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


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 


Christmas 2016 with Talking Tables

It’s about time I shared with you some of the shots I styled for Talking Tables Christmas shoot.  The ranges are fantastically diverse so there’s something to suit all styles. If you want to see some behind the scenes shots from this shoot check out the last post

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Styling: EmmaMT

Photography: Oliver Gordon

Stylist Assistant Stella Ajao 

Products: Talking Tables 


EmmaMT x

Want to see what it looked like behind the scenes at this shoot? Check out this fun post here