Armadillo

The Journal

Behind the Lens with Nicole Franzen

Raised on the West Coast and now based in New York City, photographer Nicole Franzen has an unmistakeable aesthetic. With natural light and uncluttered composition key tools of her trade, she has worked with notable interior designers on some of the most enviable homes in the country. We spoke to her about her first love (food), the places on her travel bucket list and how she has been carefully curating her own home in the heart of Brooklyn.

What were you like as a child? Were you creatively inclined?

Since as early as I can remember, I have been very aware of my surroundings and things. In my young adolescence, I started really paying attention to the homes and spaces of my friends. Growing up in southern California in the 90s, trends like warm yellow sponged walls were what plaster and limewash are to us now. I was an only child with a single hard-working mother, so I spent time after school watching renovation and cooking shows. She worked in a furniture store and that also really sparked my interest. In high school I’d take on projects reorganizing and decorating my friends’ bedrooms (nerd alert). I’d always experiment in the kitchen and was obsessed with food. I initially went that route and got a job in a fine dining restaurant at the age of 14.

MD Townhouse by Danielle Siggerud.

How did photography become a career path for you?

I’m a very nostalgic creature; there is something so comforting in hiding behind a lens and documenting my surroundings. When I was younger, I was mostly taking photos of people and places. I started really traveling and living abroad when I was 17. I didn’t think of photography as a profession until later and realized I could combine all my loves and do so through one medium, photography.

How would you describe your aesthetic as a photographer?

I like nice clean light, soft and ethereal. I am generally a minimalist and always try to refine and reduce. Saying that, whenever I go into a space of a maximalist who does it well it’s a real awakening of the senses and much appreciated. It’s really nice to shoot a range, it keeps things interesting.

Scarsdale Home by Monica Fried Design.

You’ve worked with some of our favourite interior designers and stylists. What makes for a great collaboration on set?

I tend to work best when both people respect and trust each other fully. It’s a bit of a dance and so important for each person to know its place and to communicate openly. When those things are in place a real nice collaboration can take place. I’m so lucky I get to work with so many talented interior designers, who inspire me daily.

The home of Nate Berkus & Jeremiah Brent.

Do you have a process for conceptualising imagery, or do you tend to come up with the
composition and framing more loosely on the day?

In a way I do, I am formulaic. I have at this point figured out what works for me. Saying that, every shoot has a new set of challenges and variables. It takes a lot of focus and decision making – creative strain on the brain, I call it. I am learning new things every day and always striving to be the best I can. Being super critical of one’s work can be both a blessing and a curse. It allows me to grow and better myself but can also be exhausting. My therapist would say I need to be kinder to myself!

The home of Jenna Lyons.

You also have a passion for the culinary world. Can you give us some tips for styling and shooting food?

Yes, very much so. A few simple pointers would be to shoot in daylight, with any ambient lighting off. Shooting overhead tends to be foolproof and is most broadly attractive for photographing dishes. If it’s dark in a restaurant, forget it and enjoy it.  

Are you a handy chef? What’s your go-to recipe?

I’m a complete food nerd, the kitchen is a place I feel really comfortable. I enjoy going to the farmers market each week, selecting the produce myself, talking with my farmers and getting excited for what’s to come. I take great pride in the artistry of cooking and the skills at hand. I have total respect for the ingredients and amount of work that is put into them. I tend to go for fresh flavors. I make lots of salads, pastas and meats, depending on the season My staples are good olive oil, fresh herbs, lemon, salty cheeses, good bread, lots of fresh vegetables and, when I do buy meat, it’s super high quality from my local butcher.

Main Street by Studio Giancarlo Valle & Jane Keltner de Valle.

Since travel is off-limits for many of us right now, we’d love to live vicariously through you! What do you love about living in Brooklyn? What are some of your favourite local haunts?

I think NYC is nicest in the spring and fall. Nothing better than riding my bicycle around my neighborhood and going for a drink/nibble outdoors. Some of my favorite restaurants in the city are Via Carota, Bar Pisellino, King and Maialino. For quick bites, Los Tacos Numero Uno, Shake Shack and noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods. In my neighborhood, Achilles Heel, natural wine at The Four Horseman, brunch at Sunday in Brooklyn, pizza at Leo, martinis and a Caesar salad at Bernie’s, and pancakes at Chez Ma Tante.

Our Savannah rug in Nicole Franzen’s Brooklyn home.

Tell us about the vibe in your own home – how have you approached styling it?

A constant work in progress – most of us who work in the industry know it’s always changing and evolving. Every time I am introduced to a new thing I love, I want to change everything. Also, now with Instagram I feel like I get fatigued on a certain style quicker because everything starts to look the same. My general mood is light and airy. My apartment needs to be relaxing and zen. I try to choose objects that are thoughtful and special. I can sometimes make expensive mistakes and learn from them. I’m forever inspired by the French, the Italians and the Danes.

Copenhagen, Denmark.

You’re an avid traveller. What are some places you have on your bucket list to visit in the future?

Iceland, the Faroe Islands, getting back to the highlands in Scotland and the rural countryside of England. Sailing the Swedish archipelago in the summer. I’m dying to go to Mallorca, Ischia and Southern Italy (the furthest south I’ve been is Rome). Also, southern Argentina, Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. Just to name a few!

Finally, what’s keeping you creatively stimulated right now?

Browsing vintage furniture online and flipping through interiors books. Usually it’s visiting museums and galleries as well, but the past year has been different. Nature and seasons also really inspire me, and music.

Atelier Brancusi in the 4th Arrondissement, Paris.

Follow Nicole Franzen on Instagram.

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