The Prop Factory feature on Channel 4's Extreme Cake Makers!

by Carys - Stylist for The Prop Factory

Friday 17th May 2019 13:31:37


How it came to be. . .

As stylist here at the Prop Factory, part of my job is to create event decor inspiration for our customers' creative events. I'm always interested in making connections with other companies whose work seems a good match with our own values, so when the opportunity arose to do a photo shoot at Aynhoe Park, I couldn't have been more excited. Aynhoe Park is a ridiculously grand country estate on the edge of the Cotswolds which has been turned into something unique by its owners Sophie and James. At The Prop Factory we have an ever-growing collection of Victorian-with-a-twist props that I could see fitting right into Aynhoe Park's extraordinary interiors and I was certain that it would make an amazing backdrop to photograph our unusual animal-inspired items.

Next came the site visit. We were given access to wander around Aynhoe Park and scout out the ideal room to create the photoshoot. What a treat! I'd imagined it might be hard to pick a place, but as soon as I saw the Orangery I knew I had found what I was looking for. The space was wide open and tropical feeling. The walls were covered in historic architecture with safari animals placed in such random yet perfect places. It left me completely inspired to fill the space with our amazing props. The sun was streaming through the window and catching the three giant glitter balls, covering the space in hundreds of tiny sparkles of light. That's when the theme for the photoshoot came to me - a Victorian inspired safari ball.

With a theme set and prop ideas flowing, I couldn't wait to get back and put some of my ideas together - but not before I'd spent some time taking a good few selfies with the most gorgeous, gentle-looking giraffe who was floating in the corner of the room, courtesy of a bunch of oversized white balloons.

One person I knew we had to contact straight away was Christine at Peboryon Cakes. Together with her partner Phil, Christine creates incredible cake installations and, like us, she is based in the West Country. Through conversations with our director, Carmen, we knew that she was as keen as we were to collaborate with Aynhoe Park on something very, very special and to my delight she was free. When we were contacted a few days later by Channel 4, who wanted to film Christine's creations for their series Extreme Cake Makers, it was like the final piece of the jigsaw slotting into place.

Putting it all together. . .

My inspiration for a photoshoot, like the inspiration for our props, comes from all kinds of different places. Carmen and I had plenty of meetings where we dreamt up extra props to enhance the theme. We also made a list of lovely words to describe what we wanted to create: immersive, dream-like, safari, tropical, Victorian-inspired and botanical were just a few. All of this went into my mood board that would share our photoshoot concept across our ever-growing team of collaborators.

Some fabulous Victorian images of elaborate iced puddings found in a couple of old interiors books helped me to express my vision to Christine, who was to create a cake installation. As Extreme Cake Makers was being filmed I needed the cake to take centre stage in the shoot, but also to be sharing the limelight with our glorious props. For TV filming purposes, the final cake design had to be kept a bit of a secret and revealed on the day of the shoot. This made things more than a little tricky! However, Christine and I shared what details we could. We agreed on the props and furniture we would use to display her creations and I trusted that whatever she produced would be wonderful.

The first definite piece of furniture we decided on was our apothecary bar. This grand piece of faux-furniture was created by us using recycled wood and reclaimed, mismatched handles - its almost a text-book example of everything the Prop Factory loves. Practically, it has a large, flat surface and is very sturdy - perfect for displaying cakes. I planned to stack up some of our vintage chests and travel trunks, with plants and books nestled amongst them, almost like a well-travelled Victorian adventurer's library.

As this was to be 'extreme' cake makers, we needed to make sure that we didn't forget the wow factor, which is where our collection of bird cages came in. Cakes in cages - how unusual! The challenge would be getting them into the cages and suspending them in and around the apothecary bar - but that was for later. For now, Christine had to plan her creations from my brief, without actually having the cages to work with.

At that stage, I don't think I really knew what a symbolic part of the shoot the cages would turn out to be. With our props firmly in place, I was able to concentrate on the creative aspect of the shoot. I knew I wanted it to have an editorial look, with the models in Victorian ball gowns (by Days of Grace Vintage) dancing underneath the giant glitter balls, surrounded by a hoard of our eclectic furniture and props. With the cages in mind, I decided to give each of the three models an animal identity, a zebra, a peacock and a lion. Three theatrical headpieces were created by Pluma Headdresses to represent the animals. Pluma works mainly with feathers which suddenly suited the concept to perfection. Models escaping the cages, like birds that had been set free and instead replaced with cakes, which were danced around by free spirited models - how immersive!

The big day. . .

Extremely early in the morning we set off from Exeter with a van jam packed full of the props we had planned to take - and a fair few extras just in case. It looked like a mobile jungle with all of the dark wooden furniture and and our collection of faux plants all carefully layered up inside. Alongside the key pieces - the apothecary bar, bird cages and vintage trunks - we'd decided to include some very practical props like our gold thrones, Victorian specimen cabinet and a host of tiny tables; and some of our more quirky offerings - including the giraffe table and flamingo legged globe (yes, they really are a table with a giraffe statue on the top, and a globe with flamingo legs!). During our preparations, Channel 4 had come to do some filming in our warehouse, so all our discussions, changes and final decisions leading up to the big photoshoot day were captured on camera.

We arrived at the venue in convoy with our team of hair, makeup and photographer, while Christine arrived separately, carefully driving her van full of secret, delicate cakes. I couldn't wait to see them, but it wasn't time yet. We sorted her out with the props she needed to set up her cakes in peace and carried on around her trying not to look too closely, so it would be a complete surprise on camera. Meanwhile, the models were set up in an extremely plush guest room with the wonderful hair stylist Ellie (theupdogirl) and creative MUA Jasmine (Jasmine Elle Makeup/Grey Mink Makeup). With a brief featuring images of animals and catwalk fashion, Ellie started creating the most amazing lioness updo for Liberty, whilst Jasmine painted zebra artwork onto Lauren's face.

The set up went so effortlessly it was as though our props were made to be in that room. The sun streamed through the elegant arched windows, creating dramatic shadows across the floor and heating up the room as though it really was the tropical rainforest we were trying to create.

One of the last edits was to help Christine suspend a pineapple cake in a brass bird cage. We had created a copper frame to hang it from but getting the bird cage up there with a very delicate cake inside was more than a little difficult.

Once the cage was installed, it was time to film the cake reveal. Standing back from the cakes and viewing them all within the set we had created was so rewarding. Hopefully my reaction on camera shows just that!

Christine had brought together delicate details, jelly-like shapes, fruit and tiers all in soft botanical colours just as I had envisioned. The intricate icing work on the grand tiered cake was stunning. It even stood three-dimensionally away from the sponge bases, I have no idea how she does that.

So, back to our photoshoot. I love all our little styling items that were set up alongside the cakes - vintage books left open to display the Victorian desserts that inspired us, cake stands, little copper kettles, and sewing boxes stuffed with faux foliage.

I had the models dance around the cake table and under the glitter balls in Victorian-style poses, their dresses held up high and their backs arched - exotic animals released from their cages and able to stretch at last.

The magic of the shoot had come to life and it was being photographed from all angles by the very talented Catherine Spiller. She even caught one of the models reading a beautiful Victorian banner-style ball invite created by Watercolour Woodshed.

And then...

With all the shots captured and models' profile photos completed, it was time to make a cuppa and try the cake. The first taste had to be filmed. It's funny how, when there is a camera pointing at you, things you do everyday - like walking and eating - suddenly make you really self-conscious. I'm not one for having photos taken whilst I'm eating, let alone trying to speak, eat and be filmed all at the same time!

Christine cut into the pineapple cake and somehow, to my surprise, it tasted like the creamiest most delicious pineapple. We ate it up pretty quickly and then started on the meringue tower!

My favourite part of the day was definitely seeing Christine's creations coming together with our props and fitting my brief so beautifully. We see our props so regularly in our warehouse that it's easy to forget how stunning they are when they come together in one beautiful location.

Watching the models elegantly dance, almost as if in a dream, underneath the glitter balls was another special moment. My vision was a reality.

You should always finish by leaving something to think about, so I won't reveal exactly how we got the cakes into the cages so smoothly on the day . . . it's magic!

Catch up on our Extreme Cake Makers episode now at -

Photoshoot Featuring -

Venue - The Orangery at Aynhoe Park

Photographer - Catherine Spiller

MUA - Jasmine Elle MUA

Hair - Ellie Theupdogirl

Dresses - Days of Grace Vintage

Headdresses - Pluma

Props & Styling - The Prop Factory

Scroll Banner Ball Invite - Watercolour Woodshed

Cakes - Peboryon

TV - Channel 4's Extreme Cake Makers

Models - Laura England, Lauren Falconer, Liberty Scott

Tags: Aynhoe Park Aynhoe Extreme Cake Makers Props Styled Shoot Photoshoot Prop Hire Party Decoration Event Decor Wedding Decor Furniture Hire London Events Party Props Channel 4 Victorian Safari Ball Victorian Safari Ball Party Inspiration Events Event Hire