By Donna Cornelius
While lifestyle guru Martha Stewart is headlining a new HGTV show, a blossoming star also is in the lineup – and she’s from right here in Sweet Home Alabama.
Homewood’s CeCe Todd, a floral designer who owns CeCe Designs and Events, is one of eight contestants on “Table Wars,” premiering on HGTV and Discovery+ Nov. 12. Lead judge Stewart, Emmy Award-winner Tamera Mowry-Housley and event planner/designer Chris Hessney will evaluate the would-be winners each week, sending one packing.
Described as an “extreme tabletop and special event design competition,” the seven-episode show will have competitors testing their talents as they design and install the ultimate themed dining environment, featuring tablescapes, centerpieces, lighting and displays.
CeCe, a Vestavia Hills native, didn’t set out to become a floral designer. Early on, she thought she’d be a figure skater, practicing five or six days a week at a Homewood ice rink, and even tried out for Disney on Ice. She made it but decided not to join the show because the extensive travel involved would have meant too much time away from her then-fiancé.
She also considered becoming a singer.
“I never shut up anyway – I was always talking or singing,” CeCe said. “Patsy Cline was my idol.”
She tried her luck in Nashville and eventually ended up with a local producer. But after her 11-year marriage ended, she wanted a change.
“I started doing flowers,” she said. “I went to a guy who did wedding flowers and harassed him until he agreed to train me. I worked for Homewood Florist for five years.”
Creating casket and funeral sprays provided good training, she said with a laugh.
“My mom, Peggy Wininger, and I started CeCe Designs on a whim,” CeCe said. “We did 25 weddings that first year, and I was in it for world domination.”
It wasn’t long before she knew she’d made the right career decision.
“I’m a very spiritual person,” she said. “When I stepped into CeCe Designs, things aligned and started falling into place.”
Besides her mom, her husband, Greg Todd, plays a key role in her company.
“I made a passionate plea to my husband, who was with a national mattress company, to quit his job to help me,” she said. “Now, he has GT Marketing and Consulting, and I’m his No. 1 client.”
The couple has a daughter, Isabella, who’s an 8-year-old third grader, and three grown sons from Greg’s previous marriage – Daniel, Josh and Andrew Todd, who all live in Louisiana.
CeCe’s drive, attention to detail and maybe most of all her powerful personality have helped her build quite a reputation for floral design. She’s won several industry awards and is the go-to designer for Live Nation, a well-known entertainment company. Her client list includes singer Ariana Grande, comedian Kevin Hart and bands such as Journey, Train and Def Leppard. She’s also worked on nonprofit galas such as the Chris Hammond Youth Foundation and Brides Against Breast Cancer.
She’s been featured in many magazines, including Southern Bride, B-Metro and Alabama Weddings, and in Style Me Pretty, Luxe Pearl and other blogs with wide followings.
“Table Wars” likely will bring her even more exposure – but it’s an adventure that had some twists and turns.
“About a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, I had been to a conference, and when I got home, my husband told me I’d gotten an email from some people saying they’d seen me on Instagram and wanted to talk to me about a show,” CeCe said. “He made sure it was legit.”
It was, and after a lengthy interview process, she signed a contract to develop a show.
“And then there was radio silence,” she said. “Finally, someone got in touch to say the whole staff had been fired, and all the shows in the works had been shelved. I was heartbroken. I’d really gotten my hopes up.
“Over the next year, I moped.”
Then CeCe got another call about a new show and started a fresh round of interviews.
“They said they wanted eight contestants, and I was in the running – and then COVID happened, and everything was postponed,” she said. “In January 2021, I was told we would start filming in March, and I was officially invited to be a contestant.”
Another hiccup pushed the filming back to July.
“Finally, I was told to get my stuff ready and that I would be gone eight weeks,” CeCe said. “Our wedding business had picked up, and we had had a busy spring, but I had only one wedding in July, and it got postponed. So my schedule was completely clear. God makes a way.”
On the Road, but Clueless
CeCe knew she’d be traveling to New York – to the same town where Martha Stewart has a home – for filming. But she didn’t know much else.
“We didn’t get any details,” she said. “I didn’t even know what kind of clothes to pack. And we were told to come by ourselves. I’m a people person and hadn’t done anything on my own in eight years.”
Due to COVID-19 concerns, she and the other contestants were in lockdown at a hotel for the first two weeks.
“We couldn’t leave our rooms,” CeCe said. “Then we had daily COVID testing and were allowed to go for walks and to the hotel gym and lobby. Nobody knew each other – although I would see other people at the hotel and think, ‘I’ll bet they’re a contestant, too’ – until that very first day of filming. Even on the van taking us to the filming, we were told not to talk to each other. They wanted spontaneity when they started filming.”
At the studio, the competitors got a tour of the facilities and then met the judges.
“They wanted natural reactions, so they filmed us opening the doors to meet the judges,” CeCe said. “I was the first one out, and there stood Martha, Tamera and Chris.”
CeCe said the judges had already seen the contestants’ pictures and knew a little about them.
“The first moment we walked out, I heard Martha say, ‘I can’t remember any other names, but I know that CeCe,’” she said. “That was my most favorite memory. I thought, I could die happy now.”
CeCe thinks one thing helped her stand out: a flower in her hair. It’s become so much a trademark of hers that people comment if she happens to leave the flower off.
Martha was “just as amazing as you can imagine,” CeCe said, and she had praise for the show’s staff.
“They were very protective of us,” she said. “We wore masks when we weren’t filming.”
CeCe had thought the other contestants would be fellow floral designers.
“But we had a roller coaster designer, movie set builder, fabricator of sets for movies and events, a wedding planner, a parade float builder and one floral designer – me,” she said.
The competition itself also was a little different from what CeCe was expecting.
“There were a lot of power tools – some, I didn’t know what they were,” she said. “Tabletops were just a small part. It was a huge learning curve, but thank goodness I adapt quickly.”
Can’t Fight the Teaching Instinct
During filming, CeCe sometimes caused a bit of a stir on the set for doing something she loves: teaching others and lending them a hand.
“I’d get in trouble for leaving my space to help other contestants,” she said. “I’m not cutthroat and couldn’t stay in my own little world. I’d make a much better judge or host than a contestant.”
She’s accustomed to sharing her know-how with CeCe School, which she teaches live on social media. People can pay a monthly fee to become a member of her Facebook group, and she teaches them about business matters as well as design concepts.
“When Mom and I started out, neither of us knew how to run a business,” CeCe said. “There wasn’t anybody out there teaching people. I had a small, female-owned business, and there was no script, no model. I made a lot of mistakes – but only once.”
Her group now has about 250 members.
“It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done,” CeCe said. “I love seeing members go forth and prosper.”
Marking Each Episode
She can’t disclose the results of the show, but her upbeat attitude leads one to think that she did well. She’s planning an in-person watch party – “a big shebang here in Birmingham,” she said.
CeCe will do an after-the-show video after each episode of “Table Wars.”
“I might talk about things I’d have done differently with more time or things I’ve changed my mind about,” she said. “I’ll teach you how to make some things.”
The videos will be on her Instagram and Facebook platforms.
Does she see more TV appearances in her future?
“Absolutely,” she said. “If I don’t do something else, I’ll be heartbroken.”