A Photographer’s Tiny Beach Bungalow Renovation with Big Personality

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Love what you see? Take a peek at the talent behind the story… Interior Design & Photography: Magdalena Studios

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Being multi-passionate is not a bad thing – we’re complex humans with many facets to our interests and skills. This means you can be both a creative and a badass business lady who loves a good spreadsheet, but taking all of who you are into your career might seem challenging. Here to prove that you can blend both is the talented Magdalena Fisher, the Ocean City, NJ based photographer and lawyer behind Magdalena Studios

While rocking law school and building a successful destination photography empire, she also found the time and creative energy to tackle not one, but two fixer-uppers with her husband. Scroll on for a look at her most recent project – a beachy bungalow that has us reminiscing on our favorite summer memories – along with her tips and tricks for finding your path and doing all the things while not only staying sane but also enjoying the process. 

How did you get started with Magdalena Studios? When did you launch?

I shot my first wedding in high school, but I never took any art classes – I was science and history focused. I went to college for political science, took a gap year, and then went to law school – this had always been my plan. Meanwhile, I had this parallel life with photography, with Magdalena Studios officially starting five years ago, as I continued to photograph weddings for friends on the side. Over the last three years, while I was in law school, interning for large firms and clerking for an appellate judge, I continued to build my photography business – things began to snowball organically. Two years ago, I took a deep dive into branding and my ideal client, investing more time into my business and thinking about what sort of weddings I wanted to photograph. After I graduated from law school this year, passed my bar exam, and was offered a pretty major job opportunity from my dream law firm, everything came into perspective. I decided to take the leap, put a pause on my law career, and pursue my photography business full time. You can learn more about that decision in my recent blog post here

As a business owner, having a law degree taught me how to think differently, from strategy to organization. It’s also an amazing tool to have in my back pocket when dealing with contracts, copyright issues, non compete agreements and other scenarios that I come across on a daily basis. My dream is to be able to use this knowledge to help and support other female, small-business owners and creatives.

You recently completed law school while planning your wedding, running Magdalena Studios, and buying and renovating your home. Any tips or tricks for maintaining balance? In other words, how did you stay sane through it all?

Organization! I use spreadsheets for everything and am religious about my to-do list. Anytime anything pops into my mind – an idea, a learning opportunity, a future project, something I need to do – I put it on my “brain dump” list. Daily, I comb through the brain dump and separate things out into action items on different to-do lists on Asana, whether it’s my grocery shopping list or my home list or my photo edit list. It’s a combination of business and personal. I assign due dates to everything and upload them into my calendar – and I will even assign things to my husband! 

What’s a typical day in the life of Magdalena Studios?

I want to spend a few hours a week for personal development – I think that’s really important as both a creative and entrepreneur to stay inspired, so I’ve carved out time in my mornings to support that. I get into my office around 9am and have the first two hours blocked off exclusively for focused work, whether that be editing photos, responding to emails, drafting contracts, etc. From 11am until 2pm is my available time to schedule calls with clients and take meetings. Photoshoots are typically in the late afternoon or evenings, and I also reserve a day every week for networking opportunities. Because I photograph weddings, I’m often on the word, traveling, and capturing these special life events on the weekends. 

Do you have any favorite podcasts or books that you’ve discovered during your personal development time that you recommend for other creative entrepreneurs?

My number one recommendation is the book, “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant. It talks about productivity, different ways of working and tapping into your own creativity. It’s so important right now when people are looking at social media instead of within for their inspiration.

With that in mind, do you try to distance yourself from social media so you stay uniquely inspired? Or are there any Instagram accounts right now that fuel your “non-conforming” creativity?

I am so inspired by accounts that feature minimalist wardrobes or sustainable fashion! I also love the hashtag #jungalow. 

What’s your morning ritual?

Read The New York Times’ daily brief via email while drinking a cup of coffee, go to a barre class or get a good stretch, eat a healthy breakfast, read a chapter of a personal development book or listen to a podcast episode, and then check my emails and accomplish a few easy tasks to build up that momentum and get my productivity rolling for the day.

This wasn’t your first fixer-upper, was it?

I feel like I can’t take any credit for the first house because it was my amazing, unicorn of a father-in-law. He found and was in the process of fixing up a house and offered it to us to take on if we were interested. We came in towards the end of the project, and my father-in-law took us under his wing to complete what would become our first home together. 

This first small taste of a fixer-upper is where my interest in interior design was initially sparked. I had the opportunity to explore my own ideas and give design input for the first time. For example, I found these ceiling tile panels that I loved and sourced a new ceiling fan for the bedroom, and that was my first taste of how a room can transform through the details. My father-in-law was the one who gave me the confidence to explore my creative intuitions and helped make it happen. He’s amazing!

How did you choose this house next? Did you have the vision when you first saw it?

We knew we wanted another fixer-upper, and this house was a foreclosure that my husband found online. He was the one that really pushed for it; he knew this house was a good price for a single-family home in our area. My father-in-law checked it out structurally and made sure it was sound. It was a ton of work and I wasn’t totally sure at first, but my husband knew this was our house and convinced me!

Was this home a larger project than your first?

Yes! The house was a foreclosure. It was a full gut to the studs project. We had to install heating, AC, electric, plumbing…everything was ripped out to its core-shell. Walls were torn down; new drywall was put up. I had the opportunity to choose where I wanted electric outlets, where to add additional windows for more natural light, how to open up the ceiling to make the space feel larger. 

When it came to interior design choices, I created a Pinterest board for inspiration and began refining it, seeing what I was drawn to. It’s funny, the house is my brand in many ways. My favorite colors must be very obvious – all neutrals with a touch of teal blue!

How was tackling a renovation with your husband? How did you approach blending your styles?

We have similar styles and values – we’re normally on the same page. For the most part, if he had an idea, I said go for it, and vice versa. Plus, we picked out a lot of items together. 

There was one point of contention when it came to the backsplash tiling in our kitchen. He wanted a black, starburst-patterned piece behind our stove and I had to pull out a veto on that – I felt like the bold design and prominent color would throw things out of balance. But he also vetoed me on excessive, unnecessary purchases, like a blender I tried to buy just because I thought it would look better sitting on our counter when we already have a working blender!

What were the functional elements that were important to you and your husband when designing this project?

It is a small space, so making sure every inch was functional and efficient was the most important. We love hosting people and being around our loved ones, so we wanted to make sure it felt open, airy, and supportive of gatherings.  

How would you define the style of your home?

Minimalist, beachy, boho with a hint of mid-century. It’s very Big Sur, California – lots of natural textures and plants! It’s funny; I feel like this also defines my photography.

How does your work as a creative inform your interior design process?

Because I did not receive traditional education in photography, I taught myself the craft and broke a lot of rules. I know what I want the end result to look like in my images, so I figure out how to manipulate my camera and Lightroom to create the result I envision. The same thing manifested in my design process. I’m sure I broke many interior design rules because I didn’t know any better, but that was freeing! I was able to take risks and think outside the box with no preconceived notions or inhibitions. 

Any design challenges in this project?

The layout of our main room was difficult to figure out. We wanted everything to work together – it’s the first thing you see when you walk into the home, and it’s the space we spend the most time in. So from the living area to the loft, from the kitchen to the dining space, we needed it to all seamlessly work together, not only visually but also practically. 

What is your favorite design element in the home?

I love the open shelving in the kitchen! I mapped out the layout, cabinetry, and shelving on the drywall before anything was installed – I literally drew where I wanted everything to be. It was important to me that you see the oven, the farmhouse sink, and the open shelving rather than the uppers or other appliances when you walk through our front door.

Any tips for styling the perfect shelfie?

Depth and a consistent palette! On our open shelving in the kitchen, everything is styled for depth and texture, and I am meticulous when choosing elements to add for style – they must remain consistent with my palette. 

Did you create your dream home here?

This is our dream home for right now – we have an ideal location on a quiet street bikeable to the Ocean City’s downtown, the beach, and the bay. When we come home – from a trip or work – it’s so relaxing and peaceful. I always breathe a sigh and feel at peace when walking through the front door.

Want more? Get a peek at the video tour here, captured by McKenna Robel!

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