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Our Photo Producer's Quest to Clean Out the Prop Cabinets

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As the majority of us do in the first few weeks of January, the Food52 prop keepers (of which I am one) vowed to reorganize and edit our collection of kitchenwares. We went through the stacks of plates, bowls, glasses, jars, silverware, and more that we use as props in our photography, to sort out what we no longer use and to figure out how the rest of it could be organized neatly—and logically. What ensued was an all-out tidying spree.

It has to get worse before it gets better.
It has to get worse before it gets better.

Surprisingly, it only took a few days to accomplish—and I’m delighted to announce that our prop cabinets are, after many months of feeling cluttered, in tip-top shape. For those who enjoy cleaning projects, here's a play-by-play of my own joy-sparking prop reorganization, which followed this pattern: Remove everything, get rid of the fluff, and put what remains back in a logical fashion. It's not rocket science, but it does take some concentration!

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Studio Cabinet 1, mid-cleaning.
Studio Cabinet 1, mid-cleaning.

First up: studio prop cabinets.

I call these the "studio" cabinets because they're the ones closest to our photo set, where we store our most regularly-used props: plates, bowls, and glasses (there's a cabinet for each, three in a row). Before my tidying spree, the first cabinet featured a random collection of dangerously stacked plates, with an assortment of pinch bowls, creamer vessels, and soup bowls all hiding within each other in the second cabinet, and an anxiety-inducing jungle of glassware and silverware in the third.

The only solution here was to take every plate out and sort them according to color and size. Lucky for me, our Art Director Alexis went through the assortment first and vetoed some plates we never use, which went on to find homes with lucky Food52-ers.

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Stacks—by size and color.

After about 20 minutes of grouping, I had many stacks of plates and a strategy to arrange them in the cabinets by size and color. The new arrangement is almost like a spectrum—which makes everything much easier to see, and it takes less than half the time to find what you’re looking for. Small dark plate? Bottom left. Grey medium plate? Dead center.

The following week, our Assistant Editor Caroline used a cool blue-edged plate that I had never seen before rearranging the cabinets(!). (That just goes to show you it really does pay to organize.)

Blue-edged plate, once lost. Now found!
Blue-edged plate, once lost. Now found! Photo by Bobbi Lin

I used similar tactics for the other two studio cabinets. Previously, the center cabinet had a miscellany of bowl-shaped ceramics—from solo creamers and sugar bowls to pinch bowls, prep bowls, and soup bowls. With the help of the editors, I made some labeling that would help guide the props to their proper homes after they came off set going forward.

The Bowl Cabinet: all laid out for sorting (left) and after (right).

And the last cabinet was so full of glasses that finding what you wanted within it was a cruel game—every time you grabbed a glass you wanted you risked having another fall to its death. But after some deleting, rearranging, and replacing, the remaining glasses and other drinking vessels had more space and were easy to spot, just like the bowls and plates.

The Glass & Flatware Cabinet, with enough breathing room to actually reach in and grab what you need safely.
The Glass & Flatware Cabinet, with enough breathing room to actually reach in and grab what you need safely.

What did I take away, besides that you really have to buckle down and do this kind of clean-out from time to time? I learned that the effort you put into your reorganization, big or small, will pay off tenfold in making your life more efficient and easier in general. Take your time, set whatever parameters you like (joy or otherwise), and be thorough. Happy cleaning!

Tags: props, cleaning, kitchen cabinets, serveware, dishware