White House outsources design duties to Rafanelli Events, known for creating Chelsea Clinton's wedding..."American Hospitality" is the inspiration for the decor, which mingles traditional Korean flourishes with an autumn palette...
For President Obama and First Lady Obama's State Dinner in honor of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and First Lady Kim Yoon-ok, the dramatically lit East Room looks like Thanksgiving gone beautifully wild. The State Dinner begins at 8:35 PM, and the inspiration for the decor is "American Hospitality," to symbolize the friendship between the US and Korea, according to the White House. (Above: The Head Table, where the two Presidential Couples will sit, joined by 16 guests)
There are 222 guests on the list of expected attendees, and they will be treated to a feast that spotlights both local sourcing--the Fall Harvest of Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden in particular--and Wagyu Beef, sourced from a Texas ranch. The extravagant decor, which features floral arrangements with symbolically meaningful blooms intermixed with literally hundreds of apples, was outsourced to Rafanelli Events Management.
Noted the White House: "Tonight’s design, created by Rafanelli Events, is a celebration of autumn. It embraces a bright fall palette of oranges, reds and greens, with apples featured in centerpieces, wall installations and window medallions. The featured chrysanthemums also symbolize fall in Korean culture." (Above: A long view of the East Room, with gobo shadows of leaves visible on the ceiling)
The tablecloths, chairs, chair cushions, flower vases, and lighting rigs being used in the East Room are all rentals, according to an aide.
The much-in-demand Rafanelli firm creates "the nation’s most exclusive and high-profile events" from its offices in Boston, New York, DC, and Palm Beach, according to its website. These have included former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton's "wedding of the decade," the Obama's last State Dinner, in honor of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Obama inaugural celebrations.
Round tables with seating for ten guests surround the long rectangular Head Table, where the two Presidents and First Ladies will dine with sixteen guests. The Head Table is placed in the center of the room, against the back wall, and the First Couple will all sit on the same side, facing outward. The Clinton State China, created to honor the 200th anniversary of the White House, will be used. The cream-colored, gold rimmed plates are the only White House china that features images of historic US architectural masterpieces in the center of the plate rather than the Presidential seal. White napkins with the Presidential seal are at each place. (Above: President Obama's place setting in the center of the head table. President Lee is seated on his right side and Mrs. Kim is on his left)
Each table had a dedicated color scheme, whether green, orange or red, and the flower arrangements on each table reflect the dominant color. The cushions on each chair are a plaid that mingles all the colors, and the chairs themselves are a change for dinner events. They are made of dark wood, rather than the usual gold ladder back chairs that are typically used for dinners. (Above: A red-themed table)
Korean culture and craftsmanship honored...
"The inspiration for the Republic of Korea State Dinner is American Hospitality. At State Dinners, we extend our hand in friendship and convey a generosity of spirit designed to welcome guests. In the spirit of that hospitality, some of the design elements are a reflection of Korea’s culture and craftsmanship," noted the White House.
Each guest will receive a menu card for the evening that depicts the Korean art of knotting because "the union of string and tassel represents perfect harmony," according to the White House. Bamboo containers are featured on some of the dining tables, and chrysanthemums are included in the floral arrangements. There is a trio of long, tall bamboo candle holders on a number of the tables. (Above: A green-themed table. On some tables, large vases held dramatic branches laden with berries in hues of yellow and red)
"In Korea, bamboo represents integrity and chrysanthemums are a sign of a productive and fruitful life," notes the White House. "Hibiscus is the national flower of the Republic of Korea and will be featured in an art installation made of paper flowers in the Upper Cross Hallway."
First Lady's campaign is honored with apples...
The graphic logo for Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! campaign is designed around an apple, and the hundreds of apples anchoring the flower arrangements are also an homage to the First Lady's signature initiative, according to the White House.
Simple china pots of varying sizes adorn the tables to hold floral arrangements. (Above: Granny Smith apples in the centerpiece of a green-themed table)
Lights and shadows in the shape of harvest leaves and apples were cast on the walls and ceiling of the East Room, as well as in the Cross Hall. Columns were wrapped in a textured cream silk.
This evening, Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford and Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses are working free of the encumbrance of a guest chef. Tonight marks the fifth State Dinner of the Administration, and the third in 2011. The event is also the second State Dinner under the charge of Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard. His selection of Rafanelli Events is savvy; founder and CEO Bryan Rafanelli has been hailed as "the event planner of the year" by Town & Country magazine, and he makes frequent TV appearances. But Rafanelli, according to his reviews, is also known for his discretion.
Musical performances at the reception...
A reception featuring musical performances after the dinner will be in the State Dining Room, starting at 10:00 PM. Performances will be by the classical music The Ahn Trio, sisters born in Seoul, Korea, and vocalist Janelle Monáe, "singer, songwriter, producer, and performer from Kansas City, Kansas," who has received multiple Grammy nominations. (Above: A long view of the East Room, with the Head Table in the background)
In the Cross Hallway, which is between the East Room and the State Dining Room, there were two huge "art installations" made of paper Hibiscus, the national flower of the Republic of Korea.
Updated & related: A post about the Presidential toasts is here. A video preview of the menu is here. A report on the guest arrivals, with video, is here. The brief, soggy arrival ceremony under the North Portico is here. Details on Mrs. Obama's gown are here. The Presidents' joint news conference is here. The morning Arrival Ceremony is here.
*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama