Make It Work

At The Portland Prophouse, stylist Janice Dunwoody has amassed a hoard of beautiful, rugged, rustic, and colorful items.

Janice Dunwoody propped on a prop, among some props, at Portland Prophouse.
What appears to be a mixed jumble of objects is actually a collection of carefully organized styling options. A fair reach to the top shelf are the baskets and tin buckets.
The quasi-full Prophouse Transit is being unloaded at the Chebeague Island ferry pier. According to Dunwoody, it has a magical Harry Potter–like stuffing quality—“I can always find room for one more prop.”
Early morning start: heading to a location via ferry for homebuilder client, Unity Homes, a division of Bensonwood.
Maps, playing cards, and utensils rest on the table among the various styling props at the Portland Prophouse.
Dunwoody hauls two stools as prop options for the kitchen island she’ll soon be styling.
Dunwoody finds a quiet moment while waiting for the Chebeague Island ferry to dock. At this point, if an item has not been packed she’ll have to work with whatever did make it into the mix.
Fresh lemons and limes—“organics,” as Dunwoody puts it—add freshness and color: “They lighten the mood, and have the same effect visually as petting a puppy might have.”
Setting up a room for the camera is very different from staging a home: “Every nuance, every fold in the throw is driven by the camera’s composition”

It was a hot summer day, “practically 90 thousand degrees,” recalls stylist Janice Dunwoody, and she was up at the crack of dawn, standing on a dock in Potts Harbor and arranging fish on hooks.

But these weren’t just any fish. The client, pet food retailer Chewy, is proud of its ingredients, which include Pacific salmon. Yet they were doing a photo shoot on the coast of Maine—not a location known for its abundance of Pacific salmon. “It was important for them to stay true to their brand,” says Dunwoody, so instead of using local fish, she arranged to have six big specimens flown in from Washington State (with the help of Browne Trading Company in Portland). “We created this Pacific-like scene on the coast of Maine. The photos couldn’t have lobster traps, so we found crab traps,” she remembers. Even though it seemed a bit strange at the time, Dunwoody succeeded in bringing a slice of the Pacific Northwest to the New England coast. As a stylist, that’s her job. “I don’t ever say no,” she says. “No matter how crazy the request, I find a way to do it.”

Dunwoody has flown in magnolia leaves from Florida and sourced vintage lobster traps from Canada. She has found five-inch-thick coils of heavyweight rope for a Ralph Lauren shoot (“They liked it more than the rope they had brought, so we inherited theirs,” she says), and Janice’s partner Kristin Rocha once sourced five different rocking chairs from vendors and a front porch (Rocha’s mother’s) in order to let the client pick which one best suited their mood board. Although her work as a stylist often involves moving props around, arranging flowers, and adding and removing items, Dunwoody also spends a lot of time sourcing objects from around the country. “And at the end of the day,” she says, “if you can’t find it or if you can’t do it, you figure out a way to fake it.” She creates sets and tweaks spaces. She fixes tableaus of chocolate for Lindt and builds meditation studios for DharmaCrafts. While part of her job involves getting props flown in from far-flung locales, more often she creates a set with pieces gathered from her own collection, sometimes even from her own home. In 2018, after working as a stylist for 15 years, Dunwoody decided she wanted to make her significant collection of dishware, furniture, and textiles start working for her. She says, “I had a storage unit that was so full of props, I couldn’t even get to the back if I wanted to find the buttons I needed for a shoot. All these things were just sitting there, and I was paying their rent.” And so, Dunwoody teamed up with Kristin Rocha (her niece-inlaw), and together they started a new business called Portland Prophouse.

The Prophouse is located in the basement of Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook. It’s an organized mess of items. “It’s an incredible collection of stuff,” Rocha gushes. “It came from so many different places, and each item has a different story of how it got here.” There are textiles hung on a clothing rack, pillows piled sky-high on a wooden table, and shelves that stretch to the ceiling, filled with vintage porcelain, midcentury modern glassware, wicker baskets, and other treasures. “Over here are all the Christmas and holiday items,” says Dunwoody as she digs through a plastic bin full of lights and red plaid cloths. A scratched-up table with the word Timberland burned into the surface sits in the middle of the room, covered in old maps. “I keep waiting for the rustic look to go out of style,” she says later, drawing a hand over the old wooden surface. “But my clients love this table, and it’s worked in so many different shoots.”

Dunwoody admits that sometimes she has to stop using an item because its presence in a photograph makes it “too obvious” that she was the stylist behind the scenes. But she’s always finding new favorites. According to photographer Mark Rockwood, one of Dunwoody’s frequent collaborators (and a Dana Warp Mill studio neighbor), Dunwoody is “always in search mode.” He muses, “Someone with her talents, if she wasn’t a stylist, I don’t know what she would be.” Perhaps a buyer at a major retailer, he suggests. But her unique grab bag of creative skills (and her visual storytelling ability, as Rockwood points out) is perfectly suited for styling images. She can find models in parking lots and props thrown out on the side of the road. “Nothing escapes her,” says Rockwood. In addition to finding clients via word of mouth, Dunwoody also gets work through an agency (she’s represented by Boston-based Anchor Artists).

Although the Prophouse has been open for less than a calendar year (or “one season,” says Rocha, referring to the summer rush), Rocha and Dunwoody have already developed a workflow that makes sense to both women. Rocha handles the social media and logistics—she communicates with clients, manages the website, and helps source items—which frees Dunwoody to focus on what she does best: seeing and styling. She’s a highly visual person with a knack for making carefully arranged items look natural, organic. (“Her apartment is the epitome of effortlessly cool,” says Rocha. “It’s the best way to sum up Janice.”) While Dunwoody claims to have no sense for clothes, in a faded chambray shirt tucked in just right and a pair of well-worn Blundstones, she looks the part of a Maine stylist: rugged, classic. She could have stepped out of a Wyeth painting and into the sawdust-strewn hallways of the old mill.

While Dunwoody came to styling as a career later in life (after her kids started to gain independence), she is still thinking about expanding her portfolio, building the business, and opening up new creative avenues for herself and Rocha. They’ve started selling reproduction prints of historic maps of Portland, and they’re considering turning into a full-service production house, where clients can access services à la carte. “The Prophouse isn’t even a year old, and we’re already successful,” she says. “And the great thing is, it can be whatever we want it to be.”