Perfect Surroundings Inc. of Newport, R.I., is specifically in the business of making events feel extra special by using unique designs and décor items. When the company was hired to produce an event for Roger Williams University in the summer of 2006, the team was given nearly free rein to design an unforgettable occasion. Though there were challenges along the way, the result was a truly one-of-a-kind event.
Richard Carbotti started Perfect Surroundings nearly 30 years ago, when he got a big break designing some parties for the British royal family. In addition to sons Evan and Jordan, Carbotti considers designer Dwayne Ridgaway to be a crucial part of the family’s event production business. “He’s another main part of our team,” says Evan Carbotti. “He’s like family.” And because Ridgaway had contacts at Roger Williams University, Perfect Surroundings was hired to design the summer function. Since the university didn’t have a look or style in mind, Ridgaway spearheaded an exceptional design concept for the event, which took place at the stately Marble House on Newport’s famous Cliff Walk.
The tent installation on the grounds of Marble House began three days before the event. For tented events, Perfect Surroundings works with Newport Tent Co. of Portsmouth, R.I. “We use Newport Tent whenever we get the chance,” Carbotti says. “We are not always the ones that pick what tent company we work with, but we certainly have the best relationship with [Newport Tent].” Bill Corcoran and his team at Newport Tent had their own set of challenges for this event. It rained a couple of days beforehand, and they had to decide whether to add flooring to the entire bottom of the tent to cover the soggy ground. “They were going to put a floor down that day,” Carbotti says. “But the cost is so much, so we decided to get huge fans to blow the grass dry.” The approach was a success and the team continued with installing and decorating both tents.
Originally, the event only called for one tent. But at the last minute, the university asked for a second tent for the school’s big donors. “Their concern was the way big donors were treated,” Carbotti says. “They really wanted the VIP section to be separate. It was a last-minute thing they threw at us, a couple of days before the event.” Ridgaway and the team at Perfect Surroundings managed to pull together a quick and relatively inexpensive way to dress up the inside of the tent: Parasols. The team hung upside-down parasols from the ceiling of the tent to hide its frame and to provide an unusual ambience.
Another challenge for this event was the use of space (the “flow”), a crucial factor that seasoned event designers know can cause problems. Though pre-dinner lounge spaces are ideal, Carbotti explains, if they are too comfortable then people are reluctant to leave and go to the main dinner tent. Though it’s a constant struggle, he says the team has learned to stick around and see how the space gets used. “There’s no better way to know what you should do next time than to kind of hang around the event and notice how people use the space and how the flow goes.”
Despite the many challenges and the hours of hard work, Carbotti says the event was a success. “People didn’t really know what they were walking into. Roger Williams loved it. They were definitely pleased.” And he says the team will continue to get repeat business from Roger Williams due to Ridgaway’s relationship with the university. “We are extremely fortunate to have him as part of our team,” Carbotti says, “especially because without him we would not have been able to be a part of this great event!”