So, what’s it like at the prop house?

10 tips on visiting a prop house for the first time

Have you ever been to a prop house? They’re pretty amazing places full of random homewares, all kinds of furniture and every conceivable style of china, glass wear and cutlery.

A few weeks ago I bumped into a couple of stylist friends who’ve just gone freelance and they were telling me that they had never been to a prop house and were asking me what the set up is before they get their first big commercial shoots. Shooting as a freelancer as apposed to the way you work in-house on a magazine is very different. It’s funny how quickly you forget about those scary emotions when you first go it alone. I remember how petrified I was on getting a fantastically big job a few months after I left Woman and Home. I was commissioned to style a pull out magazine for The Mail. It was all homeware offers and it was a massive 10 day shoot covering most rooms in the house. I was nervous about the styling aspect but the prop hire was one of the things that was freaking me out most.

The budget is HOW MUCH?!?!?!

On being told I had a budget of £6,000 – yes £60000 I had no idea how I was going to finance this. I must add that this was the first and last time I was given such a whopper of a budget. Having never done this kind of shoot before I thought I had to lay out for the props myself but it turns out I should have asked for an advance – something I didn’t find out till later and once I had put it all on a credit card. (They did pay me the advance quickly so my credit card would be cleared in time after the shoot – thank goodness!)
Up until this point I’d paid for prop hire on a credit card. I just assumed that was how things were done. They are not.

Get an advance or get them to pay!

Now I don’t pay for prop hire at all. I always ask the client to pay. It’s so much easier and makes the expenses on a shoot much more simple.

So, back to my conversation… my friends were asking about how you hire from a prop house- as that was where I was headed after our catch up. I’ve been asked this a few times over the years by other new freelancers. It can be a kind of a confusing place. There’re so many forms to fill out, payment to organise, couriers to be booked and that’s not even mentioning how you actually get the products you want. I thought it might be useful to do a video while I was at the prop house. A kind of walk around so you know what to expect when visiting for the first time. You can see that at the end of this post. So here’s what you need to know.

10 tips on how to hire from a prop house

  1. Get an account : The first time you visit a prop house you will need to set up an account. This is pretty simple. They just want to know who you are, what your company name is (ie Emma Morton-Turner – thank you very much!) address and contact details. They may ask for all of this on headed paper. You have to sign their T&C’s form which is basically once you’re set up and hiring you’ll be asked ‘Who’s the hirer for these props?” and you can just say your name rather than the company you’re hiring on the behalf of as they probably won’t have an account.What's it like at a prop house?
  2. Sign in. When you arrive at the prop house don’t forget to sign in – and then out. It’s a safety thing. You can then walk straight past the reception desk and have a look at the props.
  3. Trolley’s: Most prop houses have trolleys or baskets for you to put your props in. It’s a bit like shopping where everything you need is in once place and you have to give it all back again afterwards. At Superhire there are trolleys that you fill. Once you have selected everything you need you park up your trolley near the desks at the front where the guys who organise the loans sit. On their desks are stickers. Write your details : Name, job reference, company hiring from(client) and the all important collection date on it and place it on your trolley.There will be a LOT of trolley’s. Park up then bring your props to the attention of one of the staff. They need to know that you are there or they might not realise there’s a new loan to be arranged. Usually, they’ll just acknowledge you, ask which trolley’s yours, ask who the hire is for (you/client) and when the collection is for and then you can leave.What's it like at a prop house?
  4. The paperwork: Once you’ve left the prop house the staff will go through your hire and list every item on a hire sheet. This is then emailed to you and you can see what the loan is going to cost. This is where you agree to it or ask for items to be removed. I have had to remove super expensive items in the past as they’re cheaper to buy. Ask for an updated invoice if you remove items.What's it like at a prop house?
  5. The payment: Once you’re happy with your hire list the prop house will need a PO on headed paper to be sent. This is an example of a PO. It needs to say who you are hiring from, the date you are collecting and the date you are paying and the total amount including any credit card charges. The client must be the one who sends this on headed paper. It is basically the hire company’s  t&c’s saying that you will take care of the props and are insured and if anything gets damaged you are responsible for repair or replacement. This is why the client MUST be the one to send the PO. They must be responsible otherwise that £1000 antique vase that gets knocked off a shelf is your responsibility to pay for.
    Once the PO has been sent the hire can be paid for. This is usually done over the phone with a company credit card. Most prop houses will charge £5 for paying with a credit card. Payment can also be made by a BACS transfer but make sure that it will clear before your collection date. 
    It’s also good to know that there’s a minimum hire fee of £25+VAT so if you only need an item or two it can be less expensive to buy it – especially when you take into consideration the courier costs.What's it like at a prop house?
  6. Get your timings right . You can hire props for the next day (or even the same day if there’s only a few items and you’re taking them away with you) but the guys who check it out won’t be very happy with you. Always try and leave at least 2-3 days between selecting the items and collecting them. You can organised loans a week before your shoot. Stylists who set up TV programs book whole room sets months in advance.
  7. Be organised: Make sure you have a list. Pretty obvious I know but in the past I’ve gone with a long list with everything I need for each shot on it but now I put everything into sections so all the china, furniture, accessories, random stuff I need in one list not all jumbled up. That way it’s easier to walk around and find things without it taking all day. I learnt the hard way.
  8. It takes time: Expect to be at the prop house for a few hours. Prop houses are like time warp machines. I don’t think I’ve ever borrowed something and it hasn’t taken me at least 2 hours to get it sorted. If you’re borrowing furniture AND accessories it will take some time to plan and organise travelling between different floors. 
    Hiring furniture will often mean you will need to source from one floor then go and physically get someone who will organise your loan from another floor, take them back to the furniture so they can label it up then go back to their desk to see what it costs to hire. There can be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing!
  9. Returning props: Most prop house loans are for a one week hire. Go one day over and you have to pay the whole hire fee again. I’ve negotiated discounts on a second week’s hire fee when props were returned on the 8th day but it was tricky!
  10. Share the costs: Make sure the client knows what the courier fees are going to be. Clients who are new to prop hire are often surprised buy the additional costs. As a very rough figure on a recent shoot my couriers recently charged £475 to collect from Superhire prop house, hold overnight, deliver to a london location in the morning then collect from the location later that day and return to the prop house the following day.What's it like at a prop house?

A word about Superhire

Superhire is one of the bigger prop houses. It houses a number of prop hire companies under one roof :-

  • Furniture hire : Anything and everything from pub stools, vintage school desks, sofas, beds, dining tables dressers etc
  • Small hire: Anything not furniture from seasonal items, china, glassware cutlery, bar accessories, candles, office equipment, old bicycles, Christmas, everything!!
  • Modern props – Super modern styled furniture and accessories including on trend vintage/industrial items, backdrops
  • Old Times: Think antiques roadshow
  • All clear images (within Modern Props)  : Works of art that are cleared for photography and filming. Some are really large.

Hiring from any of these companies will require a separate PO and payment. I will often hire from 2-3 of these companies for any one shoot.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to return the props to the correct department. Although rogue vases destined for modern props that end up in small hire should find their way back to the correct floor this rarely happens and it will end with a ‘lost prop’ invoice for the replacement of that item at full price. Been there done that! Don’t like it!

So I hope that gives you a clear idea of what a prop house is like and how to navigate around one and hire your props? The last time I was at Superhire I did a quick video walk around so I could share it with you so you can see the different departments. Have a look at the video. I hope it’s useful.

Till next time

EmmaMT x

EmmaMT

Austria the Viking way

One of the biggest perks of being an Interior stylist has to be the amazing places you get invited to. Last week I was lucky enough to join the Viking PR team and 15 other journalists on a trip to Austria and Munich to see the Viking Head offices and factory. “Would I like to go?” they asked. “Hell yeah”

I’d never been to Munich where we were flying in to or Austria where the factory was. That was a big pull for me. That and the fact that I love a good tour around a factory – must be my product design background.

Viking are part of the Stihl group and manufacture the most vibrant green garden equipment you will ever see. Everything from mono arm lawn mowers, ride on lawn mowers, to leaf blowers, tillers and shredders. In fact I had no idea they had so many products. Their brochure has over 65 products in it.

The Viking way

The trip started bright and breezy with a flight from Heathrow to Munich. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time for some “Plane food”. Is that not the coolest name for an airport restaurant? Nice one Gordon Ramsey!  After seeing the sunrise over the runway and with a full English  breakfast or its veggie alternatives in our tummies we were off on our way.

The coach journey took us to the Viking factory in Kufstein in Austria and was totally spectacular. It literally took my breath away. It was long flat roads for about half an hour and then it happened. The mountains arrived.

Oh – My – Goodness!

The views across the countryside as we reached Austria just had me mesmerised. It was a combination of deep blue skies, tall mountains and forests full of snow laden trees for as far as the eye could see. It was just beautiful. I think it’s the closest I’ve come to a perfect picture postcard moment. All the buildings were cute chalets – some small. Some not so much!  The Viking offices are literally at the bottom of one of the mountains. It’s a view you would never get tired of seeing.

The tour

I love a factory tour and was a bit sad that I couldn’t take photos to share with you but I’ll give you a few pointers of things that I learnt on the tour that make Viking such an amazing company.

  • Viking was a small family run business which produced just garden shredders when it was bought by Stihl in 1981. In 1984 they moved to their current premises in Kufstein (as seen above just below the stunning mountains!) so they had room to grow. And grow they did – doubling the premises not once but three times by 2012.
  • Viking have the same high quality standard and customer service as Stihl. Products are produced on site and are rigorously checked and tested everyday.
  • The main manufacturing time for Viking is in the winter months so they’re ready for the busy season come spring. They employ local farmers for those few months when they become quieter (as everywhere is covered in snow). This means that the workforce can keep production levels and standards high. There’s a real family atmosphere at the company. The same farmers come back to work year after year.
  • The UK are known for their love of lawns. Apparently no-one cares about their grass like we do. Viking even make some of their mowers cut blades of grass as low as 18mm just for us. Other countries keep it to “standard” 22mm. We also are the only country obsessed with rollers on the back of our mowers so we can get the all important stripes. Scandinavian’s like to have a mower that mulches, Germany like to scarify and France is a nation of tillers – just so you know!
  • Everything is as eco-friendly as possible from the lithium iron rechargeable batteries right down to the re-use of bubble wrap and cardboard boxes. Even the factory has big windows and LED lighting for energy efficiency.
  • The overriding feeling from all the staff – from the developers and testers to the MD and sales managers is that they love their work and are passionate about the Viking company, their brand and the products they make. There was a really lovely family feeling throughout the headquarters. It was good to see.

10 reasons to buy a Viking lawn mowers

I haven’t ever had to buy a lawn mower so I was really intrigued by how they’re designed and why elements have certain components and levels of quality. Here’s a few good reasons to choose a Viking lawn mower:-

  1. The cutting blade has been developed to withstand knocks that won’t harm the engine. It whizzes around at 28,000 revs per minute pulling the blades of grass upwards so they can all be cut to the same length making a beautiful lawn.
  2. Lawnmowers for the average household are designed to last for 50-100 hours. That’s 10 years to you or me – unless you have a football pitch sized garden. Professional mowers are made to last for 2,000 hours.
  3. The plastic casing is a special patented design made to withstand knocks from hidden stones. That thing is made to last!
  4. These lawnmowers are really quiet. There is an aeroacoustic room at the factory which has foam walls, ceiling and floors with microphones set up to record the noise volume of each machine. (I have never experienced pure silence before. It’s a bit eery and totally fascinating. I desperately wanted to touch the cone walls but we weren’t allowed- that or scream my head off and see if anyone outside the room could hear!). Mowers are randomly selected to be tested to ensure the production lines are still producing perfect items which don’t go over the regulated decibel. It’s interesting to know that it’s the blade and not the motor that creates the noise so they are continuously designing quieter and more efficient blades.
  5. Viking mowers are only available from independent dealers who have workshops so you can be guaranteed of a good customer service long after you’ve taken it home. They also train purchasers how to use their items – very important with a Stihl chain saw!
  6. The grass collection boxes have a little pop up component so you know when it’s full. They have holes on the side so you can really fill them up- 40l full.
  7. The handle designs are very ergonomic. I was really impressed with the mono arm. Apart from the fact that it looked pretty fab it can be folded over for neat storage which also means you can get to the collection box really easily.
  8. You can stand the mowers on their backs once you’ve folded the handles down. Perfect for cleaning and stowing them away in a shed.
  9. The batteries are amazing. They’re Stihl and are made to last and give you plenty of energy to complete mowing your lawn without needing to recharge them.
  10. Viking don’t compromise on safety, quality or service so they aren’t readily available on-line, or as Wolfgang Simmer their sales and marketing manager put it “service is everything”.

The Fortress

After the tour we headed off to our hotel Stadt in Kufstein for a quick refresh and then on to dinner at the Kufstein Fortress. By this time the temperature had dropped to -7. It was exhilarating.  Our hotel was a short 10 minute walk to the restaurant which was up at the top of the fortress. We had the choice of taking the funicular up or walking the icy zigzag path with views. Yep, you guessed it. I took the path! It was worth it.

The views on the way up were great but as it was night we couldn’t see too far. What was amazing was when we walked the VERY cold path to the open courtyard at the fortress summit with trees full of snow we were greeted by waiters in traditional Bavarian costume with trays of gluhwein- which is an Austrian mulled wine. I had been chatting and smiling all the way up the path so when I was handed this delicious drink and took a sip my cold teeth tingled against the very hot drink. It was delicious but at that temperature it turned cold within 3-4 minutes. Let’s be honest here, mine didn’t last two minutes!

Dinner was in a magnificent hall with a roaring fire and suit of armour. The meal was epic. Four courses of traditional food which had us all stuffed to the brim. All the while we were eating there was a musician playing an electric zither. It wasn’t until I got up I realised he was there. He was so good I thought it was the sound system. Nice touch. Viking really did make us feel like VIP’s. The hosting was exemplary.

As we walked back down into town we may have nipped into the gin bar Stollen 1930 which is literally a 600 year old cave. A few of us bundled into a booth and had a few rounds chosen from the menu of … wait for it… 811 types of gin. We could see the bar staff looking on the immense shelves for the ones we had ordered. It was during round two that I may or may not have fallen asleep at the table with drink in hand! Well, it had been a long day and I’m not much of a drinker! Time for bed!

Off to Munich

Day two started off with the best continental breakfast I’ve ever had. There were the usual cereals, bacon, eggs, toast, salads and loads of cheeses and meats etc but there were amazing cakes too – breakfast donut anyone? I filled my boots before having the best coffee of my life. The coffee in Austria is just köstlich (delicious)

Back to the Viking headquarters for a quick Q&A session before heading back to Munich for a wander and lunch.

A few of us headed off into the town centre to take a look around. The fountains in the square were spouting water but had so much ice around them.  The Neues Rathaus- the new town hall which looks totally ancient with its gargoyles, ornate neo gothic design but it was built around 1903. If you time it right you get to see the glockenspiel and dancing figures. They literally started up as we got to the square.

From the square we headed down to the Viktualienmarkt. This large square is where you can find up to 140 food stalls in warmer weather. I love walking around street markets abroad. You find so many great things. I could have thrown out all my clothes so I could get the cheese into my suitcase!

The florist was a place we spent quite a long time at. I mean go figure – there was me and a load of garden writers! We couldn’t get enough of the blooms or the rusty plant labels.

Lunch

As if we hadn’t eaten enough in the last 24 hours we were then treated to another traditional meal this time at Spatenhaus an der Oper – The opera house, situated on Max-Joseph-Platz the largest square in Munich. The restaurant has two floors and in the summer there’s outdoor seating. We were upstairs in one of the private dining rooms where it was lovely and warm. The decor was very wooden with antlers on the walls and amazing paintings everywhere. The staff were dressed in traditional clothing which was a nice touch. The food as you can imagine was delicious. Here we had sauerkraut and red cabbage. These two dished are typically jewish but I had never had any like these before. To start with they served it warm. It was something else! Amazing.  After our four course meal it was time to head home.

I want to thank Viking and HROC for such a fantastic, fun-filled trip. You made us all feel like VIP’s – hanging on our every comment, question and criticism with class.  We not only came away with a greater understanding of your values and high standards but we can see how happy and enthusiastic you are about your products. It’s infectious. Lastly – what a great bunch of people. I don’t think I have laughed so much with a group of people I have only just met ever!   Let’s do it again next year!

EmmaMT

p.s. A few days after this trip Viking announced that as of 2019 all the Viking brand will be known as Stihl and will change from green to orange to create a more streamlined business approach. Makes sense if you ask me!

EmmaMT

The scariest launch I’ve ever styled!

Bricking it at the OrbitBricking iI’ve done quite a few press launches now and I would say I’m a pretty calm and collected person. I’ve been a stylist for over 16 years so not much really phases me. I’ve waffled my way through magazine planning meetings and dealt with missing props on big Christmas shoots but nothing really prepared me for the launch I took part in back in September last year. I was asked to style a launch at the Acelor Mittal Orbit at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park in Stratford for DeLonghi.

The client was Clarion Communication and this was the third press launch I had styled for them. The product being launched was the Avvolta breakfast range consisting of a beautiful toaster and kettle. The design has the effect of ribbons beings wrapped around each appliance and they really are stunning.

Each appliance is a solid colour – black, white or red and then has a clear band of acrylic wrapped around them giving the item depth and a deeper colour band. You have to see them up close to see how gorge they are. 

The reccy

The Clarion team behind DeLonghi arranged a meeting at the Orbit and I have to say it’s such an amazing structure. I had seen it from the A12 on my way to shoots north of the river many times but had never seen it up close before- let alone gone all the way to the top! If you get the chance – do it. It’s spectacular.

We met with the Orbit event organiser and the aerial artists. Yes. aerial artists! That when I started to feel queazy. When I arrived I didn’t know anything about the event. I didn’t even know what the launch was for or what their plans were. Their plans were big!

As it unfolded the idea was to create an art gallery feel at the launch on the viewing platform and the aerial artists were to be doing a performance hanging high up in the centre part of the Orbit on silks – 374 ft up. That’s when I started to feel a bit queasy.

Bricking it at the Orbit

We went up in the lift and the view as you step out at the top is incredible. You know that you’re going to be high up but it’s truly spectacular. There are two giant curved mirrors which are works of art and turn the view upside down depending on where you stand. We later found out that the mirrors are worth £1,000,000 each and the phase “Don’t touch the mirrors” was soon used by the whole team- regularly! The room is round and it has a square hole in the middle with floor to ceiling windows so you can look down at the twisting structure below. That’s where the artists were going to be dangling. OMG!

My task was to hang a curtain in front of the windows in the centre that would be dropped down and reveal the products and the artists. I was going to have to somehow secure a curtain pole to the ceiling of this amazing structure!!!

The props

When it comes styling a launch like this you have to make sure you answer the clients brief whilst making sure that the products take centre stage. After the reccy I went away and drew out what I thought the room should look like. Around each window in the centre would be two plinths to display one colour toaster and kettle. The main colour theme for the whole launch was red so we had red twice.Bricking it at the Orbit

Along the far wall I devised a stream of ribbons hanging from the ceiling and some criss cross ribbons at two windows which were going to be situated behind two easels showing off Avvolta inspirationsBricking it at the Orbit

The big job

The hardest part of this launch for me was the curtain. How do I attach a curtain pole to the ceiling and how do I make the curtain stay up and fall down when needed and not pull the ceiling down at the same time?

The Event organiser for the Orbit said it was fine to use plaster board raw plugs and screw into the ceiling but I wasn’t so sure. What if I break it – it’s a national monument after all! How would I do that anyway? And how do you make curtains fall down on cue?

I had a good few sleepless nights over that curtain pole I’ll tell you – and I usually sleep like a log!  I have a background in product design so I tend to see these sorts of problems as completely solvable. Team that with a husband who has worked in builders merchants for years and knows all about all sorts of tools and equipment. I could do this. Couldn’t I?

Well it turns out I would have to! As soon as I decided that maybe I needed a set builder to help I couldn’t find one who was free. After a conversation with one who told me that this curtain set up is called a Kubiki curtain where it drops down and he could do it for £2-3/k. Two thousand pound! For a curtain!! Turns out it is done electronically with a remote and you simply push a button and the curtain pole releases the curtain. That was out of the question. I had to do it.

THE curtain!

A Kubiki curtain is when a curtain pole is used to support a curtain which has ringlets at the top. Each ringlet sits on a spoke and when you’re ready the pole moves forward and the curtain drops off the spokes and gently falls to the ground. Easy right?

Did I mention that the curtain had to be four meters wide to hide the whole of the front window? I managed to make a very light weight curtain pole in four sections using a thin piece of wood with pipe clips holding it in place. The curtain pole was made using a thin white plumbers tube. I knocked nails into the tube at regular intervals then matched the rivets on the curtain to the nails. Then all I had to do was set it up.

In the end the ceiling didn’t need any screwing at all. I just used wire threaded through the holes in the ceiling  to secure the wooden boards in place then popped the curtain pole into position. The problem came when I did a test run the night before the event. The curtain kept dropping down before I’d put the last panel on. Oh SHIT!

The solution

I worked out that if I placed a piece of ribbon over the nails and attached them from behind we could cut them to release the curtain for the drop down. The only worry was that we weren’t going to get a trial run. To say I was stressed out would be an understatement. I didn’t know if it was going to work. No – one could talk to me while I was setting up the curtains and at one point I said to the client “I really wouldn’t talk to me right now!” as I was up a ladder fiddling with ribbons and curtain poles. – Sorry G!

Launch day

The plan from the pr’s point of view was to gather up the guests at the base of the Orbit, bring them up together in the lift and give them coffees and breakfast canapés then do the speeches, watch a short video then drop the curtain to reveal the products on plinths and the arial performers. All the guests were standing right next to the curtain. One person’s shoe could have sent the whole thing down! 

The guests stood around chatting for much longer than expected. My lovely and very calm assistant Kasia and I were positioned behind the curtain ready to cut the extra ribbons and give the curtains a tug if they did’t fall. The PR’s were positioned along the front of of the curtain to stop anyone from touching it. It could have done at any moment. I was bricking it!

One of the PR’s was standing behind the curtain with us with a walkie talkie to ensure the music for the arial artists and the curtain drop was perfectly timed. It felt like ages that we had to wait to drop that curtain and all the time seeing peoples elbows poking the curtain. I felt sick. When we finally got the go ahead Kasia and I cut the two central curtain ribbons and then the outer before I had to give the curtain a gentle tug for the whole curtain to drift elegantly down. It worked! Pfew!Bricking it at the Orbit

I’m not afraid to admit that I actually shed a tear of relief once we had pulled it off.

Here’s the video of the event.

After the curtain came down everyone stood and watched the artists who were mesmerising. I can’t believe they dangled 114m up. So brave!

The guests had the chance to go down the Orbit slide which is the tallest and fasted slide in the world – or so I was told. I was just happy with a fallen curtain.

EmmaMT x

Curtain drop video :Gareth Griffiths

event photography:

Crazy curtain styling: EmmaMT

Assisted by Kasia Borowiecka 

Additional event set up: Emma Fishman & Bethan Reen 

EmmaMT