A Canadian Charity Event Raises Funds, Daffodils and Expectations

Our series of event pros revisiting some of their favorite projects continues with this whimsical design created by Leslee Bell and her team at Canada’s Decor & More.

The Daffodil Ball is the most successful charity event in Canada, raising more than $20 million for the Canadian Cancer Society in the 20 years of its existence. In 2012, our design mandate for this black-tie gala was to create a surreal adult party saluting Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The event needed to be sophisticated yet whimsical, “over-the top” while staying true to book but never crossing into kitschy or becoming too “Disneyesque.”

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The guests entered the event to find themselves in a world of larger-than-life flowers inspired by Tim Burton’s movie “Alice in Wonderland.” Giant mushrooms, rocks, oversized butterflies, grasses, and an open wrought-iron garden gate flanked the path to the staircase leading to the madness that is Wonderland. As guests ascended the staircase lined with chess-inspired topiaries, a white rabbit with a pocket-watch rushed by, muttering “You’re late, you’re late.”

On the mezzanine level, velvet draping in burgundy and gold created a backdrop for a collage of various styles of clocks and a sign proclaiming “You’re Late. You’re Late” in both French and English. This served as a backdrop for the registration desk that was draped and enhanced with florals to coordinate with the background wall.

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The cocktail space was dominated by an iconic Mad Hatter’s tea party display, complete with bizarre furniture, vintage table settings, and layer upon layer of detail from the carpets, the linens, hat boxes, and eclectic oddities to the finale of a giant lop-sided hat cake. This display was built atop a raised platform suspended over the 24-foot octagonal opening which usually looked on to the floor below. It was an ideal solution; making great use of unusable space, this gave prominence to the display while not encroaching on the cocktail space.

Completing the cocktail space were sleek white resin cruiser table’s custom designed with clock face graphics and two photo opportunities enhanced with boxwood hedges, over-sized chess pieces, and large playing cards.

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A 12-foot-high boxwood hedge and lattice panels delineated the dining room from the cocktail area and guests entered via two keyholes that had been created. This hedge also served to beautifully mask the kitchen areas at the opposite end. The stage backdrop featured three-dimensional chess pieces, positioned on a black-and-white checkerboard wall displayed in a very unique and quirky manner. Skirting the stage were checked panels which led to a black-and-white checkered dance floor creating one of the bold and dramatic focal points in the room.

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The most spectacular statement in the dining room was the massive playing card chandeliers. Designed and printed by our in-house team, the four double-tiered chandeliers were comprised of 320 custom playing cards. The top tier measured eight-feet square with 32 cards while the second tier measuring four-feet with 48 cards.  Every card was printed on both sides, and secured to a steel frame for a sleek look.

The major concern was that the ceiling would look empty, so in addition to the chandeliers a cascade of giant double-sided playing cards, measuring eight-by-four and six-by-three feet were suspended over the dance floor in the middle creating the illusion of cards fluttering at various angles through the space.  The use of both designs was the perfect solution in filling the negative ceiling space.  Aircraft cable secured from four corners went into a pair of hanging points to ensure no movement from wind currents yet twisting the oversized cards into shapes that gave the illusion they were being whisked away by the wind.

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Dining tables had a fabulously eclectic look with 12 different combinations of tables, chairs, linens, centerpieces and accents, making this an extremely complex setup.   It is a very fine line between creating a look that is quirky, eclectic and whimsical and crossing over to the chaotic. We successfully walked the line but never crossed it.  No matter where you sat, the surrounding tables told a different part of Alice’s story. Guests were delighted and spent a good amount of time milling around the tables appreciating every nuance of the different tablescapes.

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Tables were not only dressed differently but they were in five different shapes and sizes – circular (48-inch and 60-inch), 8-foot square and 16-foot rectangles, seating six, eight, 10 or 18 guests.  Seven different table linens echoed the Tim Burton rich color palette, combining period, teal blue, burgundy, purple, fuchsia and gold satin, with an unexpected jolt of black-and-white stripes. These were all uniquely textured for even more drama. There were three different chair types, with five cushion colors all painstakingly planned out so no two would ever be side by side.

The intricate design of these tablescapes was a labor of love as layer after layer was added so the details would be noticed and tweeted about by guests at the event.

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As designers for this event for the past four years we are challenged to raise the bar every time. We can honestly say that this event was truly a whimsical wonder.

Event Planner: Alison Silcoff

Photography: YavuzPhoto

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After seven years of working for a Toronto-based event management company, Leslee founded Decor & More Inc. in January of 1990. Since founding D&M Leslee has become one of the industry’s most acclaimed and sought after guest speakers on events through Canada and the US. In 2005, Leslee had the extreme honour of being awarded the first, “Spirit of the Industry” award by the Canadian Special Events Industry and was inducted into their “Hall of Fame for Lifetime Achievement.” Leslee continues to be a hands-on participant in the day-to-day management of D&M’s major accounts. She works collectively with the company’s various departments, to stay abreast of the latest, cutting-edge trends in events and design.

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