"Give attendees something interesting the moment they walk into an event." That's one of the guiding principles of Preston Bailey, globally celebrated for his ability to transform ordinary spaces into lush, theatrical environments. With a client roster that includes celebrities, royal families, CEOs, and athletes, Bailey has been sought out to create one-of-a-kind designs and memorable backdrops since opening his New York City design studio in 1980. But while he may be something of an "event designer to the stars," there is much that planners for gatherings of all sizes can learn from Bailey.
The Panama-born designer transforms everyday spaces into showplaces.
"Corporate events do not need to be boring," says Bailey. "I understand there is a matter of budget, but there is a lot of flexibility to be incredibly creative and not have events that all look the same." (Though budget is not a concern for some of his clients, such as Oprah Winfrey, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Donna Karan, and George Soros.)
One thing he warns against: repetition in design. Instead of creating 20 small pieces of décor that will just blend into the space, Bailey recommends creating one large memorable piece.
"You want your guests to say, 'The food was great, the music was great, but did you see what they did?'"
This means activating as many of the senses as possible -- Bailey works with an aromatherapist to develop special scents for the events he orchestrates.
He refers to music as the "soul" of an event. "It's essential to choose the right playlist and monitor the volume. Music should be loud enough to enjoy, yet low enough to carry on a conversation."
As for event trends, Bailey warns against blindly following the latest fad, as it is more likely to hinder creativity than to help it. "I hate trends. I do not follow them. I think they are stifling. Instagram is great because it is image-based but everyone is copying each other. I encourage planners and designers to stop being lazy and create something unique."
Bailey is the talent behind the first-of-their-kind permanent floral installations at the Wynn Las Vegas. Created in collaboration with Steve Wynn, the two living sculptures -- a hot-air balloon and a carousel -- are made of 110,000 vibrant and colorful flowers. The hot-air balloon stands 20 feet tall and weighs 4,000 pounds, while the carousel is 13 feet tall, 16 feet wide, and weighs 6,000 pounds. Both installations feature theatrical lighting and are accompanied by festive music.
"With this installation, I'm excited to expose my work to a much wider public audience for all to enjoy and to find their own inspiration in," says Bailey. "After being approached by Mr. Wynn to design these sculptures, I thought it would be ideal to create something dramatic out of flowers. I use them as my clay, molding them into something distinctive and awe-inspiring."
Bailey's floral creations can also be found in the multibillion-dollar Wynn Palace, Macau's most expensive resort to date. The central design theme in the resort is the joy and beauty of florals, so two of Bailey's large-scale floral sculptures are at home in the lobby.
One of Bailey's newest partnerships is with the newly opened Four Seasons New York Downtown. A sneak peek of events to come was offered at the end of September as Bailey's touches were sprinkled throughout the space.
"This ballroom is beautiful and very unique; I wanted to keep the integrity of the room and enhance it and not overwhelm it," he explains. "With that in mind, we made eight illuminated crystal lampshades to create a festive theme."
The mood in the Greenwich Ballroom, an ideal setting for up to 175 guests, was celebratory, as most were seeing this new hotel in lower Manhattan for the first time. Many lingered.
"You know you have had a successful event when guests do not want to leave," he concludes. "Then I know I have done my job well."