Prison chic

Inspired by Mies van de Rohe’s pithy dictum – "Less is more" – Decorative Events & Exhibitions (DE&E), a veteran stylist, decorator and branding specialist, staged a gala dinner for a prestigious Sydney-based law firm that successfully delivered understated glamour.

Established 12 years ago by creative director Peter Fulton, DE&E’s principle objective is, according to managing director Mark Magennis, to understand its client’s needs and deliver ìsolutions that meet the requirements of the brandî. The client’s chosen venue, the Convict Workshop on Cockatoo Island within Sydney Harbour, posed a number of challenges to the 60-strong team at DE&E.

Lynleigh McPherson, DE&E sales and communication manager, says: "The entire event took place on the island. Our first hurdle was to design an interior set up with components that could fit onto the barges that run to and from the mainland. We also had to be certain that we would get everything there on time. There was no room for error as there is no easy way to get back and collect any forgotten items."

Convict canvas
A Unesco World Heritage Site, the 18-hectare Cockatoo Island operated as a penal colony from 1839 to 1869, during the time of the Australian Settlement. The facility became one of Australia’s largest shipyards between 1957 and 1991 but the association with prison labour remained. The first of the two dry docks at the yard was actually built by convicts.

The facility fell into disuse from 1992 until 2000, when the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust assumed control and began major restoration work. Re-opened in 2007, the venue was reimagined and now offers Sydney "a canvas for creative and cultural works".

The three-building Convict Workshop dates back to 1840 and is located in the island’s industrial precinct. It is one of several sites suggested for high-end dinners, product launches, exhibitions and fashion shows. Retaining its original aesthetic, the venue’s look hasn’t changed much in the past two centuries. The prison’s unpainted slab-stone walls, exposed brickwork and raw concrete floors have been left intact. Prison chic is a very gritty kind of glamour – it seems that the only comfort afforded to the former inmates was provided by the high ceilings and large arched windows that continue to let in plenty of natural light.

According to McPherson, the authentically historic setting encouraged the DE&E team to create a design that attempted to marry the existing environment of the space with a visually impacting design. The overall goal was to leave the gala dinner attendees with a unique memory and long-lasting impression.

The strategy also chimed nicely with the crowd of mostly male guests who are more accustomed to working on the other side of the legal fence. It seemed fitting, however, to give the occasion a masculine ambience and so the team opted to embrace the existing simplistic and rugged aesthetic.

DE&E hauled in geometric-edged furniture, chevron-patterned table linen and acidic yellow decor accents such as glowing light boxes and matching candlesticks. Soft touches came in the form of profuse greenery, black velvet lounge chairs making up various seating clusters, and alternating black and white Havana chairs – woven out of natural fibre – lining the banquet tables.

One large section of the workshop was rented for the event, the cocktail and dinner spaces separated by a semi-transparent black chiffon drape. Hefty pieces of World War II era machinery, which remain embedded in the floors of two of the buildings, supplied unique conversation pieces and the guests swirled around them during the evening.

Strings to their bow
As a one-stop-shop creative supplier, DE&E also boasts an exclusive showroom of furniture, textiles and bric-a-brac. The company’s two Sydney-based warehouses feature ìstyled collectionsî that are intended to advise clients on how to achieve certain looks and themes using their hire range. The business is not limited to Australia, but stretches across Asia-Pacific, explains McPherson.

As well as producing the desired concept, DE&E can take a project further by constructing event staging platforms and exhibition stands. A regular participant of business events trade shows in Australia, both as exhibitor and stylist of participating suppliers, the company has bagged a slew of best booth prizes such as Best New Exhibitor Award at AIME (Asia-Pacific Incentive Meetings Expo) in 2007, Best Stand at the Australian Business Events Expo in 2011, Best Large and Best Small Stand at the Sydney Event

Showcase RSVP in 2012, and Best Innovative Stand (Sunshine Coast Destination), Best New Exhibitor Stand (City of Sydney) and Best Stand under 36 sqm (Australian Technology Park) at the recent AIME 2013.

Veronica Rainbird, marketing and brand director, Sunshine Coast Destination, said: "It gives me great pleasure to endorse Decorative Events & Exhibitions on the amazing exhibition stand that they designed, built and installed as a centrepiece to our marketing of the Sunshine Coast. What’s best about the stand is its versatility – being able to reuse the panels at all events despite having different size stands and layouts. We received excellent feedback from delegates, advising that they really felt their meetings were inspired by the design and comfort of the stand."

DE&E’s own stand at AIME 2013 was a lush floral symphony paired with bold patterns that was so eye catching it lured many attendees back several times just to enjoy the visual experience. If creating a statement is DE&E’s main goal, they certainly achieve it – and with some criminal style.

EVENT Gala dinner for a top-notch Sydney-based law firm
VENUE The Convict Workshop, Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour M
DATE March 2013
ORGANISER Decorative Events & Exhibitions
TEL +61 2 8399 2299


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