When food photographers Andrew Burkle and David Hagen formed a partnership last year and began planning their 6,000 square-foot studio space in Cleveland, they asked food stylists for ideas and input about how to build the kitchens. Burkle, whom we recently interviewed about his transition from assistant to professional photographer, explained that when food clients are planning ad campaigns, they often hire food stylists first, and then ask those stylists for recommendations for photographers. “We want to make the stylists happy,” Burkle says. “If they’re happy, they can be the best sales force in the world.”
We followed up to ask Burkle: What did stylists request? And what did you incorporate in your studio design based on their input? Here’s an edited version of Burkle’s email response:
We only shoot food, so we wanted our kitchen to be the focal point [of our studio]. We wanted to present it like a lit theater stage as soon as you enter the studio. We wanted it to look great, work great, and be comfortable and efficient for all stylists. While planning the kitchen we interviewed [about a dozen stylists] on the phone or in person. We just asked, “What is your ideal work kitchen?” and “What works well, and what makes your job difficult?”
[They requested] a lot of counter space, a bright, very well lit work area, large sinks (multiple if possible), enough floor space to be able to move around with multiple people in the kitchen, two refrigerators and two freezers, and lots of pantry and cabinet space. Other small things were more electrical outlets to plug in small appliances, close proximity to the sets, and a separate prep area hidden from clients.
[The work space] is basically two kitchens. Each side has its own 4’ x 10’ island, double oven, 5 burner cooktop and hood, dishwasher, large farm sink, and pull down (retractable) extension outlets from the ceiling. The [tops of the] two kitchen islands are made of restored bowling lane [flooring]. Both islands are on casters [so the space arrangement is flexible]. We designed the islands for stylists’ legs to fit underneath, while optimizing storage space for pots, pans and utensils in custom-made cabinets and drawers. I guess many stylist work at studios where the work stations don’t have leg room [so] they have to side-saddle the table and it creates an awkward work position.
The floor of the kitchen is different from the polished concrete of the rest of the studio. We put a high density foam down and then covered it with wood paneling to give it a ballet floor feel. Food stylists are on their feet the whole day, so the floor is easy on their feet and back.
Behind the back wall of the kitchen, hidden from the view of clients, is a pantry, and a prep room. The hidden pantry is a precaution in case we are shooting for one client, but we are also stocked with a competitor’s product (it happens). The “contraband” will be out of sight. The prep area has a desk, and stylists often use it as an office. If they need to take a call or send an email, they can [do so] and not have to be seen by clients.
The kitchen has been a big hit. After every shoot we try to ask what is working well, and if there is anything that we can fix to make it better. We ask if there are any appliances, dishware, or utensils that they wished they could have had. We want to keep improving.
So far, food stylist really like working here. We really want to do everything we can to keep it that way.
From Assistant to Pro: Andrew Burkle, Food Photographer
Studio Tour: Jody Dole’s Dream Studio (for PDN subscribers)