Maybe it’s because decorating is another creative outlet, or perhaps I’ve just been watching too much HGTV, but for whatever reason, I’ve taken on the task of decorating the venue for the John Kelly Awards for the last three years. I just have a lot of fun with it and I try to up the ante every year with fresh ideas. Waimea is a challenging place to decorate – it’s a large open air pavilion with high beams so my goal is always to try to make it feel a little more intimate. The last two years I accomplished that by hanging lots of ocean colored paper lanterns from the rafters to create the effect of a lower ceiling. It worked well and was very pretty but I wanted to do something different this year. The only dilemma is that Surfrider is a non-profit so our decorating budget is next to nil, even moreso this year. Creativity is key. Instead of focusing on what I could or couldn’t do with those darn rafters, I turned my attention to how I could make the table centerpieces the main focal point of the room. We’ve never had fresh flowers before, so I knew that’s what I wanted. The event organizer hooked me up Tamara Rigney, a talented florist in Honolulu who was generous to donate her time and skills, and we got to work.
In keeping with Surfrider’s mission statement and the beach/ocean theme (as well as our tight budget),we decided to create a centerpiece using a cluster of recycled green glass bottles for vases. We agreed on using local flowers, so I left that part up to the expert and I told Tamara that I would take care of getting the bottles. I could easily find a bunch of green bottles, right?
It dawned on me that if we wanted seven or eight bottles per table, I was looking at upwards of two hundred bottles. That’s a lot of bottles to collect, let alone clean, take labels off of and transport. I had a week and a half to complete this mission. Was it worth all the trouble? It would look really great, I decided. I was determined.
I told some of my friends to keep any and all green bottles they had. Heineken, Pellegrino, wine, champagne, whatever! Please save them for me! I took three empty bottles from a Thanksgiving potluck I went to. Brian and I cheered when we noticed a bottle of wine we had at home was green. “Finish it!” I ordered. I called my friend Mikey who works at a sports bar in Waikiki. “We don’t go through too much wine,” he said, “But you’re welcome to come sort through our recycling bins. Just bring some gloves, it’s pretty nasty back there.” Whatever it takes I thought. I asked Brian if he could help me dumpster dive on the weekend.
I knew my best bet was the recycling bins at a restaurant, but I needed a fancy restaurant that went through lots of wine and champagne every night. Suddenly it hit me. Phyllis! My friend Phyllis is a wine supplier and has accounts at numerous restaurants around the island. Why didn’t I think of it sooner?! I called her with my odd request and lo and behold, she called a few days later saying the GM at Michel’s, a romantic French restaurant conveniently located right by my house, would be happy to let us rummage through their recycling bins. Hallelujah!
At 9:30 on a Wednesday evening, Brian and I arrived at Michel’s where a manager whisked us through the kitchen down to the basement where the recycling bins were. “Have fun,” he said with a raised eyebrow. Before us, were three huge bins brimming with bottles. Jackpot. I smiled at Brian and we began the Great Dumpster Dive of 2011. It was as sticky and smelly as you might imagine.
The next day, I stared at the boxes of bottles in my backyard, knowing I had my work cut out for me. In total, we had collected ninety-five green wine and champagne bottles. Our budget for flowers got slashed even more, so we decided only to focus on the main 10-12 sponsor tables on the lower level of the venue. Ninety-five bottles would be plenty, along with the fifteen or so Pellegrino bottles that Tamara had taken from her grandma’s house.
For the next two days, I soaked, scrubbed, and scraped those bottles clean. In case you’re wondering, here’s my tried and tested instructions for how to successfully de-label a bottle:
- Soak the bottle in hot water with laundry soap (For large amounts of bottles, the hose and a garbage bin work well in the backyard.) The longer you soak, the less work you will have.
- Use a paint scraper to work off the label. Some come off much easier than others. Rule of thumb: The more expensive the wine or champagne, the better the glue, the more annoying the label is to scrape off.
- Use steel wool for the tough bits of glue that refuse to come off. With a bit of elbow grease, it works like a charm.
- Have a full bottle of wine readily available and a willing hand masseuse upon completion of the task.
The day before the event, Brian and I loaded the gleaming bottles in the car and clanked our way up to the North Shore. Our hard work paid off and the centerpieces looked amazing! Tamara chose hokuloa antheriums, uluhe fern curls, dendrobium orchids, and shinobu ferns to put in our vases and they looked beautiful. We received lots of compliments throughout the evening.