70s Makeover by Brownhouse Design


A little drama never hurts! Tod Detro’s cabinetry is pretty special stuff, so we really wanted to make it the star of the show.

Here’s a fun half-day project we shot in May with Julie Brown (Brownhouse Design) in Los Altos, California. This was a condominium complex built (we guess) in the 1970s and Julie gave it a modern look with devastatingly awesome millwork from Knotty Hole Woodworks throughout the place.


This was a tricky shot to compose. It’s really wide (24mm, but lots of space!) and with so many disparate elements it took me a while to find something that brought it all together and still kept it compositionally sound. With light flooding into the middle of the scene via the huge skylight, maintaining some three-dimensionality was challenging!

We shot a broad “establishing shot” to set the stage, then drilled in with a kitchen, bath and laundry room to showcase Julie’s practical, earthy aesthetic. Stylist Kathy Price was fantastic at keeping everything looking consistent, and was really impressive in the way she could intuit how the photo was going to “work” — arranging and styling accordingly. Such a luxury to work with a skilled stylist…


Lots of challenges in these long bathroom shots. The shower glass has to be reflection-free, we needed to make the vanity “pop”, and the bit of closet in the mirror needed to be lit, too. The shower glass can sometimes be handled with a polarizer, but in many cases (including this one) we have to do lots of subtrative lighting to prevent reflections. That means lots of draping black fabric around, gaff tape, and cinefoil.The trick is to not go too far and remove all believability from the image.


In some ways, this was my favorite shot of the day. A simple laundry room, but we lit it nicely, Kathy styled it perfectly, and I felt that composing with a slice of the washing machine helped to explain the space without going overboard.


Siraj starts setting up lights in the garage. We don’t often get a space this big and this pristine to use as a staging area.


That giant skylight was ruining our kitchen shot, so drastic measures had to be taken!


Wide-angle lens making your foreground furniture look wonky? Jack it up!

And don't forget the chair...

And don’t forget the chair…

4 responses to “70s Makeover by Brownhouse Design

  1. Thank you, Scott, for the back stories you provide. And yes, that laundry room is a winner! Could be the first laundry room to make a portfolio cut.

  2. Fantastic as always. What percentage of the lights you use would you say are hot lights?

  3. Thanks guys. Adam, I don’t know what the percentage is. I carry maybe 7 or 8 continuous lights? But then strobes also come with modeling lights and we use those sometimes, too.

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