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Fotografia Boutique: Building a Studio from Scratch

by Linda L. May

Maggie Habieda Nowakowski

May 01, 2011 — "You're crazy!" "It'll never work!" "In this economy, you'll never get a loan!" All those negative comments from naysayers did not detour Maggie Habieda Nowakowski, proud owner of the brand new Fotografia Boutique studio in Oakville, Ontario, from realizing her dream and building it anyway. Now that the studio is finished, and more spectacular than she even first imagined, all those negative mutterings have melted into positive comments and praise.

Maggie admits designing and building the perfect, state-of-the-art studio from scratch was no easy task. However, she was bound and determined, no matter what challenges she had to overcome, and she did encounter numerous obstacles during this long process. Armed with a deep level of faith in herself, what she had learned from WPPI in four years and believing it could be done, drove Maggie onward toward her goal. In the end, she not only reached her goal, but exceeded it.

The new Fotografia Boutique studio is truly a work of art, and only the best of customer service and high-quality photography are offered here. To support this vision, Maggie constructed 12-foot-high ceilings throughout, with a custom made 16-foot-high dome in the center of the gallery, where a beautiful chandelier hangs. The 9-foot solid-wood doors make for an impressive entry into this space. Large canvas prints in designer frames grace the gallery walls. A framed, 60-inch LED monitor built into the wall projects a constant stream of Maggie's outstanding images. The Crema Marfil marble floor presents a feeling of elegance and class. Her goal was to combine a classical style with the latest technology. Maggie now has the art/photo gallery she always wanted, but did not have room for in her home location. To make clients feel comfortable and special, tasty tidbits of food and various drinks are offered during sessions from her built in kitchenette. Because she did it her way, the studio fits her every need.

The whole process began about a year ago when Maggie realized her 600-square-foot in-home studio was just too small to meet the demands of her growing business. She began looking for a storefront location to transform. Leasing a space was her first option, until she realized how limiting renting from someone else turned out to be. Finally, with the support from her husband Robert, she decided to purchase a building. That decision opened up a whole other world and took her on an adventure she never expected at the onset.

"[ I thought] If I didn't do it now, I may never get the chance again," Maggie says, "My heart was telling me this was my dream and it would be great. During those 11 weeks of actual construction, I ran into so many obstacles and challenges, I can't even tell you. Finally, I had to take over the whole project and I became the general contractor. No one else could interpret my vision and desires as I wanted. Every aspect had to be beautiful and matching, so it all worked together. When we first started, the 1500-square-foot space was merely an empty shell. Everything had to be specially designed and built from scratch. I had to pick the tiles, floor coverings, paint colors, furnishings, light fixtures and everything. Nobody showed me how to do this either. I had to learn as I went along by researching. I studied every aspect of building, designing and decorating from early morning to late into the night. It was a very wearing and lengthy process, but it was all worth it!"

Relocating to a brand new studio space means growth and expansion, requiring a name change as well. The name, Moments By Maggie, as she had been known for four years, no longer suited her business plan. "I changed the name because Moments By Maggie was fine when I worked out of my home and did it all myself. Now, I have a commercial location and intend to grow even more. In time, I plan to have a staff of photographers who are trained to shoot my way. I want them to be identified as professionals by wearing special logo shirts to the events. Moments By Maggie was too personal to share. I needed a universal name with an international flare, and one that stood out. Because I am from Poland originally I wanted to use something from my native language and be more multicultural. Fotografia Boutique reaches a wider audience; sounds more professional," Maggie explains.

Even the design of her logo has an international touch—it was created by a designer in Switzerland, named Jimmie Bergqvist. It was produced as a result of an on line contest hosted by 99designs, where he was chosen from 180 entrants.
It's no wonder that Maggie was able to pull off this mammoth feat without fear of failure. All of her life has been a challenge, with obstacles to overcome. She was born into a poverty-stricken family of eight children in Communist Cracow, Poland and lived under very bare conditions. When she was 16, she immigrated to Canada and lived with her Aunt Wieslawa Stepkowska and Uncle Joe Bednarczyk in Toronto. Upon arrival, Maggie could not speak English. However, Maggie studied hard and learned to speak fluent English and excelled in her classes. Later, she attended the Ontario College of Art and Design and worked in the art field as an illustrator and graphic designer for 10 years prior to tackling a photography career.

Wieslawa Stepkowska is now the business manager of Fotografia Boutique and ensures that the studio moves forward with a solid business plan so Maggie's vision is fully realized. Ian Cutherbert Maggie's former teacher and mentor at Sheridan College, also acts as the full-time studio manager. Between those two, Maggie has much more time to devote to her clients, creating more photography and doing the computer and postproduction work.

Maggie advises other photographers to hire a competent business manager to help implement your vision and set the operation in the right direction as soon as possible. Maggie says she ran the studio from home by herself and didn't really have a solid business plan, so now she is correcting that oversight. She was fortunate to work with a seasoned business planner, WS Consulting.

As for the future of this remarkable woman and photographer, if we know Maggie is not one to rest on her past successes, but moves ever onward to explore and conquer new frontiers."I cannot express enough how much WPPI has helped me," she says.  "Without WPPI, I could never have accomplished this dream at this time in my career. I'm at least five years ahead of where I would have been without them. I have attended every WPPI Vegas Convention for the past four years and I intend to keep going back in the future. I love entering the WPPI print and album competitions to keep myself inspired and challenged to continue improving my work. Every photographer should belong to WPPI, in my opinion," Maggie concludes.

Readers may contact Maggie Habieda Nowakowski at Fotografia Boutique via e-mail at info@fotografiaboutique.ca and view her Web site at www.fotografiaboutique.ca.

Linda L. May is a freelance writer/photographer based in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

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