Interiors Photographer Read McKendree on What Makes the Most Beautiful Spaces
Photo: Read McKendree / JBSA; Designed By: McGrath II
Interiors

Interiors Photographer Read McKendree on What Makes the Most Beautiful Spaces

Both visually and emotionally.

Interiors photographer Read McKendree has seen a lot of beautiful homes. In his 20-plus years shooting a myriad of subjects, from surf shacks to city penthouses, the Rhode Island-based lensman has honed in on what makes a space not just beautiful but unique, evocative, and compelling. A champion of harnessing light and a master of color, the photographer, husband, and father sat down with Coveteur to chat about the common threads he’s noticed running through the most special spaces, no matter their style.

"This space reminds me of summers in New England," says McKendree. "I carry a straw hat in my car, always ready for an impromptu beach day."

Photo: Read McKendree / JBSA; Designed By: Lilse McKenna

What are some common themes you've noticed between homes that photograph beautifully?

“A strong design intent. Empty walls that are meant to be vacant can be beautiful, especially when they catch a streak of light or a shadow. Likewise, an overflowing bookshelf can be an incredible moment. When homes are designed with the owner’s way of life in mind, a layer of personality takes over.”

What is your most favorite home you've ever photographed and why?

“My wife works part-time for an architect, managing social media and producing their photo shoots (dealing with me). One of the shoots was a home that consisted of three cabins on an island in Maine. The town was mostly shut down for the season so we had to pack food, wine, and any props we would need. Besides a few people we met while out there, it felt like the island was ours to explore. The home was really laid-back and only one cabin had insulation. It was obvious that the homeowners treated simplicity and their land and views as the ultimate luxury—I could have moved in and never left.”

"This was an older home that had been renovated and Robert [McKinley] kept a lot of the original wood paneling," explains McKendree. "There is a warmth and soul to old wood that comes only with time."

Photo: Read McKendree / JBSA; Designed By: Studio Robert McKinley

Do you prefer working with a stylist on set? If so, why?

“Absolutely. Stylists bring so much to a shoot and the final images. Their interpretations of the space, realized through propping and floral decisions, are just as important as the angle and lighting that the photographer chooses. They are also just as focused on small details like tangent lines, wrinkles, and crooked lampshades as I am, which allows me to focus on composition and light. It’s nice to have a partner in obsessiveness!”

How did you get your start photographing interiors?

“I almost transferred out of photography school to pursue a degree in architecture. So there has always been an interest in design and the built environment. I ended up graduating with a degree in photography and began shooting right away. One of my very first clients was actually an interior designer. At first, there were a lot of odd jobs mixed in with the occasional interiors or architectural gig—whatever it took to pay the rent. It was years later, while photographing surfers' homes for a book called Surf Shacks, that I really fell in love with capturing interior spaces. I focused my attention entirely on capturing built environments and how to best translate the essence of a space into a two-dimensional image. I’ve been learning how to do this as efficiently and beautifully as possible ever since.”

"The pieces that a homeowner collects can say so much about them and add a really rich layer to the interior design," says McKendree.

Photo: Read McKendree / JBSA; Designed By: Lucy Harris Studio

What do you love most about photographing interiors?

“I love seeing how other people live and how designers and architects adjust and create around that. I get to spend a day or two in a lot of houses throughout the year, and each one tells its own unique story. Of course, there are challenges that come with this—endless changing variables, logistical challenges, and lighting puzzles. It keeps things fresh and exciting. And I love the way light dances around a room; it often leads me to a composition. Light is important to all photographers, but inside of a home, it almost feels like a guest. It can completely transform a room.”

Do you have any tips for someone trying to create vignettes at home?

“When I capture a vignette for a client, what I leave out of the frame is just as important as what I include. It’s helpful to focus on the specific objects and understand how they interact with one another while momentarily ignoring the rest of the room.”

"I really appreciate a nod to the natural environment surrounding a home," says McKendree. "This room brought in so many colors and textures of its surrounding Carmel, California, landscape."

Photo: Read McKendree / JBSA; Designed By: Workshop/APD

What are the top three lessons you've learned from being inside some of the most beautiful homes in the country?

"1) Quality over quantity. My wife and I are trying our best to wait for the right piece of furniture instead of rushing into one we’ll either regret or will fall apart. 2) I only want to live in a home that builds character as it ages. My parents still have the kitchen table I used to do my homework on, and you can see my early handwriting in the wood. Those imperfections are memories. 3) Art is so important. And it doesn’t have to be expensive to be meaningful. Support friends that are artists or pick something up at a thrift store. If it brings you joy, buy it and hang it!”

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