MANY MAY HOPE TO freewheel through summer, but for New York event producer David Stark, business is just heating up. Fall gala season is fast approaching, which means Stark is busy crafting otherworldly environments for events that include a black-tie fundraiser for the Metropolitan Opera and a dinner for the Cooper-Hewitt's National Design Awards.
The designer has risen to the top of the industry by building parties that feel like art installations. "It's about creating something event-specific, site-specific, and client-specific," says Stark, who lists MoMA, Louis Vuitton, and Beyoncé among his clients. "Flowers are only one tool in the toolbox. Many instances require different kinds of thinking and materials to bring the occasion to life." These are a few of his favorites.
Glass bell jars 
When building tablescapes, bell jars create "mini museums," says Stark, who has used them to display mounds of fruit for a party at Martha Stewart's home, painted eggs for a Benjamin Moore event, and faux tulips made from euros for the Global Volatility Summit. (From $8, glassdomes.com)
Place cards 
"I believe in the Emily Post version of party-throwing etiquette," he says. "By seating someone, you eliminate their discomfort about where to sit." Stark also keeps an eye out for sneaky guests who try to rearrange the cards. "I move them right back." ($9 for 10, crane.com)
Trompe l'oeil table decorations 
"I've always been fascinated by clip art, and engravings and etchings from the 1800s," says Stark. To make a statement, he enlarges those two-dimensional elements to real-life sizes. "I love the trick of the eye and the humor of it."
Laguiole corkscrew 
Before launching his company, Stark spent years waiting tables in New York. "The corkscrew was my best friend," he says. Laguiole models feature wooden handles, which, Stark says, "add a bit of glamour to an everyday thing." (From $189, laguiole-knife-corkscrew.com)
Paper plants 
Repurposed wastepaper and abandoned books are a recurring theme in Stark's work. "It's rich with meaning and content," he says. Because his creations are usually used for temporary events—these were made for an installation at West Elm—he's proud to say they're recyclable.
Even in a tuxedo, Stark always wears Converse sneakers. "I have a sequined pair that works great for black-tie events," he says, "and a pair that are decoupaged with recycled book pages. My staff made them for me when we launched our book, David Stark Design." (From $30, converse.com)
Post-it Notes 
To play with seating plans, Stark uses two colors of Post-it Notes—one for women and one for men. Once he’s happy with the arrangement, he tapes them down to ensure no one gets lost. (From $4, officemax.com)
Stark begins every project with a floor plan drawn in AutoCAD to study furniture layouts, circulation areas, and the placement of creative elements. "It's important to draw things to scale and make sure that everything works." (From $3,995, autodesk.com)
A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.