Studio Tour: Water House

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It sometimes feels unreal that my husband, Austin Day, and I get to work out of this photo studio with another couple, Dave and Mariah Poyzer. The studio fell into our laps one day via Craigslist. It was being rented by a prop stylist that was moving out of state and needed a short-term sublet with the option of taking over the lease after hers was over. At the time, Austin was growing out of his studio and I was transitioning from full-time employment with a side-business to freelancing full-time. We knew Dave and Mariah would be business savvy, easy to work with, and had growing businesses in need of a studio as well. After inviting the Poyzers to share it with us, we signed the lease and started making it our home away from home. The four of us created an LLC and named the Des Moines, IA studio Water House.

The building was built in 1900 as a water pumping station to communities north of Des Moines. At the start of WWII, it was rerouted to pump water to a John Deere plant that produced US military vehicles during wartime. After the war, the building was abandoned. Our landlords bought the condemned building in 2002. In 2006 they completely gutted and remodeled it into a fully functioning commercial photography studio. The three-foot-circumference pipes in the floor that had pumped water out of the building were compressed and covered with new concrete. New electrical, HVAC and windows were added to the space, and chipped paint was power-washed off of the brick. Walls were put up to add a kitchen and an office to the large, empty space. The tall ceilings, concrete floors, natural light, storage space and open studio area have made this building ideal for a videographer, two photographers and a photo stylist all sharing the space.

Making Water House a functional and beautiful environment for photo shoots and client meetings was a priority when we got the keys a year ago. We repurposed furniture we already owned, bought some things new and added interest with color in textiles and accents. Austin even built a moveable, two-sided wall to use for set backdrops so we can paint and repaint the walls any colors we need without messing with our actual walls. The 170-square-foot office area has been turned into floor-to-ceiling photo prop, surface and furniture storage. The 200-square-foot kitchen is barebones, but has all of the necessary appliances and counter space for food styling and prep for food photography. Water House is constantly changing furniture pieces, artwork and accessories depending on new pieces we’ve received or props that we need to find a place for.

The Water House studio has created its own growing community. We are in and out of the studio, using a calendar to block out the time when each one of us needs the space. Our landlords allow us to rent the space to other photographers and for events. We absolutely love getting to share our space with other people that will love it and use it well when we don’t need it. This last year, a church even met in our studio every Sunday morning. The four of us have been able to take on larger projects, new clients and create things that we wouldn’t have been able to without such an incredible studio. We feel so unbelievably fortunate to have this space for ourselves and for our communities. –Lauren

Photography by Austin Day

  1. wjg says:

    What Article sofa is this please? Love it!

    1. Hi WJG! The beautiful article you see here is our Burrard in Seasalt Gray! Check it out on our site here:

  2. McKel Hill says:

    What a beautiful, airy work space. So inspired!

  3. evan says:

    So cool, Lauren! This reminds me of something you’d find in Nashville. Way to make DSM cool!

    1. Lauren Chorpening says:

      Thanks Evan! We actually visited Nashville the same week we got the keys last year so I wonder if inspiration from Imogene + Willie or White’s Mercantile rubbed off on me when I was thinking through the design. :)

  4. Mark Plano says:

    What an awesome history! Reminds me of how the Spaghetti Warehouse started out. I love the idea of repurposing industrialized buildings into something completely different.

  5. Annie says:

    Beautiful! I love how you managed to make it functional and modern without compromising the character of the original space.

  6. Cocora says:

    I love the overall style of this space, so pretty and light! I really like the canisters by the coffee, can you tell me where they’re from? :)

    1. Lauren Chorpening says:

      I found them at a second hand store. I wish I knew more about them!

  7. Jane says:

    Where are the two white chairs by the coffee table from? Super cute!


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