Out Of The Woods by Alexa van Batenburg
The atmosphere changes here on the East Coast in mid-September, pushed along by gatherings for Fashion Week. The muted and foamy sounds of flipflops are replaced by syncopated clicks of stilettos on pavement. Like a citywide metronome, increasing in rhythm, punctuated with laughter echoing from alleyways.
In early autumn, the city ignites and sparkles at night, in crisp fall briskness; it is a tangible feeling, like sizzling electricity in the air. Humidity lifts, and the light seems to change. Hues that glimmer in early darkness are sharper, distinct, more crystal clear. A slightly heightened romantic anticipation reigns NYC, of what is yet to come in this new season.
It was this energy I had in mind for the AMFAM project, when contemplating the set decoration and artistic direction of the latest ‘Dining In The Spotlight’ photo shoot. Upon viewing the private dining room at Catch, and having tasted their delectable seafood, it seemed the perfect location and collaborative space to promote the worthy charitable cause of AmpleHarvest.org, as it is so appropriate to show gratitude at this time of year.
I thought of early morning frost on sea shells and other signs of autumn in the countryside; the regal deer, quietly passing along the wood line to rest in layers of moss amongst the trees. I wanted to capture this sense of woodsy lushness to create a sophisticated, urban woodland, while also incorporating the freshness of salt and frost; the clean spirit of change…
After meeting with AMFAM editor, Sasha Benz, to discuss and refine the visual direction of the shoot, I strove to capture the sense of enchantment she desired. The vision Sasha and I shared was one of sheets of moss strewn down the table, like a primal forest, and punctuated with an abundance of romantic, white flowers.
We chose to incorporate antique glassware, mercury glass and vintage silver, for their rich reflective qualities and subtle color distortions. I began by editing pieces from my personal collection of vintage silver, gathered from estate sales, flea markets, and my time living in Europe. I selected varied urns, pitchers, and glass along with my favorite oversized antique candelabra from the Netherlands.
I then reached out to Carrie Wilcox Floral Design. I knew Carrie, with her vast knowledge of flowers, would be a great asset for this creative endeavor, and I felt confident that we could collaborate to create the style of floral arrangements befitting the ambiance I wished to achieve.
Many of the individual types of flowers that Carrie and I desired for ‘Dining In The Spotlight’ were not in season, so we arranged to have them imported from the Netherlands. It’s always so amazing what you can buy on the internet! When I get the chance, I try to visit floral markets for inspiration, from the Aalsmeer auction in Holland, to ours here in New York; they are an endless resource. Nothing compares to the tactile and aromatic experience of hand selecting flowers in order to provide the finishing touches of perfect varietals. My preference for the ‘Dining in the Spotlight’ shoot were loose and romantic white blooms such as Juliet Roses, Snapdragons, Hydrangeas, and Foxgloves. These, along with an abundance of others, helped to create an ethereal aesthetic of flowing, verdant arrangements.
With decisions on florals well under way, I visited the Juliska showroom. I knew their gorgeous selection of handcrafted tableware and exquisite glassware would evoke the mood perfectly. The magnificent product line did not disappoint, and I found many beautiful pieces such as twig placemats, dreamy creamy dishes and subtle pewter platters.
I then visited Terrain, the lifestyle retailer founded by the owners of Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. Their flagship store is a monumental homage to earthy environments and was a great place for a creative revelation; one can get lost in the almost mystical, ecofriendly space. The enormous space mainly focuses on horticulture and lifestyle items, but you never know what interesting item you will find. If you are looking for a living wall of plants for your apartment, this is the place. While there, I uncovered enchanting baby fern wreaths to adorn the place settings, etched mercury glass and slate colored pots of Calandiva from Pennsylvania, to add to the tablescape for the shoot.
A week later, the flowers arrived from the Netherlands and I ventured to the flower market to retrieve them. As luck would have it, crates of freshly harvested moss arrived at the market at the same time, via a vintage pickup truck, driven by a New Hampshire farmer.
The following Monday, I met with Carrie at her workshop, to review the concept, complete a mock layout of the tablescape, and begin the floral arrangements, which she continued to work magic on until they were realized within the vision of the shoot. We included pieces from her beautiful inventory of pedestal vases, mercury glass votives and antique crystal. I felt confident that the direction of the flowers was set and would be camera ready.
The excitement on the day of a shoot is always present and palpable, and the installation process of the interior styling for the tablescape and decorative elements began hours before the rest of the crew arrived. Carrie and I entered the private dining room, prearranged by the outstanding management of Catch. The restaurant had such an accommodating and amazing staff. They made pulling off the prep and set up of the shoot seem seamless.
It is always a thrill to transform a space, like the backdrop of a stage set, created for the beauty of a shoot to evolve within. I was happy to create an ambiance that had the power to not only complement but to transform the space and to bring out the inner beauty of all involved, letting them become enchanted and having that feeling reflected in their enjoyment of the dinner, and in honoring AmpleHarvest.org.
I hope you enjoyed seeing the embellishments and small details in the fantastic photography of the shoot. It was a pleasure to be a part of the creative process, and it truly was a phenomenal evening.
Alexa van Batenburg is an art director, interior stylist and designer based out of New York and Connecticut. Her projects incorporate her background as a production designer and set decorator, most often demonstrated in film and music videos. She also has professional experience as a color and textile designer, all of which influence her ability to create inspiring environments. In addition to acquisitions for independent clients, she is a dealer on 1stdibs.com, through the Fairfield County Antique and Design Center and will soon be launching a storefront on Chairish, as well as a line of textiles for interiors. Alexa utilizes her unique sense of style, honed from living abroad, in the procurement of antiques and mid century decorative items, specializing in pieces that evoke a “Jaggeresque moment in St. Tropez, circa 1970” and “items one might find in a Slim Aarons photograph”.