Sara Essex Bradley says her latest design book exists at “the nexus of dog mania and house porn.”
An interiors and architectural photographer who’s shot for publications including New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles, House Beautiful and The New York Times, Bradley noticed dogs had a way of wandering into her camera’s frame.
“Invariably, the dogs would come and hang out,” Bradley says. “I tried to get them into the shot, because they make it more interesting. Then, two or three years ago, I started doing it on purpose, thinking it could be a book someday.”
That book is "Dog Décor: Canines Living Large" (Glitterati Inc., $35), a 160-page tribute to dogs (and the occasional cat) and their stylish home environs. Introduced by Valorie Hart, who decorated several of the homes, the book doubles as a who’s-who of New Orleans’ interior design community.
Stylist Lisa Tudor’s midcentury modern living room — and whippet Gia — grace the cover. The pages include designer Shaun Smith’s 1970s-style sunken living room (and spaniels Presley and Harper), architect Ross Karsen’s contemporary new build in Bywater (and shepherd mix) and artist Miranda Lake’s rustic porch bedroom (and rescue pup Byrdie), among more than 70 other homes and a few businesses.
“I was lucky to shoot a range of houses in a variety of styles — from midcentury modern to traditional, from smaller, more eclectic bungalows to mansions,” Bradley says. “It’s fun to flip through the pages and see how other people live and find design solutions — and also to see the dogs.”
Homes are mostly concentrated in the greater New Orleans area, but there are a few in New York and California. The book also offers readers the singular pleasure of peeping into chef John Besh’s kitchen, where glass-fronted cabinets reveal multiple bottles of Tabasco sauce.
As with all the other homes, Bradley describes the décor through the dogs’ point of view. Besh’s two black labs, Morgan and Shatzi, say, “We always enjoy being underfoot while John cooks … in the kitchen of his Creole-style home.”
“I based (the dogs’ descriptions) on my experience with them, and I communicated with the owners and asked them for stories, anecdotes and tidbits about their personalities,” Bradley says.
Dogs are artistically placed in their homes. Sometimes their physical attributes highlight design elements: A black cocker spaniel stands out starkly in a minimalist, all-white living room, while two chocolate labs complement the scenic, sylvan wallpaper in a formal dining room.
“The dog becomes another compositional element; I was purposeful about putting them where I wanted them,” Bradley says. “I’d try to get them to look at the camera — I have a variety of yelps and shrieks.”
Some dogs were more difficult to direct than others, but just as Bradley refuses to play favorites, she declines to discuss bad behavior. “They all basically want to please,” she says.
Bradley’s hallmark long exposures, which capture the movement blur of a dog’s wagging tail, reveal the truth of that statement. Her biggest challenge? “Let’s just say one dog was … excited,” Bradley says. “I Photoshopped things I never thought I would Photoshop.”
That element of liveliness and unpredictability translates to film, bringing a touch of levity to the high-end homes.
“This book is designed to make you smile and hopefully take décor a little less seriously,” Bradley says. “Dogs make décor more fun and approachable, and they give another layer to the story of the house. Because the most important resident usually is the dog.”
Sara Essex Bradley signs 'Dog Decor'
4 p.m. Nov. 9
Gerrie Bremermann Designs
3943 Magazine St., New Orleans