Interior designer Odette Blum has a very good eye for those objects that have been created with such a love for beauty that you instantly want to cherish them for the rest of your life.
Every month, Kasia Gatkowska flies off with all her equipment to photograph the enviable houses and apartments of architects, designers and other famous homeowners for magazines including Elle Décor Italia, Residence and Vogue Living Australia. She never knows in what or whose wondrous universe she will land. ‘I really love the unknown, variety, change: it excites me.’
You left your home country of Poland to come to the Netherlands…
‘For love! It was the late ‘80s and I was 21. I arrived with my bag: “Of course I’ll move in with you, learn Dutch in one year and complete my studies in the Arabic language and literature in Amsterdam!”’
And your love for interior design?
‘After my studies, I started translating and teaching but I didn’t enjoy it. I arrived at Artemis completely by chance. There I met Stef Bakker, with whom I ended up in interior styling. As a stylist, I came into contact with interior design photography. There would be something that I had worked so hard at styling and then such rubbish pictures would result! I saw things differently and wanted to capture that myself. This idea simmered for several years. I didn’t dare get into it, I had such good clients and I wasn’t technical enough.’
‘Then I arrived in New York the day before 9/11. We planned to either go to the Twin Towers or the Empire State Building first. And then it happened the next morning. We were trapped in Manhattan for a week. “What are we doing with our lives? There’s no time to waste!” So I thought, I’m just going to do it. I submerged myself completely in photography, which was still analogue at the time. I bought a Hasselblad and took it travelling.’
Nowadays you live with your husband – a chef – and your ten-year-old son in the Pijp neighbourhood in Amsterdam and you work all over the world. How does that work?
‘Fortunately, my husband also has a flexible schedule and I have very loving parents who come all the way from Warsaw to babysit. So that’s brilliant. Once a month I get contacted by a magazine for a job abroad: “You have an appointment at this time at that place with this person and make something out of it.” Recently, I’ve started working with American Vogue as well, which has an entire team in place: the art director, a journalist: super professional. But all the magazines give me lots of freedom; I’m always thrown in at the deep end and challenged to get the best out of a gig.’
You must meet some interesting homeowners?
“I just photographed Fabrizio Viti’s apartment in Paris for Vogue. He is a shoe designer at Louis Vuitton but now he’s starting his own label. Luckily it wasn’t such a huge home this time, as sometimes I think: “Am I the only one who lives in a tiny space?” Fabrizio pointed cheerfully from his window: “Yves Saint Laurent lived there and Mick Jagger lived over there”. He was friends with Donna Summer and his home is filled with signed photographs. I liked to be in an interior with lots of personality, one that makes sense on all levels. Not trendy, not created by a stylist, but instead one of those interiors that speaks volumes about a person’s entire life.
It is intimate work: you are entering someone’s home, with all their personal stuff lying around. I often have to shoot a portrait as well. Then you spend a day together, try to befriend someone. Recently, I had a shoot with the Italian architect and artist Vincenzo de Cotiis. Everyone had warned me that he can be difficult, so I was shaking in my shoes a little on his doorstep. But he was really very congenial. He watched me slaving away trying to photograph everything just right and when we parted I was showered with air kisses and gratitude. Your commitment to the job is highly appreciated. These people have often achieved everything they have with their own sweat and tears.’