On Tuesday, January 13th, Asa Hutchinson was inaugurated as the governor of Arkansas. That evening, the “A New Day in Arkansas Inaugural Ball” honored the new governor and first lady of our state. Shayla Copas, of Shayla Copas Interiors, was asked to create the design for the event. We asked her to share her experience in planning and preparing for the big event, and here’s what she had to say, along with some of her amazing first-look photos of the ball:
The last three months have been an incredible historical journey for me! When Governor Asa Hutchinson’s daughter, Sarah Hutchinson Wengel, contacted me to ask if I would serve as the event designer for the Arkansas Inaugural Ball—the largest ball in our state, I was honored and humbled to take on the task and so grateful to help create this milestone night for our state’s new first family.
As I do for many of the soirees I design, I first met with my “dream team,” the key players, whom I knew could bring their awesome talents to the project.
First up? Chris Norwood, Vice President of Tipton and Hurst Florist. Chris is a good and longtime friend, and his incredible floral designs have graced many a gala in our state. To give you a little background on Chris, he is a floral genius who has served as National President of the American Floral Institute of Floral Designers and, in the past, as their CEO and chairman. Last year, Chris was given the prestigious honor of being named as a fellow of the organization. Locally, you can catch Chris most Tuesday mornings on KATV sharing with Central Arkansans his brilliant floral design ideas.
Next, I met with Chris Pritchard, owner of CWP Productions in Little Rock. CWP is a full-service production company, known for providing incredible attention to detail. Chris has always been easy to work with, and it seems that there is never a crazy idea of mine that he is not able to bring to fruition. CWP provides lighting and production for many of the prestigious events in our area and around the state. From CARTI Tux and Trees to the OPUS Ball, he is well known as the guru of production.
Last, I met with James Schelnick who is head of events at the Marriott in downtown Little Rock. WOW! What a talented, fun, and inspiring man! Above all, he has mastered the art of customer service and has it down to an absolute science! From the minute I met James last year while serving as design chair for another event, I knew that he would do everything possible to make sure that the night went over as smoothly as possible. Taking great care to make sure the details were all tended to.
The design plans all started with Sarah Wengel, sitting at my breakfast table, and most of my inspiration came from the conversation we had about her dreams of what the ball would look like. She told me that the family’s goal was for the ball to be elegant, yet patriotic. Sarah also mentioned that she loves red roses and that red tulips are the First Lady’s absolute favorite.
With the parameters in place, I started planning and bringing together my ideas. I decided that we would present our “elegance factor” in the linens and florals and then add the patriotic flair to the lighting. With clear, red, and blue lighting we softened the hard lines of the convention center. We also added star-shaped gobo lighting around the room to soften, while also pumping up the patriotism. One detail I was very excited about was adding a 10-foot-wide red carpet down the center of the room, which we proudly lit with the star gobos down the center. The Governor and First Lady would walk down the red carpet on their big night!
Florals were one of the key focal points for the evening. As the convention center is stark and sterile, we needed to go large with our centerpieces. We decided to use a mixture of table sizes to fill the space and give it weight. Table sizes included long, narrow 144-inch tables, several 72-inch round tables, and table groupings of three “72”s pushed together in a clover shape. The clover-shaped groupings had a 30-inch platform in the middle that supported an oversized arrangement in an urn to add drama and weight. I decided that we should go for a southern flair with the arrangements, and from that and the inspiration images I showed Chris, he knocked the project out of the park! White lilies, hydrangeas, red roses, red tulips and English ivy were among the types of flowers and greens on the plan. Large, white-orchid chandeliers hung over the dance floor with crystal strands streaming down. Also hanging in the ballroom were groupings of floral wreaths sporting more crystal strands and orchids. Fabric was strung between the “chandeliers” to add drama and soften the space.
Shayla Copas with James Schelnick
For the inaugural linens I chose a neutral with a hint of glam. We used the Silver Birch linen by BBJ Linen, which glimmered in the lighting that evening—very “old Hollywood.” We also selected silver Chiavari chairs with cream satin pads. At each place setting, cream Shantung napkins folded in a narrow tri fold held the menu card.
Of course I would be remiss if I did not describe the fabulous and I MEAN FABULOUS take-away gift the first lady selected! First Lady Susan Hutchinson is a practical-yet-elegant hostess, so she made the thoughtful suggestion to give each guest a commemorative engraved charger with the official Inaugural logo. What a brilliant idea! We were planning to rent chargers for the event and now we were able to provide a charger and a gift in one. Talk about practical!
Asa Hutchinson III, Dave Wengel, Sarah Hutchinson Wengel, Governor Asa and First Lady Susan Hutchinson, Nubia Hutchinson and John Hutchinson
I am sure one might wonder how a ball of such magnitude might be funded. The inaugural was funded one hundred percent by private donations raised by a hardworking inaugural committee. Dave Wengel served as their fearless leader and also as co-chair of the ball with Sarah.
What an awesome experience to design the inaugural ball for our new first family. Not only were they great to work with—they were so very genuine and gracious! I am grateful to have served our state and our first family on such an historical project, and I would like to give a huge thanks to Sarah and Dave Wengel and to Governor Asa and First Lady Susan Hutchinson. I feel very blessed to know you and to have been of help on your big night. Enjoy the next four years Governor; you deserve it!
Thank you, Shayla, for this exciting behind-the-scenes look at the ball and at your hard work in designing it!
Event design Shayla Copas, Shayla Copas Interiors, Little Rock, (501) 258-7396, shaylacopas.com
Floral design Chris Norwood, Tipton & Hurst, Little Rock, (501) 666-3333, tiptonhurst.com
Lighting and production Chris Pritchard, CWP Productions, Little Rock, (501) 952-8885, cwpproductions.com
Linens BBJ Linen, bbjlinen.com