© SUITE 201
526 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10001
When visiting this beautiful 3,300-square-foot rental studio in the heart of Chelsea’s gallery district, words such as stylish, cosmopolitan and fabulous come to mind. White on white and light-filled, the luxurious space is elegantly furnished with pieces designed by the likes of Eames, Wassily and Bertoia. Its owner is fashion photographer Tom Contrino, whose impeccable choices in decor are influenced as much by pragmatism as by taste.Prior to opening his studio ten years ago, Contrino spent many years shooting for some of the largest retail fashion clients in the United States and Europe. Something he noticed about shooting in New York was the frequency with which he found himself sent to locations in private apartments—by clients wanting to achieve an authentic “lifestyle” look. But from a photographer’s perspective, the headaches around those shoots usually outweighed the benefits. “Loading in and out was difficult and there were just too many restrictions shooting in private residences,” he recalls. “So I came up with the idea of taking some of the most often used features and creating them in a photo studio where anything could be moved and there was always plenty of space in which to work.”
Situated in a commercial gallery building, 201’s clients suffer none of the restrictions of private residence shoots that used to cramp Contrino’s style. Here, clients are welcome to drop off equipment the day prior to a shoot and pick it up the day after.The studio is equipped with nine 30-amp lines, and loading in and out is hassle-free thanks to the large 8 x 11-foot freight elevator and an accommodating building staff. Clients have use of a styling room fully equipped with clothing racks, steamers and irons, and comfortable robes and slippers provided for the models to relax in, is a nice touch of luxury. The well-lighted, professional hair and makeup station leaves nothing to be desired, either. “I am still a fashion photographer,” Contrino says, and as such he knows how to keep a fashion crew happy. When he isn’t on location, he often uses the studio for his own work.
Shoots here vary from simple—a client coming in to shoot small on the seamless background with two or three of the props—to very involved. Dillard’s Department store Chain needed a swimming pool set up with an overhead scaffold so their photographer could shoot from above. For that one, the space was completely transformed to make way for the scaffold and a shallow 12 x 12 pool, assembled on site, filled with water from the utility area, and emptied out afterwards with sump pumps. Every prop—from sofas and tables to the fireplace—can be moved or stored in order to reconfigure the space to meet any required specification.
Presenting the studio as if pristine and untouched for each new client is probably the most challenging aspect of running this busy facility. “But,” says Contrino, “we have a very good system to achieve that.” The prevailing atmosphere of calm is largely due to his efficient studio manager and an indispensable staff of maintenance genies.
“Commercials with their large crews and cameras on dollies have become pretty normal fare here,” Contrino says. The number of still photo clients—mainly advertising and catalog shoots—are just about equal to the number of video clients who rent the space, and these days it is rented almost constantly.During the initial stages of the recession in 2008, many studios including Suite 201 experienced a marked decline in business. By the middle of 2009, Contrino says, rentals had not only returned to “normal” levels, but with tighter budgets in play, meaning less travel to remote locations, clients looking for local alternatives in fully furnished space have actually brought an increase in business. In addition to photo shoots, Suite 201 makes a terrific venue for seminars and events, such as a recent three-day video seminar sponsored by Canon. Equipment rental is outsourced to nearby photo rental houses, with certain standard equipment provided with each rental. Rates are extremely competitive, and prospective clients are invited to call and discuss prices and details over the telephone.
59 West 85th Street
New York, NY 10024
Offering 6,000 square feet of lovely interiors—both traditional and modern in style—1887 Townhouse has thirteen spacious, light-filled rooms, nine fireplaces and pristine wood floors among its many wonderful features. It also has a 600-square-foot oasis of a garden in the rear.Located on West 85th Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West, the house is something of an anomaly today. Built in 1887 by Alfred C. Clark (son of Edward Clark who built the Dakota) as one in a row of thirteen Queen Anne style homes, it is one of very few to have survived not only as a single-family home, but one with its original interior largely intact. Owner Dan Starer’s family is the sixth to own the house since it was built, and he was 12 years old when his parents bought it in 1967.
Starer loves the house, and he’s especially fond of the perfectly preserved butler’s pantry, complete with speaking tube to the kitchen and dumbwaiter. Having undergone some renovations in 2004, the house today features a sparkling, modern kitchen and baths in addition to its well-preserved 19th century charm.A research consultant by profession, working with authors, publishers and TV shows, Starer works mostly at home in the townhouse, making it easy for him to run this second business, which essentially started itself one day in 2004. “The doorbell rang and there stood a location scout looking for a townhouse or large apartment for a MasterCard TV commercial,” Starer recalls. “The single door bell told him this was a single family townhouse, which he explained was desirable since there is no coop or condo board, or management company, or tenants to deal with.” Starer decided to take a chance on the shoot, which turned out to have a crew of 50. An eye-opener, he calls it, and he learned a lot fast, becoming an expert in house protection.
“I own pre-cut runner rugs for all the hallways, pre-cut cardboard to protect at-risk glass and woodwork, and many furniture blankets, all of which makes house protection quick and easy,” he says. Although Starer lives here with his wife and daughter, the shoots do not significantly impact their lives. “We have bedrooms and a separate bath at the top of the house,” he says, “where shoots rarely venture.” Likewise, although this is a private residence, its occupants do nothing to hinder the shoots, which usually take place at least once a week and sometimes more. “I have two occasional assistants who help out when I’m not here,” Starer says, “but I try to be here during most shoots.”The first thing he does when a crew arrives is to instruct the PA’s how to deploy his house protection materials. After that he keeps a low profile but remains available to help out or to answer questions about the different rooms and their uses, how to best run electric cables and where to find various props. Virtually everything in the house—furniture, plants, housewares, and kitchen stuff—is available to be used as props.
Typical photo shoots include food, fashion portraits, and lifestyle, for editorial, advertising, stock and catalogs. Photographers often appreciate the fact that the rooms are painted in different colors, Starer says, so on a single shoot day they can create the illusion of having worked in several houses or apartments.Electrical tie-in to a 200-amp box means that film and TV shoots are frequent here, including a variety of episodic television shows, TV commercials, a Food Network series, interviews for documentaries and music videos. Repeat clients are not unusual, especially when the townhouse has become a set for episodic television. “Clients come back when the character who ‘lives’ here has a scene at home,” Starer says. During the second season of the TV show Damages, starring Glenn Close, 1887 Townhouse was cast in the role of William Hurt’s home. On the evening of the second presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, the crew happened to be there shooting. Starer and his wife were just settling in to watch the debate on the one TV in the house when there came a polite knock on the door. The location manager asked if two actors, on a break, could join them for the debate. “In walk Mr. Hurt in a tuxedo and Ms. Close in a drop-dead gorgeous black evening gown,” Starer says, “to join my wife and I, wearing our standard jeans and tee shirts.” Luckily they all backed the same candidate (Starer declined to say which one) and spent an agreeable hour criticizing the other one.
Like most studio owners, he did experience a slowing of business during the heart of the recession but says that it has bounced back to normal now. His rates are very competitive, with still photo shoots priced from $1,000 to $2,500 per 8 to 9-hour day, and film shoots priced from $1,500 to $8,000 per 10 to 16-hour day. Clients are encouraged to visit the Web site and to contact him for shoot-specific details. Many features of the house are offered to clients free of charge: all props, for example, and the use of extra rooms for makeup, hair, wardrobe, storage and relaxation. Use of the kitchen/garden/dining level of the house for catering purposes is also offered at no additional fee.For Starer, renting out his home as a location is truly enjoyable. He loves meeting the many interesting people who come through his door, and does everything he can to make time spent under his roof a pleasure.
An appealing sense of privacy and good service brings clients back to Suite 201. “It really is more of a ‘boutique’ studio,” says Contrino. “One crew each day, no other distractions and 100 percent attention.” The address is another plus, surrounded as it is by galleries and its proximity to the beautiful new riverfront park. It also enjoys access to the newest section of the Highline, just feet from the front door.