Interiorssneak peeksStudio Tour

Studio Tour: Water House

by Lauren Chorpening Day

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

Our main seating area is where we get together as a team and also where each company working out of Water House meets with clients and freelancers.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
White walls work best in our multidisciplinary studio, but we didn't want the space to be devoid of color. The red-orange brick walls needed to be considered when adding colors to the space. We love this new piece by Max Wanger that brings interest to the otherwise bare walls.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
Austin's dad built this shelf for him. We painted it dark grey and moved it into the studio on the first day. It is our coffee bar, magazine rack, source for the extra notepads we're always needing and display of props too pretty to be in storage. Eventually we'd like to hang a few solid wood canoe paddles over the shelf to nod to Dave's videography and branding business, Canoe There.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
One of the selling points of this space when we saw it for the first time was all of the natural light. The renter before us had a lot of dark, mismatched furniture filling the space. When we moved in, we wanted to keep things light, airy and easily transformable from one shoot to the next.
The dark concrete is the original floor and the light concrete is where giant water pipes used to be. It adds an interesting patchwork look that our clients ask about. Everyone loves hearing about the studio's beginnings.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
The wall that Austin built can be pushed wherever and painted however we need it. It makes having so many brick walls with windows work in a space where we sometimes just need drywall for a shot.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
The bathroom is rather plain, but it's fairly large which is helpful when models or clients need to change wardrobe.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
Everyone here is a coffee fanatic. Our studio fridge is full of glass sodas, waters, La Croix, beers, etc. but Austin and Dave light up if a client asks for a pour-over coffee.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
The very messy prop room is surrounded in racks like this full of plates, bowls, utensils, string, pencils, etc. It is a room that gets destroyed easily and makes us thankful that we don't have to house props in our homes anymore.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
To the immediate right is the bathroom, down the hall and to the right is the utility room and the open door to the left is the prop room currently housing suit jackets waiting to be shot.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
The space functions best as a blank slate, but a few styled touches make the interior enthusiast in me so happy.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
The tall, black meter in the back was used to gauge water pressure and quantity leaving the pump house during the war. We love having a little piece of our studio's history as part of the design.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
This rug was the first thing we purchased for the studio. I found it online and on super sale. It is a vintage Afghani rug that adds depth to the space and brings in the orange-red of the brick while introducing other colors to the palette.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
When we moved into the studio, we had a thrifted coffee table with a broken leg. We found this Article coffee table and knew it'd be perfect for the space. After being so impressed with the quality and cost, we decided to get an Article couch as well. We love it so much.
The furniture in the space isn't just for meetings -- the pieces are multi-purposeful and are used in family photos and styled commercial shoots regularly. Durable fabric is a must when we're looking at new pieces to bring in, like our grey Article couch and these All-Modern lounge chairs.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
Austin and I rescued our dog, Mae, in October. She is still getting used to studio life. She's allowed to hang out on the old couch, so she spends most of her time watching us work from this post.
Studio Tour: Water House | Design*Sponge
What we love most about our studio is the versatility it gives us to pursue everything we're excited about.

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