Behind the Scenes: I posted up the official chalet photos just before Christmas, and updated our (proper? sorry Chic Happens Blog - you're proper too, I promise) website. They are beautiful shots, and we are completely delighted with them. They show off the chalet we built exactly as the chalet we had in our heads all along. It is quite amazing to see that vision literally realised all of a sudden. And the photos have really done their job, as we have all but 2 weeks now rented out this season, and already a few bookings taken for next season. The photos are flawless (if we say so ourselves) - but it took a huge amount of work to get them that way. So I thought I would write about that process, in case it all looked too easy...(Spoiler: it really wasn't)
The Idea: Almost two years ago, I had lunch with my oldest friend Claire. I've known Claire since we went to school together in India, when we were 6 years old. She has been living away from the UK for a few years - firstly in Shanghai, and now in Berlin. She's founded a homeware company, URBANARA, 3 years ago, and since then her business has been flying. We were having a long overdue catch up and I mentioned that we'd just (perhaps slightly randomly) put in an offer on a chalet in the French Alps and were planning a big renovation on it. We both joked about how potentially ideal the finished chalet might be for a shoot for their products, and then moved on to other news. It then took Darren and I such a long time to get the deal done on the chalet purchase, and then get going on the renovation, that it wasn't really mentioned again. Fast-forward 18 months, and URBANARA continue to go from strength to strength and we were coming to the end of our little (big!) project. And it seemed that this crazy link up idea might not be as crazy as all that, and could actually be beneficial for both of us (as well as being enormous fun). We got a date in the diary, added in a couple of weeks leeway for safety after the projected build finish date and book flights for her shoot/ style team for mid December.
The Crisis: It turned out that the two week safety barrier was entirely and fundamentally necessary. Various hiccups with the lighting and some supplier issues put some key parts of the build further and further behind. The Friday that the team arrived was actually one of the most horrendously stressful days in the whole process. The kitchen was being finished, lighting was still being fitted and the whole chalet still looked like a total building site. Well, it still was a building site. There were tools everywhere, dust, stuff as far as the eye could see. And the URBANARA team was arriving at 6pm that night to start shooting the following morning, and also needed to stay overnight in suitable accommodation. This was supposed to be our first overnight stay there in 6 months. This was proper 'to the wire' stuff. I reflected on this deadline and total panic stations day a few days later, and probably, funnily enough, even if they'd arrived a few days later - I reckon it still might have been cutting it as fine as it was. Funny things, deadlines...
The Solution: We got in a team of cleaners for a few hours that day - all very last minute, and thank GOD for them. The building team cracked on like actual machines and then started the clean up. We built beds, made beds up, built sofas, coffee table. Mopped floors. Scrubbed bathrooms. Cleaned windows. Mopped more floors. Scrubbed other bathrooms - scrubbed the same bathrooms again - those black bathroom tiles, it turns out, were a NIGHTMARE to clean. It took many many many goes on them to get to the end of the black dust residue. Likewise the dust on the wooden floors - so many moppings. So many. Likewise the window cleaning - who knew that new windows don't just come up shiny and sparkly immediately due to being brand new? They actually take many many goes.
Turning Point: That day was the turning point day - in the morning the chalet was the same building site we'd been visiting for weeks, with several things advanced, but definitely NOT a home or somewhere to conceive of staying overnight, let alone having 5 people arrive to stay over and work in it for the weekend. The URBANARA team arrived at the latter end of the clean up - we were not quite there yet, so I whisked them off into town for red wine and tapas while the clean up finished, and when we returned 2 hours later, it had a living room, bedrooms, bathrooms with lights in them (actually that's not quite true - the first night of that weekend was showers and teeth cleaning by candlelight, the bathroom lights came on Day Two), a working coffee machine (thank GOD), unpacked crockery, a working wood burning stove. There was still a fair amount of dust everywhere though, no dining table, no working hob or ovens though...no kitchen sink, no WiFi, several lights still not working, plug sockets to install, no bathroom lighting, no bunk bed built. Only one UK plug socket worked, which meant strict turn taking to charge iPhones etc.
The Pay Off: But, I remember sitting up at about 1am that night, actually sitting on our lovely new sofas for the first ever time, trying to desperately finish off crocheting the cushions I'd been working on for months so that they could be in shot, and feeling the most exhausted I'd ever felt. Even when I've been on a gruelling 2 week long author national signing tour, and working seriously long hour days and all over weekends, evenings as well as days - that exhaustion is *nothing* like this was. Not anywhere in the same ballpark. There hadn't been a single minute that wasn't incredibly stressful and full on for both of us for a good few weeks up until that point, and that final punishing, overwhelming day. Both chalet wise, but also work wise. But it was an incredible feeling sitting in that space for the very first time in the new set up. Looking around to see the vision inside your head actually alive. Putting everything we'd had shipped in, everything we'd chosen, everything we'd planned to go together, actually coming together in real life. It was truly an extraordinary moment. Getting into bed that night felt surreal and a bit dreamlike (probably the cumulative exhaustion), and we couldn't quite grasp it as 'success' just yet.
And Then: The plan was to shoot our interiors shots on the Saturday until the natural light was gone, and then concentrate on URBANARA's shot list for Sunday and Monday. And then…well, that is a story for another post…(closes laptop in manner of Princess Bride book, with less bushy eyebrows than Peter Falk)