Designing Woman

THEMED DREAMS: Dina Manzo uses her interior design background to turn guests’ fantasy parties into reality on Dina’s Party.

DYNAMIC DO-OVER Dina Manzo recreated romance on an episode of Dina’s Party by reinventing a wedding for a New Jersey couple, whose first wedding was marred by food poisoning for the groom and an earthquake. Manzo captured the theme of the original wedding in a beautiful tent strung with wisteria vines and outfitted with elegant bouquets.

MAGIC MOMENTS: For one episode of Dina’s Party, Manzo created an adults-only prom for Jim and Antonella O’Day, left, with a theme that incorporated their European wedding anniversary trip. Complete with corsages and boutonnieres, the prom had extravagant balloon arches, an outdoor cafe, a high-school gym dance floor and the classic photo-op area.

For lots of people, September means getting into the back-to-school routine and perhaps some apple-picking, but not for interior decorator and event planner Dina Manzo. On an 80-degree afternoon shortly after Labor Day, Manzo is knee-deep in glittering ornaments, strings of lights and other holiday décor as she transforms a Morganville home into a breathtaking winter wonderland that will be the setting for a glam cocktail party. The result is pure Dina.

The design combines unique touches and whimsy—she uses flocks of faux peacocks and owls to create a back-to-nature feel—with a big dose of glamour. “Of course, we have to have some sparkle!” she says. Manzo was swinging into full deck-the-halls mode for a holiday special to complement her new HGTV show, Dina’s Party. “I love decorating for the holidays,” she says, “and the special and my show give me the opportunity to combine my passion for interior design with my love of party planning.”


Hitting the Small Screen 

Dina’s Partyisn’t the multitalented design diva’s first foray into television. Her extravagant 750-guest wedding to Tommy Manzo in 2005 was immortalized in an episode of VH1’s My Big Fat Fabulous Wedding. She is best known, though, for her run on the Real Housewives of New Jersey, which she left during the second season when the drama got a bit too high for her more Zen sensibilities. Though brief, Manzo’s Housewives stint showcased her interior design and party planning talents—who could forget the over-the-top christening party she orchestrated, where guests plucked sushi from the dress of a costumed Marie Antoinette?—and caught the attention of execs at HGTV.

“The opportunity to do Dina’s Party came to me because they thought I would be a perfect fit,” she says. “[The party planning aspect] is a new idea for the network but everybody’s really excited.” No one more so than Manzo herself. She talks animatedly about the fabulous parties and how you needn’t be a homeowner to appreciate the show. “Even if you don’t own a house, there are lots of great ideas you can take away to make your parties more unique,” she says.

She’s right: There’s no shortage of inspiration. On each episode, Manzo and the staff of her real-life event planning company, Designer Affair, pull off an eye-popping themed house party, most of them filmed in New Jersey towns including Denville, Mountain Lakes, North Caldwell and West Orange. As she preps for the event, Manzo redecorates as necessary, putting down new floors here and painting there. The final product is always a surprise for the homeowners. A true test of her creativity, the show called on Manzo to whip up everything from an early ’90s adults-only prom party (think guests posing for photos beneath the requisite balloon arch) to a chic Las Vegas-inspired birthday fête, complete with slot machines, faux blown-glass ceiling art and copious amounts of crystals. One of Manzo’s favorite soirées was a Western-themed going-away party for a friend for which she turned a dining room into a saloon and brought in food troughs and a mechanical bull.


Beautiful Beginnings

Born in Brooklyn, Manzo’s family moved to Kinnelon when she was 5 years old. Her large Italian family later moved to Wayne where Manzo graduated from Wayne Valley High School. Over the years, she’s held a variety of jobs that all shared the common thread of making things beautiful. At 17, she opened, designed and managed a salon in Wayne and later worked as a Lancôme makeup artist. While on bed rest during her pregnancy with daughter Lexi, now 15, Manzo started studying interior design through at-home programs. “I dove right in soon after Lexi was born, taking her to work with me,” she recalls.

In time, Manzo became an in-demand interior decorator, and clients began asking her to plan parties in their newly transformed digs. She soon made the transition from decorator to event planner. When filming for the first season of Dina’s Party wrapped recently, she jumped right back into organizing off-camera events for clients. She also collaborates on two jewelry lines and is planning to launch a housewares line and pen a girlfriends’ guide to decorating, entertaining and more. In addition, Manzo runs Project Ladybug, the charity she founded in 2007 to assist children with cancer and their families.

When the design dynamo, 39, isn’t transforming other people’s homes into party venues, she chills out at her own house, a “center-hall Colonial with a few additions” in Franklin Lakes which she decorated in her signature rich, decadent style with a definite spiritual motif. An antique triptych of the Blessed Mother and a Buddha photograph are two of Manzo’s favorite pieces.

Manzo’s strategy for outfitting her space is simple. “I buy something that I love, and then I find a spot for it. I like to be surrounded by things that mean something to me,” she explains. That includes the menagerie about which she is passionate. “I just adopted my third cat, and I also have a two-legged Chihuahua and four birds,” she laughs. “I live in a jungle!” A very stylish one, of course.


Happening Holidays Dina-Style

Dina Manzo is known for bringing the bling, but when it comes to her own holiday celebrations, she likes to slow down and focus on family. Here are some of her favorite ways to savor the season.

Embrace nature.  “This year, I’m really into the feeling of going back to nature instead of doing something glitzy and over-the-top,” says Manzo. Pinecones, twigs and faux peacocks and owls, like the ones Manzo uses in her HGTV special, hit the right note this holiday season.

Get creative with ornaments. “I love to use ornaments in different ways—as napkin rings, place cards or by putting them in cylinders or crystal bowls all over the house,” she says. “There are so many gorgeous

ornaments available. Use them in unexpected places, not just on the tree.”

Turn holiday to-dos into a family affair. Manzo and the women in her family enjoy getting together for a low-key cookie and gingerbread baking or gift-wrapping party a few days during the holidays. To make the event more festive, she suggests serving up colorful drinks. “Pomegranate martinis are fun, but I do love to spike a little eggnog here and there, too!”

Start a tradition. “When my daughter was little, she had her own Christmas tree. Each year I would take her to get a few more ornaments,” says Manzo. “It’s been fun to see how her tastes changed through the years from Bob the Builder to *NSYNC. Now that she’s older, I treasure that tree.”

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  • Wayne Manzo

    Wayne Manzo and Madonna.

    These fake Manzos are actually
    Armenian Savages and the more
    Italians they whack the more Billions
    they get. See what I can do?