20 Interior Styling Secrets from AD Stylists
Once upon a time, designers believed that good interior photography meant stripped-down rooms devoid of personality. The fewer personal effects in a room, the better, so that designers could highlight their work and provide a blank canvas on which potential clients could project their own lifestyles and aspirations. No more. Thanks to Pinterest, Instagram, and an increased demand for digital content that can be published quickly and easily, a stylist who can make a space feel unique and authentic to the homeowner is one of the most important people to have in your inner circle.
“The most interesting interiors are the ones where you get a strong sense that the space belongs to actual human beings with a point of view,” says stylist Michael Reynolds, who has lent his touch to homes that appear in AD. “Having someone who can visually interpret the space, that is seismic.” But even just knowing the tricks of the trade can help you score big points with magazine editors and clients alike. Here, three of AD’s interior styling pros—Reynolds, Colin King, and Mieke ten Have—share 20 secrets for creating magazine-worthy compositions.
- Photo by Shade Degges1/20
“Leave room for the space to breathe,” says stylist Colin King. “I love negative space. Every corner doesn’t need something. Quieter moments can do a better job of drawing your eye to what’s there.”
King followed this maxim when styling this minimal dining space, as seen in the March 2019 issue of AD, designed by Ashe Leandro for Seth Meyers.
- Photo by Shade Degges2/20
Switch Things Up
“Don’t be married to where things are,” King says. “Move things around. I could see a little piece of artwork in the second-floor guest bathroom and bring it into the entry and it totally transforms the space.” Here, King created a surprising art-filled vignette for Seth Meyers’ home in AD’s March 2019 issue.
- Photo by Shade Degges3/20
Keep Bathrooms Minimal
“Unlike the kitchen, go for a more minimal display in the bathroom. It’s a cleanliness thing,” King explains. A perfect example is this marble-clad bathroom he styled for AD’s March 2019 issue.
- Photo by Gieves Anderson4/20
Go Off the Walls
“Don’t be afraid to pull things off the wall,” says King. “The most beautiful rooms have this sense of movement, and the most poetic rooms have unexpected floating items.” Take designer and lifestyle guru Athena Calderone’s own well-balanced living space, styled by King in AD’s November 2018 issue.
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Unify Your Style
“Kitchens and baths that look like the rest of the house are my favorite,” says King. “They shouldn’t feel disconnected from the rest of your space. Incorporate art, lamps, sculpture, a vase next to a piece of art. I love mirrors in the kitchen. They can really open up the space and impart a sense of gathering.” Here, a ’30s-era Murano fixture hangs in the master bath of Calderone’s Brooklyn townhouse, as featured in the November 2018 issue of AD. The fluted walls and ceilings are by Kamp Studios.
- Photo by Gieves Anderson6/20
Swap Your Frame of Reference
“Play with art in a way that’s not so predictable,” says King. “People get really scared of putting holes in the wall, but I love art that’s weirdly offset so it’s almost uncomfortable. I love low-hanging art, I love bigger mats to make a piece look bigger, I love leaning art for a more casual look. And don’t skimp on framing: It’s equally if not more important than the piece itself, and it makes anything—kids’ art, old charcoals—more substantial.” Here, in Calderone’s townhouse, a painting by Ethan Cook sits slightly askew atop a Jacques Adnet sideboard in the November 2018 issue of AD.
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Remember Opposites Attract
“You want to create an expression of opposites coexisting by way of textures, shapes, light and dark, organic versus inorganic, animate versus inanimate,” advises AD stylist Michael Reynolds. John Derian’s East Village home, as shown in the February 2019 issue of AD, strikes just the right balance.
- Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson8/20
Have a Point of View
“Get centered and don’t be afraid to express your point of view,” says Reynolds. “The most interesting interiors are the ones where you get such a strong sense that the space belongs to actual human beings with a point of view.” A client’s collection of vintage Caucasian rugs, for example, covers the surfaces of this sitting room in the February 2019 issue of AD.
- Photo by Stephen Kent Johnson9/20
Go Au Naturel
“It’s lovely to bring in something organic or natural—a mineral, crystal, skull or bone, wood, fur, metal, stone—something organic but visually delicious and textural and brutal, in a way,” says Reynolds. “These materials speak to us on levels we can’t always articulate, but a room really feels good because it taps in on another level subconsciously.” This vignette in John Derian’s apartment, for example, is a veritable cabinet of curiosities.
- Photo by François Dischinger10/20
Watch the Time
“It’s really important to pay attention to what time of day you are shooting in. A place may sing during the evening, but if you’re shooting it during the day you’re not going to capture that.” The lighting in this AD shoot heightens the drama in the bedroom of Apparatus cofounders Jeremy Anderson and Gabriel Handifar.
- Photo: François Dischinger11/20
Strike a Balance
“I always try to find an expression of the polar opposite,” Reynolds says. “I always try and visually achieve a compositional state of balance. You want there to be dark and light in terms of energy.” Apparatus founders Jeremy Anderson and Gabriel Handifar’s kitchen, for example, is an exercise in contrasts, as seen in AD’s October 2018 issue.
- Photo by François Dischinger12/20
Play with Shadows
Though this room in AD’s October 2018 issue is filled with inanimate objects, Reynolds introduced visual movement by playing with the positioning of the furnishings and art. “You can bring life into a dead room by the way you light it, with shadow and the way things are positioned,” he says.
- Photo by François Dischinger13/20
Dial It Up, or Tone It Down
“You have to roll your sleeves up and do whatever the space demands,” says Reynolds. “I visually try to bring order to chaos, or sometimes I bring a bit of chaos to too much order. It’s all about creating a sense of yin and yang.” Reynolds achieved this balanced state in Jeremy Anderson and Gabriel Handifar’s eclectic dining room, as seen in AD’s October 2018 issue.
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Break It Up
“I like to create an installation of flowers down the center of the dining table to break it up into a few different pieces. And remove some of the chairs while still making it look believable. You lose the form of the chair if there are too many. You want to find that happy space,” recommends AD photo stylist Mieke ten Have. This dining room in the April 2019 issue of AD, for instance, is housed in a former chapel and is resplendent with flowers.
- Photo by Douglas Friedman15/20
Find Your “Anchovy”
“Find that strange, offbeat, bizarre thing that you can add to your tableau. I often come back to a saying the designer Thomas Jayne once shared with me: ‘It’s like adding an anchovy to a room.’ For example, I collect bird nests near my home and put them on bookshelves,” explains Ten Have. “But your anchovy can be something that you’ve picked up on travels, something found or discovered—not something found in a store. Maybe it even clashes. I hate it when things are matchy-matchy. It’s not interesting.” The “anchovy” in this bathroom, for example, is a 19th-century painting.
- Photo by Douglas Friedman16/20
Unite Textures and Colors
“It’s always so beautiful to have vignettes with different values, whether that’s color, shape, or height, but there has to be another value that unites them, like texture or color,” says Ten Have. Take this vibrant tile-clad kitchen in Michelle Nussbaumer’s Mexico home, as seen in the April 2019 of AD.
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Make Your Space Feel Lived-In
“Don’t anesthetize a space too much,” cautions Ten Have. “I like to make a space feel like it has an author, like it has an owner. You want to feel like the rooms are inhabited, not just a backdrop.” A shaded patio in designer Michelle Nussbaumer’s Mexico home, for example, feels like a lived-in oasis.
- Photo by Ngoc Minh Ngo18/20
Always Incorporate Plants
“You can’t underestimate how important it is to have flowers or something living in a space. Just go and get some branches from right outside your door, or find something that’s living that’s of the landscape,” says Ten Have. Here, an unruly assortment of greenery brings this sumptuous dining room down to earth in AD’s May 2018 issue.
- Photo by Ngoc Minh Ngo19/20
Mind Your Color Palette
“There are exceptions, but I do believe that colors should operate on the same wavelength: warm colors, cool colors, dusty colors,” says ten Have. “If you have a minimalist white backdrop of a room, you’re not going to have ebullient fuchsia peonies. Focus on a textural contrast rather than ostentatious color.” Take this warm, neutral color palette from the pages of AD’s May 2018 issue.
- Photo by Ngoc Minh Ngo20/20
Pile Lemons (or Artichokes) High
“Artichokes are so beautiful and sculptural, and their texture is so elegant. Or I’ll do a bowl of lemons and limes for a bright pop of color—but I go big. I’ll get a big box of them,” says Ten Have. Portuguese tiles may be the star of this kitchen in AD’s May 2018 issue, but the piled-high lemons make it pop.