DIFFA’s Dining by Design
7×7 and California Home + Design, designed by JR Studio
Photo by Stephanie Penn Photography

San Francisco’s most highly anticipated high-design charitable event DIFFA’s (Design Industry Foundation Fighting AIDS) Dining by Design never ceases to delight guests every time and continues to raise money for the Positive Health Program of the UCSF AIDS Research Institute. Even during the toughest of economic times the local design community showed its support.

For the past ten years very winter between thirty and fifty creative luminaries have conjured up tabletop installations filled with elegance, whimsy, irony, intelligence and glamour. They have come from the world of interior, floral and event design, as well as architecture and fashion, but have also included an author and TV host, a criminal trial lawyer and a rabbi. The artistic mind may work in many fields, but it has repeatedly found creative expression in this unique event where the only requirements are to create a stunning environment within the given foot print and seat ten people for dinner. The rest has always been up to the imagination of its creator.

Ronette King, Anthony Garrett, Christie McRae
Photo by Arrowood Photography

Co-chairs this time were Anthony Garrett and Ronette King, with global architectural firms HOK and Gensler, and Christie McRae, president of the established McRae and Co. showroom.

And of course the arbiters of good taste from the world of design and architecture came to see what their colleagues dreamed up. Among them were interior designers Marc Blackwell, Rose Tarlow, Brenda Mickel, Matthew Leverone, Cecilia Segrera, George Brazil, James Marzo, Kathleen Navarra, Barbara Ashfield, David Hansen, Gary Hutton, Marian Wheeler, Brian Dittmar, Jay Jeffers, Melanie Coddington, industrial designer Yves Behar, art advisor Holly Baxter, architectural photographer David Duncan Livingston and creative business coach Michael Purdy.

David Parks & Shirley Parks
Photo by Arrowood Photography

Also in attendance were antique dealers Rod Hipskind, Inja Yang, and Heather Di Pitrello, Gump’s charming CEO Marta Benson, famed restaurateur Brandy Ho, the new publisher of 7×7 Susie McCormick, Gentry Magazine’s editorial director Stefanie Lingle Beasley, SOMA Magazine’s editor in chief Ali Ghanbarian, wine expert and writer W. Blake Gray, St. Regis Hotel’s general manager Toni Knorr, Design Investment’s managing partner Margaret E. Touborg, Academy of Art University’s president Dr. Elisa Stephens, NBC meteorologist Craig Herrera, philanthropist Amy Yang, and Zero Divide’s chief strategy officer Timothy Wu.

Tara Arrowood & Rose Tarlow
Photo by Arrowood Photography

Again the two-night event at the San Francisco Design Center, starting out with the Table Hop & Taste preview night followed by the Gala Dinner, proved that our ingenious local talents always have an abundance of new ideas, as each vignette offered its own surprises.

Joel Robare of JR Studio was asked to design the setting for 7×7 and California Home + Design magazines. Inspired by Amistead Maupin’s classic “The Tales of the City” he created a Bohemian-chic environment for an imaginary dinner party on Barbary Lane. Joel paired high Victorian antiques from Coup d’Etat with decor and colors from the ’70s. Reflecting on that time period he placed a bar tray with crystal decanters full of liquor right in the middle of the dinner table, filled tea cups with “magic” mushrooms and packed a silver tumbler with rolled white chocolate joints from Cake Works. His wit and elegance made this a stunning installation.

7×7 and California Home + Design, designed by JR Studio
Photo by Stephanie Penn Photography
Rhonda Hirata, Tim Treadway, Martha Thompson
Photo by Arrowood Photography

I had the pleasure of dining at Lisa Quinn’s table. Since she was at a shoot in Los Angeles we were graciously hosted by Lisa’s associate Kristi Witt who shared her excitement of helping with the installation by the TV host of “Home with Lisa Quinn”. Lisa was inspired by her of viewers, who most likely are watching her show while having dinner. So we watched her on TV as well, while indulging in a wonderful meal by Taste Catering and lounging on sofas and benches from Ikea, which was apparently the main resource for this design. Lisa and her team got an impressive presentation from a small budget.

Home with Lisa Quinn, designed by Lisa Quinn
Photo by Arrowood Photography
Barbara Buzon & Mauricio Sanchez
Photo by Arrowood Photography

Karman Ng of Cantilever Design and architect Carey Cheng also aimed to design a space not challenged by a limited budget. Most of the components came from Home Depot, and humble building materials were transformed into a striking contemporary design. Sustainability also played a big role in their choices. The platform was made from salvaged shipping palettes and FSC-certified plywood, the chairs and benches were also made from the same plywood and finished with a clear coat made from renewable whey proteins, and the artwork by local artist Jamie Spinello named “Leucos Kytos” represented the cell-based AIDS virus. It was comprised of upcycled materials such as plastic bottles, magazine pages and discarded plastic photo paper. Karman’s many years of attending the event as a guest prior to participating as a designer surely inspired him to also visually honor the charity itself in such a subtle fashion.

Cantilever Design, designed by Karman Ng and Carey Cheng
Photo: Arrowood Photography
Scot Meacham Wood, Donna Sachet, Mark Newman
Photo by Arrowood Photography

Gil Mendez’s vignette for Anthem and Murray’s Ironworks was both refined and rustic. Gil was inspired by the Mexican tree of life and the great courtyards of San Miguel de Allende. The cast aluminum chairs and console designed by Gil, the iron tree trunk table and chandelier, the nickel floor lamps, the tin flower mirrors, the silver candle sticks and the pewter trays, balanced by a soft wool rug from Tufenkian, reminiscent of stone tiles, and a centerpiece of succulents, all together created a ferrous fantasy that felt rooted in nature while still appearing surprisingly urban.

Murray’s Ironworks & Anthem, designed by Gil Mendez
Photo: Kathryn McDonald Photography
Deborah Greenspan, Tim Wu, Dr. John Greenspan
Photo by Arrowood Photography

Robert Fung with the event design company Hartmann Studios was not going for subtlety. Fuchsia patent leather chairs and walls were unapologetically paired with black and silver, giving off playful yet a slight naughty feel, but in a most agreeable fashion.

Hartmann Studios, designed by Robert Fung
Photo by Arrowood Photography
David Pace & Heide Betz
Photo by Arrowood Photography

Gensler went for a conceptual look reminding us all that Dining by Design after all is an AIDS fundraiser. Their theme of optimism was reflected in the words that made up the surrounding structure and the hundreds of ribbons hanging over their table, which guests joyfully collected.

Gensler
Photo by Arrowood Photography
Jane Evans & Paul Evans
Photo by Arrowood Photography

David Stark’s installation for Benjamin Moore’s made me feel like Gulliver travelling to Brobdingnag, as I passed a brush twice as tall as me and walked into a giant paint can. That is one of the wonderful things about Dining by Design, where one set as thought provoking as that of Gensler’s can be next to something so whimsical and humorous.

Benjamin Moore, designed by David Stark
Photo by Arrowood Photography
Janelle Loevner & Kirk Loevner
Photo by Arrowood Photography

Fashion designer to the First Lady Jason Wu collaborated with architect Giancarlo Valle who deconstructed the cube to create the tablescape for Stolichnaya Elit with an ice-cube-shaped light fixture, geometrically textured walls and an endless abundance of glassware, ready to be filled with some Vodka one assumes.

Stolichnaya Elite, designed by Jason Wu and Giancarlo Valle
Photo by Arrowood Photography
Drawing of the development of the shape of the room by Giancarlo Valle
Drawings courtesy of Giancarlo Valle
Joe Freund & Ron Ryan
Photo by Arrowood Photography

While Dining by Design is always the perfect opportunity for us designers to really play with the kind of drama some of our clients might perhaps find a bit over the top, some still go for understated elegance. That is what The Wiseman Group did with their installation for Shears & Window, which featured designs by Rose Tarlow Melrose House in a clean and modern dining room that could go straight from the event to someone’s home.

Shears & Window, designed by the Wiseman Group
Photo by Arrowood Photography

Dining by Design is an event filled with inspiration and countless ideas many take home to liven up their own dining rooms and table settings, but it also a fabulous celebrations of creative minds in support of the Positive Health Program, without which many people afflicted with AIDS would not have a place to go to get treatment and support. Our sincere thanks to all the sponsors and designers, the hardworking committee members and the volunteers who every year give it their all to make Dining by Design a success.