Mal Marcus, Event Producer at Chicago-based Kehoe Designs, loves bringing an experiential twist to her corporate events, parties and weddings. She imagineers unique nook experiences that double as photo opportunities for guests. “Photo ops are always a fun draw at my events,” she says. “I create memorable moments and spaces where people can’t resist taking photos—and that they can share them on Instagram and other social platforms to show family and friends.”
For her eye-catching installation in our Design Studio, Marcus created a pastel, neon-lit Instagram-worthy seated vignette. “We built a fun photo op space where people can also lounge,” she says. “It’s designed as a room so people can feel fully immersed in this Instagram-worthy environment.”
‘Radiant Pastel’ Trend Board
To start, Marcus chose the “Radiant Pastels” trend board. “The color combos are whimsical and relaxing,” she says. She loved the tranquil vibe sparked by the contrasting green and purple hues. “Yet, these colors also complement each other well,” she says. “They’re soothing when you use them thoughtfully, along with lighting and illumination choices.”
“Radiant Pastels” was inspired by cherry blossoms, also called “Sakura” in Japanese. They symbolize spring as a time of renewal. However, the beautiful pastel blossoms peak after two weeks and start to fall. “When the petals blow in the breeze, it creates movement,” Marcus says. “Cherry blossoms tend to take on white, pink and lavender hues.” Those color variations reflect the gradations of pastel purples and illumination washes Marcus used in her installation: “These colors define tranquility and romanticism,” she says. “Going back to nature feels peaceful, especially in the middle of a lively event.”
Taking ‘Frozen’ Cues
Media and entertainment also influence Kehoe Designs’ trend boards. That’s why “Radiant Pastels” referenced the popular Disney movie, “Frozen.” Marcus and the creative services team noticed a lot of the animated film’s significant scenes include washes of purple. “Elsa wears lighter purples and Anna wears darker purples,” she says. “Those contrasting shades create a light vs. dark effect, which evokes different emotions and experiences at events.”
The Overall Experience
For her installation, Marcus wanted to create a striking lounge space that also functioned as a surprising, Instagram-worthy photo opportunity. “Whether it’s a yearly corporate event or a private social party, photo ops spread a brand’s message,” she says, “or share moments from a couple’s special day.” When you create visually appealing experiences at events, you encourage guests to capture the moment with photos, videos or even live streams they share on Instagram and other social channels.
The ‘Room Effect’
Marcus worked with the Kehoe Designs team to construct a room-like structure with a floor, two graphic walls, a shimmering third drapery wall and an elaborate overhead canopy. The result?! A stunning three-sided room guests step right into—for a unique experience within the event they’re attending. “The drapery is an extra touch that helps create an intimate environment,” she says.
“This space reads tranquil,” says Marcus, who chose repetitive, custom graphics for two walls, continuing into the floor. The graphics, which include purple hues, lavender flowers and sage green leaves, evoke peaceful feelings. “The repetition creates a sense of comfort for people,” she says. “Plus, the design is striking and will inspire some amazing photographs for Instagram.”
Marcus worked with the Kehoe Designs’ art department to create an over-the-top cascading garland. “Its myriad layers and textures give the lounge a dramatic focal point,” she says, “from any angle.” For a voluminous effect, the team custom-painted fence mesh in soothing hues of pastel purple and lavender. “We took a material that might be considered harsh and turned it soft and romantic,” Marcus says. Then, they wove in floral like pastel purple, plum and green amaranth, along with other soft blooms to add to the whimsy and structure of the piece.
‘Come Into My Parlour’
Originally, Marcus didn’t include furniture in her illuminated room. “Yet, I loved how the space could serve a dual purpose,” she says. “Instead of snapping a photo and leaving, people will spend more time talking and relaxing inside the area.” That’s why Marcus chose a soft seating option: a cream-colored velvet bench backed by sateen, pastel purple-hued pillows. Alongside, she placed a metal-wire side table. “It’s always crucial to give guests a place to set down their food or drink during an event,” she says.
Lit Lighting and Illumination
Then, Marcus added another bold statement piece—a white-hued neon sign with The Beatles’ famous lyric: “All you need is Love” above the seating area. “It’s an example of how to meld branding or event identity with lighting,” she says. “A lit-up logo or other thematic taglines look amazing in photos and on social. The style of this installation feels romantic and whimsical, so our ‘love’ sign fit perfectly.”
In addition to the neon sign, Marcus worked with BlackOak Technical Productions to wash the backdrop and floor in complementary pastel hues. “We used lilac—and magenta—colored gels on the lighting to make the graphics pop even more,” she says. “Lighting is so key in events because settings look different when they’re lit vs. not lit. Also, the right illumination offers an amazing transition from day to night, or from one part of an event to the next.”
Incorporate This Lounge Into Your Events
Whether you’re planning a corporate event, a trade show, a gala, a wedding, a sweet sixteen party, or a bar/bat mitzvah, a photo op lounge is a perfect addition to the overall experience. “Just by changing up the colors, graphics, textures and illumination, you can tailor this space to fit any event,” Marcus says.
For example, an excited university client who saw this installation is interested in having Marcus add this type of photo op at an upcoming gala. “We’d be changing the mood of the colors from pastels to midnight blue, silver and gold,” she says. “Instead of a pastel floral canopy, we’d use a graphic structure to create that corporate, masculine feel.”
Now, for a wedding, Marcus would remove the meshing and use all floral and greenery. She’d swap the bench out for the couple’s sweetheart table. The lighting and illumination would complement the wedding theme. “It’s quick, easy changes that can completely transform the installation, making it unique from one event to the next,” she says.
The sky’s the proverbial limit. “You can showcase any professional and personal branding in a custom neon sign—like a wedding hashtag,” says Marcus, who says the event host can take the sign home or back to the office. “It’s a nice memento.” In addition, at brand activations and social events, you can provide guests with a take-home photo gift from their experience.
Marcus loves to bring experience-driven ideas to her events. “People want fresh, new ideas,” she says. “That’s what pushes our team at Kehoe Designs to keep growing and innovating in the event market. Our clients expect us to be ahead of the trends.”
On the Hot Seat: Mal Marcus
What inspires you on a daily basis?
MM: My surroundings, whether I’m at home, downtown at a restaurant with friends, or at Kehoe Designs in our Design Studio. I file away those experiences and thoughts like a brain vault of ideas. Then, I draw on that store when I’m designing my own events.
Got great advice you can offer to other corporate event designers and producers?
MM: It’s easy to pigeonhole yourself into what works really well for you. Some producers repeat the same designs or elements at their events because they know their client was satisfied with it in the past. That’s why it’s important to spread your creative wings, and encourage your client to take a leap. Plus, don’t be afraid to create new experiences. Learning how to design differently and take risks is so valuable in the events industry. Our clients don’t want to see the same thing done over and over. Being a successful producer is about passion, innovation and taking creative risks.
What are you looking forward to in your career as an event producer and at Kehoe Designs?
MM: Every year I become more seasoned as an event producer, and more comfortable in my profession and in the industry. That’s why I’m excited to keep building my impressive event repertoire. I want to do bigger and better events each year and be a key player on the Kehoe Designs team. I want clients to know they can always count on me to bring fresh, fun ideas to the table. I’m all about new experiences.
What’s a trend that’s informing your vision for events this year?
MM: Pairing an interactive idea with décor. I love the idea of pushing further to create a memorable experience and interactivity so that guests can be fully immersed in the event.