit, plus one of several for The New York Times, will travel to all the markets.

(Note: We'll post more from Dining by Design in the coming days. You can find all of our coverage here.)

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