Dining by Design: Feast for the eyes

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Sometime next Thursday afternoon, with Veterans Memorial lying silent beyond the Broad Street bridge, a fleet of delivery trucks and some of the city's best designers will stream into the parking lot.

Running on very little sleep, they'll open the doors and start to pull out colored fabric, exquisite glassware and floral bouquets. Into the venue's North Hall they'll lug handmade centerpieces, decorative chairs and chandeliers.

Soon the wild ideas once confined to easels and imaginations will take shape as small, unique environments able to hold 10 people for dinner. They'll be stapled, screwed, nailed and taped into reality for a single night of giving back.

At DIFFA's Dining by Design, tables become living installations, bona fide work of arts, functional masterpieces. They're pretty for a purpose - to benefit local AIDS charities in each city on the event's nationwide tour.

"Everyone has a limited time to get in there," said Debbie Witt, a brand consultant who's putting together a table for Nationwide Insurance. "You get to see this black box change into this feast for the eyes. That's where you see the genius."

Dinner will never look better than it does at the gala on Saturday, Oct. 17.

"They're brilliant, they're exciting," said Gary Bias, executive producer of EventCo Productions, which organizes the event for the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. "It's like walking into a living museum of dining rooms. You keep turning your head because you can't see everything."

Founded in 1984, the national nonprofit collective of designers has raised $38 million for local AIDS charities through Dining by Design and other events.

At past events, 11-foot-square spaces, which cost $10,000 to reserve, have included waterfalls, floor-to-ceiling wet bars and hand-crafted mirrored floors. Organizers nix the staid traditions of most fundraisers and concentrate instead on a great meal in an unbelievable setting.

There's no keynote address, awards or announcements - just art, eating and a bit of dancing. The only formality comes at 8 p.m. sharp, when the flashy display place settings are whisked away and replaced with those that will hold the food, catered by Creative Cuisine.

"People are willing to go out on a limb," said ZenGenius designer Michael Bova, who's creating several tables this year. "People are willing to be distinctive. You're not as worried about if the butter knife is in the right place."

After hosting a successful run in 2007, Columbus was chosen as one of only seven stops this year, joining New York, Kansas City, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In addition to helping the Pater Noster House and Nationwide Children's Hospital, the event will showcase Columbus' thriving creative community.

"It's a high-caliber event with a lot of industry professionals," said Martha Allison, chair of the interior-design program at the Columbus College of Art & Design. "It's a major production."

The festivities are set to become an annual fixture in the city. Columbus recently was added to the annual calendar for the next 10 years, in part because of its vibrant design scene and generous philanthropic community, Bias said.

"It's blown the other markets away with what we've had to offer here in Columbus," Bias said. "We were able to stand up and bring it to the table."