Are chairs necessary at a meeting? Certainly, for some, but not for all.
“No one wants to sit in a chair and be lectured to,” says Sandy Harmon, general manager of Haworth Inn & Conference Center in Holland. She’s seeing more interactive meetings where attendees want to “feel, touch, practice, network and mingle.”
And as day rolls into night and dinner is served, Bradley McCallum, vice president and managing director of Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island, observes that when you do sit down, it’s likely sans cover.
“Chair covers have almost gone away,” McCallum notes. Although some events still have them, the overwhelming choice in event seating (like for awards, banquets, etc.) is the Chiavari chair, he says. (The Chiavari chair, named for an Italian city where it originated in the beginning of the 19th century, is light, solid and elegant.)
The chair design is so popular at the Straits of Mackinac resort, that McCallum has nearly doubled his inventory of the balloon-backed beauties.
What else is showing up at meetings and events? Vintage furnishings and cool mementos, say those in the know. At company milestone gatherings, for example, you’re likely to see centerpieces that reflect the year the company started and bits of nostalgic memorabilia used as part of a tablescape.
Observes Harmon: “A lot is starting to look like Grandma’s living room, but people connect to that. And midcentury modern furniture is huge, especially at charity events.”
Not only is vintage décor hot, but so are vintage spaces, from raw, industrial (and often abandoned) buildings to those with a fascinating history.
Cari Cucksey of HGTV’s Cash & Cari purchased an 1860s bank building in Holly that is now a venue for special events. “A lot of corporate event planners are looking for industrialedgy mixed with vintage,” Cucksey says.
Her “new” Vault venue features everything from grays and neutral tones to Edison bulbs to glass and Victorian accents. As for props, the Vault has quite a selection from which to choose, from midcentury (very popular, Cucksey observes) to 1800s to you name it.
“For special openings and announcements, we’re seeing a trend in converting ‘raw’ space into something beautiful and functional,’” says Sara Locricchio of Near Perfect Media in Bloomfield Hills.
As well, Jaime Rae Turnbull of Detroit-based JR Turnbull Communications is constantly on the lookout for old spaces, and, often, the more raw the better. “People want to see the actual structure of historic spaces, the architecture. It’s often ‘less is more,’” the veteran event planner explains. Turnbull is still reeling in the excitement of last year’s Detroit Homecoming event, for which she and her team transformed the abandoned Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center in Detroit into an opening-night gathering for Detroit Homecoming.
That was an invitation-only event hosted by Crain Communications and designed to enlist the efforts of Detroit ex-pats in improving the city. It began in 2014 with a commitment to be an annual event for at least three years.
“It was a raw space, we worked with [the City Building Department and Fire Department] to be sure it was safe; [Barton Malow] completely ripped out and replaced floors. And in 45 days we had a sit-down dinner for 350,” Turnbull recalls. Her décor was truly au naturel, with decorative elements, such as the already-there graffiti. “People like history and urban-organic spaces.” (Turnbull is orchestrating the event again this September. It will be the first event held at Detroit’s Michigan Central Station, which was built in 1913 and has been vacant for more than 30 years.)
On many meeting planner’s checklist, natural light ranks high. Mission Point’s McCallum even is undergoing a feasibility review to examine how his resort can add more natural light, which, he says, will likely require adding windows to those meeting rooms that don’t have windows.
Taking It Outdoors
At the Royal Park Hotel in Rochester, Susan Keels reports that natural light is in such big demand, she has seen planners take the meetings outdoors and down a nearby nature path.
“Planners are thinking beyond four walls,” says Keels, director of sales and marketing. “A lot of clients are looking to incorporate a unique space into the gathering, like having walking or biking meetings. ‘Let’s not sit around a boardroom table,’ they’re saying.”
Fresh air, historic elements, no chairs and bits of nostalgia—these are a few of meeting and event planners’ favorite things and that’s not totally surprising, given these preferences reflect today’s general lifestyle trends.
Consider pop culture’s obsession with nostalgia—everyone now seems to be immersed in old episodes of retro-themed television shows, such as “Mad Men.” Then there’s the return of Scandinavian-style midcentury modern furniture. Fresh and natural also are popping onto the scene. A quick survey of fashion trends reveals a closet full of natural styles, shapes and materials. Furthermore, it’s deemed more cool these days to use less makeup, again, opting for the more natural route.
Joining the natural bandwagon is authenticity, which is winning out over faux anything. Just look at some of the florist trends in meetings and events.
Dale Morgan of Birmingham and Detroitbased Blossoms says an organic feel is big. “We’re seeing the use of more elements from nature, like moss, stones, wildflowers or garden-style flowers, branches, birch or other wood,” Morgan says.
The Haworth’s Harmon agrees. “More leaves and grass and elements from nature (no birds of paradise) are showing up.”