THERE'S NO DOUBT about the importance of inventive props for setting the scene at special events. “The swagged fabrics, the specialty lighting, the props and furnishings all play a crucial part in making guests feel like they are somewhere special,” notes Eliot Brodsky, owner of Eclectic Encore Props in Brooklyn, N.Y. Here, the experts discuss the latest props that are adding sizzle to event spaces.

LUXE LOOKS

“The hottest trend is the ultra lounge,” explains Pam Morrison, director of sales and marketing at Las Vegas-based Hollywood Props Design Group. “Clients prefer to have their guests feel comfortable and classy rather than in a stuffy, uncomfortable environment.” The company's collection of furniture includes sleek sofas, ottomans and tables, which they've supplied for everything from backstage lounge areas at awards shows to corporate events. At a movie premiere after-party in Beverly Hills, Calif., in March, “The client's request was for all white, which seems to be a trend lately,” Morrison says.

At Eclectic Encore Props, which rents contemporary and period furniture, “Fun, bright-colored items ranging from couches and chairs to large fiberglass items have been very popular in the last few months,” Brodsky says. Also popular over the last year have been “the more theatrical-looking themed props,” he notes. The company's carnival and circus items have been top requests for events such as product launches.

Steve Weiner, vice president of The Prop Shop in Pittsburgh, has seen a trend for bigger, brighter props in the past year. For sizzle on a small budget, he recommends using “big props rather than numerous little props,” as they provide a bigger impact. “Guests will remember what they see in the first three to four seconds,” Weiner notes. He adds that when it comes to creating custom props for his clients, “nothing beats talented artists.”

PARTY PIECES

From Hawaiian luaus to carnivals, creating design elements for themed events is where props really shine.

“The use of themed items gives an event a particular direction and puts the party-goers in the correct mood,” explains Jerry Barnett, creative director of Decorative Novelty in Brooklyn, N.Y. “By combining props with the other parts of an event, such as food, music and costumes, a complete package is [created for] the guests.”

The company's oversize martini glasses, especially the 20-inch and 28-inch versions, have been in demand recently as centerpieces and room decor. “A James Bond ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ theme has been very popular incorporating the martini glasses with acrylic diamonds and ice chips,” Barnett says. The company also manufactures custom pieces, and “event planners should be aware that anything is possible,” he adds. “Decor items can be manufactured fairly easily. We produce new decorative items all the time for major retail chains, and there is no reason why the same can't be done for the event industry.”

American Rotational Molding/Meese Orbitron Dunne in La Mirada, Calif., has introduced a prop set for use at bar and bat mitzvahs. The set includes 19-inch-tall numerals “1” and “3” made from durable polyethylene, as well as a rectangular platform base that gives the numbers a total height of 3 feet. The prop set “enhances themed event decor while providing a dating mechanism in photos taken at the affair,” the company says.

Light-up products are also adding drama to event spaces. “Whether it is just a simple wash of the room or as minimal but dramatic as under-lit tables, every type of lighting is vitally important,” Morrison notes.

Stephen Hamel, owner of Fancy Faces in Covington, La., says, “The fastest growing decor trend we're seeing is lighted centerpieces — this includes lighted bases and battery-operated lampshades.” In addition to providing light, the centerpieces can be topped with props that reinforce an event's theme, such as a futuristic spandex “nebula” or an obelisk. The company's retro-cool LampLites are made with plastic frames and spandex lampshades. “We've learned that spandex is probably the most versatile and flexible medium we use for decorating. We basically paint with spandex,” Hamel says.

HANDLE WITH CARE

The experts note that while props are perfect for enhancing themes and adding excitement to room decor, they also require careful handling to prevent damage or loss.

“The end of the event seems to be when damage occurs most,” Brodsky says. “I think it is very important to get staff accustomed to packing and transporting the items back in the same manner as when they arrived. There's nothing worse than having to bill for missing and damaged items.”

Planners should also practice loss prevention at their events. “When using props, people should always be aware that someone does own them and they will have to be returned,” Hamel notes. “Great props usually mean more risk of theft by guests. This is a difficult subject to talk about,” he acknowledges. “Some clients feel that guests would never take the centerpiece or props, [but] we have been surprised by these experiences more than once.”




RESOURCES

American Rotational Molding/Meese Orbitron Dunne, 888/724-1228; Decorative Novelty, 718/965-8600; Eclectic Encore Props, 212/645-8880; Fancy Faces, 800/752-3480; Hollywood Props Design Group, 702/732-7767; The Prop Shop, 412/441-8936