Last year our home was photographed for a national interiors magazine. It was a something I’ve dreamt about since a teenager (indeed, I even photographed my bedroom and sent the photos to The Times Weekend Style Magazine with that goal in mind when I was 14,) and I count myself very blessed to have had the opportunity to tick it off my bucket list so to speak. It was one of the most fun, interesting, revealing and nerve-wracking days I’ve ever had.
Let me tell you about how it all works – the tips, the secrets, the things I found surprising.
Firstly it all came about through Instagram. Like so many people these days, a journalist saw pictures of our home on my account and messaged me to see if I was interested in being in a magazine. I googled the person like crazy I was so convinced it was a hoax, but once I had done enough research to convince myself – and the husband – that this person wasn’t going to come to the house and just pilfer our belongings (haha, as if there’s anything to pilfer) we organised a date and I set to work tidying, cleaning, rearranging and rearranging again. Oh, and again.
Suddenly all the imperfections your eye becomes oblivious to overtime, now stand out like a kid in uniform on a mufti day. ‘That skirting board isn’t quite flush to the floor, this walls a bit bare, isn’t it? That sofa is looking really tired and I’ve never really liked those cushions, why haven’t I updated them? Where are we going to put the plastic toys? Why have we got so many dvds again? Are you sure they haven’t made a mistake? They’re just gonna arrive, take one look, and walk straight back out the door.’ Over and over, repeat, repeat.
Of course we did our best to smarten the house up where we could. We had a limited budget at the time so all we really did was stock up on more house plants (we tend to do this annually anyway because, our plants seem to prefer life in botanical heaven and who are we to deny them?) and I remade all our cushions using pads we already had and where I could, fabric I already had in my stash.
Without wanting to sound completely shallow, I am quite used to people saying nice things about our home. Online and in real life people are generally pretty complimentary. Of course, there are many people who don’t like my style, it is pretty basic after all and nothing too flashy or innovative but thankfully, so far, those who don’t like it have just unfollowed or not said anything.
So to have two journalists come to your house, who see stunning houses on the daily, felt rather gruelling and humbling if I’m honest. They just get on with the job in hand, they don’t ooh and aah and say nice things. They seek out the imperfections and remark upon them, they talk about your design decisions and wonder how they can make it work for the magazine. They’ll discuss basic life appliances – like a microwave – as a ‘problem we need to solve’ or they sigh heavily because you store a mattress under your bed, there’s too much blank space on the walls or you haven’t got a pretty cake slice.
Because that, my friends, is why the houses in magazines look so gorgeous. These people know what they’re doing and will move, remove, or stage anything for a better shot. They come into your home and approach it with a completely different angle to how you do, whilst living in it. Of course they don’t think about practical needs or the occupiers budget restraints. They just think about what will come across well in a photograph. They have rules, and tricks, and experience. They know what will stand out, what will distract the eye and most importantly of course, what will make the editor happy.
Here are some of the behind-the-scenes secrets I learnt, that help ensure a ‘perfect’ photoshoot:
- Editors get funny about any petals drooping down. All flowers must be as perky as Pamela Anderson in the 90’s and if a petal doesn’t quite defy gravity, it’s gone
- They don’t like any expanse of block colour either. So bare walls need a print, radiators need a towel hanging on them, floors need rugs (even if it’s a carpet!)
- They’re not keen on prints that have strongly religious, social, or political content. Like wise for slogan clothing.
- They like stories behind your purchases but won’t necessarily recall your story accurately when it goes to print.
- They will also ask about paint colours, wallpaper brands or what you paid for certain items (but again won’t necessarily record this detail accurately)
- Homemade cakes, biscuits, or a fresh loaf of bread are the perfect prop, as are bowls of colourful fruit.
- Nowhere is private – they’ll rummage through all your cupboards to find a particular tea towel, mug or plate that they think will work well in a shot.
- They don’t like anything that looks unfinished. For instance, our shelf below has four hooks on it but, due to the fourth being slightly smaller than the others, we only ever tended to hang three mugs on it. To their trained eye that will look ‘unfinished’ in the photograph though, so you always have to fill in the gaps. Same if you had coat hooks, a shoe rack or towel rail etc… every gap needs to be filled. Who knew?!
- They’ll move furniture around a lot (make sure the old raisins, cheerios, car keys you thought your toddler had thrown in the bin, the 952 marbles and lurking lego pieces are removed from under the sofa) and hoover, hoover, hoover!! They may even move your rugs, so to spare your blushes I’d hoover under those too.
- Pretty towels and toiletries are good too. In fact, the journalist may come with spares just in case. Those gorgeous hamman towels in my bathroom? Yeah, I’d never seen those before either.
- It depends on the publication, of course, but they generally don’t like kids rooms or play areas. Even if they’re beautifully styled with no gruesome primary coloured plastic in sight, they will often remove toys, or not feature the room in the magazine at all. Their target market don’t have kids themselves so photos of children’s rooms aren’t popular. This perplexed me at first, but I totally get it now, because what Mum has time to read a magazine regularly anyway? I was featured in one, and it still took me an hour to read the 6 page article on our home due to so many interruptions from our little ones!
- If you’re going to be featured in the shots yourself, be aware they don’t like sleeveless tops or open toes. You can’t wear anything too obviously ‘of one season’, because they never know which issue your shoot will be published in and, of course, you can’t have someone wearing flip flops and a crop top in a February issue… again makes total sense but another thing that caught me out on the day and had me scrambling around for closed toe shoes and a long sleeve shirt that didn’t have too many creases!
- It probably won’t be published straight away. We had our home photographed in August 2017 and the article was featured in May 2018. It’s a long waiting game but worth it in the end!
- Other journalists won’t want to feature your home whilst you are waiting for an article to be published, or even once it’s been published and for a short duration afterwards. Therefore a quicker turn around time is better (I lost out on another magazine feature due to our long wait time) but of course, beggars can’t be choosers, it’s completely free exposure after all and I am grateful for the opportunity I had!
- The favourite parts of your home may not be their favourite parts – I LOVE our hallway with its peg rail shelf and blue door, yet they didn’t feature it at all. I hate our kitchen with its fake wood laminate worktops and cream units, but that received a double page spread!
Essentially putting yourself (and your home) out into the public domain is always going to be a steep learning curve. As well as it being completely gruelling, I did have SO much fun on the day and loved watching the professionals ‘do their thing’. Without wanting to sound like a complete doosh, it is a life long goal I’ve had and I’m really proud to see it come to fruition. But if it taught me anything though, it would be to understand how much work goes into making the homes in magazines picture perfect. It takes Instagram styling to a completely new level! So never compare your home to one you see in print because these rooms just aren’t set up for living. The toys are out of shot, behind the photographer. The ugly toaster has been removed. The cushions plumped. A rug has been taken from another room to lay nonchalantly in front of that sofa. Articial lights enhance the natural light making the rooms look brighter. Those towels are pretty but are like drying your body with paper towel. I could go on.
These homes are aspirational – be inspired, be excited, pore over the details, the products, the clever DIYs and scrapbook the images all you want but please remember, behind the scenes, on a daily basis, our homes are really just like yours.
Are you having your home featured in an interiors magazine? Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below…
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