Luxurious wedding reception table with elaborate floral arrangements and candlelight, designed by Chicago wedding planner Savoir Fête.

Behind the Design: “A Finely Aged Beaujolais”

A Dramatic Art Nouveau Exploration

When Alex Ferreri and I discussed putting together a creative project, I was initially a little intimidated by the limitless possibilities before us. So much of our creative process is initially driven by the client: though as a planner and designer I am responsible for developing the direction and translating it to an event design, the seeds of the final outcome are planted by the client’s desires, not my own. Once that initial overwhelm wore off, however, I became incredibly excited by the opportunity to curate a concept driven by ideas I loved and thought unlikely to be brought in as a first line of wedding inspiration. Join me in this post and the next one (coming soon!) for the journey of collaborating on this editorial, from inspiration to the final gallery.

Before we begin, why “A Finely Aged Beaujolais”? First of all, I love naming my design plans. Here, one of our goals was to elevate colors typically seen in a played-out, vaguely “autumnal” theme, so instead of pouring a simple Bordeaux or Burgundy, I decided that the couple planning this dinner would be enjoying a finely aged Beaujolais.

I’ll admit to having a burner Instagram account: it’s entirely for following miscellaneous creators that feature quirky interior designs, fashion houses, art history, and yes, a few celebrity gossip accounts. Call it a “visual refresh” when social media becomes a little too much to keep up with, day-to-day. I curate some of these saves onto Pinterest Boards for safekeeping, as well. Doing one of these Pinterest sweeps, I noticed there was a painting that I had saved multiple times on different days: enter John William Godward’s “An Offering to Venus”, 1912.

Something about the colors, draping and contrasting tile work kept catching my eye: I loved the rich interplay between the red and purple, the soft drape held by tense belts, and the delightful textures that though rather maximalist, felt serene and composed. The overall composition has many strong lines and heavy weights, but overall feels relaxed and lifelike. I knew I wanted to use this painting as an inspiration for the shoot.

Inspiration Strikes

Dramatic draping has been a fixture in the back of my mind for a while now: there’s something about the gracefulness and tension of the cascading fabric that really makes a statement. Plus, drape is an easy choice to create a totally custom feel in a more sustainable way, given that drape panels can be stored and re-used between events.

I continued to see draping and color inspiration everywhere, especially in fashion: the Rodarte Fall 2024 campaign just about stopped me in my tracks. The always-incredible Bureau Betak put together an incredible runway setup for Fendi a few weeks later. Though the show itself wasn’t the most engrossing, I kept pausing on the interiors of Palm Royale. Rich tones and artful draping became the guiding light, and finally, to coalesce the vision, I put together a final mood board as we conceived of the shoot.

Creating through Collaboration

In putting together this creative editorial, I also knew something important was to put together a design that was achievable for a theoretical client: so often the industry will produce “styled shoots” that are impractical, difficult to scale, or flat-out unrealistic in terms of the actual event experience. So, I turned to local rental companies for inventory, and kept an eye to realism in the overall design: cylinders on the tapers, full place settings (with napkins! It’s surprising how many styled designs will actually skip full-sized napkins!), installations that could be used in a versatile way, and by generally taking a practical approach to the design plan, which I rendered out below:

From there, I took the design pitch to partners at Nuage Designs, The Festive Frog, Lively House and Home, and Atmosphere Events Group, where I was delighted to find enthusiastic collaboration in terms of developing the overall vision and finer points of design: as a planner, I understand that I will never match the expertise of a full-time florist or stationer at their craft, for example, and if I can empower everyone to lean into their specializations, I’m doing my job well.

Through these mood boards, some sketches, lots of conversations, and mutual trust, we took the shoot setup to the drawing room of Colvin House here in Chicago. The mansion actually dates from around the same time that “An Offering to Venus” does, and so its brilliant textural details on the first floor became the natural setting for these vignettes.

My incredible collaborator Alex Ferreri took the lead on photographing and styling on site, and the brilliant Lydia from Morning Light Film Co. was there to capture in real-time, as well. The final portfolio of images and video was a resounding success: a refreshingly personal exercise in event design that inspired me for so many possibilities in the future.

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