Interview with EM Interiors Chicago

Interview with EM Interiors Chicago

When I first started this blog, I knew I wanted to include a discussion element to it by interviewing photographers, clients, designers, artists, and more about what they do and why they do it. It’s a great way to get people talking about their lives, personally and professionally. In addition to showcasing their work, we end up creating an article that’s shareable for everyone interested in their field. Today, I’m excited to post my first interview on this blog, and talk about interior design photography, decor, and the design resources in Chicago!

Interview with JoAnn Neenan of EM Interiors ChicagoMy first interviewee is JoAnn Neenan of EM Interiors Chicago, a Chicago-based interior design business. Jo works one-on-one with her clients, from the planning stages to the finishing touches, focused on creating personalized, sophisticated style. I first met her when she was looking for an interior photographer to document a recently-finished project, a home office just outside of Chicago, for the EM Interiors website and blog. The first set of images below are from that shoot.

Interior Design Photography

Interior photography can be anywhere from moderately to extremely complex. A room can look beautifully-styled as a three-dimensional space, but it may not translate to a two-dimensional photograph. Or small details that have a huge presence in person may get lost in camera, and need some staging to restore that visual hierarchy. And mixing ambient and natural light, or shooting at night, also presents another layer of challenges.

One of my favorite things about working on interior shoots is that the styling of a space for a photoshoot becomes a really collaborative venture. The designer styles the room as three-dimensional space with large features, and small details. As the photographer, I have to see how I can best represent that experience within the limitations of the frame. It’s so important to realize where the other is coming from to ultimately create the best image.

Without further adieu, Jo’s interview…

Let’s Get Started!

Kelly: Tell me about your interior design background. What led you to start EM Interiors Chicago?
Jo: I know it’s ridiculously cliché to say, but I have been interested in design since I was a child. I would go to my friends’ houses for play dates and instead of playing dolls or store, I would want to organize their room, make their bed and beautify whatever I could get my hands on. In grade school, I would come home from school and watch hours of Trading Spaces (Genevieve Gorder was my girl). I would repaint and redecorate my room every chance I got. It wasn’t until I was two years into college that I decided/figured out that I could make a living as a designer. From there, I attended Columbia College of Chicago and started interning with a wonderful high-end residential design firm. After spending a solid few years interning and then working full time as a design assistant I decided I was ready to try the whole design thing on my own.

Home office designed by EM Interiors Chicago | Interior design photography by Kelly Peloza Photo

KP: Who or what are some of your design influences?

J: I think Summer Thornton is the shit. She is bold in every possible way. I respect her as a designer because she doesn’t get sucked into the boring world of trends and norm that usually come with pleasing clients. Designers are artists and I think Summer Thornton is a damn good artist. She has a style that not everyone might like, but she owns it, making her original and appealing to only the coolest of clients. I actually applied to intern with her when I was 18, having very little experience, she politely declined. BUT she did like one of my Instagram post a few weeks back, which made my day!

Home office designed by EM Interiors Chicago | Interior design photography by Kelly Peloza Photo

All About EM Interiors Chicago

KP: While part of working with each client is creating a space that is functional and beautiful for their specific needs, you definitely have a design influence on each space! What are some markers or details of EM Interiors’ style?
J: Originality. Every space needs to be original. Yeah, West Elm and Crate & Barrel have some great products, but I will not allow my client to order every item via the web or Pottery Barn catalog. Whether it’s original art work or a piece of bespoke furniture, originality needs to be incorporated. For example, one of my most recent clients is an author and we ended up recreating the first page of her novel and blowing it up to 20×30″ and hanging it in her office (pictured above). It’s custom pieces like this that make me happy. 🙂

Home office designed by EM Interiors Chicago | Interior design photography by Kelly Peloza Photo

 KP: What are some of your favorite interior design and/or interior photography blogs to follow?
J: It’s a lame answer, but I do love Pinterest and Instagram. Social media is a wonderful thing. They make it so easy for us lazy phone-loving folk to get inspired and stay current with a click of a button. My phone is filled with a zillion screenshots of design ideas I get via the web. And dog pics. A lot of dog pics…To keep it old school, I also subscribe to Elle Decor and Architectural Digest.


One Room Challenge

KP: What is the One Room Challenge and what made you decide to participate? How did participating in ORC inspire you, either personally or professionally, moving forward?
J: The One Room Challenge is an amazing event hosted by Calling it Home that takes place every April and October. Designers and bloggers from around the world are welcomed to join a six-week “challenge” to transform/renovate/design any space with any budget. I follow a few people on Instagram who have participated in past years and my sister and I thought it would be a fun side project that would introduce us to other bloggers and designers. We redesigned my bedroom with a budget of $1,000, which forced us to be thrifty and creative and go a little mad…but it was really inspiring to follow along and see what other designer/bloggers were working on. People are so damn creative, I love it! The challenge helped me realize what I was capable of in such a short amount of time and on such a strict budget.
The following images are from EM Interiors Chicago’s finished One Room Challenge.

Bedroom designed by EM Interiors Chicago | Interior design photography by Kelly Peloza Photo

Bedroom designed by EM Interiors Chicago | Interior design photography by Kelly Peloza Photo

Staging for Photos

KP: Often, it takes some adjustment and styling to translate a three-dimensional space into a two-dimensional photo. What types of photos are best representative of the dynamic of a room, or how does it differ for each space?
J: Staging for photographs is new to me, and I haven’t quite mastered it (which is why I have you to help me!), but it really depends on the space. If I am working with a space that has great bones and architectural detail, I will likely want to capture the entire space, floor to ceiling, wall to wall. When I am working with a square, blah space, more staging will be involved. When working with smaller spaces, you are kind of forced to move things around and place them in awkward areas where they aren’t intended to be, so that you can capture the full potential and beauty of the space.  I am a big fan of close-up shots that capture the details in my design.

One Room Challenge bedroom designed by EM Interiors Chicago | Interior design photography by Kelly Peloza Photo

Chicago Interior Design Resources

KP: What makes Chicago a uniquely great place to work in interior design? What are some of your favorite resources, places, or shops in the city?
J: For starters, the architecture is insane. It’s hard not to get inspired or fall in love with every building or home you walk into. I recently worked on a condo in the Hancock and totally dorked out before my first meeting, it’s not everyday you get to work in such an iconic building. The people in Chicago are also amazing! The Chicago crowd is driven, successful, creative and freakishly hipjust the sort of people I want to work with.
I love to thrift. Like, a lot. My ideal day would include three delicious meals and a flea market. Thankfully, Chicago has a lot of wonderful thrift shops and antique stores to feed my addiction. I visit Kane County Flea Market monthly. I also can’t drive by a Goodwill, Village Discount, or Salvation Army without stopping! You never know what treasures are inside.

Bedroom designed by EM Interiors Chicago | Interior design photography by Kelly Peloza Photo

Update: JoAnn and I were featured on Houzz for the One Room Challenge bedroom design and photography!

Thank you so much, Jo!

If you need interior design services, or interior photography services, bring in a specialized professional for the best results, period (remember that time I tried to cut my own bangs?).

EM Interiors Chicago offers several interior design packages based on each customer’s individual needs. Keep in touch with EM Interiors Chicago by following the EM Blog and Instagram, or email Jo at

Kelly Peloza Photo offers interior architecture photography services to interior designers, real estate professionals, architects, business owners, restaurants, and more! Check out my interiors gallery here, and start the process by getting in touch here or via email at! Multiple client usage (for example, splitting the cost of one shoot between an interior designer and architect, then handling image licensing individually) is available for interior/architecture photography.

Until next week,

Reader Interactions


    • Kelly Peloza says

      Thanks, Linda! Jo introduced me to One Room Challenge just before she had me photograph the room she worked on, and it has been fun to follow along. 🙂



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