Anyone involved in the home-interest publishing sector knows why it continues to thrive and even expand: we’re all fascinated by what others do with their homes. The key factors that sell all those interiors magazines are nosiness, and picking up ideas for improving one’s own decor.
I’m terrible at parties! I always end up talking in a corner about houses… “So your cousin has a pretty cottage in Dorset, does she? And your friend is doing up a farmhouse in the Pyrenees…?” I ask, ears flapping, ever alert for a lead to a fresh feature home… But it’s difficult to avoid, since everyone loves talking about houses – and they’re fascinated when I tell them I source my own homes for features, and see lots of houses. I try to tell them it’s actually hard work and I’ve spent years learning how to do it, but I’m wasting my time….
A year ago I managed a classic “glamour” trip I’d like to share with insiders who will appreciate the reality behind the image. I cover all too few foreign homes, but I’d managed to put together a trip to shoot two Brit-owned places, in the French Alps and Ibiza. There was a lot of luck involved in doing them back to back, and it took careful planning.
On the early train from the Westcountry I felt awful. Tired, ill, downcast, convinced it was a wild-goose chase that would never turn a profit, thought I’d turn round at Paddington and go home… I had a commission for the French place but I was covering Ibiza on spec, so the balance sheet was demotivatingly iffy.
Train was delayed, missed my connection for Gatwick, just managed to catch the flight. Started feeling better in the air – I enjoy flying, great sense of elation on take-off. On time at Geneva, collected rental car, headed south on the wonderful A41 (“L’Alpine”) that parallels the mountains, via Annecy and Chambery before turning east for Albertville then south again to Moutiers, where I wound up a steep road into the peaks. Found the small, delightful village clinging to the side of a mountain, where my Brit homeowners had settled – they run a ski business.
What a gorgeous house! Old, massively built of stone, three floors, beautifully renovated and fitted out with the very best kit. Estate agents would have to think of something beyond “stunning” to describe the views (below). I stayed two days, accommodated & fed by my charming hosts, shooting many more pics than usual (normally I’m at a house for 7-8 hours tops) plus interviewing.
Drove back to Geneva, argued with Europcar about an excess I allegedly owed them for over-running my rental by an hour or so – then waited for my delayed onward flight to Ibiza. Trekked out to the nethermost departure lounge of Geneva Cointrin, then trekked back when they switched gates at the last minute, had to negotiate security all over again… Temper frayed further by drunken youths awaiting same flight, clearly getting in the mood for some debauched clubbing…
I worried that my rental car arrangements would go pear-shaped with a late arrival but in Ibiza all was well, and I found my hotel at the NE corner of the island. Next day was spare (the homeowners couldn’t welcome me immediately) but there was work to do: a tight deadline for the French feature meant staying in my drab hotel room transcribing the interview onto a laptop to speed production once I was home, so no bars or beaches for me. Anyway, the weather was bloody awful, grey skies and thunderstorms every night! So much for the Med… My hotel was quiet and handy, but with an an end of season torpor. It was dull. And the food was boring.
At the house, things went well – but the rubbish weather meant exterior shots were out, and the large open living area was disfigured by poolside pads & parasols brought indoors to dry after a thunderstorm. Subsequently I had to negotiate with a local photographer who’d shot the place in sunny weather, for the use of two of her exterior pics. (top of page)Gorgeous place, though, just my sort of cuboid rectilinear architecture, and very stylishly appointed (below R). I’m a sucker for massive, striking, unusual items shown off within large white spaces: I love dramatic interiors! After a day there, it was back to my cheerless cell to work, enlivened only by belatedly reading JG Farrell’s “Siege of Krishnapur”.
Funding a trip oneself, in the expectation of a fixed fee, means minimising expenses. So I had to wait another day for my cheap flight to Bristol rather than rent a private Learjet… Fortunately I’d arranged to visit friends of friends at their lovely home on the SW coast, delightful and interesting couple, and we enjoyed lunch at a small local restaurant; couldn’t do a feature on their house, but they did mention friends with a nice apartment in Berlin…
Flew home with a well known holiday outfit, the one that begins every in-flight announcement with “Ladies & gentlemen – boys & girls…” The attendants were indifferent and the food was rubbish.
I like Bristol Airport, big enough to have plenty of flights but small enough to be cosy, miles better than ghastly Heathrow. They have an excellent express bus service to Temple Meads, too, where I entrained for home. Got into Totnes late, where my wife collected me. Phew! Very tired, but things had mostly gone well. Now I just had several hundred raw files to process, and two features to write up – one of which I had to pitch…
Both features appeared during 2011 (25 Beautiful Homes, KBB) so I earned some fees and justified my trip. And on the whole I enjoyed it, despite the anxiety of working to a tight schedule. When I tell people about this or other trips, they always seem to think either that I’m showing off, or that it’s a glamorous doddle compared with working nine to five in the Accounts Dep’t at Acme Gearboxes. Well, despite the hard work I suppose the latter is true – plus it’s great fun, and sometimes even a little bit glamorous. The last house I shot, as I write, was in Manchester. Lovely house, great people – and the weather was better than Ibiza.
© Anthony Harrison, November 2011