• Luft Balloons Breathes New Air Into a Tired Event Décor Element

    Float This Idea

    FROM THE Fall 2018 ISSUE

If the thought of balloons conjures images of lopsided prom arches, cheesy wedding centerpieces or a child’s birthday party, you’re not alone. However, a Chicago company is reinventing what it means to incorporate these inflatables into events.

Two years ago, attempting to create a balloon centerpiece to replace the standard flowers for a dinner party, Elaine Frei realized it was nearly impossible to find unique colors that matched the event’s theme, even after spending more than $200. 

“I thought, there is a void here,” says Frei, a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, who subsequently launched Luft Balloons. “People love good color selections, so this was a design opportunity.”

Frei calls her creations balloon art, crafting pieces such as columns, arches, wall attachments and even a few that take up the entirety of a space. She’s designed balloon art for birthdays, corporate events, galas, window displays, weddings and more. These are not just bunches of balloons tied together; they’re pieces that can take up an entire space and truly elevate an event. 

“Balloons transcend everything,” says Frei. “You can do anything with them.”

One such piece was for Soul City Church in Chicago, a creation Frei says was one of her favorites. The church was opening a new space for its anniversary and was looking for a new way to christen it. Frei’s team woke up at 5 a.m. on the morning of the celebration to install a giant gold, white and blush piece outside the building, as well as one inside.

“It sounds cliché, but it was ethereal, being in a spiritual place,” says Frei.

Other installations include a celebration for the Nike Air Society in Chicago, Macy’s spring fashion show, an event at Eataly and a celebration at the BHLDN in Houston. 

The installations can serve as great backdrops for a step-and-repeat, a grand entrance and, of course, an Instagram moment. Each of Frei’s installations is designed specifically to fit your event’s space. 

“That’s what sets us apart,” says Frei. “We don’t offer off-the-shelf ideas. It all comes down to what you’re trying to do in the space and what you’re trying to [make guests] feel.” 

Dawn Young first joined Choose Chicago in June 2005 as director of association sales, and in May this year, was promoted to vice president of hotel sales. It’s a perfect example of rising up the ranks for someone who’s so passionate about moving tourism forward. Though her experience in the industry runs deep, she’s got her work cut out for her to keep the numbers growing: Chicago set a tourism record in 2017 with more than 55 million visitors. A major reason for that? “Chicago just rocks accessibility,” says Young.


Embrace cool weather and warm colors with this autumnal drink. 


Each morning at 6:15 a.m., Spiaggia Director of Sales Erica Yack wakes up, drinks her coffee, walks a mile to her office at 980 N. Michigan, and works on returning hundreds of emails and voicemails (including at least 12-15 RFPs a day). But if that was the most rigorous part of her routine, it would be a quiet day for Yack, who is constantly caught in a balancing act that includes managing client demands, following up on leads, executing events and leading a small sales team at the fine-dining restaurant.