Professional Party Makers
Affairs with Flair. Why do the work? Parties are supposed to be fun, remember? Whom you can hire for your soirees this holiday season.
Got a party to plan?
These elite professionals can make your wildest dreams come true.
If your last experience of party planning involved ordering a piñata and stopping by Carvel for a whale-shaped cake, you might be surprised at what a true party-planning professional can accomplish. Basically, if you can imagine it (and if your pockets are deep enough), there’s an elite corps of celebration specialists who can make it happen. Fly 100 of your nearest and dearest out to Aspen for an all-out 40th birthday bash? No problem. Convert a hangar at Westchester County Airport into a Manhattan-style nightclub? Done. And if your party fantasy involves living statues, recreations of Greek temples, 3,000 fresh sunflowers, or even a dusting of man-made snow, well, they’ve been there and done that.
Whether your plans include an intimate wedding for 75, a bar mitzvah for 300, or a you-only-live-once bacchanal for a dozen lucky friends, party planners can do the job (and yes, it really is a job) with style, efficiency, and a minimum of effort on your part.
To get you started on the party of your dreams, we’ve rounded up Westchester’s top party planners. And while you might have to toss money like confetti to procure their services (an “inexpensive” event typically starts at $50,000), these men and women can make any event an affair to remember.
A Most Creative Affair
Tarrytown (914) 631-7475
PRINCIPALS: Sister-in-laws Elyssa Feldman Most and Andrea Most Gottschall partnered in 2004 to start A Most Creative Affair. Most spent years as a wardrobe stylist for film and television, and Gottschall previously sold stationery from her home before expanding into the party-planning business.
NUMBER/TYPES OF EVENTS: The two organize about 15 events per year, primarily weddings and the accompanying bridal showers and rehearsal dinners.
POINT OF DIFFERENCE: One of the key attractions for brides is A Most Creative Affair’s Tarrytown studio, which is chock full of wedding-invitation and stationery books. The bride-to-be can sit and relax while choosing the invitation that best suits her taste and budget, and has the added bonus of being able to pick out ceremony programs, menus, and seating cards all in one place.
VENUES: The partners are the ceremony coordinators for the Central Park Boat House in Manhattan. They’ve also done local parties at Castle on the Hudson and Abigail Kirsch at Tappan Hill, both in Tarrytown; the Trump National Golf Course in Briarcliff Manor; and the Whitby Castle in Rye. Favorite Vendors: The partners are partial to Pâtisserie Lulu in Scarsdale for wedding cakes and cupcakes and are big fans of Michael George Flowers in Manhattan and Pound Ridge. They also like Scott Whittle Photography and the Hank Lane Orchestra, both based in Manhattan.
FEES: A Most Creative Affair charges $175 an hour for pre-event consultations and $200 an hour for day-of services. Pricing for handling your entire event, including taking care of all the details and an unlimited number of hours, is available upon request. Most of the company’s events have budgets ranging from $60,000 to $300,000.
Best Do-It-Yourself Tip: “Use color as a sophisticated way to make your wedding more unique,” Most says. “Try orange, chartreuse, or chocolate brown, which are all very in at the moment. No matter what color you choose, weave it through your entire event to tie everything together.”
Carolyn Dempsey Design
Port Chester (914) 937-7504
PRINCIPAL: Carolyn Dempsey worked for several floral shops before being hired by David Beahm Design in New York City. She served as production manager for Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones’s wedding in 2000. The following year, she decided to go off on her own and now has a company focusing on floral artistry and “event environments.”
Number/Types of Events: Dempsey handles 30 to 40 parties per year, including b’nai mitzvahs, weddings, birthdays, private dinner parties, and galas. Events range in size from an intimate dinner party for 12 to a gala for more than 1,000 people.
POINT OF DIFFERENCE: Dempsey’s background in environmental design enables her to turn even the simplest table into a dramatic statement. For a recent 40th-birthday party held in a tent set up on a private beach in Greenwich, Connecticut, Dempsey brought in two long Plexiglas tables that were illuminated from below with soft white light. She covered the tables in runners made of different shaped and sized glass vessels, which were brimming with white flowers such as orchids, calla lilies, and lady’s mantle, and punctuated by hurricane vases filled with floating candles and turquoise sea glass.
VENUES: Loft spaces in New York City, including the Metropolitan Pavilion, Powerhouse Loft at the Museum of Natural History, and Harry’s Loft. Also, local country clubs, such as Beach Point in Mamaroneck, Rockrimmon in Stamford, Connecticut, Sleepy Hollow in Scarborough, and Brae Burn in Purchase.
FAVORITE VENDORS: Dempsey frequently works with Marybeth’s Caterers in Greenwich, Connecticut, Le Potager Catering in Stamford, Connecticut, Foremost Caterers in Moonachie, New Jersey, Gourmet Palette in Westport, Connecticut, and Thomas Pereti in Manhattan. For DJs, she turns to On the Move Events and Allen Dalton Productions, both in Manhattan.
FEES: For on-site design, labor, and setup/breakdown charges, Dempsey charges roughly 20 percent of the décor budget. There is a 15 percent commission if she’s coordinating the entire event. Parties she’s worked on have had budgets ranging from $50,000 to $250,000, with décor ranging from $20,000 to $150,000.
BEST DO-IT-YOURSELF TIP: “Go to local stores such as Marshalls, HomeGoods, and Pottery Barn, and find unusual vases to put your flowers in. Make sure they match or have a similar feeling to the others you’ve chosen. Then buy flowers and put one type in each vase —all red tulips in one, all purple hydrangea in another, all cream roses in another—and line them up down a long dining room table or spread them out on several tables. For a finishing touch, add pillar candles and small votives.
DJ Chain Events
Croton-on-Hudson (914) 271-2110
PRINCIPAL: DJ Chain entered the party-planning business in 2001, after 17 years in the fashion industry, including a four-year stint as the fashion director of Lord & Taylor.
NUMBER/TYPES OF EVENTS: Chain handles 15 to 20 parties per year, including social and corporate affairs, as well as galas for nonprofit organizations. Chain has organized events ranging from an intimate 40th-birthday party to the national launch of a new product for Olay.
POINT OF DIFFERENCE: When you’re hiring a former fashionista, you’re going to end up with an event whose colors and textures are all woven together to create an event that is picture perfect. That’s exactly what Chain did for Dara Chase and David Marceau, who were married last July. According to Chain, “Everything revolved around the Tiffany-blue color, from the wedding invitations that arrived inside a Tiffany-blue folder to the blue tablecloths with white Battenberg-lace overlay. Even the table cards and menus were printed on that instantly recognizable blue stock.”
VENUES: Chain’s favorite venue is a tent in a client’s backyard because, she says, “it’s the most personal type of venue, although the hardest and most expensive to do.” She’s also a big advocate of historical buildings such as the C.V. Rich Mansion in White Plains, Castle on the Hudson in Tarrytown, Capitale in lower Manhattan, and the Hudson Theatre in midtown Manhattan.
FAVORITE VENDORS: Robert Stark Lighting in Manhattan; David Beahm Design in New York City; Paper Passions in Mount Kisco; Bruce Plotkin Photography in Wilton, Connecticut. For catering: Sarah Bouissou of Bernard’s in Ridgefield, Connecticut; Michelle LeGoues in Shrub Oak; and Jonathan Pratt from Peter Pratt’s Inn in Yorktown Heights. For desserts: La Tulipe in Mount Kisco and Sylvia Weinstock Cakes in New York City.
FEES: Chain’s fee is based on the type of event she’s handling, but she generally charges 15 percent of the total budget. Parties she’s worked on have run from $50,000 to $1.4 million, with most costing between $100,000 and $250,000.
BEST DO-IT-YOURSELF TIP: “No matter the type of party or time of day it’s held, always use lots of candles—it makes guests look good and adds a soft, romantic touch to your event.”
Imagine Party & Events
Scarsdale (917) 848-9146
PRINCIPALS: Scarsdale residents Debbie Wecker, a former corporate meetings planner, and Stacey Baumer, who’d worked in design and product development for a family toy company, have been planning parties together for the past six years.
NUMBER/TYPES OF EVENTS: The partners organize about 10 parties per year, primarily weddings, b’nai mitzvahs, and milestone birthdays (40th and 50th are biggies). They also take on corporate parties on occasion.
POINT OF DIFFERENCE: “Someone who wants a cookie-cutter type of party would never hire us,” Wecker maintains. The duo specializes in high-end, big-budget parties, in which interactive entertainment often is a central feature—and, yes, that may include parasailing. For a recent 50th-birthday bash for a man who had a group of very athletic, competitive friends, Imagine developed a Greek Olympics party theme, complete with swimming races and track meets, banquet tables piled high with a Greek feast, and living statues painted like marble. If that wasn’t enough, the two hired designers to recreate an ancient Acropolis in the couple’s backyard.
VENUES: Favorite local venues include the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College; Hampshire Country Club in Mamaroneck; The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester; and L’Escale Restaurant in Greenwich, Connecticut. In the city, they’ve planned events at The Pierre and The Waldorf-Astoria, as well as the Roxy nightclub and Capitale, a former grand banking hall that’s now a ballroom.
FAVORITE VENDORS: For décor: David Stark Designs in Brooklyn, Matthew David Events in Manhattan, Ed Libby & Company in Manhattan, and locally, X-Quisite Flowers & Events in New Rochelle. For food, Imagine frequently uses Laurence Craig Catering in Maplewood, New Jersey, and RG Catering in Greenwich, Connecticut.
FEES: The partners charge 15 percent of the total cost of the event. They work on events with budgets ranging from $150,000 to $2 million; their average party runs $250,000.
BEST DO-IT-YOURSELF TIP: “What makes a great party are the personal touches,” Baumer says. She suggests blowing up photos of the host along with friends and family and putting them in picture frames as decorations for the cocktail hour.
Life of the Party Productions, LLC Armonk (914) 273-5527
PRINCIPALS: Partners Lisa Ehrlich Rapkin and Emily Schmalholz both have backgrounds in television production, including stints at MTV and VH1. After moving up to Northern Westchester in 2001, the two hooked up and started exploring the possibility of producing a television show on high-end party planners. Instead, they ended up entering the business themselves.
SPECIALTY: Life of the Party has built up a reputation for putting on hip, edgy parties that are both interactive and fun. To break the ice at a recent 50th birthday celebration, the partners hired a 10-piece djembe band to bang out world music on drums, and arriving guests were invited to join in on the additional 50 drums provided.
NUMBER/TYPES OF EVENTS: The duo produces 10 events per year, mostly b’nai mitzvahs and adult theme parties. For a recent party centered on the Tour de France, the party planners arranged for a surprise visit by Bob Roll, a television reporter for the Tour on the Outdoor Life Network.
POINT OF DIFFERENCE: Because of their TV production background, the two have good connections with art directors, prop houses, DJs and an experienced MTV/VH1 cameraman. Want to create a video about the life of your daughter and make it look like something you’d see on MTV? Life of the Party can bring in one of its old camera crews to film interviews and greetings from all your loved one’s friends and family and then add in old video footage, cutting-edge graphic design, and hand-picked music to create a high-end video. “We’ll produce it like it was a special on Bruce Springsteen,” Rapkin says.
VENUES: The partners have put on events at Au Ciel…The SPACE, a loft in Irvington overlooking the Hudson River, Aura nightclub in White Plains, and the Moroccan-themed Club 201 in Englewood, New Jersey. For more traditional venues, they’ve turned to the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, Glen Island Harbour Club in New Rochelle, the Renaissance Westchester in White Plains, Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bedford Corners, and the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.
FAVORITE VENDORS: For food, Life of the Party frequently hires Matt Miller Culinary Productions in Briarcliff Manor; for design, X-Quisite Flowers & Events in New Rochelle, Au Ciel in Irvington, and Betsy & Co. in Norwalk, Connecticut; and for DJs, New York City-based Untouchable Events and Total Entertainment in Englewood, New Jersey.
FEES: There is a commission of 15 percent of the entire party, with most parties ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 and up.
BEST DO-IT-YOURSELF TIP: “As a party favor, create a music CD with all the host’s favorite songs and design a personalized cover.”
Pleasantville (914) 741-0046
PRINCIPALS: Partners Steel Swift, his wife, Tricia, and Aidan Corish started their award-winning production group 20 years ago and today have offices in Westchester; Los Angeles; Cannes, France; and Vilnius, Lithuania. While their specialties are trade shows and museum exhibitions, the trio of environmental designers and fabricators entered the field of fundraising galas several years ago.
NUMBER/TYPES OF EVENTS: The company handles approximately 12 events per year, mostly corporate, but some charitable events and private parties as well.
POINT OF DIFFERENCE: “We have the technical ability to execute anything that our imagination can come up with—nothing is impossible,” says Swift. These guys have thrown parties in which they’ve brought in 3,000 fresh sunflowers to recreate the feeling of the Western prairie, or arranged for a snow machine to cover guests in a sea of white powder. Tangram can handle the design, fabrication, and project management of an entire event. The firm has a 28,000-square-foot woodworking and scenic design shop that enables it to create different types of décor or themes and offer customization. VENUES: Tangram frequently converts big, open raw spaces into stunning environments, from the tennis bubble at the Saw Mill Club in Mount Kisco to the Westair Hangar at Westchester County Airport.
FAVORITE VENDORS: For catering, Tangram turns to Robbins Wolfe Eventeurs out of New York City. The firm also uses Stamford Tents, Bestek Lighting & Staging out of Long Island, and Manhattan-based Starlight Orchestras featuring Marianne Bennett.
FEES: Design fees usually are 20 percent of total production costs; their events’ budgets generally start at $50,000.
BEST DO-IT-YOURSELF TIP: “Do something unexpected, like passing out liqueur-flavored snow cones for a party with a winter theme.”
Mamaroneck, (914) 777-3817
New York City, (212) 229-9280
PRINCIPAL: When it comes to party planning, David Tutera has become a household name. You probably saw the fairy-tale wedding he created for Star Jones Reynolds. Tutera’s the party planner of choice for such celebrities as Elton John and Jennifer Lopez, too. In addition, he has got his own show, The Party Planner with David Tutera, on the Discovery Home Channel, and has just published his fourth book, Big Birthdays: The Party Planner Celebrates Life’s Milestones.
SPECIALTY: The trademark of a David Tutera party is his appeal to the five senses. There should be the smell of food and flowers and the taste of fabulous drinks and hors d’oeuvres. You should see great décor, lighting, and candles; touch crisp napkins and sleek glasses; and hear music and guests’ laughter, he says.
NUMBER/TYPES OF EVENTS: Tutera plans approximately 100 parties a year, 12 personally, and the rest with his staff of 40 designers.
SPECIFIC EXPERTISE: Tutera is a leader when it comes to setting trends. That’s why he’s the popular author of four books and makes regular appearances on ABC’s The View and TBS’s Movie and the Makeover. Tutera’s parties offer a fast-paced, high-energy experience and make guests feel like they’re part of the action. “I like to move people around from cocktails to dinner to dessert—either in different locations or by breaking a space into separate areas,” he says.
SERVICES PROVIDED: Tutera can handle every detail of an event, from picking out the invitations to selecting the goodie bags. “I’ll be there from the moment the project starts to the moment it ends, and everything in between,” he says. “I’ll have my hands on everything.”
POINT OF DIFFERENCE: Call on Tutera to surmount any type of challenge, no matter how demanding the situation. In fact, that’s exactly what he did for Louis Cappelli and Donald Trump, who recently hired him to plan the party celebrating their new luxury high-rise condominium complex, Trump Tower at City Center, in White Plains. Tutera virtually had to overcome the impossible by creating a party for more than 700 VIPs on the 9th-floor roof garden of the uncompleted building. With no electricity to plug into, Tutera brought in generators and hired several cranes to get everything up and down from the site.
VENUES: Locally, Tutera likes the “black box” Repertory Theatre at the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College and the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, while in the city, some of his favorite locations are The Pierre Hotel, Loft 11, and Crobar.
FAVORITE VENDORS: Tutera’s choice picks include Sonnier & Castle Catering and Bentley Meeker Lighting, both in New York City, as well as Stamford Tent Rentals.
FEES: You, too, can have David Tutera plan your next big party, if you’re willing to spend the $40,000 to bring him on board. That’s the starting price for him to personally handle your event. For a smaller fee, you can work with members of his staff who operate under his supervision.
BEST DO-IT-YOURSELF TIP: Tutera says “a great way to break the ice is to set up a self-service bar, frame the specialty drink recipes, and let your guests enjoy the process of following the recipe and making new friends in the process. “Guests,” he says, “naturally congregate around the bar and this is a great way to have the party become interactive.”
Preferred Events, Inc.
Purchase (914) 946-7123
PRINCIPAL: Virginia Vetrano has 25 years of experience in catering, hotel and conference-center sales, and party planning. She planned Bonnie Raitt’s wedding, organized a masquerade ball for Donald Trump, has handled parties for Jeanine Pirro, and has orchestrated galas for the Westchester Arts Council.
NUMBER/TYPES OF EVENTS: Vetrano handles 30 “day-of” parties per year, mostly weddings and b’nai mitzvahs.
POINT OF DIFFERENCE: Vetrano has recently entered a new phase of her business, in which she’s specializing in “day-of” party-planning services. She explains that clients are becoming savvier and want to hire her more for logistics, not choices. “They don’t need me to select an invitation, but they want to know on the day of the event that all the seating cards are laid out properly and that table number six is set for ten people.”
VENUES: Vetrano’s first choice in Manhattan is the Metropolitan Club. In Westchester, she says, Sleepy Hollow Country Club is the most beautiful building, Abigail Kirsch at Tappan Hill offers the best Hudson River views, Castle on the Hudson has her favorite wedding suite, and Tarrytown House boasts the prettiest outdoor terrace.
FAVORITE VENDORS: For flowers, Vetrano favors Diana Gould in Elmsford and House of Flowers in Mamaroneck. She loves Manhattan-based Sarah Merians for photography and raves about Abigail Kirsch’s off-premise catering. For dessert, she’s partial to Sweet Lisa’s in Greenwich, Magnificent Edibles in White Plains, and La Tulipe in Mount Kisco. For invitations, it’s R.S.V.P. in Mamaroneck; for lighting, Stortz Lighting in Manhattan; for rentals, Stamford Tent; and for bands, New York City Swing with Dorey DeQuatro in Manhattan.
FEES: Fees range from $2,000 to $4,000 for “day-of” services, based on how elaborate the event is. Most events Vetrano works on have budgets of $75,000 to $150,000.
BEST DO-IT-YOURSELF TIP: “Go to www.mymms.com and order custom-printed M&M’s to put out on tables in clear, square glass jars. You can match the M&M’s with your party colors and add personalized messages.”
Debra Lewin Weiner
Shindigs & Extravaganzas
Scarsdale (914) 472-9810
PRINCIPAL: Debra Lewin Weiner has been a party-planning professional for more than 20 years. Her mother, Constance Lewin, is herself a party planner in Rye Brook.
SPECIALTY: Weiner says her emphasis on making the party personal is what gives it heart and sets it apart. She says, “When I first meet with a client, I try to get an understanding of who they are. When I capture a person’s unique personality, then I can use that to create the warmth, energy, and spirit that make an event special.” For the bat mitzvah of a girl whose family wanted to show how much they cherished their friends and relatives, Weiner put framed photographs of every guest at the adult tables and had transparencies of all the attending boys and girls blown up on illuminated long tables for the kids.
NUMBER/TYPES OF EVENTS: Weiner plans 15 to 20 parties a year, including private dinner parties, weddings, b’nai mitzvahs, and significant birthdays. Count on that number to stay steady; Weiner’s chosen to limit the number of parties she handles so she can give each one the “individual attention it deserves.”
POINT OF DIFFERENCE: “There’s really nothing I won’t undertake to help out a client,” she says. For example, just hours before an event, Weiner inspected the restroom trailer and didn’t like the way the floor looked so she ran out and bought carpet and had it cut and installed before the guests arrived. She has also spent days putting together hospitality bags, sometimes going to 10 different stores to find just the right items, from strictly kosher products from Israel to splits of boutique wine.
VENUES: Weiner’s taken over a hangar at Westchester County Airport and created a nightclub look for the cocktail hour and then guests moved to a “downtown gallery” for dinner and dancing where each table featured sculptures composed of car parts. She’s also a fan of the Mamaroneck Beach Club for its beautiful water views, the “black box” Repertory Theatre at SUNY Purchase, and Lyndhurst for its historic charm and unusual carriage-house courtyard. In addition, she loves working in clients’ homes because “it’s the most personal kind of invitation and a setting that only they can offer.”
FAVORITE VENDORS: While she works with numerous vendors, she can always count on Matt Miller Culinary Productions in Briarcliff Manor for great food, Foremost Caterers in New Jersey for kosher events, SBK Florist in Manhattan for superb flowers, and Tom Kaufman Productions and the Shalom Orchestra, both based in New York City, for entertainment. To top it off, she says Pâtisserie Lulu in Scarsdale does fabulous and delicious cakes and also has the advantage of being kosher.
FEES: Weiner charges a flat fee for large events. Special arrangements can be made for smaller events and hourly consulting is available. Most parties she works on are in the $75,000 to $175,000 range.
BEST DO-IT-YOURSELF TIP: “For an outdoor party on a crisp evening, gather a basketful of shawls and wraps to distribute to guests who might be feeling a bit of a chill.”
Laura Joseph Mogil is a freelance writer residing in Briarcliff Manor. She wishes she had hired a party planner to help her with her son’s December bar mitzvah.