Joe Schmelzer Photographs The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces

By Barbara Goldman

 Photographer Joe Schmelzer  loves to incorporate new technology into his work, while maintaining the characteristics of traditional photography, and it is that love of the old and the new that has established him as an influential presence in the travel, entertainment and shelter markets.  He is featured regularly in the editorial pages of Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Vogue UK and Travel + Leisure.  Starting out from suburban Cleveland (Shaker Heights), Schmelzer’s inspiration and introduction to photography came from a popular series of Yousuf Karsh prints. After honing his skills by shooting still lifes of half-eaten meals, which by the way he still likes to photograph, he made his way to New York City to launch his career.  Now based in Los Angeles, his  images convey a natural, unstaged look, which have made him one of the most sought- after commercial photographers.  He has the ability to produce work at any hour and realize his clients’ visions before they may even know themselves what they want.

Nearly two years ago Schmelzer and his good friend and designer Kyle Schuneman  decided to join forces to create a very distinctive book project that would showcase their many talents.  Schuneman is one of the hottest young interior designers on the scene today and is already considered the wunderkind of the design world.  He has been featured in Esquire, Real Simple, Apartment Therapy, Dwell and on HGTV and he is the art director for Giada de Laurentiis’s Food network and the show Giada at Home.

Schmelzer and Schuneman started work on The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces by doing a sample chapter. They tried endlessly to pitch it to publishers on their own before they realized that they needed help on this part of the process. “We were luckily introduced to literary agent, Betsy Amster,  who loved the idea and decided to sign both Kyle and I,” says Schmelzer. After months of work and also adding on writer   Heather Summerville, who was Senior Editor at Lucky Magazine, they finally had the feeling that they had produced a professional and now finished proposal. With Amster at the helm they got four offers from different publishers before they accepted with Clarkson Potter / Random House, which was their top choice.

The actual concept for The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces was fairly simple and straight forward. They knew the audience they wanted to reach and went after a very targeted demographic of young adults, early 20-somethings, just out of school, who are first-apartment seekers and dwellers. How do you find an apartment and then how do you decorate it on a shoe-string budge without it looking just like it came from Target or Ikea? Although these stores are useful and both Schmelzer and Schuneman applaud them for their simple lines and value but, they wanted more. They wanted to show that you could make a space unique, affordable and show off personal style. “We wanted to make sure we appealed to many different geographic groups as well, which is why we decided, although it was lots of travel and hard work, to feature apartments in many cities around the country  as Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and Atlanta,” adds Schmelzer.  

Even though the two friends worked very well together,  the project certainly presented lots of challenges for both of them.  Schmelzer was not only the photographer, but he also played a key role in the all the apartment renovations and decorating. “One day I was painting - while another day I may be shopping - and then finally photographing when we finished the space,” he says. The biggest challenges for both may have been the time and expense factors of making it all come together, making it work and meeting the deadline for publication. They would spend a week in each of the various cities working on a space and often these came only from scouting pictures they had received from apartment dwellers beforehand. And that led to another challenge.  They were asking everyone they knew in different cities to help them find people that would let them come into their homes and  change it completely in one week.

Getting to the city, figuring out where to buy things, figuring out how the space should look, renovating the space, capturing images reflecting and showcasing the locations and then finally shooting the chosen space was non-stop work.  As they were renovating and creating, they also had to keep in mind that every chapter of the book had to have “how-to projects” that  had to be shot.

Most of the book was shot very simply-with a Canon 5D Mark II with a tripod and natural light and sometimes using a reflector or white board.  They had so much travel and so much to do that the less equipment they had, the better.  Schmelzer also had   a small point-and -shoot type camera for city shots and any random pick up they might need,  as they had to make sure they had enough to work with for choices when they went to layout. At night when they were not shooting or painting, they worked on creating layouts on site to make sure they had all the pieces in place.

The finished book features 10 homes across the U.S. with residents who had their visions made real.  There are also 30 do-it-yourself projects that allow the readers to customize their spaces even if they face rental regulations or tight budgets.

The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces is a fresh lifestyle approach to interior decorating that seamlessly blends how-to advice with inspiration, easy style and sophistication. This inexpensive paperback ($24.99 U.S./$28.99 Canada), at 256 pages and a trim size of 8x10,  has hundreds of photos by Schmelzer and offers a new and refreshing way to look at design. Whether it is a first home or a third or even a fourth, and whether young or old, The First Apartment Book is an elegant and handy guide for anyone who wants to live well and make their small pad come off as an affordable palace. The First Apartment Book: Cool, Design for Small Spaces, published by Clarkson Potter, goes on sale August 28. The press for it on radio, in design and lifestyle magazines and local television has already caught on to it and has attracted tremendous attention and praise for both Schuneman and Schmelzer.

To see how Joe Schmelzer conceptualizes, arranges and produces photo and video projects with his studio-production company, Treasurbite Studio, Inc., visit his site  at He is represented by Frank Parvis of  i2i Photography

The First Apartment Book: Cool Design for Small Spaces
By Kyle Schuneman with Heather Summerville
Photography by Joe Schmelzer
Clarkson Potter Trade Paperback on sale 8/28/2012
$24.99/ $28.99 Canada


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