A crash course in creating elaborate and memorable tablescapes

On Sept. 12, AIDS Resource Center Ohioinvites guests of the RED Columbus gala to The Golden Age of Hollywood for the night. The biennial event features 60 themed tables, ranging from the Roaring Twenties to the '60s.

By "themes," they mean "centerpieces on steroids." Months of work go into these tables, conceptualized and built by artists as well as people with no formal design training, like Mike Maly and Greg Espinoza. For 2013's travel-themed gala, the two created a Paris table, anchored by a 9-foot-tall Eiffel tower with fresh orchids and roses and LED fireworks shooting out the top, and an African safari table with hot air balloons and carved wooden animals. "For nearly three months, our dining room became the Paris table, and our living room became the Africa table," Maly says of preparation.

Hosts of dinner parties, weddings and other events could learn a thing or two from Maly and Espinoza's DIY techniques. Here's how they brought their creations to life. arcohio.org

Get creative.Don't cap your imagination. "I think we walked in with that attitude," Espinoza says. Look for inspiration, form the idea and sketch it out. Their Paris concept came from a vintage photo of the Eiffel Tower with an aircraft flying by.

Find the right materials.It took several shopping trips for Maly and Espinoza to collect the pieces for each table. "We had lots of returns," Espinoza says. For the Paris table, they ran with the vintage theme, searching out items that call to mind the 1940s: hatboxes, luggage with travel stickers, classic jewelry and lampposts. The hot air balloons on the Africa table started as Chinese lanterns.

Be flexible.Not every idea will work out the way you imagined. "Know when to give up on something," Maly says. They also recommend bouncing ideas off friends to get feedback.

Consider the guest experience."You always have to keep in mind that you do have people sitting around this table, and you're going to want to have conversation and line of sight," Maly says. They created a space in the middle of the Paris structure, with flowers right above it so it didn't look empty. They also made sure to leave room for dishes and wine glasses.

Focus on the details.The themes didn't stop at the table structures; Maly and Espinoza carried them through with custom-made linens and complementary chargers. The cherry on top? A little lamppost at each place setting at the Paris table.