I heard this years ago and it could not be truer:  “When you come to us, we can offer you quality, quantity and price – now – you may only select two…”

While Congress doesn’t seem to know what the word “budget” means—let alone whether or not they should limit our nation’s—dealing with budgets is a necessary component of event design. And contrary to many a misconception about our industry, I have always been a big proponent of setting event budgets and sticking with them. As a creative, it is my job to conceptualize designs that meet your budget, exceed your expectations, and still leave me with enough money to keep the doors of david beahm design open. Of course, in this industry, talking about the realities of money is never any fun, when all you truly want to do is let your imagination run wild. Being in the business of making dreams a reality, it is oft way too easy to say, “what the heck, they’re only getting married once – let fly!” Non, non, mon frère, non, non.

Nan Kempner, the dry-humored late New Yorker whom Diana Vreeland called the only chic woman in America, once quipped about getting dressed for an event: on her way out of her Park Avenue duplex, she’d stop at the mirror in the grand foyer and remove one accessory—a ring, a bracelet, or what have you—that way she knew she was never overdressed. Of course, Nan was a discerning woman with all the money in the world at her disposal (or at least enough to single-handedly fund Yves Saint Laurent’s career). And yet, she knew where to draw lines, and even more importantly, that there are lines to be drawn at all.

Sometimes when you’re dealing with (virtually unlimited) budgets, it means being creative with the look, but also with the numbers. The limits (or lack thereof) of a budget can and do often dictate the scope of our capacity to execute big ideas. While it’s true that some of the projects I’ve worked on have had the kind of financial backing that has allowed me, for example, to bring an entire 737 jet into an event space, a big budget doesn’t always make for better design.

I remember creating a wedding for a lovely family who could have anything in this world that they wanted.  A check with lots of zeroes?  No problem. And since their guests were already aware of the extent of the their wealth, the family knew they needed not step out of the bounds of taste and style in order to prove anything. But they also knew they must step-up to the plate, as it were. Frankly, the worst offense their event could garner would be an eye roll.

You must believe me when I say that their event was beautiful: custom woven cloths, new Blue Willow china settings for 400, custom flower pieces that took particular skill on the part of my team to create (beautiful to the eye, but only the truly discerning could tell that a lot of money had been invested). The initial conceptualization of the event was indeed extravagant, but our team worked diligently with the client to edit. What resulted was elegant and clearly expensive, but never, ever ostentatious. And that is the kind of exercise in control that is truly creative.

The bottom line is this: an unlimited budget is appropriate when you have a very clear structure and vision, and can build the discipline within yourself as a designer to know when to stop. If you’ve ever truly doubted the problems in taste that can arise from an unlimited budget, look no further than the choices that the late King of Pop made during the shopping spree segment of his 2002 documentary, Living With Michael Jackson.

However the limits for your aesthetic choices are set (whether by your own accord or that of your accountant), conscious constraint is a necessary component to the design process.

The Secret Ingredient: The discipline to know where to draw lines.

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  1. Azia

    Time to face the music armed with this great ifnoramtoin.

  2. Maxx

    i’ve been following your blog since you steratd it i think, it gets better and better, love the quality of the media and the writing, gives me great tips too especially on manhattan apt gardening, thanks, keep it up!

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