a very merry road trip
Last week, photographer Rob Sanderson and I went on a Christmas road trip to shoot four festive houses. I’d been planning it for months, arranging dates with the owners, discussing the decorating styles they were planning, making sure they would have their Christmas trees up, presents wrapped and a selection of decorations for the entire house. As days are shorter in winter, I had to make sure everything was as carefully thought-through as possible to maximise the number of shots Rob and I could get on the day. Thankfully, all four owners were amazing, and just as excited as me about their photo shoot, so they each went above and beyond to make their home beautifully festive and incredibly cosy.
Day 1: Alison’s country house, not far from Chester
Rob picked me up at 4am for the four-hour drive north to house 1. The roads were pretty clear so we had just enough time for breakfast en route; we both needed plenty of caffeine on board to tackle the shoot ahead, especially as we’d each only had a couple of hours sleep the night before.
Alison’s home was a great start to our trip: the rooms were spacious and full of beautiful furniture, there was an inglenook fireplace in the sitting room, and enough of her hand-poured soya candles to create a cosy atmosphere. As we moved onto the last room of the day, the kitchen, and turned out the lights to take the final shot, it was in almost total darkness apart from the flickering flames: it was just magical. Then we packed up and waved goodbye, with a little present in hand (thank you, Alison, so sweet!), and headed back on the road up to our hotel in Liverpool, our home for the next two nights.
That fire kicks out a lot of heat so we had to have all the windows open to stay cool working in this room.
The last shot of the day, with no daylight, so a very long exposure.
It was just as dark in The Titanic hotel, and walking down the long corridor was a mission.
Day 2: Jo’s elegant villa in The Wirral
A much shorter drive for house 2, just 30 minutes via the tunnel from our hotel in Liverpool’s Stanley Dock, so Rob and I were feeling a little more rested.
Jo had pulled out all the stops turning her incredible home into a winter wonderland, with garlands and greenery at every turn. The painted panelling in the dining room made a stunning backdrop for the festive table she’d set beautifully with silverware, crockery and glasses, twinkling lights and dozens of candles. And Jo was more than happy for me to move various bits of furniture around, from the sofas in the sitting room, to the bedside tables in the bedroom. She looked after us brilliantly, too, making sure we had enough (delicious!) fuel to keep going and get as many shots of her exquisite home as possible. As the sun went down, neither of us wanted to leave, Jo was such good company, we could have stayed all night.
I wouldn’t mind an invite to this dinner party!
The sideboard was laden with festive foliage and candles.
One of my dummy presents wrapped especially for the shoot.
The beautiful hallway between the dining room and sitting room.
We got quite used to travelling back and forth through the Mersey Tunnel – traffic moves quite a bit quicker than through the Blackwall Tunnel, that’s for sure!
Rob and I enjoyed some well deserved cocktails in Love Thy Neighbour in Liverpool after the shoot.
Day 3: Joan’s quintessentially English cottage in Liverpool
Another short drive to house 3, just 25 minutes from the city centre, the journey was a breeze.
It was a pleasure and an honour to be invited to photograph Joan’s home: it’s not just incredibly popular on Instagram (she has 21k+followers!), but Joan herself has such natural warmth, people are inevitably drawn towards her; meeting her is liking meeting an old friend, and Rob and I wanted to do her cute cottage justice. It was a tough shoot, though: we struggled with the low ceilings, particularly in the dark kitchen. No pain no gain, though, and from that difficult challenge some magic occurred: an atmospheric mood was captured beautifully, with the help of a lot of candles and just a little daylight through the stable door… Thank you again, Joan, for a lovely day, amazing mince pies, and the promise of a cup of tea next time I’m in the area.
The view from the hotel: sunrise at Stanley Dock.
I couldn’t wait to get inside Joan’s pretty cottage!
Her homemade mince pies were delicious – and worthy of a close up!
Oodles of props at Joan’s house!
Day 4: Katie’s vintage-style cottage in rural Coventry
Our final day, making our way gradually closer to home in the south: we were pretty exhausted by this point, but had stayed in a pretty decent pub en route from Liverpool to the Midlands.
I knew I’d planned the week perfectly, when not only the journey home was looking shorter and shorter, but when we stepped inside Katie’s immaculate vintage-filled cottage. The only difficult thing about shooting this home was deciding which angles NOT to shoot. The dining room was particularly incredible: perhaps unsurprisingly for a burgeoning wedding stylist, Katie had laid the table and decorated around it with such a unique style that blended vintage and contemporary in a chic and fun way. And the room around it was just awash with photo opportunities: we spent almost half our day in there, then had to race round the rest of the house to get the necessary shots! But we ended the day with a fabulous fireplace shot in the sitting room that sent shivers up my spine with its cool beauty.
Katie’s fabulous dining room.
Festive props ready for me to grab to dress our shots.
This salvaged door propped in the dining room is dressed for the season.
Feeling just a little bit festive in the kitchen.
Rob and I had a great week thanks to all four ladies pulling out the stops before the shoot, putting up with me moving various bits around on the day (and putting it all back for me when I was too exhausted!), and not least looking after us with delicious food, lots of cups of tea, and really good company. Thank you Alison, Jo, Joan and Katie very, very much! I hope you all enjoyed your respective days, and we wish you a very Merry Christmas!