Rooms of Their Own

Almost all architectural photography—especially of residential interiors—involves a healthy dose of fiction. These images are, in the crudest sense, “product shots,” idealized versions of a space or building that are closer in spirit to advertising and promotion than straight journalism. While not necessarily bad or immoral, this practice often results in images that raise the question: “Who lives like that?”

Bilyana Dimitrova’s new book, To Each His Home: Inspired Interiors as Unique as Their Owners (Princeton Architectural Press), celebrates a sort of DIY sub­version of the Architectural Digest aesthetic. Dimitrova—a former photo editor at Metropolis and certainly no stranger to the iconic image—meticulously documents eight residences, none of them created by professional designers but all of them very much designed (if your definition of design includes a fierce, almost theatrical, sense of purpose). “I wanted to find homes that I was fascinated and excited by,” the 31-year-old photo­grapher says. “More than anything, it was that heightened intentionality that I responded to.”

The spaces, of course, are all deeply personal—it’s interior design performed as unabashed autobiography. For example, take Mija Bankava’s lush Soho loft, where the plants are selected solely for their sculptural value; Lenny Weiner’s baroque New York fun house, where every square foot is fussed over within an inch of its aesthetic life; or Peter Rittmaster’s lakeside retreat in Maine, a kind of stage set for rustic performance art and whimsy. “These people were so genuine,” Dimitrova says. “It was not about ‘making a visual statement’”—although they all do that. “They were just being themselves. That was really touching to me.”

Most of the time, Dimitrova chose not to show the owners, letting the rooms speak for themselves. Instead, she accompanied each photographic essay with a short interview in which the owners talked about how their homes came to be. “In the beginning, I wanted the homes to be portraits of the people,” she says. “I thought showing them would take away from the spaces. But the more I thought about it, I realized that if they’re interacting in the space but not the main focus, it might be nice if some of them were in the photos.”

“You asked me the difference between shooting these homes and doing architecture photography,” Dimitrova laughs. “This was nice, because I didn’t have to Photoshop out anything that was considered a distraction. I didn’t have to put away anything that belonged to the people who lived there.”

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