He is the founder of John Rufenacht Associates interior design firm in Kansas City and a founding member of DIFFA/KC. Right now he’s involved in planning and organizing Dining by Design, an annual event that raises money for HIV/AIDS education and prevention.
By ALICE THORSON
The Kansas City Star
This year’s theme is April in Paris. The event begins at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Gallery, 61 E. 14th St. Tickets cost $250 per person. A $20 ticket buys admission to “Conversations on Dining,” a panel discussion with design experts at noon Saturday at the Gallery. “Conversations” includes refreshments and an opportunity to meet the designers and preview their elaborate tables. Tickets for both events are available at diffakc.org.
Tell me about Dining by Design.
It’s something I started about 24 years ago, and it’s now the national fundraiser for DIFFA, from L.A. to New York. Local designers design tables for 10 guests to enjoy dinner and have a total dining experience. It’s not just about the food, but about presentation and community. All the money raised goes for HIV/AIDs education and prevention.
It means a great deal to me. It started out of great compassion for people suffering from HIV/AIDS — friends and people around us. In the early days, a lot of the funds went to pay for the care of AIDS patients.
So it’s become an important tradition?
The designers who do the table designs make it happen. Some have volunteered for 20-plus years. It takes a lot of time to build the tables and acquire the design elements. It’s a lot of work, time and energy for one day and one evening.
How many years have you been designing tables for the event?
This year will be my 22nd table design. I have a basement full of past table material. I’ve done everything from tents to structures. Through the years, it’s gotten pretty involved. When we had the event in large spaces, like auditoriums, some designers built whole rooms around the tables. This year we’re going back to basics and focusing on the tables rather than the structures around them.
What does your table look like this year? I understand it’s one of two tables that people can preview at Halls on the Plaza through Wednesday.
It’s quite colorful. My table is sponsored by Kravet textiles and KDR Designer Showrooms. It uses all Kravet textiles in bright prints. It’s built around hot pink, orange, turquoise and teal. Halls is providing the china and glassware. The chairs are from Century Furniture, and we’ve lacquered them in bright teal and upholstered them with Jonathan Adler striped fabric. It’s fun and whimsical.
Are there other design firms involved?
This year a lot of designers have partnered up with different interior supply companies and showrooms. It’s good marketing for the firms and is a savings on materials for the designers. One of the participating firms is Scalamandre, which has a license with Lenox china, so they’re sending place settings of their Zebras dinnerware, in black and white zebra stripes and red. We have several companies like that involved this year, and we’re working to make more and more of those connections.
What about local companies?
Halls has done a terrific table for years and years. This year designer Alan Karlin is working with Knotty Rug Co. Pryde’s Old Westport is involved in a very big way. So is Ursula Terrasi of Scandia Home and Terrasi European Collection, and Sharyn Blond Linens in Fairway.
Tell me about the daytime event where people can preview the tables for $20.
It’s called “Conversations on Dining.” I’m the instigator, and to me it does a lot things: It gives more exposure to the designers who have gone to all this work. It has a ticket price available to a larger scope of people who get to see all of the tables.
I added the panel discussion because dining involves more than food. It’s about eating healthier and fresher, everything from the etiquette of eating to guests with food allergies. I tried to put together a wide range of people to talk about issues around the dining experience, including Merrily Jackson from Spaces magazine; Patricia Shackelford, author of the Mrs. Blandings blog; Lon and Stewart Lane of Inspired Occasions; and myself. (The other panelists are Sheila Kemper Dietrich, CEO of Livliga; Kelly Cole, president and CEO of Halls-Kansas City and Steven Stolman, president of Scalamandre-New York.) The panel will include a question and answer time.
I know part of DIFFA’s mission is education. I see the website has a new Spanish language public service announcement aimed at Latinos and notes that Latinos make up nearly 20 percent of people living with HIV in the U.S.
One of things we work very hard at in the Dining by Design program book and the event is to try to relate facts and info about the AIDS issue in Kansas City. All of our money goes to Kansas City AIDS service organizations through grants. Different agencies apply for grants, overseen by the Heart of America Community AIDS Partnership.
Besides supporting a worthy cause, are there other benefits to attending Dining by Design?
Where else can you see what 40 designers have come up with in one place? Maya Romanoff, a national wall covering firm, will be premiering some of its new wall coverings. Glass artist Kathy Barnard is doing two tables with a cityscape of Kansas City etched in glass. It’s a great community of people involved in style and fun and cause, and a place to make a lot of contacts. We have three student groups from Johnson County Community College, Park University and Avila. We’re trying to reach out to students and the future design people in the city.
What should people expect on the night of the gala?
The Quixotic performance group will be greeting people in a novel way, and Ebony & the Ivories will perform at the cocktail hour. We do have a live auction this year of several dining experiences. I have a place in the country called “Evening Place,” and whoever buys that dining package will be provided with a limo for 20 guests who will enjoy a Lon Lane creative dinner underneath a big red tent. The host will receive eight place settings of new china from Scalamandre.
We also try to have a fun after-party. This year it will take place at the Kill Devil Club and feature the Burlesque Downtown Underground group. We try to make the whole evening a fun and different experience.
To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4763 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.