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Tools of the Trade: Prop Culture

Tools of the Trade: Prop Culture

Pictured: Prop design by The Meetinghouse Companies. To view more props by The Meetinghouse Companies, see Tools of the Trade in our October print issue.

With many event professionals feeling the squeeze of a tightening economy, prop houses provide a smart way for producers to enhance event decor without investing in extra inventory. Here, prop experts from across the country discuss today's market and top prop themes, and give helpful tips on proper prop rental strategies.


Lisa Tucker, president of Theme Warehouse in Downey, Calif., says props are a wise choice for cash-conscious producers because “they are readily available, and it costs less to use things that are already around rather than building.”

Today's prop houses often stock items that can be adapted to a range of budgets as well as to varying client demands and event themes. “The challenge in props right now is designing props that are adaptable, so that the client doesn't feel that they're seeing the same thing [they've seen before],” says Deborah Borsum, CSEP, CMP, executive producer for Chicago-based The Meetinghouse Companies. Her company values a prop “that we can use over and over, but modify to make it fit and customize it to a particular theme.” She adds, “It helps us with our rentability and profitability, and at the same time gives the client the sophisticated look they are wanting.”


Famous sites and regional landmarks often inspire prop rentals. Tucker says Hollywood- and beach-themed props are big among her Southern California clients.

“Everyone comes to Florida and wants a ‘Welcome to Florida’ party,” says Jack Zweifel, owner and president of Orlando, Fla.-based Spectacular Themes. “Right now, Latin street parties, little Havana … that type of stuff is really popular.”

Borsum notes the popularity of her firm's Chicago skyline set, as well as a replica Marshall Field's department store clock and a Picasso statue — two major Chicago landmarks.


Combining props with lighting assists in creating a complete event environment. Lighting is essential to Brett Kaufman, president of Cleveland-based Designs of Distinction. “We could bring in the most beautiful decor element in the world, and if it isn't lit properly, you'd be wasting your money,” he says.

Special effects lighting is an embellishment that Borsum uses to add excitement to props. Borsum brings in black lighting and bright colors that can help make a prop “fun and more exciting,” she says. “It's not just putting in flats and cutouts.”


When using props, what you don't know can hurt you. The biggest mistake event producers make is not researching prop facilities, Tucker says: “You need to know your elevator sizes; you need to make sure that the props you are renting are actually going to fit in the room that you're trying to get them in.”

Not shopping ahead is another mistake producers often make, according to Alan Songer, assistant general manager of Los Angeles-based Omega/Cinema Props. He says, “The best thing is to go in and pre-shop, and reserve the item, because in the busy season you could walk into our prop house and see 10 things that are perfect and eight of them are booked for somebody else.”

“Know your vendors,” Kaufman advises. He recommends that prop-shoppers look at lists provided by ISES, NACE and MPI for reliable suppliers. “I'd go to those lists first to find a vendor that I know is going to give me a quality product,” he says.

RESOURCES: Designs of Distinction, 888/718-2054; Omega/Cinema Props, 323/466-8201; Spectacular Themes, 407/648-4540; The Meetinghouse Companies, 630/941-0600; Theme Warehouse, 562/529-2222

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