When Bethany Morrison, a model, contacted Braylen Dion, a photographer, early last year with an idea for a photo shoot, Morrison had worked out every detail except for a location.
“She already had the stylist, makeup artist and the hair she wanted to do,” said Dion, who lives in New York City. But Morrison was at a loss for ideas when it came to the very specific setting she sought: a space with retro decor and warm tones that would complement her outfit (leopard-print bodysuit) and hairstyle (blond Afro) for the shoot.
After some deliberation, they booked a loft inside a South Bronx building that was once a piano factory. It got plenty of sunlight through its 10-foot windows and was furnished with cantilevered Cesca chairs — a style originally designed in 1928 by Marcel Breuer — and a dining table by Edward Wormley, a maker known for his midcentury pieces.
Dion and Morrison together paid roughly $200 to rent the space, which was not a photography studio, but the apartment of Luciano Stofel, another photographer, and his wife, Carly Gallo, a graduate student at Columbia, who rent it for $2,050 a month.
The location was “perfect,” Dion said. “Literally perfect.”
As interest in short-term rental properties has risen over recent years, so too has interest in an even shorter-term rental opportunity: Booking private residences by the hour as alternatives to traditional sets and studios.
Stofel and Gallo began advertising their loft as a studio in the fall of 2020 at the suggestion of friends, who pointed out that many facilities remained closed because of the pandemic and that renting their space could be a way to make some extra money. Initially, Stofel had reservations.
“I wasn’t sure if it was going to work out,” Stofel said. “It’s not just a real estate property that I rent out to make money, this is our home.”
Within a month of listing it at $85 per hour, the space had been booked for a photo shoot, the couple said. It has since been rented more than 150 times for projects, including music videos and short films, at an hourly rate of $80 to $100. Early on, the couple informed their landlord that people would be coming and going from the loft, Stofel said. Disturbances have been rare, he added, although they did install security cameras after some furniture was damaged.
Dion, the photographer, found the loft on Peerspace, an online marketplace similar to Airbnb, where users can list and book residential and commercial spaces to use for events or as studios and offices. Founded in 2014, the platform is often the first place Dion now looks for locations.
As of June 1, Peerspace had more than 14,000 residential properties listed as available locations for film and photography shoots, said Matt Bendett, a founder of the company and its senior vice president of global operations.
Bendett added that the number of hosts listing residential properties on Peerspace increased by 300% from March 2021 to this past March. Advertising a location on the platform is free, and Peerspace earns 15% of each booking. Hosts set their own rates and terms, which include the option of remaining on site during any rental period. Most bookings made using the platform are covered by a liability insurance policy.
In August, Tara Marzuki listed her apartment in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn on Peerspace, where it has since been booked for projects such as short films and photo shoots. Marzuki, a content creator, was inspired to list her place after renting many other residences for professional use.
Before offering it at a rate of $80 an hour, she completed some landlord-approved renovations to make the apartment more appealing, which included painting the floors and walls white and replacing kitchen cabinets with open shelving. The changes resulted in a space that is minimal but not unfinished; Marzuki compared it to an art gallery. “People can experiment and come up with their own setups,” she said.
Recently, it was booked by Aaryah Jewelry, a fine jewelry company in New York, for an advertising campaign photo shoot. Rachel Luz, the company’s operations manager, said using a personal space imbued the photos with an authenticity that would be harder to conjure at a less lived-in location. “When I see the images, I don’t find that they’re too staged,” Luz said.
The cost to rent the apartment, according to Megan Kothari, founder and CEO of Aaryah Jewelry, was comparable to prices the company has paid to use traditional studios.
Although Marzuki redecorated herself before listing her residence as a studio, others have hired professionals, including Danielle Nagel, an interior designer.
Nagel has designed interiors at homes in Los Angeles for clients who have then rented the properties as sets or studios. A guiding principle in her work is “to have one cohesive theme throughout” a space, “but lots of different backgrounds.” This appeals to people who want visuals with a unified concept but variety in each shot, she said.
“The bolder you’re willing to go, the more successful your rental will be,” added Nagel, who speaks from experience. She and her fiance began listing the home they own in Los Angeles’ Highland Park neighborhood on Peerspace in August at an hourly rate of $100.
Awash in vibrant colors — greens and yellows in the kitchen, blues and oranges in the bedroom — it has since been booked as the set for a video featuring singer Janelle Monaé and by brands including Samsung and MagicBullet.
Although Peerspace and similar platforms such as Home Studio List (founded in 2016) and Giggster (founded in 2017) may have helped increase the number of residences rented as studios or sets, the concept is not new. Location scouts have long knocked on the doors of homes they may want to feature in television or film productions, and platforms such as Airbnb, which started in 2008, have also turned people onto the concept.
Before tenants list rental homes for commercial use, they should look closely at their leases, according to Joshua Krefetz, a real estate lawyer at Ligris, a firm in Newton, Massachusetts, who specializes in landlord-tenant litigation. “The laws are different in every state, but the main thing is the language of the lease,” Krefetz said.
He has not worked on any cases involving disputes arising from this type of short-term rental but said that, generally, “full disclosure and consent should avoid problems with the landlord.” Hosts should also consider getting liability insurance before listing it, he added, even if they rent rather than own.
Hattie Kolp, a special-education teacher in New York who writes a blog about lifestyle and design, has lived in the same two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan since she was 10. She took over the lease from her parents about four years ago and now rents the apartment for $1,300 a month.
In January 2021, Kolp began advertising her apartment for hourly rentals on Home Studio List after someone from the platform, which lists only residential properties, contacted her. Having lived there for most of her life, she was “comfortable doing this,” she said, because “I know no one is going to have a problem with it.” In March, she created a second listing, on Peerspace, where her place has since been booked for photo and video shoots.
Decorated in what she describes as a Parisian style, the apartment is furnished with jewel-toned furniture and gold accents. Those elements, Kolp said, are meant to complement the roughly 130-year-old unit’s bones. Built in 1892, its features from that era include a 25-foot-long hallway, pocket doors and a butler’s pantry with a dumbwaiter.
Although renters have appreciated the touches she has added, they’ve been particularly fascinated by the old-world charm of the unit, paying as much as $245 an hour to book it.
“People are like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s a real New York apartment,’” she said.