Up Close: Carole Saad takes the business of fun seriously

Owner of Chic + Swell Event Designers and LouLou Lounge Furniture Rental is a master at setting the stage for memorable corporate get-togethers

Carole Saad has been working in event planning for 25 years. Photo by Caroline Phillips

A word of advice: Never tell a professional event planner how lucky they are to have a job that pays them to party.

Not only does such a comment diminish the hard work and effort involved but it also overlooks the expertise in proper time management, attention to detail, communication, and the ability to handle pressure and to solve problems quickly. Just ask Carole Saad, who’s been working in the field for nearly 25 years and has earned the respect of her peers.

“I despise the term ‘party planner’ because we’re event professionals,” said Saad, owner of Chic + Swell Event Designers and LouLou Lounge Furniture Rental. “I take my set of skills very seriously in producing events that really foster the guest experience.

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“We’re not out there on the dance floor – we’re the ones planning and setting the stage for everyone else to have fun on that dance floor.”

Special events, she said, need to run smoothly and be memorable, and not in the malfunctioning mic, long drink lineups, and melted ice sculpture kind of way. 

“It’s the flow of the event. People take that for granted; they think anyone can do that, but there are so many details and so much homework that we do beforehand, and that’s what makes us good at our jobs.”

This year, Saad is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of LouLou Lounge, a furniture rental business she started in 2013 to fill a void in the special events industry. It’s run separately from Chic + Swell, although the two companies do complement one another.

Before LouLou launched, event planners in Ottawa had to truck rental furniture in from Montreal if they wanted to create modern and chic lounge areas for party guests to relax in.

Saad recently expanded her warehouse space on Industrial Avenue to 10,000 square feet. Inside, there are more than 1,000 items, including stylish sofa collections and chairs, coffee and end tables and decorative rugs and pillows.  

At LouLou Lounge, she employs between four and 12 people, depending on the season. She has a team of four – soon to be five – at Chic + Swell. 

Saad didn’t find her calling until she hit her 30s, but that’s only because she was busy getting married and having babies, with the exception of some work she did earlier on in the hotel industry.

One day, a friend reached out to Saad and asked her to help with a conference happening at the Fairmont Château Laurier. Saad agreed. She found a sitter for the kids, pulled out some old work clothes and headed off to the downtown hotel.

“No word of a lie, I walked down that hallway feeling like a peacock with big feathers, like I owned the Château Laurier,” said Saad. “I was just so happy to be back amongst crowds of people.”

The conference, which was her introduction to the events industry, had a lasting impact. “It was as though the universe had opened its door to me.”

Saad went back to school to study event management at Algonquin College. 

“My interest was piqued and I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

At age 34, the self-described late bloomer became a professional event planner. She spent the next 10 years working for a small special events company across the river in Aylmer. That its office was minutes from her home was convenient for the mother of three. 

Saad left only when the company drastically downsized. It was just the push she needed to venture down the entrepreneurial path. 

“I went and bought myself a laptop and set up a little office in my bedroom,” said Saad, who successfully launched Chic + Swell in July 2009, hiring longtime friend Cathy Montopoli to come work for her. “She’s been my biggest, biggest blessing.”

Saad served as president of the Ottawa chapter of Meeting Professionals International during this time.

Chic + Swell has intentionally kept its focus on corporate events. “You can’t be everything to everybody, and so I needed to zone in on something and do it really, really well.”

Saad also worked for a few years as a part-time instructor at Algonquin College. It was a good fit for her (after high school, she had earned a psychology degree, with a minor in education, at Concordia University in her hometown of Montreal). 

It didn’t take long until the idea for LouLou Lounge appeared on Saad’s radar. She’d been working in Toronto on the G8/G20 summit meetings. It had been her first solo gig and, as far as events go, it was a biggie.

“An event is an event is an event. You just need to know your audience. That one just happened to have 32 world leaders in the room, but it’s still the same thing – there were cocktails, there were drinks, there were appetizers and there was chit-chat. People were congregating, networking and interacting.”

The summit meetings turned out to be a career highlight for Saad. She still lights up when recalling how Michelle Obama came to the reception with Laureen Harper, who turned to the now-former first lady and introduced her to “my good friend Carole, and she’s responsible for this beautiful room.”

Not far behind them were then-prime minister Stephen Harper and then-president Barack Obama “walking down the hall, like they were on a double date,” said Saad, who shook hands with both leaders as they entered.

The main ballroom of the Fairmont Château Laurier was decorated last fall by Chic + Swell Event Designers, with LouLou Lounge furniture, for a Roaring ’20s Great Gatsby-themed company party, the largest private event hosted in the hotel’s history. Photo submitted

While working in Toronto, Saad had suggested to a successful furniture rental owner that he expand to Ottawa. He wasn’t interested, but encouraged her to take the initiative. 

“I said, ‘Oh, no, no, I could never do that.’ It just seemed so overwhelming,” said Saad, who started seeing the potential by the time she arrived back in Ottawa. “The seed was planted in the brain.”

The circumstances in Saad’s life were less than ideal for starting a second business. She was newly single and living on her own. She had no proper nest egg or safety net, and no business partner. She did get approved for a $250,000 bank loan, however.

In 2013, she launched LouLou Lounge. Her new business immediately took off.  

“Sometimes, I think back and I say, ‘Where did I get the guts to do that?’ Because if that business had flopped, I could have been in real trouble. 

“But I never questioned it. I knew my industry really well by then and I knew this was a niche, and I knew this was going to work. My intuition was so strong.”

And correct. The business has been growing each year, said Saad, who currently has a contract with the National Arts Centre as its official decorator. 

“I think what I’m most proud of is our team, and the fact that we work in a really harmonious environment, where there’s space to grow and where everybody has the opportunity to spread their wings.”


  1. She’s been inspired by her three children, Sebastien, 32, Nicolas, 30, and Alexandra, 27, to be a strong role model for them. “I want them to see that hard work pays off. You don’t graduate from school and get a CEO job. You have to start from the bottom, even if that means schlepping stuff at two o’clock in the morning.”
  2. Her parents immigrated in 1965 from Egypt to Montreal, where her father worked in the manufacturing business. His specialty was women’s bras and panties and, later, bathing suits.
  3. She miraculously found work during the pandemic, mainly through pop-up parties and home-delivered party boxes for virtual events. “There were opportunities out there,” she said. “You had to go out and look for them. Nobody knocked on the door.”
  4. During President Joe Biden’s state visit to the nation’s capital in March, she refurbished the room where the president, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and their respective spouses hung out before their entrance to the gala dinner held at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.
  5. She takes a win-win approach when working with non-profit organizations, such as Shepherds of Good Hope and the Snowsuit Fund. “It’s my way to contribute.” LouLou Lounge is presenting sponsor of Wine for Wishes on May 9 for Make-A-Wish Canada. 



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