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Will your event be a success? Depends how the space is transformed. Arnprior’s Creative Edge relishes the challenge

You could say it began with flowers to the Pope. Or the Queen. Even the Rolling Stones. Various U.S. presidents were also recipients of Ron Hanniman’s floral arrangements from 1997 on. Twenty-years later, Ron’s son, Steve is running his father’s Arnprior-based business, having helped transform it from a mostly floral arrangement company into a leading Ottawa event supplier. Galas and weddings, corporate and private events, Creative Edge continues to find unique décor solutions for any occasion. From transformative lighting to linen, their creative touches may seem simplistic enough, but transforming a space – however big or small – always presents its own challenges — and it’s precisely those challenges, and variations, that drive Steve and his team.

In January, Creative Edge took on the challenge of transforming a spacious Jean Piggott Place at City Hall into Ottawa Magazine’s First Annual Where To Eat Event, which featured those places taken from the pages of our Best New Restaurants guide. Under one roof, the magazine assembled more than a dozen restaurants and local, food-based companies and, over the course of an evening of music, fine wine, beer, and other delectables, the restaurants presented dishes that spoke to their style, strengths, and creativity. Creative Edge, along with Lou Lou Lounge, had a huge role in transforming a cavernous room, void of any discernible features, into the intimate, comfortable, and stylish space that it became. Seating, lighting, décor — how would it all work together?

This photo, taken just prior to Ottawa Magazine’s First Annual Where To Eat Event at City Hall in January 2017, shows the lighting, print, and decor work by Creative Edge. Photo: Marc Fowler
This photo, taken just prior to Ottawa Magazine’s First Annual Where To Eat Event at City Hall in January 2017, shows the lighting, print, and decor work by Creative Edge. Photo: Marc Fowler

“When we did a site visit for the Ottawa Magazine event, one of the suggestions we had was to create the overhead signage for each restaurant,” explains Steve. “Since hundreds of guests would be in the room, we felt it was important for each restaurant to be seen from across the room. We created food station canopies, to help brand each station and lit each station. We also knew our friends at Lou Lou Lounge were going to be furnishing the event, and since the room is a tall, narrow space, we thought some towering décor behind the lounge sets would look good. So we added our string curtain walls and a birch trunk display. The magazine was hoping to showcase two cover photos at the event, so we were able to blow them up with large format printing and display them on the string curtain walls. We used some lighting to ensure this was a focal point of the space.”

Their touches were such that, for food lovers who attended the event, the décor and lighting appeared as though the room had been originally designed with these elements already in place.

Lighting and décor — how one creates and arranges these elements is certainly an art, often making the difference as to whether an event is successful or not. Ottawa Magazine spoke to Steve about what he does and why it’s so essential for events. He offers tips, suggestions, speaks about some of the latest technology, and talks about what’s on his plate for Canada’s 150th.

How does what you do elevate an event?

Décor is a very important component to an event. When I describe what I do for a living to people who have no idea about the industry … it’s commonly thought that we tape streamers to walls and hang balloons. I can honestly say in my entire career I don’t think I have ever touched a streamer once. We use décor in much more meaningful ways — to not only to make the space look amazing, but to consider function as well; we may place a glowing bar for drink service, but it is also branded with a sponsor logo; we may section a room off with sheer fabric and lighting, to make to venue feel more intimate, and encourage networking; or we may have a solution to capture that unique theme that the organizers are trying to convey. We want to make sure that each piece to an event has a purpose, and the ultimate goal is to increase the guest’s experience.

When planning events, what elements are often not thought of, but so necessary to making it successful — from a design perspective?

I think the most important thing to get right is the guest experience at an event, no matter what type of event it is. You need to consider so many elements. Will your guests have the information they need? Are they comfortable? Is there enough food and beverage? Are there line-ups? Is the music too loud or the room too dark? Many issues at events could be resolved with simple considerations. This is why it’s so important to work with professionals when you can. They know what works and what doesn’t.

Usually, we see this is when we are working with brides planning their own weddings. Many brides will use a wedding planner, but there are a lot who don’t for various reasons. It’s a huge undertaking to plan out a large celebration and it’s easy to overlook certain elements. Often when meeting brides we will ask a lot of questions and brainstorm with them, just to be sure they have planned ahead. For example, last year we met with a bride that assumed the venue she booked had all the specialty dishware she required. Since we know most of the venues in the area, we were able to help her with a crisis before it happened.

Ottawa Magazine’s First Annual Where To Eat Event at City Hall in January 2017. Creative Edge and Lou Lou Lounge masterminded the space's transformation. Photo: Marc Fowler
Ottawa Magazine’s First Annual Where To Eat Event at City Hall in January 2017. Creative Edge and Lou Lou Lounge masterminded the space’s transformation. Photo: Marc Fowler

Tips for lighting or creating the ‘look’ for an event?

Proper lighting is one of the pillars of an event. It can create a mood and set an atmosphere, and the colours are certainly part of the décor. One of the best tips I have for clients renting larger venues is the use of lighting. Putting physical décor in a large space can be very time consuming and expensive, but using a few lights to change the colour of a wall, or to project a pattern on the wall can be a fraction of the cost.

Another tip is to use lighting to accent the architectural elements of your venue space. Perhaps your venue has an interesting feature like an archway or a unique wall. Lighting can add drama to that feature. For example, if there is an open truss ceiling at a venue — it may be a bit of an eyesore normally, but turning down the house lights and shooting coloured lighting through the trussing could change the celling into a feature of the event.

What are some of the more futuristic lighting and design technology you’re working with?

One unique item we have is a new photo booth. Typically for a photo booth at an event there is a 10×10 space with a camera set up and a backdrop, and guests stand in front of the camera with some props for a photo. Our new photo booth is completely different. When you approach the booth, the guests only see a large mirror. An image appears on the mirror that prompts the guest to touch the mirror to start a photo session. Various images appear on the mirror, and it’s very interactive with the guests. After the photos are taken, the guests can go to a social media station and immediately share their photo to Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s on it’s own wireless network, so it can go anywhere, and photos can be branded and given a hashtag during the event, helping generate social media attention — It’s a very unique product and our clients love it.

What are some of the more unusual or challenging events you’ve helped design for?

We have done many events for various embassies over the years, and it can be a challenge to work with cultural differences and expectations. Another challenge we had was during the new Ottawa Convention Centre (The Shaw Centre) grand opening. We were asked to decorate the entire facility for the opening ceremony. I remember walking through the construction site and thinking how massive the space looked. Also, because it was under construction, I had no idea what architectural features would be in place, and I wanted to be sure to highlight the building since it was the focal point of the night. In the end, we used quite a bit of lighting and we created large décor pieces that could be placed in various rooms. Since the OCC had a feature wall of reclaimed wood, we copied the colour and feel of the wall and created large wooden towers with massive abstract floral arrangements on top. This created a central focal point in some of the spaces, while still allowing the building itself to been easily seen.

It is the challenge, though, that keeps the job interesting. We take a lot of pride in coming up with solutions under all sorts of budgets and timelines. We have created a log cabin that had to be assembled in three hours and in which 700 guests could walk through; we created an entrance to an event that resembled a sports arena, with green carpeting around the event painted to look like a race track, and an entire wall covered in a huge digital print of a stadium; and just last week, we created two entrances to an event that looked like you were passing through a spaceship, complete with portholes to look out into space.

This is a big year for the country and its capital. What special events for the 150th are you working on?

We have quite a few events coming up. Some I can’t disclose at this point. But I can say we are working with some partners on various events for 2017 and the Junos. Last year we did the backdrop for the televised Red Bull Crashed Ice announcement, and there will be some different events around the city coming with the Red Bull Crashed Ice event as well.

Creative Edge, 80 Edward St., Arnprior, 613-623-9812