In the '80s, it was all about the acreage-flaunting aerial shot to reinforce king-of-the-hill status. But Blake Carrington types have recently taken a back seat to a different kind of homeowner, one who is more interested in showing off decorating prowess than plugging a property's dimensions. And today, tastefully lighted, magazine-inspired interior shots have turned into de rigueur documentation for a certain set of the house-proud.
FOR THE RECORD:
Vanity photography —An article in Wednesday's Home section about vanity photography said that Xorin Balbes' Los Feliz home was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The house was designed by Wright's son, Lloyd Wright.
Homeowners — whether they're DIY designers, architecture buffs or nostalgia-prone memento seekers — are conscripting some of the city's best architectural and interior photographers to document their digs in full-color glory. And they're paying professional rates to get it: up to $3,500 a day, film and processing not included.
"It's become a status symbol to have your house professionally photographed," says Margaret Russell, editor in chief of Elle Decor. "People want their homes shot as if it were a magazine layout, from the powder room to the boudoir. I know people who have spent up to $10,000 to fly in a photographer whose work they've seen featured in a magazine."
For some, however, it's not simply a matter of filling a personal photo album with styled souvenirs of their living room and kitchen — they're aiming for a 12-page spread in a home-decorating bible such as Elle Decor or Architectural Digest. Consider it the homeowners' equivalent of winning an Oscar, and what's $10,000 when you can have all the world oohing and aahing over your home without inviting a single guest?
Art Gray, a professional photographer who freelances for Architectural Digest and Sunset magazines, had already scouted the Glean house on two previous visits. On the day of the shoot he arrives with an assistant, 36 rolls of transparency film stored in an Igloo cooler, a box of Duraflame logs and a call sheet of shots that he's scheduled around the sun.
At 10 a.m. he'll start in the living room, which he'll shoot from two angles — one that will capture $700 in flower arrangements that Diane had delivered that morning. Afterward, he'll move on to the dining room, master bedroom and entry. Gray's day will build toward the "magic hour," which is really only 20 minutes of twilight when "houses smile back to the camera."
For the Gleans, the magic-hour shot will be an exterior looking toward the den and kitchen, framed by a lighted swimming pool beneath and indigo sky above. And even on the black and white Polaroid that Gray uses to test lighting and composition, it's not much of a stretch to envision the words "House & Garden" or "Architectural Digest" emblazoned above the roof line of this Buff and Hensman home.
Not that the Gleans are interested in sharing their home with the world. When Gray delivers the final edit of 10 to 16 transparencies — none of which will feature them or their four dogs — Diane will stow them away with images of their previous Don Wexler-designed home in Palm Springs that Gray photographed two years ago.
"We'd never hang these photographs on our walls," says Diane. "It's more like a baby book of our house. If you have a beautiful baby, you hire the best photographer money can buy."
After spending months scouring furniture showrooms, auctions and flea markets for era-appropriate accessories, her home is ready for its close-up. "Art will make this house look 10 years younger and 10 pounds thinner," Diane says.
For others, such as Patricia Moritz and CJ Bonura, hiring a professional photographer is a personal and a professional endeavor. An architect-builder known for restoring midcentury homes, Bonura hired two photographers — one specializes in interiors, the other exteriors — to shoot his house, the 1956 Ohara Residence by Richard Neutra in Silver Lake.
Moritz and Bonura's desire to photograph the house became even greater when they decided to move. They worried that the home's next tenants would update it with anachronistic contemporary kitchens and bathrooms and undo their seven-year, to-the-letter restoration, which included finding Neutra-approved kitchen linoleum squares and furnishing it with era-specific egg chairs and George Nelson lamps.
But the photographs became more than just a memento of their dedication to the original design; they also made their way into a couple of coffee-table books, including last year's "Hollywood Style," an Atlas-size tome that puts their house in the company of some of the city's best-known properties.
Even professional photos of a home that haven't been published have become "an extreme object of desire to homeowners," says Crosby Doe, a partner in Mossler, Deasy & Doe, a real estate company that specializes in architecturally significant homes in Los Angeles.
"We just sold a 1952 Rodney Walker house that had about 10 Julius Shulman photographs of the house hanging on the wall. The buyers insisted they come with the house, and luckily the sellers complied. It's all part of that pride of ownership thing," says Doe, who routinely makes greeting cards for clients using exterior shots of their recently purchased homes.
Photographer Mary E. Nichols, who has worked for Architectural Digest for almost 25 years, is often seen as a conduit into its pages. "For some people, a house isn't completely finished until it's been photographed and published," says Nichols, who has shot dwellings as diverse as Saudi Arabian palaces, Tuscan villas and Malibu mansions.