Sunday, February 28, 2010
Above Styled by Katie Sellers - Rooms like this don't grow on trees :)
I read this article in the New York Times years ago and still adore reading it! I love a seeing a perfectly styled room - it makes me SWOON. Click Here for the original article.
Making the Imperfect Picture Perfect
By JULIE V. IOVINE
Published: July 17, 1997
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PETER FRANK lies awake many a night, dreaming up new ways to create the lived-in look for the pages of Martha Stewart Living and other home magazines. (Hint: it's not dirty socks on the bedroom floor.)
''Shall we do the old pile of mail with keys,'' he'll muse, ''or the pair of slippers sticking out from under the sofa?'' The internal dialogue continues: ''The open book with a pair of glasses is so cliche. Maybe a ball on the floor in the kitchen or a white shirt on the chair?''
Hmm. ''There's always the half-eaten sandwich by the TV.''
Thad Hayes shares Mr. Frank's agony. On a shoot last summer for Architectural Digest, Mr. Hayes, a Manhattan designer, had to truck thousands of dollars' worth of stylish furnishings to the Westchester County home of Karen Lauder and her husband, William, the president of Estee Lauder's Origins division.
''I told him to do whatever he had to do for the shoot,'' said Mrs. Lauder, who promptly took off for a week with her children. ''They brought in furniture, books, everything for the table -- there was nothing there,'' she said. ''I even heard he was washing the dishes and polishing the silverware.''
It's the dirty little secret of those chic home-design magazines: the act of bringing homes into a state of photogenic grace by importing everything from chenille throws to the latest French 1950's furniture to museum-worthy art collections. The decorative equivalent of Hamburger Helper, styling -- or propping, in industry parlance -- helps to create inspiring pictures of life as editors think it should be lived. (Others, of course, might call it wishful thinking.)
In the shelter-magazine world, where inferior interiors can mean just a 9 on a scale of 10, you can never be too tasteful or too well appointed. Even gold lilies need a little gilding.
The magazine In Style, which makes a point of capturing celebrities as they really live, made an exception for a cover story last July. It wanted Christie Brinkley's summer home in the Hamptons. One problem: she hadn't moved in. Undeterred, an editor sent her own interior decorator, Orna Yaary, to get things in shape for the shoot.
''We had only three days,'' recalled Ms. Yaary, who was paid by the magazine for styling. ''We had to do some real furnishing.''
She took a few things Ms. Brinkley had, added loads of furniture from English Country Antiques in Bridgehampton, N.Y., and threw in flea-market finds from the trunk of her own car. A folksy wire Eiffel Tower belonging to Ms. Brinkley and seen in one picture was adorned with what appeared to be cards from her friends; in fact, the designer had bought them all for the shoot.
Ms. Brinkley saw her own house and wanted to live there. After the shoot, she bought all the props, right down to the antique English inkwells placed on her desk.
Joel Sanders, a Manhattan architect, has been there, done that. When a prewar apartment he designed was rejected by Elle Decor (the interiors ''didn't look very personal,'' said the architecture editor, Elizabeth Sverbeyeff Byron), he took things into his own hands. For New York magazine, he and Carlos Mota, a freelance stylist, went shopping in SoHo to create the look of the moment: Mies meets Maxwell Smart. They imported rugs, eight Rietveld Zigzag chairs, a 1950's lamp, Italian vases and trendy photos -- and borrowed a $50,000 Keith Sonnier painting from the artist.
''It was a nice background,'' Mr. Mota said of the unadorned apartment, ''but you needed to bring in some good stuff.''
And we're not just talking tripods here. An important photo shoot can take up to three days and call for a small battalion of helpers: the photographer, interior decorator or architect, design editor, stylist and all of their attendant assistants. (Mea culpa: This reporter is familiar with the system from having worked at various publications, including The New York Times Magazine. The Times's current Home Design editor prefers not to prop beyond flowers.)
The shoot may begin a day before the photo session, with a stylist looking for props at local shops and antique stores willing to loan products in exchange for a credit in a resource section at the back of the magazine or -- better still -- in a caption on the page.
''Editors call us all the time when they need an extra dining chair or an end table,'' said James Rosen, the executive vice president of Pace Collection, which specializes in 20th-century classic furnishings. ''We're always happy to help them enhance a photo.''
At dawn on the day of the shoot, the stylist dashes to buy possibly hundreds of dollars' worth of blooms at the flower markets. ''We don't bring in just a few flowers,'' said Marian McEvoy, the editor in chief of Elle Decor. ''We bring all the colors we can find, because if you need a shot of marigold, you'd better have it.'' (For a House & Garden shoot in Arizona this week, Michael Reynolds, a freelance stylist, had all the flowers flown in from Manhattan.)
Homeowners are not encouraged to be around. It can be unnerving to see all that you hold near and dear shoved into a corner.
''Often, the interior designer or architect will iron things out before we come,'' Mr. Reynolds said. Rejections are always diplomatic when the homeowner is underfoot. They go like this, Mr. Reynolds said: ''Do you have anything else someplace we might use here?'' He added: ''Sometimes they react with, 'Yeah, I always hated that chair, too.' Other people freak out. It's understandable.''
Heavy-duty styling dates to the 40's. ''I always thought it was funny in magazines seeing a Mexican blanket in every house, until I realized it was the same Mexican blanket in every house,'' recalled Erica Stoller, the director of Esto, the pre-eminent photography agency in the architecture field.
Propping reached its apogee in the late 80's with a giant dust-up between House & Garden (then called HG) and the designer Jeffrey Bilhuber. A freelance stylist went hog wild propping the house of the socialite Sandy Pittman, and Mr. Bilhuber balked, refusing to allow his name to be used when the story was published. ''It was despicable,'' he said. ''I would never permit anyone other than myself or an employee to put something into a story.''
Ms. McEvoy, of Elle Decor, recalled how ''Mack trucks would pull up and unload for two hours.'' But those days are over, she said. ''Today people respond more to real people in real rooms with real personality,'' she continued. ''I can't keep fabricating that much personality.''
Dominique Browning, the editor in chief of House & Garden, and Dara Caponigro, the decorating director at House Beautiful, agree. ''It's a matter of integrity not to bring in furniture the way they used to,'' Ms. Caponigro said.
Others in the industry, however, insist that propping, if not the full-court-press makeovers of the 80's, is still a thriving business. ''They don't talk about it, but most magazines are still propping wildly,'' confided the photographer Lizzie Himmel, who has contributed to many design magazines over the last decade.
''It's not just an ethical stand,'' added Mr. Frank, the freelance stylist. ''Interiors used to be so much more theatrical. Everyone wants it clean and natural now. But let me tell you: The authentic look is even more expensive to do.''
And editors concoct their own versions of authenticity. ''At House Beautiful, it always has to be homey, no matter what it really is,'' said Michael Rubin, an architect. ''At Met Home, they go for a 'You can do this look immediately' approach.''
When Metropolitan Home decided to publish Mr. Rubin's own apartment in 1993, he was surprised at the scope of the job. ''Sometimes it's great, because you get to see how the space would look if it was finished exactly as you envisioned it,'' he said.
Architectural Digest insists it doesn't prop at all. (''In fact, the problems with Digest's photography is the lack of styling,'' joked Louis Gropp, editor in chief of House Beautiful, a rival.) Instead, Architectural Digest depends on architects and interior designers to do the heavy lifting, which can run into thousands of dollars.
Mr. Hayes, the Manhattan designer, is pragmatic about the hard work that he put into the Digest shoot of the Lauder residence. ''It's more like we're finishing the job, and the photo shoot is a good reason to do it,'' he said. ''It gets the clients excited. If you don't, the job doesn't get done.''
Each magazine draws its own line about where, for journalism's sake, permissible propping begins and ends. Ms. McEvoy's tolerance extends to sheets. ''Everybody's bed needs revisiting,'' she said. ''Real people's sheets are not going to make it for a shoot. They need to be pristine.''
Linda O'Keefe, the director of design and architecture at Metropolitan Home, says she does not approve of propping. She will, however, indulge in the occasional sofa swap. ''If we really love the location, we'll change the sofa, but we're delicate about it,'' she said. ''We'll say that it doesn't work for the photograph. Black leather, for instance, looks like a pool of tar. Then we'll offer to arrange to get the owners a new sofa for them at wholesale, if we can. A sofa can make or break a place.''
If editors take the high ground when it comes to propping homes, they are more indulgent about giving optimal coverage to advertisers' wares. ''Magazines are doing so many product-related stories that there's less need to prop homes with new things,'' Mr. Reynolds, the stylist, pointed out.
In some cases, the heaviest propping takes place in photographers' studios and rented locations, where arrangements of furniture from prominent advertisers are placed in staged vignettes to look like real peoples' interiors.
A four-page feature story in the August issue of House Beautiful shows the designer Sandra Nunnerly extolling her new line of furniture for Lane Upholstery, one of the magazine's advertisers. ''In our retail stories we go as far as you can possibly go in creating a room setting from nothing,'' said Ms. Caponigro, the magazine's decorating director.
The job of stylist is hardly an easy one. Policies change, editors are fickle, trends move on. Where are illusions heading next? Away from contrived authenticity and back to the patently theatrical. ''The muddy-boots-all-in-a-row look is just as phony,'' said Ms. Stoller of Esto.
Why bother pretending? Wallpaper, a Euro-hip fashion and home-design magazine recently bought by Time Inc., flaunts its unreality and prides itself on using nothing but props, models and sets. The March/ April issue featured a staged pool party that included the magazine's 10-point plan for making a splash: ''Organize a guest list ensuring that you only invite friends with great bodies. If you're planning a more complex event that will involve acquaintances who are less than fit, have some kaftans on standby. Hire some models (like we did) and scatter them around the pool to keep the beauty quota high.''
Whether or not Wallpaper has sounded the death knell for the ''way we really are'' look, there are many who are already poised to playact. Simon Doonan, the creative director of Barneys New York, may be one.
Last fall, when House & Garden showed up to photograph his Lower Fifth Avenue apartment, he enjoyed the fiction created by Mr. Reynolds, the stylist, and Todd Eberle, the photographer, who ushered in a white poodle, ''clipped to within an inch of its life,'' said Mr. Doonan, who was asked to eat Froot Loops for a breakfast scenario.
''They wanted to create something camp -- a kind of fantasy,'' he fondly reminisced. ''I asked, 'Do you want to make me look like Liberace?' But I am not offendable. It's time for a little more spectacle in our lives.''
Posted by Suze Yalof Schwartz at 4:40 AM