by By Kate Mulcrone | February 01, 2012
Even for a veteran planner, a blank-slate white-on-white or beige-on-beige meeting space can be intimidating. How does one turn an unadorned room into a gorgeous backdrop for an event -- and often with just a few hours to work that magic? Here are some of today's trendiest ideas to help transform ordinary spaces into extraordinary places.
Light it up
Today it's all about lighting. "The creative use of light transforms a venue like nothing else can," says Daniel Butcher, president of Farmingdale, N.Y.-based Luminous Designs. "It's an art form, like painting with the venue as your canvas." When performing a site inspection, Butcher first looks to see what should be highlighted and what should be kept in the shadows. It's important to keep shadows in mind while designing the event lighting, he says, because they can drown out tacky décor or other unsightly elements.

"When planning events at most venues, keep an open mind toward using outside vendors," suggests Butcher. "A lot of venues have in-house service providers. If the venue contract allows it, there may be substantial savings by going to an outside vendor. It can't hurt to get a second quote."

Not surprisingly, Butcher recommends the services of companies such as his, noting that a good lighting designer listens to a client's needs and tastes, makes suggestions and creatively coordinates the lighting design around the venue's capabilities. He warns against "one-stop shops" or deejay/entertainment companies that offer lighting packages to clients. "They typically create packages based on what makes them the most money or with what they have left in the warehouse," he says. "These packages typically are mediocre at best. It shocks me when a client hires us to beautifully transform a space, only to have a deejay show up with lights for the dance floor that flash and strobe with no reason or rhyme, even when no one is dancing. It's a huge contrast from the sophisticated elegance we design our lighting to offer."

Shop for props
Why buy the farm when you can rent it? Prop houses like Props for Today or Got Props in New York City and Barn Attic in the greater Washington, D.C., area have all sorts of unusual items in stock. Giant mirrors? Saarinen Tulip chairs? Antique medicine tins? Chances are good that you'll be able to rent something to make your space pop.

Ruth Fischl of High End Event Rentals in New York City sees tables as the "room-changers" for 2012, especially those that come with printed designs and textures. If you're renting one or two statement tables, consider smaller rounds set back from the action for desserts or even appetizers. You want your attendees to appreciate the ambience, but you also want to keep them circulating.

Add vibrant color
Pantone has named Tangerine Tango, an eye-popping bright orange with red undertones, its color of the year for 2012. The vibrant hue was chosen by Pantone's panel of design experts to inspire verve and vigor, and it might just inspire these qualities in your attendees. Bright orange can be overwhelming, so reserve Tangerine Tango for accent florals -- calla lilies, dahlias, gerbera daisies, roses and tulips in this striking shade, or napkin rings, candles or chargers. Planners on a budget also can fashion centerpieces from clementines and greenery.