It was only about a week after I’d started Lucy Gough’s online course, ‘How to Become an Interior Stylist’, when I was fortunate enough to be the first person to spot Lucy’s post offering work experience on a Christmas shoot for John Lewis. I’d only made two moodboards in bed, and here I was preparing to intern on a shoot for a major retailer with a top stylist! A slightly terrifying but hugely exciting opportunity for an interiors nerd…
5.50am My alarm goes off and I get out of bed, bleary-eyed. It’s a real shock to the system after working from my living room for months. It feels like a long time since I’ve had to be upright and out of the door by 6.45. I slip on my outfit, carefully chosen the day before to be perfectly ‘stylish yet comfy’, and run out of the door.
The shoot is in Cheam, South West London. Having done a bit of googling in an attempt to calm my anxiety and gain a bit more of a picture of what to expect, I find out that it’s a beautiful old house built in the early 1500s, and home to several ghosts.
7.30am A train and a bus later, I arrive thirty minutes early. I wander aimlessly up and down the empty high street and attempt to calm myself by redoing my ponytail three times in the shop windows. When it gets to 7.55, I take a deep breath, channel my excitement and walk up to the house.
8am Lucy, the stylist who invited me, immediately recognises me and says hello. Luckily, she’s lovely and friendly. She gives me a rundown of the previous three days of the shoot. She tells me we need to get three shots done today, and two tomorrow. I get the sense that we’re on quite a tight schedule.
People start to drift in and gather in the kitchen. I’m introduced to several people in quick succession. Everyone is lovely and it’s an easy, casual atmosphere, but I can’t help feeling a tad awkward, having arrived mid-shoot.
Lucy has an assistant on the shoot, as well as another intern. We walk around the house as Lucy explains the plan for the day and what needs doing. Busy taking in the new situation, I immediately forget everything.
All the props have been unpacked and laid out by theme on the top floor of the house. We start by packing away some baubles and wreathes that were used in a shot the day before. I chat to the other assistants, and start to understand a bit more about the whole process.
10am Lucy invites me to come and see what they’re shooting. It’s a Christmas dining set up complete with some food props. The art director and photographer kindly take some time to show me what they’re doing. Then it’s time for us assistants to clear the set of the shot, pack all the props away and start dressing the next set, which is in a different room.
It is a bedroom shot and the set builders have painted a wall aubergine to suit the jewel tones theme. I help make a bed, iron a curtain, search for suitable props and add decorative birds to a branch that has been stripped of its leaves by a fellow intern.
I feel a bit worried about asking too many questions and whether I’m doing the right things, so I’m relieved when I bring it up with the other assistants and they assure me I’m doing well for my first time at a shoot.
1.30pm We leave the set up as we wait for approval from the client, and break for lunch. The whole team (about eleven of us) sit round a big table and eat Thai takeaway and chat. I find out that Lucy and I share a background in marketing for higher education publishers. I’m shocked – she seems such a world away from that now. It does make me hopeful that I can also make my way out of the niche industry.
2.15pm The set builders have ‘reset’ one of the rooms used in the morning and put up some palm print wallpaper. The set dressing for this one consists of decorating a fireplace with brightly coloured, quirky decorations and wrapping some ‘presents’. One of the girls makes a fake whisky out of watered down coca cola. Then all the assistants leave the room to let the photographer focus.
5pm I was told in advance that the shoot would be from 8-5, but I’m shocked when we finish on time and I’m boarding a bus back home by 5pm! I’m mentally and physically tired, so I just have some toast and crawl into bed for some reality TV and an early night. I try not to overanalyse the day too much, but I’m definitely having doubts about whether I was vocal enough.
Day 2 – 8am Knowing where I’m going and what to expect this time, I immediately feel much more at ease. I have more of an understanding of the flow of the day and what needs doing. I’ve also had a chance to have a chat with everyone on the team now, so naturally feel more confident and able to make myself useful.
It’s a tight schedule again today. My first task is a bakery run for pastries for everyone, and soon after, we all begin working. There’s two shots left and three to clear away, and then the house needs to be fully returned to the state we found it in.
2pm After another team lunch, this time of takeaway pizza, there’s a bit of waiting around. Two ladies from John Lewis are part of the shoot team; they tell me funny stories of past shoots and I quiz them on their roles. Since I’m looking to change career, it’s really valuable to hear about all the different jobs connected to the world of interiors.
3pm The pace really picks up when the John Lewis van arrives ready for the furniture and props to be loaded. We are trying to find the props that match the rogue leftover boxes, washing up, hoovering (so much glitter) and generally setting everything straight. The set builders are repainting walls, packing up furniture and taking endless boxes down three flights of stairs. The John Lewis ladies are keeping tabs on some props that need to go directly to another shoot. Once the last shot is complete, it’s all hands on deck to make sure everything is looking perfect. If we go past 5pm, we’ll be charged overtime by the location.
5.15pm After some manic running about at the end, we make it just in time. Everyone says their goodbyes, and Lucy thanks me for helping out. It’s strange to think that everyone else will be off to repeat the experience somewhere else next week, and the week after that.
So, what did I think of it? – ‘This is a job?!’ It’s so different from my desk-bound 9-5 (in marketing at an academic publisher), that it’s hard to equate it with work at all. I loved the busy atmosphere, the chance to talk to lots of new people, and feel part of a team creating a tangible product. When you’re stuck behind a screen most days and juggling numerous ongoing tasks, it’s easy to lose sight of the end goal, so I found myself attracted to the ‘completeness’ of a photoshoot; it’s ‘photos done – project complete!’ I also love the idea of my workplace being a beautiful location house, at least some of the time. I can’t wait to wander into John Lewis at Christmastime, see the photos in print, and know that I was a part of it.