Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Real Truth: Photo Shoots

This last weekend I had a photo shoot at a client's house and I am exhausted!  I bet many of you see gorgeous photos in magazines and think those homes look that way all the time.  Don't be fooled.  Even the loveliest homes are staged a bit for photographs.  There are actually design trade professionals known as "photo stylists" who specialize in prepping homes for their close ups.  Some are even employed by magazines.  What a fun job that would be!

Most of my projects are architectural in nature (designing custom homes, kitchens, baths, etc.) and often the client doesn't request help with furniture or décor, until the very end, almost as an afterthought.  I gladly assist with these requests, but even then, they frequently fall short of what I would consider 100% complete.  Because of that, when it's time to photograph a project for my portfolio, there are often gaps to be filled.  Sometimes these gaps are large (missing furniture) and sometimes they are small (needing accessories).  Either way, if I'm going to invest the time and money in photographs, I have to address these missing pieces. 

Such was the case this last weekend.  First, let me just say, this was an amazing project.  I asolutely LOVED working on the interior of this custom home with the help of Krannitz Gehl Architects. http://krannitzgehl.com/   (Construction by Anderson Construction Group) It was a dream project to be sure:  waterfront location, classic Nantucket Shingle-Style architecture, and a young, female client with strong sense of personal style and a fearless approach to color.  Imagine bright, pure, saturated colors, like yellow, green, blue and coral, all mixed with loads of white--perfect for a house on the water!  When she hired me, I was  asked to help with selecting interior finishes and draw up tile details, but the job quickly grew into so much more.  I was in designer heaven! 

Most of my work looks like this: construction site visits and working out the architectural features and finishes.  Here is the KITCHEN, under construction.

And this...lots of tile work. (MASTER SHOWER)  I love selecting the pieces and designing the layout.

Then, if I am lucky, the client asks me to help with furniture and upholstery.  On this project, the client wanted lots of color and playful prints.  The challenge was making the house flow and not feel like a circus.  I think we accomplished that.  My photographer commented that this was one of the happiest-feeling homes she had ever been in!

So here we are two years later...and two babies later for my client!  (How she had the energy to do all this I will never know.)  The house is nearly perfect, and we certainly accomplished a lot in those two years.  The rooms are stunning, with gorgeous finishes and LOADS of classic, architectural features.  We also had the time to do a few custom upholstery projects, add beautiful custom window treatments, select fun light fixtures, and sprinkle the house with bright and colorful textiles.  Now though, the client has a toddler AND a newborn at home and understandably wants a break from designing and decorating!  So I figured no time like the present to get this project wrapped up an photographed  Here's an inside peek at what this process looks like for me:

First, I start by going through a series of "progress shots" that I keep on file, making notes of what major pieces are missing, what might look awkward in a professional photograph, or what could possibly be the perfect finishing touch.  I like to print out photos on my office printer and scribble notes and ideas right on the printed photo.  For some reason, I am better able to analyze a space and "fix" the problem this way.  Sometime I even use this approach when designing for a client.

This was the house towards the end of our work.  The chair was left over from a previous home and didn't seem to fit, so we swapped it with a chair from another room, and had that chair and the sofa reupholstered. 

And another progress shot.  This was taken after the window treatments were up, with matching custom pillows.  The client had added a very nice jute area rug--perfect for a casual beach house.  However, the sofa still needed some work.  The striped throw was covering some less-than-pretty wear and tear on the seat.

A peek at how I work--a photo of the room, with loosely sketched furniture and décor ideas, as well as notes so that I can remember what I am thinking.  The fun part is in seeing the finished room next to these quick little sketches!

More ideas: The kitchen shot from Pinterest (on the left) actually had the very same fabric on the window treatment that we used, and our cabinetry and sink looked very similar too.  How handy to be able to see how someone else finished off their room with some simple greenery by the sink and a pretty, blue hand towel, casually tossed over the rim.  (I actually "borrowed" this towel idea for my photo shoot.) The image on the right caught my eye because we had an almost identical design for our breakfast nook--a bench seat in the background and some lacquered, faux-bamboo chairs in the foreground.  I liked the table décor and the height/angle from which this photo was taken. 

Truth be told, I spend hours on Pinterest, looking at images, trying to get ideas on how to best feature a room, or how to expertly arrange the perfect vignette of accessories.  I have loads of these images pinned!  Check out a few of my idea files here:   https://www.pinterest.com/sheilamayden/accessories/

Living room: Blue curtains, white couch and walls, multitude of blue and white patterned vases, wooden table and blue cushions:

Here is one such Pinterest photo:  I knew I wanted to add some blue and white pottery to at least one or two of the rooms, so this image caught my eye.  The blue and white pottery has such a beautiful, classic look for a beach house.  I also liked the coffee table décor.

white cabinets black countertops hardwood floors:

More blue and white pottery found on Pinterest.  I didn't add the pottery to the kitchen like they did here, but I liked looking at the assortment of sizes and shapes and how the pieces were arranged.

Full disclosure here: Decorating was not something they taught me in my Interior Design program at Bellevue College, so it is something I have had to study and learn on my own.  I love it, but it feels a little less natural to me than designing the architectural features of a home and it is an art form I am always trying to hone and perfect. 

Next, I spend hours shopping, both online and in stores, looking for the perfect pieces to use for my staging.  Of course budget is critical here.  I want it to look like a millions bucks, but I don't want to spend a million bucks!  And because I've done so many of these now, I have countless Rubbermaid tubs, filled with home products just for this purpose.  It's kind of fun to dig these out of storage and go through them, "shopping" for things that I already own!  Sometimes, I might even borrow items from my own home, such as house plants, lamps, an accent pillow or two.  Whatever works I say! 
I start this whole "prep" process weeks in advance--planning, shopping, taking notes, and thinking about how I want the entire house to feel and look.  Soon shopping bags and delivery boxes start to pile up and eventually, it feels like they are completely swallowing my office.  (This part drives me more than a little nuts.  I could definitely use more space during this phase.)

Here is a shot I took while playing around with décor in my then cluttered office, trying to decide what I wanted to use for the coffee table centerpiece.


And the finished product.  (LIVING ROOM)  I love how it all turned out.  The blue white and green looked so fresh and pretty!

 Then just when I think I can't take it any more, the photo shoot day finally arrives.  I buy loads of fresh flowers, some tasty-looking produce or food items for the kitchen, then all those blue bins and pieces of furniture get loaded into my not-so-glamorous (but highly-functional!) mini-van. I head on out to the client's home, feeling a bit sheepish as it clearly looks as if I am moving in.  Some clients are a bit shocked, but I think most are fascinated by the process, and besides, who doesn't want to see their home magically transformed into something magazine-worthy, all in the course of a few hours? 

If I am lucky, I have an assistant or two to help me with the pre-photo session cleaning, de-cluttering, and final staging.  It is serious work and you have to have stamina for this, not to mention muscles!  Those big blue tubs weigh a ton!  Lucky for me, I have had a great assistant on my last few photo shoots--someone who intuitively knows what to do, with little instruction.  (Thank you Brandi Cook!) It is so exciting to see the spaces come together and look like you always pictured them.  The process is so rewarding and you always hope the homeowner will be just as thrilled and inspired. 

BREAKFAST NOOK during the construction phase.


Selecting fabrics for the BREAKFAST NOOK bench and cushions.


And finally, a peek of the BREAKFAST NOOK on the day of the shoot, taken with my cell phone.

Then the  photographer shows up and works his/her magic, finding those special details or angles that show your work in the best possible light.  A good photographer is worth his/her weight in gold--  Someone who takes the time to listen to what you hope to accomplish, which features in the home should be highlighted, and most importantly, someone who "gets" your personal style and the vision for your business.  There is a lot at stake here!  Without a great portfolio, it can be very hard to land new, amazing projects.  I have been using Kristen Buchmann Photography most recently and love the way she finds all the little details in the room.  Those small, artistic "moments" that make you go "oohhhh...so pretty!"  That is so ME--someone who loves all the little details and how they contribute to the bigger picture.  When all the little pieces fit together and a room just feels "right", I get goose bumps and a wide smile on my face.  THAT, is why I do this!

The FOYER during construction


Finished FOYER on the day of the Photo Shoot.


A progress shot of the LIVING ROOM...


...and the finished space!

The DINING ROOM during construction

Selecting chairs and fabrics for the DINING ROOM


The final space, ready for entertaining!

In the end, I decided to use the blue and white pottery collection on the counter of a built-in room divider, as a backdrop to the Living Room sofa, as well as the dining room.  It turned out to be a nice way to keep the blue-and-white theme flowing from room to room.

I hope you have enjoyed this sneak peak into one of my now-completed projects, and can appreciate the creative design process a bit more.  As I am hitting "publish", my fabulous photographer, Kristen Buchmann, is prepping my proofs for my viewing.  I am on pins and needles!  Later, after I place my order and she does the final digital editing, I will be sure to share the finished product--those oh-so-important photos that comprise one's professional design portfolio.  I can hardly wait!!!

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