The insider take on shooting three houses in ‘summer’ and one at ‘Christmas’ in three days!
Naomi Jones contacted me to say that the magazine article was go! She and her Photographer Rob Sanderson had magically transformed my home into a cosy Christmas cottage last year but sadly Dame La Aga was not playing ball, we lost the light in the afternoon and as she was the last to be photographed, I am afraid that she rather took umbrage and refused to sparkle. Thankfully this meant that the dream team had to return and it also meant that my portrait shots which would certainly have been filed under “character actress” were also too dark which allowed me a few months grace to run off the lockdown layers and Christmas Baileys.
It also allowed us to photograph three other homes nearby. One must capitalise upon these serendipitous events so I made Naomi believe that it was imperative that I joined her team and attend each house. I used the cover of “blogger” and “cottage pimp” ( I recommended the houses) but as I handed her vases and dough bowls I whispered in my head “thank you assistant stylist”. This is a little insight from my (assistant stylist) perspective of a marathon magazine shoot.
7am and the rain is drowning the garden. The first shoot is at the beautiful Karen of @flowersandlifestylebymargot who writes the fabulous garden blogs on here every week. Argh! How will we photograph her incredible garden in rain and grey? What shall we do? Should we cancel? People are coming from different parts of the country, we can’t cancel….this is a diaster, oh what’s the point, cancel the whole….9.30 am I arrive at Karen’s home to fields of bright yellow rapeseed, blue skies, a glistening, sparkling garden and everyone calmly organising a photoshoot. First lesson learned: “If it’s booked in, just go with it, don’t over plan shots and be adaptable”. Thank you wise Naomi!
Whilst I blathered on about the beauty of the English countryside in spring after a dousing, Naomi quietly wandered around the house, taking in each room, looking at different angles for Rob to capture, noting where a painting might be useful, a plant, perhaps a tiny adjustment of the bed to the right. With each room she mentally began to play with light and space – she is actually magic. Rob and Karen went outside to capture the bejewelled garden whilst the sun shone and I stuck limpet like to the the mistress of magic, running to fetch things that may help like an eager puppy.
The first room to be magazined was the main bedroom, an oasis of calm and serenity, slaked lime walls, cashmere grey throws, The White Company bedding, soft deep creamy carpet and views across rolling fields. The amazing Plein Air artist Emma Perring had brought a selection of her paintings to hang and we played with a few different colours and shapes. Karen talked about her love of symmetry which Naomi listened to very carefully (she likes to ensure that the essence of the home owner is paramount in each shot) and pulled two incredible bright green apple paintings from Emma’s collection. The average eye (me! Hello!) would think that the paintings were surely too bright for the calming room but suddenly the whole room came alive. Random bits of bird planted rapeseed were taken from the verge and added to cow parsley to create a tall focal point by the window, allowing the eye to travel from the fresh green apples to the wildflower arrangement to the bright yellow and green fields beyond. An occasional chair was pulled into shot and the masterpiece was created. Corners filled and walls resplendent.
Naomi explains “I personally love colour, but I do understand many people, like Karen, prefer neutral tones. As Karen is a florist/floral stylist and a keen gardener, and her home is surrounded by rolling hills and farmers’ fields, I thought it would be lovely to reference that in her interior just to add a little subtle colour and reference the view. We were blessed with the yellow of rape out of the window so we just had to include that with art and flowers in the bedroom! You can also add colour to your neutral space in other subtle ways: books, ceramics, fruit… I also love neutral cushions with bright piping or curtains with a colourful trim”.
The next room to receive the magic wand was the spare room, again another haven of traquility and pale colours – the palest blue headboard with cream linen curtains, pale walls and quietly patterened lamps. Emma had just finished the most incredible painting of purpley velvety irises with just the teensiest hint of pale blue at their hearts. Again this explosion of colour and floral joy just jumped onto the wall and brought the room together. Naomi played with a couple of pots on the bedside table before settling on some antique books to lift a ceramic vase, a beautiful perfume bottle and then a huge Ceramic vase from Harrison Cropper filled with pampas from Karen’s Father’s Farm – what a useful Father! The pampas pot filled the quiet corner and balanced the book on the bed and cushions adding texture as well as leading the eye to the pretty pom pom trim.
The sitting room followed with another fabulous floral painting to balance the beautiful ‘Olga’ painting – again bringing a little more colour in to allow the eye to roam.
Next up was the kitchen and the most beautiful asparagus tart cooked by Lucy Hoyle, the sunlight streamed through the windows and created a gloriously delicious scene. Naomi used a basil plant, a salad and unfussy set of salt and pepper post to create a simple repast that we were all desperate for Rob to capture quickly so that we could tuck in!
Karen has the most beautiful home, a home that makes you stop and mouth wow when you walk in (or yell it in my case), Naomi and Rob just had to approach the shoot from the perspective of what works well on camera whilst still honouring Karen’s style. Just a few extra additions of texture (using blankets, cushions, baskets) and colour (using paintings and fruit and florals) were used to draw the eye when looking at a glossy magazine.
Shoot day Two was the gorgeous Lucy Hoyle’s house of beauty. This time the rain poured but after spending a day under the calming influence of Naomi and Rob, I floated down my path, now dressed for my role as assistant stylist (I have always enjoyed method acting) by the incredible Rachel at Stoned Waisted (“Rachel!!!! Help!!!!! I have back to back photoshoots with lots of behind the scene shots and I am now a very important assistant stylist lady with nothing to wear” – “Don’t worry darling..” (she is super beautiful and utterly fabulous and dresses people equally gorgeous like Trinny Woodall and Chloé Dall’Olio and CatwalkGee)…”I have the perfect ‘Getting Things Done’ Look”. She was absolutely right! I was empowered and fierce..and a bit late because I was rather taken with stylishly posing in front of my mirror.
Lucy Hoyle writes all the fabulous recipes on this website so I persuaded her that we needed to do a magazine shoot at her house as well (mainly so we could eat her delicious food but also the house really is beautiful!). Lucy and her family moved here in 2012 and three years after living in an almost unworkable kitchen (a range cooker that spanned a corner of the room away from all surfaces), she and husband Nick decided to create a huge extension with a shiny new kitchen and fabulous light filled dining area. They already owned beautiful Susie Watson blinds and a fabulous table and chairs, sideboard and lamps from Oka so we were able to enter and fill this room with joyous paintings (again from the ridiculously talented Emma Perring), rugs, textiles and florals to create a harmonious room that invites you to take a seat and eat all of Lucy’s mouth watering food (well..that’s what I did anyway..).
The kitchen simply needed a tiny injection of stronger colour to bring out the beautiful fabric in the blinds and to complement the gorgeous new white wooden panelled extension. Naomi added a floral tablecloth with the cheeky trick of folding a second complementary tablecloth into a fabulous runner as she couldn’t decide which one to use (!) this gently holds you by the hand and leads you along the table to the beautiful windows. The green in the bench cushions softens the wooden bench and adds more colour and texture, picking up on the colour of the elegant Oka lamps which is all grounded with the stunning green Kelim rug from The Rug and Carpet Studio in Long Melford, Suffolk. The final addition of an antique Dough Bowl from The Primitive Home pulls the wooden bench and rocking chair into the photo.
The next stop was Lucy’s absolutely stunning sitting room. Another beautiful light filled room with Susie Watson curtains, cushions, plain linen sofas and cosy throws with a gorgeous shot of blue in the Oka rug. This is the room that Naomi was most excited about styling. Naomi’s passion is to enhance a room, to use what the owner already has and bring the room together.
Cringing at the expected howls from the children when they returned home, Lucy bravely allowed Naomi to reconfigure the furniture into a more adult friendly arrangement (fear not – the children have a snug in which to retire!). Naomi moved the large sofa to the far wall, allowing more flow with the smaller sofa by the door and the gorgeous wingback armchair welcoming you as you walk into the room.
Pinks and florals were brought in to bring a more relaxed feminine feel to the room, the blue of the rug was highlighted with moving the chair onto the rug and picking out this colour with beautiful ginger jars from the amazing The Nine Schools company. Muted reds, blues, greens and a splash of yellow give a more classical feel to the sitting room.
Naomi advises: “When I saw Lucy’s sitting room, I loved it’s quirkiness and she had some really beautiful pieces of furniture, art, and a great rug but I felt the features of the room were not being seen as all the furniture was pushed back against the walls, and the layout felt a little unfriendly with the main sofa hidden behind the door. I wanted to create a cosy but elegant space where she could sit with her husband and friends with tea or a gin and tonic, around the fire. Placing the largest sofa furthest away from the door makes it less dominating, but provides an excellent opportunity for adding some fantastic cushions for instant colour and interest. It’s also opposite the window so the couple can enjoy the view of the garden. Then placing the chair and smaller sofa either side of the door opens up the walkway into the room so you can enter easily, and you have more seats for family and guests. It’s worth playing around with your room layout until you get it just right”.
Styling a table for a photograph
Rob recommends always trying to shoot on a bright day (obviously – he adds!), “Good natural light. Turning table lamps on can give a nice warm glow to an image, and a lit fire (if one has a working fire of course) makes a room more cosy and can provide a focal point. Try to keep the camera/phone as level as possible, and try not to use flash as it can flatten the shot”
Naomi begins to tell a story in this beautiful room, a sophisticated afternoon tea with a wooden tray grounding the image centrally, dainty teacups adding another hint of blue, delicious cake creating a cosy, comforting feel and a beautiful silver teapot lending grace and elegance. “It’s important to think about the camera angle and work with the camera and not reality. Handles are one of the hardest jobs to arrange on a table, the angles mustn’t clash together or confuse yet they shouldn’t all be facing the same direction”. Personal photos are removed from the shelves and Nick’s beloved Wisdens are brought in for a gorgeous pop of cheery yellow in the corner. Paintings are hung and with a final rearrangement of the bud vases on the mantelpiece and the addition of a brass set of scales to add another element of texture and a different material, the room is complete. A gorgeous ladies elegant sitting room.
As Naomi started to get to work on another room, I suspect she had reached peak listening to my oohs and ahhs and ‘what do you needs I am a very important assistant stylists’ whisperings so packed me off with a “Why don’t you start on the main bedroom?” In a flash I was gone, rug under arm, trailing cushions, lamps and blankets in my wake.
I stole Emma Perring and forced her to clamber on the bed and hang her ‘Breakfast By The Roses’ painting above it then assembled the cleverest piece of furniture in the universe – the Dormy House Rochester Instant Table (this was their first ever piece of furniture so they have a very soft spot for it – so do I! It was a doddle to assemble!!!). I put it up in ooh about three seconds, draped it with fabulous Susie Watson fabric and hey presto, a bit of drama and elegance to fill such a wonderful high ceilinged space.
The bedroom has a wonderful vaulted ceiling which needed more height in the accessories to enjoy the architecture so I borrowed two large lamps from Susie Watson to add height, brought in the Dormy House table to add width and used heavily patterned florals and stripes on blankets and throws and velvet and linen cushions to being more depth and texture. I got the pattern wrong on the rug that I had borrowed: when put with the fabulous bedding and the patterned curtains, the room was too busy but Naomi gave me a genius tip of turning the rug over so that it appears more faded and less over powering.
I added books to the bedside table for more texture and interest as well as some more of Karen’s beautiful flowers. This was an absolute joy to style, I almost locked myself in the room forever! I think Naomi was pleased (she certainly did her best to reassure me that she really liked what I had done… and only removed a little of my floral excess, straightened the bed to create a more elegant atmosphere and gave a few more fantastic bedroom styling tips:
- Magazines now favour throws and blankets being carefully folded on the bed rather than artfully strewn (drat – that took me ages!).
- NO SLIPPERS IN SHOT! There was about a year of stylists laying cosy slippers next to beds but apparently that is a massive no-no now!
- Try to cover unsightly radiators – although magazines don’t mind traditional cast iron radiators. Here Naomi brilliantly moved an antique desk to hide the offending heating element and added some more gorgeous flowers.
- Bedrooms are often the room that we leave out of our styling efforts, so when on a magazine shoot, Naomi will take along cushions and throws to add to the room (as long as they are in keeping with the owner’s taste of course).
There are a million other glorious rooms that were magicked by Naomi but now we move onto the final cottage, just down the lane and owned by Ellen of Rhubarb and Hare Cottage.
Ellen and her family live in the quaintest 17th Century Cottage overlooking the village green. The cottage is set on a lower lane so that neighbours walking past can pop their heads into the kitchen to see what smells so good and have a quick catch up! Ellen adores watching the world go by and the children love watching the tractors chugging past.
It seems obvious but it is important to reduce all kitchenalia and evidence of normal family life – ok, I am slightly exaggerating- but rooms need to be simplified and pared back (Naomi removed two thirds of one room in a vintage collectors house to get the right balance for the shot), take out most surface appliances (unless lovely!) and remove high chairs and children’s paraphernalia – they are practical but not always pretty.
What magazines are looking for in a kitchen
Naomi explains that there are three important elements for a kitchen:
1 A nice range/cooker dressed with a beautiful tea towel!
2 A clean and tidy sink area, perhaps some flowers or plants behind. No sponges, cleaning products (unless gorgeous packaging!).
3 A styled island or table, but not overly styled. You don’t have to lay the table, try something more casual: flowers, cakes, napkins, or a loaf on a wooden board and some vibrant fruit and veg. Keep it fresh, vibrant, inviting, not cluttered or formal.
Ellen’s cottage is a glorious warren of fabulous rooms all dating from different ages, we snuck into the heavenly snug and simply tweaked before photographing this gorgeous room:
The next gorgeous room was the sitting room, filled with palest of blue walls and prettiest of pink Cabbages and Roses Paris Rose fabric
The final room is Ellen’s stunning bedroom. It is a haven of cossetting pink with the most sublime Peony and Sage curtains and traditional bedstead from The Wrought Iron and Brass Bed Company. Ellen has recently completed this room transformation so again there was hardly any tweaking needed:
Naomi added splashes of colour to enhance the room scheme, the darker red of the cushions stops the pink from appearing too sweet in the photographs and the flowers from FlowerandlifestylebyMargot add more height interest.
Each room shown here in all three homes hopefully demonstrates the need for several considerations when styling for photos, here Naomi gives her top tips:
- Remove personal items like photographs and children’s paraphernalia
- Edit heavily all items – strip out ugly every day essentials (plastic utensils, phones, cords, wires etc.
- Layer! Bring in texture and colour with cushions, blankets, wicker and wooden items – On a bed, dress with more cushions and throws than are practical! In spring/summer, the textiles could be thinner and cotton, whereas in autumn/winter, go to town with wool, in various thicknesses and patterns, but stick to a cohesive colour story. If you have a duvet that doesn’t quite cover the bed frame or can’t conceal clutter under the bed I’ve often used a large plain (white or off white) bedsheet on top to hide the unmentionables, it then provides a neutral base which can be layered with those pretty throws mentioned earlier. Also, pretty duvet covers can be used (folded and unfilled) as a runner at the foot of the bed if the pattern would be a bit too much across the whole bed. Similarly, sofas: add more cushions than practical, even if you have to borrow them from another room for the shot! Then pick up on the colours in your soft furnishings with accessories dotted round the rest of the room.
- Mix antiques and modern – Always add in things that you love or have meaning to you. It is your home and should reflect your personality and passions. Every photo should tell a little story, and each is the chance to tell yours, or at least a chapter.
- Use items to lead the eye through the photo
- Employ flowers and food for a fresh look and added colour and interest
Finally a little peek of Christmas! The magazine was concerned with La Aga’s Christmas look, worrying that she was too dark and artificially lit, I threw Christmas back up and Rob worked his magic with natural lighting on a rainy dark day!
Thank you for ploughing your way through this epic journey of magazine joys, I hope that you have found it as useful as I did with all the hints and tips for styling your own home for photographs. A huge thank you to the amazing team that is Naomi Jones (https://www.naomijoneshomes.com/) & Rob Sanderson (https://robertsandersonphotographer.com/) for being so calm and so relaxed and creating magical magazine worthy interiors in four houses in just three days.
Thank you also to the amazing team Karen https://www.flowersandlifestylebymargot.co.uk for her extraordinary floral arrangements, Lucy Hoyle https://www.instagram.com/lucyhoylecooks/, for her incredible food that looks amazing and tastes ridiculously delicious and to Emma Perring https://www.emmaperring.com/ for loaning us some of her truly extraordinary paintings.
With thanks to all the companies that helped us to create these beautiful photos in record timing!