Styling Secrets Anyone?

September 15, 2009

Okay so this room is wacky. I’ll admit it. And colorful. And childish. But on some level it speaks to me. It says it’s okay to be flighty and to forget your keys on a regular basis. And maybe to leave some magazines all over the floor without cleaning up before the guests arrive. It tells me to eat on that amazing tray, toast with jam on a Sunday morning – dripping with real butter – and a cup of coffee that is so strong and black that your eyes go ::BING:: the second it touches your lips.

Styling Secrets Anyone?

This photo reminds me of living in your home, living your real authentic self, and if your real authentic self is a little left of center than so be it. You’re better for it. Living the way you want to live with all the brilliant crazy color and the bubblegum-inspired rug along with the brightest red Chucks you can find for your feet despite the fact that you’re old enough to remember wearing the same ones in high school… This room is the reality we all crave in our homes, to combine real life with magazine perfection and have it look like this. It’s what I crave.

Yet somehow when I try to attempt this imperfect perfection it comes out all wrong – it looks messy in a most imperfect way. To tell you why I’m obsessing over this at the moment is well, I’m trying to study styling through the images I see right now, as I’d like to get more involved in styling settings like these because my goal is to someday author a book — and so I must work hard to obtain this recipe that seems so easy just remains such a secret.

Does anyone out there have some styling tips for me? Secrets of the trade? Ideas to share? I know about decorating and interior design but styling isn’t something we learned in school and I can’t find any book on the topic…

This image, by the way, is from the lovely Car Moebel in Germany where I shopped for my dining room chairs and entryway furniture upon moving here. They’re the best, I highly suggest ordering from them if you’re located here too.

(image: car moebel)


  • Reply mati rose September 15, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    i love this post and sentiment holly!

  • Reply shawn angela September 15, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I have no tips, unfortunately, but just want to say I hadn’t realized how very important styling was until I started researching pics for my blog.I want to come back as a stylist in my next life…it seems so, well, fun but I’m sure there’s alot more to it than meets the eye (pun intended).Looking forward to your book….perhaps you should do one on styling?There seems to be a need……
    .-= shawn angela´s last blog ..Beautiful Blog: A Beach Cottage =-.

  • Reply Solveig September 15, 2009 at 4:11 pm


    What a lovly post!

    How is there, that some people just put 5 objects togehter, and suddenly GAZAM they have the most stylish livingroom ever? I just have to say, that if my wish was to speak with someone who has that factor it would be Selina Lake.

    So – maybe give her a call:):)
    .-= Solveig´s last blog ..Nibakutten =-.

  • Reply samantha September 15, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Thats something I would be interested in as, styling rooms for photographic shoots, I would love to find an course or book on the ins and outs of setting a room.
    .-= samantha´s last blog ..Friday Folksy Find =-.

  • Reply Emma September 15, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    I couldn’t agree more Holly – my cottage is definitely a place for LIVING. I too have been looking for a styling book with no look :(
    .-= Emma´s last blog ..{ Oops…} =-.

  • Reply Amanda September 15, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Car Moebel looks like a wonderful store. Wish they were a little closer to Australian shores. I’m hoping to unlock the secrets of styling as well Holly. I just enrolled with the International School of Colour and Design to complete their Foundation Design Course (Certificate IV in Design) followed by their Interior Styling Diploma. I’ve become a little obsessed with learning how to create the perfect imperfect look too!
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..A red picnic… =-.

  • Reply char September 15, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    This is great…so fresh, I would love my studio in the future to have this feel to it…
    Stylin…I think as long as you can fill your wall spaces with Art,photos or sculpture…it can make or brake even the most orderly and design *right* rooms…
    Thanks for always sharing AWESOME ideas!
    .-= char´s last blog ..Tell ALL Tuesdays:: Stefanie Beyeler =-.

  • Reply marionfizz September 15, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    as you said, a little bit to childish for me… but colorful, that’s fun !
    .-= marionfizz´s last blog ..Etre en couple, c’est faire des compromis =-.

  • Reply Erika - 2byDesign September 15, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    My mother is a fabulous interior designer who worked with John Wheatman and Arthur Elrod and she is SO studied in the art of styling, it’s unreal! I’ve asked her the very same question you’re posing here and outside of telling me, “everything needs to be pressed yet lived in” she can’t quite put her finger on any key elements. Ugh. I do think, however, that there is something to the “lived in” factor. I think people like to see accessories as much as larger pieces you know? The pink chair above, for example, gives us insight into her taste, but the shoes are really the secret to her personal style. In this case in particular, I think they speak volumes. Paired with the food, they really tell a story. I think that’s probably one of the secrets. A glimpse into someone’s home really is like a “day in the life of” to me. Sorry I can’t be more helpful, but if my mom ever has a revelation I’ll be sure and let you know! Great post by the way :)

  • Reply Victoria Klein September 15, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    I’d love to know more of those secrets. My favorite photographers are those that make rooms look “lived-in” without being messy or distracting.

  • Reply Debbie September 15, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    I think this room is adorable! And, so is your blog, Holly! Until next post….
    .-= Debbie´s last blog ..Pink Penthouse Pad {Betsey Johnson} =-.

  • Reply Alicia Bock September 15, 2009 at 8:22 pm

    I love your thoughts here (maybe because I relate well to the description above).

    I know nothing about styling, but am certainly always interested in what makes an interesting photograph.
    From what I have seen, cutely styled, playful homes always have a charming pair of shoes on the floor by the chair or bed. :)
    .-= Alicia Bock´s last blog .. =-.

  • Reply alexandra keller September 15, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    hmmm. i’m not a professional designer or decorator, but i would’ve left the crossword and pen on the chair. and the shoes should be a bit crooked – like i shoved one off with the other foot. what about a cloth napkin next to the plate when i wiped my mouth to go get the phone i left in my purse…. i guess what i’m getting at is the picture should tell a little story. it should be moment in time in a real home. so my 2 cents is to take a look at what you do: toss the mail on the counter with the keys, leave the coffee cup on the counter with a lipstick smudge right before leaving for work. dropping the shopping bags right by the door where you kicked off your heels. but hey, i’m just me!
    .-= alexandra keller´s last blog ..rikrak giveaway =-.

  • Reply pretty*pink*rat September 15, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    love that rug!!!
    .-= pretty*pink*rat´s last blog ..New Anthropologie =-.

  • Reply Alleen September 16, 2009 at 3:25 am

    Holly – congrats on the move! these pictures are so much fun – whimsical, stylish, joyful! i am in philadelphia and would just looove to find a store carrying the Rice line and items such as those in his store! how wonderful for you to have such a resource nearby! that is certainly the a big step towards working towards style – resources/inspiration! thanks so much for sharing!

  • Reply Cinnamongirl September 16, 2009 at 5:18 am

    Hello Holly,
    when I browse a interior design magazine what I like most is real homes styling. Most of the “show rooms” are perfect and beautiful but too cold to me…so (in my humble opinion!) this is what i would do; I would let the set (a real home) live a life of its own and then – when I think I’m ready – I would make some slight adjustments to my taste; removing things, changing, adding. If someone has been living in that space of course there will be stuff around you can actually use to embellish the set (half eaten apples, blankets, glasses and so on).
    I think it is a very istinctive method but it could work fine to achieve a “lived in” style in a very spontaneous way.
    I love your blog btw! Ciao ;)
    .-= Cinnamongirl´s last blog ..Autumn picks =-.

  • Reply Danielle September 16, 2009 at 6:15 am

    I feel the same way! I feel like I have too much clutter in my rooms when I try to attempt something like this.

  • Reply decor8 September 16, 2009 at 6:36 am

    I have a mini album of some of my styling work on Flickr… I think it has to do with raw talent more than anything that can be learned according to a textbook though there are certain elements that seem to define it when it comes to what I see in publications… and those are the secrets I often wonder about. Like I know when arranging a bookcase it’s best to try the zigzag approach with heavy objects and that when you arrange collections on a table, for instance, you should always work with uneven numbers of objects… 3 vases (vs. 4) 5 books (vs 2) etc. Unless of course you are doing something that needs to be purely symmetrical and then two lamps would be perfect on a buffet.


  • Reply krystina September 16, 2009 at 7:05 am

    This is what I have learned from my mom: definitely use the odd number of items in a group. balance is a biggie- short & tall, soft (greens) and hard (something architectural, like armillary sphere), orderly (stack of books) & loose (bowl of fruit). Lighting should not be glaring in any way, well placed lamps are so much better, and wall lighting- to wash to perimeter of the room – sconces, etc. even better. And of course to make it look lived in: a throw tossed loosely, not folded over a chair. candles- already used a bit, burned down. old & personal items: pictures, art, a cool old chair hanging on a wall used as art, an antique somewhat ratty quilt on the wall, well worn rugs with lots of character, this is where it gets really interesting. what is that called- wabi sabi? letting a knob stay missing from a dresser. creates tension and reflects life as it is.

    • Reply decor8 September 16, 2009 at 7:19 am

      Krystina – Thank you so much for your comment!!!

  • Reply Lauren Gehr September 16, 2009 at 7:12 am

    hi holly! I too struggle for this lived in yet somewhat polished look. i think achieving the polished look is the easy part (although im no pro at that either). the real trouble for me is when i start to add the lived in look. things really get cluttered and messy looking. trial and error is the only way i can achieve that peaceful comfy balance. lot’s of editing. it’s time consuming, and im sure not the way the pros do it. but maybe practice will help streamline the process?

  • Reply Raina Kattelson September 16, 2009 at 7:42 am

    Styling tips-hmmm… it’s not something you can really explain or teach “the formula”. It’s more an eye first and foremost which you seem to already have, and then just doing it over and over. Not being afraid to change things or get rid of the thing you thought would be perfect but just doesn’t work in the pic after all. Looking at what other people do is always helpful. I would recommend just setting up shot’s in your home and just playing, snapping shot’s and redoing things….. practice, practice, practice. You probably don’t have the time at this point in your life but assisting a stylist is always a great way to learn.
    .-= Raina Kattelson´s last blog ..nest =-.

  • Reply Sam September 16, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Its totally wacky, but this really works. I think its all about editing. The eye knows when to keep pushing the limit and when to take a step back. You have to just learn to trust that.

    .-= Sam´s last blog ..Kate =-.

  • Reply my trampoline September 16, 2009 at 10:40 am

    i think it’s also important to remember that there is no ‘one right way’. i bet you could take this room and arrange it three different ways. not having seen the other two, you would probably love them just the same.

    i think it comes down to color, scale and light that affect how we feel about a space overall. and then each stylist adds their special little touches

    and…i think you will be just fabulous at it holly
    .-= my trampoline´s last blog ..The Go-To Cart =-.

  • Reply juliette September 16, 2009 at 10:46 am

    I once had the opportunity to witness the setting up of a huge Abercrombie and Fitch photo shoot at one of their three main locations for a Christmas catalog. It was a really interesting few weeks! One thing I noticed was that they actually wrote a storyline for the whole shoot (college kid Christmas bash at the parents’ house, Christmas with the fam, and a lesbian wedding – go figure). Having a story in mind helped each model be assigned a character role – thereby dictating that the the surroundings had to help support the definition of the character. Couches were slipcovered, rooms rearranged, etc.

    Although looking through this Christmas catalog you can’t really detect too much of the detailed story they laid out, you can see if if you look. I think this is perhaps a trick to styling: you told us the story above of the person who forgets her keys, yet has modest decadence eating a simple lunch on a tray, yet is funky enough to wear red Chucks – if you had that character in mind first, I think you could style the photo accordingly. With practice. =)

    fun to read these comments!
    .-= juliette´s last blog ..Corner View: September and a Science Fair =-.

  • Reply Shana September 16, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Why does colorful have to mean childish? I don’t see this as childish at all. Sure, it’s not sophisticated and it’s pretty informal. But childish? Nope.

    BTW – I LOVE all the colors.

    • Reply decor8 September 16, 2009 at 12:48 pm

      Shana – Color isn’t childish! No one said that I don’t think?! If that came across, it wasn’t meant. What may be childish to some though is all the quirky accessories, the bright red chucks, the rug that looks like it’s more for a kids room…

  • Reply paola September 16, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    I’ve been staring at this picture and there’s a very obvious thing that also makes this work – the strict colour editing. Nearly single colour, on every single accessory – from the artwork to the Chucks to the flowers to the bookcovers – can be found in that rug.

    The exception is the aqua glass vase, but that is still in a complementary colour and I think saves the whole look from becoming too matchy-matchy..
    .-= paola´s last blog ..Go Love Your Sofa – Babette =-.

  • Reply MichelleP September 16, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    I think the key is to inject humanity in a subtle & concise way. How can a sense of personality be conveyed with the least amount of visual clutter? When working on designs or photos, I’m always reminding myself to edit edit edit – like removing one piece of jewelry before heading out for the night.
    .-= MichelleP´s last blog ..This is Home =-.

  • Reply Melissa de la Fuente September 16, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I love it….yes, being true to your authentic self, I love that. Thanks for this, it is a good reminder!
    .-= Melissa de la Fuente´s last blog ..It’s my bag, baby! =-.

  • Reply Melissa de la Fuente September 16, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Oh, and I don’t think you need ANY help with styling….I am always so impressed with your wonderful photographs of things styled in your home.
    .-= Melissa de la Fuente´s last blog ..It’s my bag, baby! =-.

  • Reply eva September 16, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Hi Holly,
    very nice post you made there. i had the same problem when i renovated my house because in the beginning it was cold and the objects weren’t in their place. After one year of repositioning everything around and around and again adding things-hiding others i completely found my style -ok, completely is just a word- cause i think that except what Krystina the story is the key, cause now my house if you look closely tells my story and when messy tells my man’s story. Haha! :)
    .-= eva´s last blog ..Color Boards ? ???????????? =-.

  • Reply Cheryl September 16, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Style — illlusive yet we recognize it, feel it, know it, almost instantly. Doing it takes practice, a little confidence and a whole lotta of abandonment, some call it trust. Emerson calls it instinct:
    “”All our progress is an unfolding, like a vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.”

  • Reply peggy September 17, 2009 at 12:10 am

    Hi Holly! I love the new European slant we are getting! Keep it coming! I adore this room, and I probably wouldn’t have several years ago. I think I’ve become addicted to color, and am using more and more of it.

    I think it works so great with the white walls and white floor. Wish I could paint my floor white!
    .-= peggy´s last blog ..A New Journey with Optimism, Intro. =-.

  • Reply Rhiannon September 17, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Hi Holly,

    I was also going to comment on the colour as a previous poster did. The way the colours are all pulled together in the rug. The way that particular shade of red is echoed in different items right round the photo leading your eye around the image.

    Uneven numbers of things, contrasts and that one thing “out of place” all contribute as others have said. Interesting post – and love the image :)
    .-= Rhiannon´s last blog ..Celebrating Completion – First look at Tallinn =-.

  • Reply Marwa September 17, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    wow .. great picture with fresh color .. i’d like this so much
    .-= Marwa´s last blog ..Nails =-.

  • Reply Penny Patten September 22, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Fun Fun Fun! I love this room, as far as styling tips, I’m not a stylist but I just always goes with what feels right and looks good to me. Like you mentioned in your post, that lived in homey feeling.
    .-= Penny Patten´s last blog ..100_4313/ Kids Flying Kites Video =-.

  • Reply Sheila of Halo Hill September 28, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    I love the words of your post even more than the darling photo! I totally “get” what you’re saying!
    .-= Sheila of Halo Hill´s last blog ..More Boo-tiful things from Fall at Vintage Roost! =-.

  • Reply Dana Claudat August 25, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Hi! I am all three: a feng shui consultant, home photo stylist and blogger. So I get the vital importance of styling in a fresh new way. Here are a few tips that can make a huge difference in a room:
    1. check the European Arch Digest magazines- especially Spanish Arch Digest- they go for the MORER in a huge way… GIANT piles of books that tell a story, HUGE plates of figs and giant wheels of cheese— even if their excesses, they TELL A STORY
    2. watch how similar colors and materials “melt together” in a frame. For instance, in a kitchen, silver objects will melt together to form a blob on camera, just as reflective objects will melt together to make shine.
    3. you are always telling a story. if not, the room will not be appealing.
    4. you have to pull a room way out of whack 99% of the time to get a great frame. (tables need to cheat toward the camera excessively most times, etc)
    5. watch the lines in your frame- make sure drapery lines, patterns in fabrics, string verticals and horizontals- all make geometric sense. they are easy to miss.
    6. FLOWERS are not just flowers- there are a thousand other grasses, plants and flowering stems, etc, that can also find their way into frame…
    Oh and there are so many more. Email me and I will be happy to fill you in of you have specific questions as best I can!
    ~ Dana (http://thetaoofdana.com)

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