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There are few hoops Reed McIlvaine hasn't jumped through to pull off Grand Events



William Taufic

(page 1 of 3)

Reed McIlvaine once tracked down a ferry captain near Athens to deliver flowers to a birthday party on a yacht anchored in Bodrum because Federal Express could not guarantee timely delivery. He sweet-talked customs officials in Milan into opening an airport storage container where party supplies were locked up over a summer holiday weekend, the same weekend of another grand affair. He conspired with the gods as he helplessly watched a storm come out of nowhere, nearly toppling a tent off its girders and soaking everything in it only a few hours before a birthday bash on a New Jersey estate. The rains quickly passed, barely giving McIlvaine and his staff time to dry tablecloths and place settings, secure decorative fabrics and drapes, rearrange and freshen floral arrangements, mop floors, and double-check lighting and electrical connections.

As the CEO of Renny & Reed, the Park Avenue firm founded by his uncle and godfather, Renny Reynolds, McIlvaine has designed for the rich and well-connected in New York, Palm Beach, Greenwich and beyond — confronting every unpredictable incident, from falling construction cranes that blocked his delivery trucks to sudden, unexpected storms, with grace and aplomb.


“Along with great travels, there are great learning experiences in each of these events,” he says about his near disasters. “You can’t avoid the unavoidable, but you can learn to anticipate so you’re ready for whatever happens.


“Everything always ends up working out,” says the thirty-six-year-old Greenwich native during a recent chat in his Manhattan office, a windowless yet cozy basement stylishly cluttered with candles, bolts of fabric, design books, colorful china and stemware. It’s a chic space that hints of mood, with lights dimmed just so, and lingering fragrance that floats down from the sunny and serene Renny & Reed floral shop above. The only thing missing is a glass of wine.


But this is no dinner party. Key staffers work nearby, abuzz with the latest society project, out of sight and earshot of the activity in the storefront, where flowers and budded branches cover every inch of wall. The brilliant floral panorama overwhelms every sense to distraction. McIlvaine smiles, asking, “So what do you think?”


McIlvaine is boyish-looking, dapper in jeans, pressed shirt and houndstooth jacket, as if he just stepped out of the pages of a J. Crew catalog, sun-kissed and nary a sandy blond hair out of place. Two employees are busily organizing arrangements for private clients all over the Upper East Side and for the St. Regis, Four Seasons, Sofitel New York and Essex House, exclusive hotel accounts McIlvaine created in 2004 to complement the company’s retail and design-event arms. Late last summer, in another expansive move, his company took over management of the floral shop at the Jupiter Island Club, near Palm Beach. It will be called the Floral Shop by Renny & Reed.


He is a picture of calm and grace but aren’t designers supposed to be arrogant and condescending?
By his uncle’s own admission, he had a reputation for, let’s just say, confrontation. McIlvaine says that’s not his style. He prefers to be courteous and respectful, no matter the drama. Believe him? You would after watching him set up Deborah Royce’s fiftieth birthday party early last summer, when, in the midst of the organizational hustle and bustle, his wife Kelly and two young sons Sloane and Cole paid a surprise visit. McIlvaine was thrilled at the sight of them, not in the least bit perturbed by the interruption. But after a couple of hours, the boys became restless; Sloane wandered a bit too close to the water’s edge and Cole disappeared for a few anxious seconds. The McIlvaines were clearly distressed, and a few in the crowd helped in the search, until the four-year-old appeared from under one of the tables, all smiles. McIlvaine was firm when he addressed his now repentant son but he kept his cool and soon went back to work, joking about an oncoming ulcer.


What is it about the work that excites McIlvaine? He answers with factual descriptions and anecdotes, sparing no detail, becoming ever engrossed with every grand event he illustrates. Here is a man who loves what he does and is constantly intrigued by the creative challenges each new project poses.


Accolades come from Marita O’Hare, executive director of development for Greenwich Hospital, a Renny & Reed client since 2001 (except 2004) for the hospital’s annual galas at the Greenwich Country Club. Becky Hughes, who sits on the board of the Field Club in Greenwich, which celebrated its centennial last month, also praised, noting that Renny & Reed landed the gala after organizers saw the entrance canopies made with branches of flowering cherry, and the cast-iron candelabra centerpieces and ribbon curtains he created last year at the club for the wedding of Jeffrey Turnbaugh and Elizabeth Duff of Greenwich.


“The prima donna factor you expect working with designers isn’t a factor with Reed,” says Stephanie Ashley, events specialist for Greenwich Hospital, which is about to host its Trader Vic’s gala later this month, its plans a closely guarded secret. Last year’s Simply Green extravaganza included a Lost Garden cocktail tent with wild smilax and bittersweet vines around antique urns, columns and wrought-iron gates; topiaries; a gazebo; and a bar with jade shimmer cloths and eighteen-foot trees marking its corners. Five hundred guests were dazzled by the transformation of the ballroom, “an overgrown lush environment,” says McIlvaine. Glass-topped tables were draped with celery shimmer cloths, adorned with stacks of sparkling cubes filled with arrangements of mixed greens and wired underneath to glow throughout the evening. “I got there early for breakdown [the next morning], and he was already there,” says Stephanie. “Everything was left meticulous.”

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