From Studio to Boudoir: Photographer Ellen Ho Transforms Her Home

A Vancouver photographer adds Parisian "je ne sais quois" to her live/work studio

Credit: Ellen Ho

Ellen Ho relaxes in front of the boudoir wall of her Vancouver photography studio

Photographer Ellen Ho is used to being behind the scenes, but she’s stepping into the 
spotlight with an up-close-and-personal tour of her live-work studio

When a photographer is setting up a shoot, a number of elements need to come together. The space itself should offer up some character – or perhaps be devoid of it altogether. Add to the mix some props, lights and maybe even a model … and it’s only then that the photographer can begin to start snapping. 

So when Ellen Ho was shopping for a studio for her company, Hong Photography, that would double as a place she could call home, the stakes were even higher.

Finding a Live/Work Studio in Vancouver

After finding a few lofts that just didn’t suit, an open-concept space on Vancouver’s east side caught Ho’s expert eye. The 700-square-foot live-work studio had 12-foot ceilings, an expanse of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the North Shore mountains and it was even outfitted with a built-in Murphy bed (surrounded by cabinets). Plus, the price was right for her first foray into the real estate market. “It’s quite small, but it’s a good start,” says Ho, who shares the condo with her partner Cory and their dog Bossy. 

The entryway offers a hint of Ho’s design style and the dual demands for every piece she picks: it has to be stylish and practical. In this narrow nook, a turquoise scarf hangs from a set of white porcelain antlers, an ornate mirror allows one to check his or her appearance on the way out the door, and an upholstered chair offers a snug spot to sit to heave off a pair of boots before wandering in the main living area.

Here, the shell of the space is bathed in bright white paint. Three layers of diaphanous drapes dance in the breeze from the open balcony, and filtered sunlight suffuses the room – perfect for Ho’s photography sessions. Overhead, track lighting brightens the kitchen, and aluminum pipes run across the exposed ceiling. “I really like industrial style,” says Ho. “So this was great to start with.”

The rest is inspired Parisian.

The liberal use of mirrors expands the space visually and the Murphy bed folds away

Ho’s Parisian-style Studio Design

Whether she’s shooting sweet or sultry portraits, the petite photog has to entice her subjects into relaxing and revealing their personalities. So the studio needed to have a certain je ne sais quois. And it does.

“Because of my work, I specifically was looking for furniture that goes well with my boudoir sessions – old character, nothing too modern – I wanted it to be more of a French kind of style,” says Ho, who found inspiration from a summer sojourn to Paris.

For all intents and purposes, the studio is a big square box. But Ho has smoothed its edgy industrial bones with soft-textured furnishings and created artful vignettes to soften its corners. Warm metals exude old-world glamour and timeworn books look right at home propped next to a vintage-style telephone.

Ho’s first purchase for the condo was an oversized gold-framed mirror that rests against the wall. Once it was put into place, she almost immediately purchased two more. Now, the trio of gilt mirrors doubles the space visually and offers creative reflections and angles Ho can play with when snapping her subjects. 

Treasured objects fill the nooks and crannies. Every item tells a story

Tufted-back sofas featuring curved lines and velvet-soft upholstery bring plush comfort to the room, and a trio of fluffy white rugs lends texture. Brass twig-legged tables and cowhide rugs add the organic touch Ho wanted. 

The pièce de résistance is undoubtedly Ho’s gallery of framed photos (many are her own shots) that stretches up to the ceiling forming the boudoir wall. “Initially, I didn’t even think about just doing gold frames, but then I found the Biba poster in Paris,” says Ho, describing how well the vintage nude portrait fits with her own modern boudoir shots, creating a visual story that reflects past and present. On the opposite wall, a painting of Queen Guinevere on reclaimed wood draws the eye upward.

Though most of the space is wrapped in white, dashes of colour come from a pink pouf, a clutch of peonies and the narrow band of blue velvet ribbon encircling the dressmaker’s form that reflects Ho’s first creative passion: ­the desire to become a fashion designer. “When I saw this one, I bought it right away. I love to do portraits here because of the lighting and this adds a bit of colour,” she says.

Throughout the studio, objets are grouped into still lifes, which can easily be used as photography props. Pearls tumble from teacups arranged on an ornate tray. A pair of antique cameras, which Ho presses into service, bedeck a white shelf. Layer upon layer of elements come together create a look that’s très feminine – but not girlish – and truly reflects Ho’s life and work.

So how does Ho separate life from work when living in a loft that doubles as a studio? 

She doesn’t. 

Not only does Ho embrace both sides equally, she feels no need to discern one from the other. Reflecting on her space, Ho heaves a little sigh and smiles happily. “It’s me.” 

Get Ellen Ho’s Loft Look

Emulate Ellen Ho’s French couture style with these three standout pieces

1. Distressed Birdcage

Skip the songbird but do consider perching a pretty birdcage in a corner or hanging it up high. This handpainted wood and bamboo beauty comes in two sizes. $49, small; $88, large, Pottery Barn

2. Dressmaker’s Form

Fashionistas will appreciate this life-size dressmaker’s form, which can be propped to suit any style. Toss a string of pearls around its neck and top with a cloche for a chic hit of Parisian style. This one is made to atelier standards and wrapped in antique linen. 
$699, Restoration Hardware

3. Moroccan Pouf

Handmade in Morocco, these leather poufs come in a range of modern hues, including metallics. The look is decidely more more Manhattan than Marrakesh. $395, The Cross

Originally published in BC Home magazine. For monthly updates, subscribe to the free BC Home e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the bi-monthly magazine.