Finding Houses: How It All Works
If there’s one thing I hear most often, it’s, “I bet you see a ton of incredible houses in your job. You must really love what you do.” That’s true—doing this job in Charleston, I'm constantly amazed at the houses I get to see. Still, that doesn't compare to how interesting it is to meet the people in them.
Next week, check out my first-ever “Scouting Report” right here online. I’ll pick five houses (some of the homes you’ve seen, some you haven’t, like the picture attached to this blog—this is a new one I found!), and give you the real stories behind how I came to find them, and what I discovered when I got there. The Scouting Report is about the people, the places they’ve been, and how the conversations travel from house to life to travels to everything else—and back again—that is so interesting.
Before I do that though, I should clear up how this whole home and garden scouting job works.
First thing you should know: Rarely do I simply knock on a door. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again, but the results aren’t as good as one might think.
I mostly get word of must-see houses through designers, architects, or through any one of our growing gaggle of close friends and contributors who regularly call me up and say, “Ellen, drop everything. You’ve GOT to see this.” (Quick note about working for a local magazine: with the exception of way-south or way-north Lowcountry locales, I typically scout these in person rather than simply asking for pictures. Photos tell me whether it’s a no or maybe, but rarely whether it’s a yes. If I were at a national mag, where leads come from all over the country, my whole day might be spent looking at snapshots rather than stepping through doorways.)
I also get leads from people I don’t know, friendly folks who suggest I take a look at, for instance, their neighbor’s house. I like these too—most of the time in these instances, I’ll ask for photos.
If I’d like to see more, the first thing I ask the source is, “Does the homeowner know you’re calling me?” The last thing I want is to call up the most private person in the universe, who will undoubtedly be appalled at the thought of sensationalizing home-sweet-home and drop my source from his or her friend list—for good. Better that the homeowner has okayed the idea.
I’ll also ask whether the owners live there full-time (writing a story about a fabulous house that’s only inhabited two months of the year can prove difficult), if they have children, did they use an interior designer (whether they did or not has no bearing on whether or not it’s a viable lead, but if they didn’t, it tells me that the homeowner’s vision is going to play a strong role in any potential story), what neighborhood it’s located in (I get particularly excited when it’s an area we haven’t featured in a while), and a few other things. Then I call the homeowner and arrange a visit.
This is where my job becomes very interesting. I’ll be greeted my someone who, nine times out of ten, I’ll later swear is the most gracious person on the planet. It’s remarkable to me how open people are (yes, even in Charleston), sharing their spaces and their lives with me. The funny part is, I usually only spend about 15 minutes walking around taking digital shots (these are not for publication—I stick to writing and editing, as I’m the world’s least talented photographer; these are just for reference and planning purposes). The remainder of the visit—anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour and a half—is often spent leaning at the kitchen counter or sitting on the back steps chatting about how all this (the house, the kids, the life) came to be.
I can’t tell you how much I learn—some has to do with house, but an equal amount doesn’t.
Again, much of these rich, behind-the-scenes moments never make it to the pages. There’s usually so much story to tell, we have to cut it off somewhere.
But in the week following, I’ll tell you about the IOP homeowners who sat me down with their star-studded scrapbook chronicling their days as early-1980s NYC nightclub owners, the Awendaw homeowners who had me ride their backyard zip line before starting the house tour, the Riverland Terrace “dollhouse” visit that found me and the owner snooping around neighbors’ yards in search of—well, I can’t remember now…
What I do know is that there is a lot more story behind the story. And I can’t wait to share. Talk soon!