As a college student, it is not my dream to give up my Saturday by waking up early, heading into Center City, and decorating an old mansion for seven straight hours. But this past Saturday, November 2nd, that is exactly what I did, and it was all for a class project. Before anyone starts to feel sorry for me, let me say that not only was it fun, but it was the coolest school project I will probably ever get to do. When most people think of school, they envision students sitting in a classroom and taking notes from a PowerPoint, but Design and Merchandising students are lucky enough to say that school and learning is much more than that. So many of our classes not only give us hands on learning opportunities, but also the chance to work for real world clients.
My Visual Merchandising class was charged with designing and creating the decorations for a Masquerade Ball at the historic Stotesbury Mansion benefitting the Kelly Anne Dolan Memorial Fund this past weekend. The second annual event had about 300 attendees and was hosted in order to raise awareness for the Fund that supports families with ill children. The Masquerade Ball was even covered by local press including Philadelphia Magazine.
Our class was divided into teams, and each team presented designs to adorn the mansion’s staircase, doorways, mantles, chairs, and tables. Our inspiration was to enhance the historic mansion by adding components that would make the space sophisticated, mysterious, romantic and alluring. The client picked her favorite design for each component, and then each team executed their chosen pieces. My group was picked to decorate the staircase, chairs, fireplaces, and doorways. We were given a strict budget and a limited amount of time to install our decorations throughout the space.
The staircase was definitely our most challenging task; draping 14 yards of white organza up spiral stairs while keeping lights from falling out took several tries and a lot of perfection, but in the end we got it just right. Next, we added intricate masks to either side of the doorways, creating the illusion of walking through a mask when entering each room. They were made from Bristol board and laser cut in Drexel’s own making lab located in the URBN Center.
In the ballroom as well as on the second floor, we created two different types of chair decorations: one with elegant rosettes and the other with a more mysterious feel using black netting and paper flowers. We also wanted to bring the outdoors inside so we incorporated sticks and branches into our decorations by adding them into the fireplaces with pumpkins and skulls. When we left the mansion at 7pm, the entire place had the elegant yet mysteriously romantic feel of a true Masquerade Ball.
Ultimately, the client was pleased, and my classmates and I gained valuable learning experience. I worked with new materials and techniques to create the decorations and was able to put the visual merchandising principles that I’ve been learning into practice. Some people may see this as another boring school project, but I have come to appreciate the opportunities that Drexel and the Design and Merchandising program gives its students. Years from now when I look back on my college experience, I’m not going to remember sitting in lecture halls listening to professors, but instead opportunities like this that taught me more than any PowerPoint presentation ever could.