Location, Location, Location House: Making Your Home Work For You

When we first moved from Caversham to York and into our Georgian home, I was convinced that there was some way in which my home could become my job. Our previous home had been a Victorian semi, a fully hardcore family home with the chipped paintwork, buckets of Lego (forever untouched in favour of Nerf guns and plastic swords but we can but try) and a constant mountain of abandoned coats and shoes in the hallway to prove it. The Elms was a revelation. Big square rooms with huge ceilings and the main event, original Georgian sash windows with shutters. We were not used to windows that worked. In our previous house, the windows had been mainly painted together and those that hadn’t had gaps so wide that small animals would have been able to access. In fact, when we sold the house, the windows were a main factor in having to drop the price by about £20k due to the fact that the current state of the glazing was of squat like standard. Honestly.

The official Estate Agency photograph of our home. If only the grass looked like this now.

The official Estate Agency photograph of our home. If only the grass looked like this now.

Anyway, after the excitement of being actually able to open the windows to allow air into the house dissipated, I decided that it would be ideal as a location house.  I had absolutely no idea of what this entailed but whilst investigating the options, I started posting pictures of my rooms on my Instagram account, previously reserved for photographs of food, children and feet. Before I knew it, I was amassing followers, people inexplicably drawn by my shoddy styling and decorating attempts. I completely forgot about my location house idea until a few weeks ago, when Dee Campling and I visited the home of Marianne Cotterill, Queen of interior styling and owner of the most well known location house in London Town, Mapesbury Road. We were recording a podcast for our series Inside & Out and jumped at the chance to visit such an iconic space.

Chances are that if you’ve ever read a magazine, a newspaper or interiors book, you’ll recognise Mariannes home. A feast for the eyes, this towering Victorian house on a leafy street in Kilburn is not only a family house but also a regularly used location venue. The day before our visit, Pearl Lowe had been shooting her new book in one of the bedrooms and there was an Australian bedding company who had flown all the way over especially to use Mariannes rooms for their new catalogue who were there whilst we were recording. Constantly in demand, the house is hugely flexible with the added bonus of being ridiculously cool (and Instagrammable) in all areas of decor.

So my thoughts, once again, returned to the subject of using your home as a shoot venue. Over the last few years, the interiors network on Instagram has boomed, along with the rest of the platform, and we are bombarded with beautiful ‘real’ homes every day. Social media is becoming a feasible way to earn a living, whether you are a small brand, a blogger or writer or even simply have a passion for interiors. So is the idea of using your home as a location house yet another offshoot of our social media lifestyle? Could this be another route to making our homes work for us and how rewarding is the financial benefit? As someone whose experience of location houses was appearing in an advert last year for B&Q in a three bedroom terrace in South London, I was keen to find out more from some owners who have taken the plunge.

Ms Pink, who runs design studio Quirk & Rescue with her partner, has been renting out her London home as a location venue for the last year after being contacted by a stylist via Instagram about using her home for a shoot. A self confessed pattern fiend, Ms Pinks home is unapologetically and gloriously colourful and although the proposed shoot didn’t transpire, it got Ms Pink thinking that this could be a way that her home could earn its keep. She’s found the bookings to be sporadic - towards the end of last year she had only two shoots, then last month there were three in one week, including Georgia from Love Island who was doing a hair tutorial for Mark Hill. I asked Ms Pink what the downsides were to handing your home over into the hands of a shoot crew.

“There are two downsides. The first is that I have to be out of the house all day which is hard as I work from home. The second is that we have three cats - they have to be locked out all day which they are never happy about! They are like the Cozy Powells of the cat world, pounding on the cat flap to be let back in. When I get home, they speed in like bats out of hell (not sure why I’m using seventies rock legend analogies, I’m an eighties punk).  On the plus side, there has never been any mess or need to redecorate. There are contracts in place with the locations agency to cover that if it were to happen. It’s strange leaving the house in the morning with ten strangers and loads of equipment. One thing I do stipulate is no more than ten on a shoot - we have a two bedroom split level Victorian flat and whilst it’s large, it’s not huge.”

Sally Littlestone has had her Sissinghurst Location House registered with an agency since May 2018 after deciding that it would not only be making the most of the families biggest asset, but would also enable her to be able to spend more time with her young children. Like Tania, bookings can be sporadic - so far this year, she’s had two in February and six booked for March - although Sally is based outside of London in Kent and believes that this does make a difference to booking regularity. Financially, Sally has given herself a year to see if renting out her Sissinghurst home can earn her more than doing a ‘normal’ job and she’s feeling confident she can meet this target. Her most exciting shoot to date was a three day shoot with Gennaro Contaldo where she was able to watch the Italian chef cooking up a storm in her own kitchen. 

“So far, I haven’t really come across any downsides. I have a lot of recces (house assessments prior to booking) which often don’t progress which means that the house has to be kept tidy pretty much all the time. We offer the house as a shoot and stay location which means the crew can stay overnight if need be - the children really like this as it means they get to meet lots of new people! I’m always happy for them to redecorate (they always put it back as it was afterwards) and it’s often quite interesting to see how the rooms would look if decorated differently. Everyone who has used my house so far has been very respectful of the space”.

After a costly rebuild, Interior Stylist Tracy Head decided three years ago that using her Henley home (Henley Location House) as a location venue would be a great way to not only make the house work for them but also to feed her passion for all things interior and styling. After having her home featured in Country Homes & Interiors, she found it so interesting that she was spurred on to give it a go. Over the last year, it’s really taken off and she’s been really busy, which has meant an excellent supplement to her own interior styling business. Last July, her home was used for a week by a major High Street retailer for their Christmas catalogue shoot, a crew of thirty complete with hats, scarves and fake snow! 

“Once you get your head around the mess, it’s absolutely fine. I’ve found the companies that have used the house have been respectful and always put it back together afterwards. One company who have been a few times even do the vacuuming before they leave! Our home was built to be fairly robust - bare brick and stone floors - so damage or redecoration hasn’t been a problem, but slight general wear and tear should be expected. It helps that we have a small annexe that we can move into should it be required but this hasn’t been an expectation from the companies that have hired us”.

Kate Watson Smyth, author and writer of Mad About The House blog, has been renting her London home unofficially to PR’s for shoots for some time but decided to go with a location shoot agency after being approached last year. Having contracts in place and insurance against damage seemed a good idea and also took away the stress of being left with the clearing up after a long day. She also, as her 15 year old would say, thought that it would be ‘sort of’ like free money but she quickly admits that it wasn’t. The aim was to see if the house could pay it’s own mortgage and in the last three months of the year was booked every week, the bonus being that it paid for the family to go skiing for Christmas.  She’s been fairly picky with the companies that she allows to use her home - she said a clear ‘no thank you’ to a Vape brand - and also works shoots around her sons, both of whom have exams this year. Her house has been host to plenty of exciting shoots, including a pop video for Mae Muller, an advert for Cedars Gin with Lisa Faulkner and a kitchen shoot for Groupon with Jack Monroe. 

“It’s always much harder work than you think. One morning, nine Christmas trees turned up for a magazine shoot and took up all the space downstairs until they were able to move them into the garden. There’s always lots of props and yes, things will get chipped and knocked - it’s inevitable if you suddenly have ten people turning up moving stuff around. Always ask how big is the crew and price accordingly - I charge more for crews over ten and again for crews over twenty. Sometimes it’s better to go out for the day so that you don’t see it all happening. Then there was the time that my husband was working from home and I forgot to mention that a magazine who had booked in for a Christmas shoot had asked if they could do a quick lingerie shoot first. He was walking past our bedroom to his office in the loft and saw a very beautiful semi naked woman lying on our bed!”

Lauren York, Managing Director of UK Locations, has been providing locations across all shoot types, from drama, film, photoshoots, magazines, online content right through to TV commercials, for the past twelve years.  Her clients are varied and include brands such as Adidas, ITV, BBC, Boohoo and Netflix.  There are key locations that they are always on the hunt for – ultra modern, architecturally designed properties;  large, stylish and characterful period houses with original features and old, interesting mills for fashion shoots.  Lauren says that that it’s hard to predict how often a home will be used on average but there are certain factors that will make a property popular.  

The fabulous home of  Marianne Cotterill , mid location shoot.

The fabulous home of Marianne Cotterill, mid location shoot.

“Last year, we gave one property £50,000 worth of shoots. The reason why this property does well is because it's ten minutes from Manchester City Centre (which is a creative industry hub) and quick travel time for clients; it's a large, open-plan house with lots of light and can be used for small and large shoots. The owner is extremely flexible, an excellent host and happy for furniture to be moved and put back as needed.  The amount of bookings are dependent on a number of factors including where the location is, the style, what the trend is for that year and whether it works for a drama/film script. We have a normal family house in Leeds that last year was used for a high profile film and earned £25,000 and a property in Birmingham that we placed on a drama that earned £37,000. We have worked very hard to build up clients across all shoot types, so that our Location Partners are given the best chance of having lots of shoots”.

So what advice can the experienced home owners give? Ms Pink says, just go for it. “It is kind of surreal leaving your home and handing over keys to a group of strangers but it is financially rewarding. Be clear up front about rules - we are a no shoes household so I make sure there are lots of shoe protectors available (£2.49 for a pack of ten from my local paint shop). I also stipulate that camera equipment has to have floor protectors as the floors are painted’.

Sally agrees. “Don’t think you can pay your monthly bills with it, but it’s a great way of earning extra money. Also, don’t be offended if a recce doesn’t turn into a booking. It’s not because your house isn’t wonderful, it’s just that it doesn’t work for what they require for that particular job”. 

Flexibility is key, according to Tracy. “Shoots can often be at very short notice. You need to be very organised and keep a tidy home or at least have plenty of storage to hide things away. We allow use of all rooms in our house but it’s up to you which ones you want to keep private, such as childrens bedrooms. It can be quite daunting to start with but you quickly get used to it when everything is back to normal at the end of a shoot day. It’s an amazing feeling see your home in print and above all, it’s great fun!”

So would renting your home out as a location shoot venue work for you? If you have dreams of seeing your home gracing the pages of a coffee table book, popping up in the adverts whilst watching Silent Witness or having Liam Payne sprawled on your sofa whilst recording his latest video*, then maybe it’s a yes (*yes). Or does the idea of the extra income and the concept of perhaps covering your mortgage every month float your boat? I did a quick poll of my Instagram feed and discovered that around 65% of you would definitely consider it, a pretty hefty figure considering that we as a nation have previously been a fairly private lot. The rise of social media, sharing and engaging has meant that our boundaries have widened and where once we would have been nervous at opening our homes up to such opportunities, we are now far more open to the concept.

Kate Watson Smyth sums it up nicely. “You need to remember that while it’s your home, it’s just a location, a place of work, for the crew. If you are precious about things being moved or not being left exactly as you like them, then it’s probably not for you”. Wise words and definitely something to think about.

Lisa Dawson1 Comment