Party Girl | By Rebekah Sanderlin
● Published by Anonymous
Cynthia Ross often finds herself at the center of a party – exactly the last place she ever thought she’d be.
“It’s odd,” she said, “but I’m not a party person.”
However, as the owner of C.P. Ross Designs, Ross is known for for her award-winning table designs. She uses everyday materials like flowers, plates and glasses to create fanciful and whimsical worlds for her very discerning clients. Her tablescapes can cost thousands of dollars to put together and have been featured in wedding planning magazines and books. Year after year she ranks among the top designers in the country for her work and said she can walk into a bare room and immediately visualize exactly how she wants to decorate it for an event. Still, Ross said she’s shy by nature and, when she attends an event as a guest, she’s more likely to hang tight to the walls.
“As a child I always wanted to be an actress,” Ross said. “Now it’s like the best of both worlds. It’s like taking on a character role when I plan an event.”
Ross began dabbling in event planning about 20 years ago while still living in her hometown of Florence, SC and she has been seriously planning events for the past 10 years. When she first moved to Fayetteville in 1996 she volunteered with The Arts Council in order to gain event planning experience. After a few years of donating her services to The Arts Council she said she felt ready to plan events for paying clients.
“I just love what I do,” she said. “Every event is like a new set of challenges.”
These days she is most known for her elaborate table designs. Using common items like candlesticks, chargers, china, flatware and uncommon items like – well, pretty much anything – she has made a name for herself as one of the premier table designers in the country. Ross said she discovered the world of table decorating at a special events conference in Las Vegas in 2004.
“It was like going to Disney World for events,” Ross said. “I couldn’t get enough of it. I saw the tabletops competition and thought: I am going to enter that.”
And that’s what she did. The following year Ross sketched out an intricate design for a wedding table for four and entered it in the under $1000 competition at the conference. Every element of the design had to include a price. To her great surprise, her design was one of only five picked to be on display at the event. She was hooked.
“Just being selected is like winning because they only pick five designs,” she said. “I never thought they’d pick mine because nobody knew me. I was a nobody.”
She entered the tabletops competition again in 2006, this time with a table design themed “Ernest Hemingway by the Sea.” She used organic elements such as bamboo chairs and place mats and heavy wooden accents and glass lanterns to evoke a masculine feel not commonly found in the event planning world. Her coup de grace was placing a message in a bottle – a different quote from Hemingway himself – at each place setting. She won the competition and says that table is still her favorite of all her designs.
Ross’ table designs have since been featured in Wedding Style magazine and in a coffee table wedding book titled “Being in Love Never Goes Out of Style.”
Though tables are what she’s best known for, Ross frequently takes on all aspects of event planning for a client, including finding and reserving a space, setting the lighting, coordinating the parking and all of the other not-so-exciting details. She said that an event can be perfect inside, but if guests have trouble parking they’ll enter in a bad mood – and no amount of tea roses and crystal will be sufficient to cheer them.
“It isn’t just about the glamour,” she said. “You have got to have the logistics, too – the permits, the electrical, the fire marshall.”
It’s also important to her that the event not only be something she likes, but that it also meet her client’s expectations, she said. She works closely with clients to create whatever atmosphere the client has in mind. The most memorable event she has ever planned was a recent wedding, she said. The bride and groom had three very specific items they wanted included in their reception: A large stuffed peacock (it had formerly been a pet), crystallized fruit and a shoe tree by the dance floor so guests could kick off their uncomfortable shoes and give their feet a break later in the evening.
Ross said she made the peacock the theme for the entire reception. She placed the stuffed bird itself in the center of the lounge area and then decorated the event with peacock feathers, parasols hanging upside down in the tent and peacock-inspired colors throughout. She says the reception turned out so beautiful that she plans to submit pictures of it to a wedding magazine.
Still Ross, ever the wallflower, admits that for her the highlight of any event is the calm before the storm.
“My favorite part is right before an event when all my helpers have left and I get walk around and tweak the tables and imagine how the guests are going to feel when they enter,” Ross said. “I just love that.”