By Marimar McNaughton
A powder blue Porsche swings into the driveway of a contemporary waterfront home. The image is the positioning shot for Stanley Furniture’s Coastal Living Oasis Collection and the opening clip of a 38-second video.
The Porsche is pretty cool, but what’s even cooler is the Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, waterfront location.
“It’s all about location,” says Maggie Aardema, principal interior designer of The Studio at Design Associates in Wilmington.
Maggie has also been Stanley Furniture’s High Point showroom designer for two, going on three, decades. Each season the furniture manufacturer chooses an evocative destination for launching a new product line for print and web formats.
“They have a scout who found the house, a wonderful Mid-Century Modern Revival house on Pelican,” says Maggie, who has styled Stanley shoots in Palm Springs desert during 113-degree heat waves, and in Charleston, South Carolina in 10-degree cold snaps. But this one was totally unlike the others. It took place in her hometown during three idyllic Indian Summer days in November 2015.
The team — a photographer and his assistants, a videographer, art director, corporate executives and furniture movers sprang into action as Maggie — with her posse of two: Design Associates’ Manager Lisa Bobrink and Cape Fear Community College Interior Design Intern Rachel Brown — styled and appointed six rooms.
From the time the furniture is placed, Maggie says, it takes at least three hours to create one shot. The photographer sets the angle. He knows how the shot will fit into the catalog. He knows what he wants the photograph to look like when it’s on the finished page, what side of the page it’s on; if it will be a two-page spread, how big the final image needs to be.
“We work on several room settings simultaneously,” she adds.
Stanley Furniture’s Coastal Living Oasis Collection is very fresh, contemporized furniture, Maggie says. Finishes include Cotswold Blue, Saltbox White, Oyster and Gray Birch. With beautiful gray granite tops on the cocktail table, buffet and lamp table, the metal finish is a very soft gold, the hardware clear acrylic balls and bars mounted on brass posts. Some standout pieces feature carved wood surface designs.
“The line has some gorgeous textural pieces,” she says.
The entire Oasis showroom — 1,200 square feet of furnishings, rugs, lamps and other decorative accessories — was plucked from Stanley’s 25,000 square foot High Point showroom and vast accessories closet, packed and trucked to the North Carolina coast where it was unloaded at a private home fronting Lees Cut.
With only three days to style an entire product introduction catalog, the house was a hive of activity.
First, a shot list provided by Stanley, was handed to the company’s Charlotte-based branding and advertising agency. The images and text were dummied into a catalog layout.
“The shot locations are determined by the photographer and team,” Maggie says. “For the most part there’s not a lot of choice. On this shoot, the same area doubled as the background for both the living room and the dining room.”
On Day No. 1, the photographer shot digital images of every room in the house. The images help the team move the homeowners’ furnishings and put them back the way they were found.
“We take the space and layout the furniture to create the setting we are looking for,” she explains.
The home’s actual dining room became the breakfast room, and an upstairs bedroom became a second living room shot. Overhead lighting hung on a boom is later photo shopped out of the final composition.
“The location shots determine the character and look of the collection in the catalog. In the showroom, we replicate the location’s baseboard design and wall colors for close-up shots,” Maggie says.
As the trucks rolled into Wrightsville Beach and the crews began unpacking, Maggie, Lisa and Rachel set up their own accessories closet in the ground level garage, unpacking each box — labeled with images showing the contents — shot by shot. Sometimes there are glitches, Maggie says.
Lisa explains, “You may have unpacked tumblers that you thought you were going to use in Shot No. 1, and if they didn’t get used in Shot No. 1 — but you, as a designer, still like them — they may live on the table until you make sure they don’t get used for something else . . . end up being a vase when it’s a glass.”
“The minute we get through with those accessories, we try to pack them up and move to the next boxes,” Maggie says. “At the end of the shoot you have to be out of the house within an hour of the time you finish shooting. If you do not stay on top of what you’re doing, there is too much to pack at the end."
While Maggie and her Design Associates' team was upstairs prepping, the photography team was shooting a living room downstairs.
“It’s very intense, but also exhilarating,” Maggie says.
“One of us needs to be near the set that’s active, because there are tweaks, or ‘I need something blue,’ and that happens a lot,” Lisa says. “Sometimes Maggie gets called back for opinions.”
“They start tweaking it and they change the angle and all of a sudden they need more, they need less, they need taller, they need shorter accessories or lamps,” Maggie says. “The photographer takes a few extra shots from another angle; but for the most part the big shots are set. I’ve actually been on shoots where they change the location of the room scene.”
Lisa says, “We did that on this one. One of the beds was supposed to be stationed in front of a wall of draperies that overlooked the sound; but they couldn’t get the right angle. The room wasn’t deep enough. So they had to totally reconfigure the location of the scene, and it was a shame because we loved those draperies.”
“We had pillows for our bed that matched the draperies in the room. That’s never happened: the same fabric!” Maggie says.
The drapery fabric, Lisa explains, was identical to the fabric Maggie had specified in the High Point showroom.
“We had wonderful continuity. It’s a very new fabric and it’s very fresh looking and we thought, ‘Well this was perfect,’” Maggie adds.
The weather was also perfect from Day No. 1, Lisa says.
“It was an exceptionally sunny, still day.”
As the day waned, Rachel found team members on porches and decks staring into the distance.
“The videographer went out there because a man came by in a Johnboat on the mirror smooth water. He took a video shot of this guy as he traversed Lees Cut,” Lisa says. “It just makes my heart feel good, as a native, to see these people so excited with the perfection we can provide. It was awesome.”
Maggie agrees. “It was the most beautiful weather we’ve had in years. The air was fresh with low humidity. People looked at us and said, ‘Y’all really live here?’ They think it’s like that all the time. There was no wind! It was just perfect.”
“They were just enraptured with the weather and the way the water looked and the lighting. The lighting was superb,” Lisa says.
Maggie adds, “You know the magic hour when everything is pink and everything is beautiful? We had the magic hour for two days!”
For Rachel, who graduates from CFCC in May, the experience was unprecedented.
“You don’t often see the behind the scenes. You see the pictures when it comes out in the catalog and you think ‘That looks great,’ and you think it probably took 10 minutes to put together; but when you’re actually there, it’s every little detail,” Rachel says. “I didn’t know there was a job like the one Maggie does.”