Aubrie Pick had been looking to open a commercial shoot kitchen in San Francisco for years when her accountant tipped her off that ’90s punk-rock band NOFX was selling their light-filled recording studio.
Purple and black walls, crumby bunk beds, musty sound paneling, and a questionable kitchenette didn’t deter the food photographer, who shoots cookbooks and ad campaigns for clients ranging from Chrissy Teigen to Guy Fieri and Impossible Foods. In addition to the incredible sunlight, the former auto body shop checked Pick’s boxes for more practical needs like ground-level loading and easy, central access.
Pick outfitted the empty warehouse with her dream set: a bright, contemporary kitchen that photographs beautifully, accommodates endless food styling needs and adapts to any given shoot. Aptly named The Good Studios, the 2,000-square-foot space is now the photographer’s work wonderland (as well as a rental studio for other culinary creatives). Here, she reveals, in her own words, how she optimized the kitchen for functional cooking and photography:
Brightness was my guiding principle. For cookbooks and ads especially, people are looking for big, bright, open spaces, so I kept the top cabinetry white. I took advantage of the extra tall ceilings to add plenty of storage. Still, I wanted a neutral backdrop with a little bit of personality, so I picked Semihandmade’s Supermatte Night Sky Slab doors for the bottom. I love that shade of blue—it’s such a modern hue.
Choose Photogenic Finishes
Once I had chosen the navy fronts, I knew I didn’t want standard white appliances because they would stand out too much. I couldn’t use stainless steel because it’s too reflective for photography, so I picked a classic matte black finish so I wouldn’t have to mitigate reflection and glare while shooting.
The wall paint throughout is also in a matte finish that doesn’t bounce light around in a weird way and the two pendants that hang above the island have the same quality. I made sure to pick fixtures with flexible cords to easily be able to pin up the lights if I need to get them out of the frame.
Think About Food Styling
Reaching out to my food stylist friends to get their input on how the space should be laid out was really helpful. It’s a set, but it’s also a functioning kitchen. I was trying to be very thoughtful about where things were placed: storing pots, pans, and utensils near the stove for easy access. Usually, there are multiple assistants in addition to food stylists on a shoot, so having many workstations was important. Whoever’s cooking at the stove and oven area shouldn’t be cramped next to someone chopping and prepping.
The kitchen also had to be hardworking, be able to withstand multiple days of cooking and dozens of recipes in a row, and be easily cleaned and reset for the next day. Because of this, I opted for a bigger, higher-end stovetop and a faucet with a strong flow and a pull-out sprayer. After all, cleaning up can be just as big a job as cooking sometimes.
Pick Durable Materials
I know marble is really popular in kitchens right now and for good reason: it looks great. But it’s not the most durable surface for such heavy-duty use. I opted for Caesarstone Polished Quartz instead, which feels like marble yet is way more hardworking and has a lifetime warranty. I made sure to choose a material that was strong and backed up by the maker so that we wouldn’t have to worry about scratches and stains. I want people to feel comfortable in the kitchen while also being aware that, just like with a rental car, people can be a little harder on surfaces when it’s not their own.
I wanted the kitchen to be versatile and easily transformable, so we put the island on wheels. Now, we can move it completely out of the way to shoot straight at the stove or the sink and we can roll it to another part of the room to make it feel like a different space entirely. IKEA doesn’t recommend this because islands can tip over, but I worked with my contractor to build a solid base. There are three rows of casters in either direction and added weight, which helps to reinforce and stabilize it. The wheels lock, too, which is obviously super important.
Storage space and the ability to transform parts of the set was also an important consideration. The Semihandmade floating shelves made it easy to swap out display items for more traditional or hip styling to match a chef’s personality.
Find a High-Low Balance
Hardware was definitely somewhere I felt I could save money. I didn’t want something super design-y, so I figured I could find affordable options on Amazon and I did. Our matte black pulls arrived quickly and I got extras in case we needed them down the road. This left room in the budget for the black Kelly Wearstler sconces above the open shelving because I felt they would be a centerpiece.