I talked with a friend tonight who’s never seen my house , except for the small bits of it in pictures that show up in the magazine. Apparently, he got his December 2009 issue, for which I built a Shaker-inspired bookcase. His question: “Are those really the books that are on it, or was it art-directed?” (He knows I have far too many books to not fully utilize all available shelf space.)
It was art directed. Whenever we shoot on location, we tend to tear a place apart just a wee bit, so that what shows in the magazine looks clean, organized and visually appealing. Here’s how we got that opening photograph: After work the night before, I had to move out the ugly bookcase in the little adjacent hallway and pile the books from it on the dining room table. I had to sweep up the dust jackrabbits (these were no mere bunnies) that were hiding behind it. Then I rushed out to buy fresh flowers for staging.
Glen Huey helped me transport and set up the case the next day. Then I rushed around placing suitably attractive tomes just so. (Good thing my mom gave me those Harvard Classics and Masterplots!)
When Linda Watts (the art director) and Al Parrish (the photographer) arrived, they helped move both couches and a heavy coffee table/trunk out of the room. We rolled back the carpet, tried a few different “props,” including my fluffy black cat Cleo, then hauled an Edwardian chair down from my third floor (I have a room up there where I stash the stuff I don’t want anymore but can’t seem to get rid of). That’s the chair that ended up in the photo, natch. It took me another two weeks to carry it back upstairs.
Now, the new bookcase is packed full of fiction, the history section is back where it belongs (in the little hallway), and the cats are frolicking in front of the piece (OK – I tossed a handful of cat treats in front of it; even the non-staged picture is, in fact, staged. But I didn’t vacuum). I’m fairly certain the only thing that was in the magazine shot that remains on the bookcase is my great-grandfather’s “Big Ben” alarm clock. It was in the study, but I kinda like looking at it in the living room.
So to my friend: No, I would never willfully waste such large swathes of bookcase space, nor is my house ever as clean as it appears in photos. There would, however, be fresh flowers right now…but I left them in the refrigerator at work.
And to anyone of whom we ask the favor of shooting openers at your house: My advice is to not answer the phone.