Studio Visit: The Surface Library
Most would be surprised to discover that Los Angeles is lacking in the prop rental department. Granted, there are dozens of prop houses stacked with movie sets, large furniture, random objects of fantastical proportions and all kinds of over-sized oddities...but not many options when it comes to small-scale styling jobs... especially for those specializing in food styling.
Enter The Surface Library. A dedicated table-top prop house that is catering specifically to those in need to set the scene for their upcoming cookbook, recipe blog post or styled photoshoot. Eureka! We no longer need to drive 3 freeways hangry and helplessly scouring the city for a lone porcelain spoon. We no longer have to be embarrassed by our own personal overflowing prop collections or hoarding habits...wait, never mind....that's probably not changing. One thing is for certain. The Surface Library couldn't have sprouted up at a better time and there is definitely a market need here in the city.
Don't have time this weekend to go to Home Depot and gather supplies to subway tile you're own faux-backsplash? Yeah, that deadline crept up quick on us too...Thankfully The Surface Library will not only help you get the table set stylishly (and affordably), they've also got quite the collection of actual table tops (it is called the Surface Library after all). Regardless of your project, they've got just the right weathered or polished surface guaranteed to make your shoot a thrilling success.
We met up with Amy & Alicia to talk about what goes on behind the scenes and to find out if they're really just shameless hoarders like the rest of us. The answer is yes, but at least they have a pretty good excuse for it....unlike some of us at DXD. Grin.
Who: Amy Paliwoda & Alicia Buszczak
Where: Hollywood, CA
Tell us about how The Surface Library came to life. Was it result of an over- stuffed garage of personal prop stocking or a planned vision to service a missing market for Los Angeles?
Too much stuff, AND a little vision makes a prop house! Amy moved to Los Angeles in 2001, and as a tabletop stylist, was always amazed that in a city with 100 prop houses, not one specialized in shooting surfaces and tabletop props. She’s actually not much of a hoarder, but started collecting a large amount, as there was never the time, budget or availability to find what was needed for jobs. Shooting surfaces were always an issue. When Alicia moved here in 2010, she ran into the same exact roadblocks and Amy began lending her pieces for shoots. Amy had been considering opening a tabletop prop house for some years, and talking to Alicia made it seem like a real possibility. We decided to partner up, and move forward. Alicia came up with the name, ‘The Surface Library’, Renee offered us space in Hudson studios, and before we had time to second guess it, we hit the ground running.
Are there particular places you scout for new props and surfaces, or do you work with local artisans to produce/acquire items for specific styling requests?
Our pieces come from everywhere. We are always personally shopping for styling jobs, so the stock is ever changing based on what we need. We are now getting feedback from stylists in town, so that has a huge impact on what we acquire. A client recently said our stock ‘Brings the special’ to her shoot, which I think is what we aim for. You can get the big stuff and basics anywhere. We want pieces that are too expensive for the normal budget purchase; custom designs by local potters and artists, surfaces with found wood, amazing faux finishes and great vintage. We both like to work on surfaces when we have free time, and also have a lot of talented people we turn to who create beautiful things for us. What's the most important lesson you've learned running this type of business? Any notable stories or strange requests from clients...it is Hollywood, after all!
The most gratifying thing for us has been the huge outpouring of support from the Los Angeles art department and food community. People are excited to have us here, and other prop houses have been supportive. It’s such a cool community to serve. The most ‘Hollywood’ moment was a recent pull for an Oscars promo. That’s how you know you’re part of the Los Angeles set dec community, for sure.
What's a typical day like at the prop house? What items are most requested?
A typical day includes managing the flow of customers, packing and unpacking, and a lot of very OCD bouts of organizing. There are always projects, cleaning and repairs. It’s never dull. As for a typical pull, there are none. Some people come in strictly for surfaces, others for a huge pull of smalls. We have bloggers and chefs that will do a small rental for a project they are shooting, and we have huge commercial pulls for clients like McDonalds, Starbucks and West Elm. It keeps things interesting. We are lucky to have two awesome employees, Josh and Rita, who are amazing at dealing with the day to day needs of our clients.
If you could pick one or two favorites - what prized items available in the library do you love most?
ALICIA: I’m enamored with a few pieces of our glassware. I tend to do a lot of drink shoots and we have some real gems in our collection that act like a perfect, finishing piece of jewelry on set.
What's next!? Any projects or collaborations you'd like to make happen this year?
AMY: Metal Surfaces. We want to do a whole bunch of awesome zinc and copper.
ALICIA: I’d like to include a “How it shoots” gallery to the website. Sometimes a surface or prop can look uninspired, but really comes to life on set. I’d love to show clients the unexpected possibilities in our collections.
Get ready for some serious prop envy and check out the wide variety of table top items, kitchen tools and surfaces over on The Surface Library website. We're already feeling inspired (and relieved) they are nearby to assist us with any and all upcoming styling needs!
Photography: Kristin Guy