Have you experienced the fantastical worlds Timot McGonagle creates?! If the answer is “yes”, you’re not surprised magic was his favorite hobby as a kid. “I’m all over it if it glows, reflects, oozes fog or floats,” he says.
A Senior Event Producer at Kehoe Designs, McGonagle acknowledges that “pretty corporate events” aren’t enough. “They must be energetic, evolving and memorable experiences. Themes help to tell a story,” he says. “I want to engage guests at corporate parties, social gatherings, and galas. My goal is to create a sense of wonder and awaken that inner child. I’m not sure if I ever grew up.”
Calling his events innovative, kinetic and experiential, McGonagle stands as an industry front-runner. “The bigger, more complex and more elaborate the corporate parties, the better,” he says.
McGonagle chose three events that “broke creative boundaries”—showcasing his ability to generate once-in-a-lifetime creative party experiences for guests.
BEYOND BABYLON: EVENT THEMES
Imagine transforming the Field Museum—one of Chicago’s most iconic venues—into an ancient Babylonian palace for an immersive holiday themed corporate event.
After producing a holiday party for the fourth consecutive year—McGonagle dreamed up a brand-new event theme for this client: Beyond Babylon. The Field’s neoclassical architecture and hanging gardens inspired his vision. “When I produce a themed event, we convert the space,” he says.
For a heightened experience, McGonagle and the Kehoe Designs team masked the museum’s automatic glass entrance doors. “We covered them with palace-door graphics and surrounded them with a three-dimensional arch,” he says. “The graphics blocked guests’ immediate view of the space until the doors parted. Transformed like never before—they entered to see Stanley Field Hall.”
McGonagle brought in a 20-foot-by-40-foot hand-painted baffle drape depicting an ancient countryside. “Our corporate event theme created the illusion that guests were in a palace overlooking ancient Babylon,” he says. These theatrical backdrops sectioned off the event’s perimeter. “We made the museum’s signature 120-foot fossilized dinosaur and prehistoric mastodon replicas disappear,” he says. In addition, McGonagle reinvented Babylon’s famed Ishtar Gate in 16-foot-tall weathered panels. “These became the dramatic backdrop for the bar and buffet,” he says.
Painted theatrical drapes surrounded Stanley Field Hall, turning the large space into an ancient Babylonian palace.The inventive Kehoe Designs team originally crafted these intricately shaped gates for a wedding. McGonagle re-purposed them into Babylon’s golden Ishtar gates. “There’s a lot of depth of field in my work, so you’re looking through the gate to see what’s behind it for a truly immersive event,” he says.
FROM ANOTHER PLACE & TIME
McGonagle worked closely with Noel Leontis-Raimondi, Creative Services Manager, to create an authentic al fresco experience among the furniture groupings and accessories. He mapped the room into spaces he calls “pockets of energy” for guests to gather. For instance, these included candlelit, mirror-topped tables near the bar. McGonagle and Leontis-Raimondi placed palatial furniture—low divans, gold tables, upholstered ottomans—at unusual angles. “These felt like trellis lounges on a terrace,” McGonagle says.
“We wanted the setting to feel elegant, but authentically weathered,” Leontis-Raimondi says. “This client typically relies on technical production at events. For this corporate holiday party we gave them a completely different theme. We emphasized lighting, textiles, greenery and candlelight. All things we knew were readily available. Specific to that time period. This allowed the guests to feel as if they were walking into an immersive experience of history.”
“’Nurturing cocoons’ were created within the Field Museum’s Stanley Field Hall. This provided a lot of seating options for the corporate themed event,” McGonagle says.Kehoe Designs carefully selected period furniture groupings let guests time travel back to ancient Babylon.Photo Credits: Design, Décor, Photos: Kehoe Designs, Timot McGonagle | Plantscapes: Floral Exhibits | Lighting & Sound: FROST Chicago | Planning: Meetings & Incentives Worldwide (M&IW) | Venue: Field Museum
LUSH GARDENS IN THE GLOAMING
Cue Babylon’s hanging gardens. Inspired by Stanley Field Hall’s suspended hydroponic gardens (1,000 plants make this the world’s largest 3-D garden), the Floral Exhibits team brought in hundreds of plants to bring this theme to life. “To reproduce the outdoors, we used large trees,” McGonagle says. “We also placed bold floral in organic containers with the level of craftsmanship you’d find in antiquity.”
McGonagle’s decadent lighting palette echoes the gloaming. “It’s that warm amber light at the end of the day,” he says. He worked with FROST Chicago to employ gobos that projected palm fronds to create an oasis environment.
“This creative party theme thrilled my client,” McGonagle says. “Attendees of all ages felt like they’d gone back in time.”
GRAFFITI GALA: GRAPHIC CORPORATE PARTY IDEAS
For this corporate gala at the century-old Chicago Hilton, the client tasked McGonagle with imagining a different take on Chicago neighborhoods. “These are among our most-requested event themes,” he says. “That’s why my challenge was to make this corporate concept new and fresh.”
In the hotel’s Grand Ballroom, McGonagle celebrated the Pilsen neighborhood with large-scale graphic art. “This is one of the city’s beautiful ballrooms,” he says. “Therefore, I mixed an urban vibe into that classic room. We kept it a clean space. For instance, used furniture and graphics. People experienced the art.”
The center of the ballroom featured a 40-foot, rectangular, graphic light bar. “We anchored this gathering space by a 32-foot-by-16-foot, double-sided, faux-brick graffiti wall,” McGonagle says. Guests saw it from all sides. A color explosion of sugar skulls, roses, and a large blue eye. “Our in-house artist Lisa Gray hand-painted this piece,” he says. “Above all, she did an amazing job interpreting Pilsen art into the design.”
The Pilsen graffiti art made this a night to remember, and a creative corporate event to emulate.
INSPIRED BY THE VIOLET HOUR
For a happy hour, McGonagle brought Chicago’s craft cocktail club Violet Hour to life for this immersive event. He enclosed the wood-paneled Normandy Lounge with purple and gray voile drapes. “We tuned into the sophisticated elegance of a very luxurious club,” he says. “We layered tonal fabrics over the existing wall drapes for a custom look. In addition, we added stylized couches, mirror-topped tables and soft ottomans. While luxuriant, the lounge was a warm and comforting space.”
“The lounge paralleled the Violet Hour bar’s chic gray and purple tones,” McGonagle says. “Everything has a plush and upscale feel. That includes the collection of found objects layered on the table tops.”
McGonagle also incorporated Anastasia Mack’s award-winning art depicting Chicago neighborhoods. The Kehoe Designs art department reproduced Mack’s work into high-res graphic light panels for the Grand Ballroom buffets, the Normandy Lounge’s walls, and highboy table tops. A 12-foot-by-16-foot graphic light wall featuring the “Bean” in Millennium Park became the lounge’s focal point. “Looking around the space, you felt wrapped in all these modern-day markers of Chicago—an urban sanctuary,” McGonagle says.
For the Violet Hour lounge’s focal point, McGonagle chose Anastasia Mack’s stunning rendering of the Cloud Gate sculpture.
Photo Credits: Design, Décor, Photos: Kehoe Designs, Timot McGonagle | Planning: ACCESS Destination Services | Venue: Hilton Chicago Hotel
WEDDING DRAMA: AN ARCHITECTURAL THEME
For a wedding at the Loews Chicago Hotel, McGonagle let the space inspire him. “The art, patterns and motifs in the Loews hotel design nod to Chicago history,” he says. Therefore, he focused on unique vinyl cutouts that mimicked the motifs and strategic lighting.
The Kehoe Designs team interpreted the lattice-cut pattern in the Sullivan Ballroom’s entrance door surrounds, ceiling and carpet into custom gold cutout table runners, a stage front façade, and DJ surround. “The result was a 360-degree design,” McGonagle says.
Inspired by the Sullivan Ballroom’s patterned lacework, the Kehoe Designs team devised their own stunning cutout.The Kehoe Designs team crafted a white vinyl dance-floor cover embellished with the couple’s crest. “We backlit the gold lattice stage casing to reflect the room décor even further,” McGonagle says.
Our floral team incorporated burgundy and pomegranate-colored floral on long white lacquer tables. Floral designs were accented with gold metallic graphic cutouts, table accessories, and dining chairs. “The look was clean and contemporary, but swanky. What the bride wants, the bride gets,” McGonagle says. “We used different heights and textures on the tables without blocking anyone’s view.”
McGonagle’s all about the details. He placed a circular menu under the chargers, for one. Also, repeated gold accents throughout the tablescape accessories.
LIGHTING IS EVERYTHING
BlackOak Technical Productions Senior Producer Meredith Francsis uplit the entire space in amber during dinner. She orchestrated color changes and patterns during the high-energy afterparty. In addition, pinspot lighting highlighted the tablescapes. “You can have the most gorgeous elements in the room, but if they’re not properly accented by light—you lose depth and texture. Especially on tabletops,” McGonagle says.
“Above all, Timot and I ensured that the wedding décor and tech fit together seamlessly,” Francsis says. “We enveloped the guests in a candlelight romantic setting. By choosing warm amber tones mixed with burgundy and wine red, we added warmth to the room’s ambiance.” One final touch. The duo backlit the stage facing. This anchored the room in an unexpected way.
The wedding décor and lighting meshed perfectly to create a warm, romantic environment.
Photo Credits: Design, Décor, Photos: Kehoe Designs, Timot McGonagle | Lighting & Sound: BlackOak Technical Productions, Meredith Francsis | Planning: Storybook Weddings & Events | Menu & Dance Floor Design: Studio M Creations | Venue: Loews Chicago Hotel
“The bride had tears of joy in her eyes when she walked into the room,” McGonagle says. “It was a stunning evening for a beautiful and loving couple.”
McGonagle works steadily to build a loyal client base. “Through diligence, hard work and the generosity of others, I’ve got an extensive client and industry colleague base,” he says. “Many are my close friends. I feel so blessed.”
Quick Q’s: Timot McGonagle
What do you wish you knew when you started out as an event producer?
TM: You need first-hand experience producing events. In other words, client relationships are most important. I spend a lot of time listening to my clients and developing our rapport—and they’re very loyal. You need passion, and you must nurture your creativity. Look at your abilities as a gift and surround yourself with people who help you grow. At Kehoe Designs, there’s such a family quality to what we do. We develop strong relationships with each other and our clients. Great, creative events follow.
What excites you about event trends in 2019?
TM: Merging of event disciplines into a single energetic whole. Above all, I love incorporating technical production into my events for both beauty and function. Events are theatrical experiences that take you on a journey.
What fascinates you right now?
TM: Luminosity: Surfaces that are iridescent and react to the environment around them. I collect art glass, translucent, and layered surfaces inspire me.
What’s something you always say to your clients?
TM: “A little of this and a little of that is a whole lot of nothing.” I encourage my clients to make a few simple choices and layer those choices throughout the event. This creates a cohesive and continuous experience.
Senior Event Producer
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