Design Changemakers 2023: Colin King Elevates Interiors Styling to a True Art Form
Colin King never wanted to be an interiors stylist, mainly because he didn’t know the art of arranging and curating could even be considered a career. Over the past seven years, though, working for publications like Architectural Digest and T: The New York Times Style Magazine — and decor brands as diverse as Zara Home, HAY, and Benjamin Moore — the Columbus, Ohio, native has honed a natural, earthy aesthetic entirely his own despite working with mostly finished, professionally-decorated spaces (and brands’ finished products) as his canvases. It takes vision — and restraint — to add warmth, a sense of wonder, and the suggestion of dynamism to a group of inanimate objects or an entire room without overpowering it. That dance is exactly what King excels at; he’s one of the most celebrated, sought-after styling talents for his simple, soulful interiors that feel alive even when they’re person-less.
Growing up, King dedicated himself to a different kind of dance — ballet — and decided to pursue that professionally. After studying at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, he moved to Los Angeles to audition for gigs and picked up work on the side as a fitness instructor. He’d occasionally visit clients in their homes for personal training sessions, and King found himself drawn to these incredible spaces — to the furniture, the finishes, the objects. “I started seeing design in a whole new way,” he says. “It triggered something in me. I wanted to know more about interior design.”
Eventually, King sought out a job at a design firm back in New York City. He began developing his craft of arranging and rearranging as their social media manager. “They had a small retail shop where they sold vintage and curated things,” says King. “So I started just making vignettes for Instagram.” While in that job, King fortuitously met the photographer Reid Rolls, who let him volunteer when Rolls shot the Hamptons home of Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal. That was, in effect, King’s first styling gig, and from there, he started taking on styling opportunities for friends and other photographers, learning on the fly. His clientele grew through both word of mouth and online. One job led to another, and another, and soon enough, AD and the home decor advertising world came calling. Around that same time, King was approached by an agent, and he realized he actually could make a living playing with objects. He decided to make a go at styling full-time.
King makes spaces come alive because he doesn’t over-style them or fill them with fluff. His love of nature and simple, hand-hewn finishes and sculptural materials brings out the best in homes that, while architecturally stunning and decorated to the nines, might feel cold or impersonal without his touch. He’s often worked on high-end locations or with high-end items, but that doesn’t mean all the tools in his toolkit also break the bank. “I think my work is about finding beauty where you least expect it and really elevating the ordinary,” says King. “And honestly, this comes from not having a lot of experience and just using the forms I could afford starting out — a branch, a rock.”
These days, styling is just one of many feathers in King’s cap. He recently finished his first full interiors project: the top-to-bottom renovation of his own New York City loft and work headquarters that’s the epitome of his “sober” and “rustic” style, filled with an earthy color palette and a plethora of simple yet stunning handmade items and vintage furnishings. He’s also been tapped to create a lighting collection for Troy and a furnishings collection for MENU, a Danish design house. (Stylists, it turns out, make for good product designers — perhaps because they can easily identify gaps in the market when they go to pull products for a shoot and can’t find what they want or need.) And he’s the current artistic director-at-large of Beni Rugs, a luxury textile company that’s invigorating the Moroccan rug business while promoting old-world techniques and paying makers fair wages. You can see his vision at work in all aspects of the brand’s story, from collection lookbooks to videos for special projects.
Perhaps the biggest launch on King’s horizon, though, is his forthcoming and first book, “Arranging Things“ (Rizzoli), which will be released next month and is all about how he uses his intuition to make beautiful vignettes and spaces out of objects. Written with Sam Cochran of Architectural Digest, King’s first volume is a lovely combination of personal anecdotes, inspiring visual essays, and masterful styling advice that anyone can use to elevate the look of their home.
All the while in 2023, he’ll continue to grow his eponymous studio and explore the different ways he can find and create beauty in the everyday, from product design across multiple categories in the home to creative collaborations and unexpected installations.
Over the last several years, King has discovered — and then subsequently pushed the boundaries of — an interiors stylist’s role, and he’s perhaps most excited about bringing greater visibility to his profession, as well as the sheer artistry of arranging that he believes anyone can partake in. For him, it’s all part of design and the design industry becoming more inclusive. “Styling hasn’t always had a clear lane,” says King. “People say ‘stylist’ and you think of hair. So I hope I’m carving out a lane for people to explore this craft as something tangible. I want to inspire people to look at styling every day in a new way, because arranging things is a great way to fall in love with them again.”
We spoke with the trailblazing stylist about his multipronged career and how he hopes to continue to evolve.
Apartment Therapy: What were your design inspirations growing up?
Colin King: I was always self-conscious of my voice, and I’ve always been a visual learner and have gravitated toward visual mediums to express how I was feeling inside. I didn’t have that much exposure to design or styling as a kid, really, but it’s sort of in my family. My mom and her sisters ran an antique shop called Three Daughters, and my grandmother was always making things and quilting. So I was always exposed to the handmade, and I was always going to flea markets and to Amish country and seeing that furniture growing up in Ohio. I’d say I was exposed to sober and simple and rustic pieces at a young age and still have that rustic bent in my work. I love a patina — I love a living finish that will always change over time — things like oxidized copper, honed stone, raw woods.
AT: What is your design inspiration now?
CK: I definitely will always return to nature for inspiration. Between nature and art — that’s what fills me up. I love seeing how artists live and create. I love going on studio visits. Artists live in a very functional way, and I love their sensibilities. I get so much inspiration through visiting artists’ studios — even ones who have passed. It’s all about their use of objects, their placement of things, the furniture and pairings. One that comes to mind is [Donald] Judd — both his building on Spring Street and his home in Marfa, Texas. Outside of artists, I’m inspired by other entrepreneurs out there trying to create something — people like my friend Athena [Calderone]. I’m inspired by those who have found a work/life balance. They have strong relationships, whether that be with their family/kids, partner, friends — but then they also have a really rich working life.
AT: What would you say sets you apart from your peers? What do you see as being your special thing?
CK: You know, as a stylist, you’re going into homes that designers have poured years of their lives into, and they’re already beautiful, but maybe it’s just moving this, grabbing that from another room, and I’m just sort of invigorating the essence of a space or the spirit of a space. A good stylist — even with fashion or food, too — can put together a pairing that makes me like something I’m not initially into. That makes a good stylist.
AT: Is there a specific piece, design, or project of yours, or aspect of your business, that you think is particularly indicative of who you are or what you’re trying to do?
CK: [My] apartment was such a culmination of everything I’ve learned shooting with AD, going into homes. I really found myself and my style in my first renovation project. Until this, I didn’t really know what my style was — I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to present as my aesthetic, so I really leaned into what I loved. And it’s not always about spending a lot of money. I made things I love here, and have things made by friends, and it’s constantly evolving.
AT: What’s your favorite project you worked on in 2022, and why?
CK: I think it has to be being named artistic director of Beni Rugs. That role has been amazing because I’ve been given freedom with the creation of their campaigns. So I got to go to Paris and shoot the rugs with dancers there. We were at Salone [de Mobile.Milano in Milan] and shot among sculptures. Then we also went down to shoot a short film in Mexico. They are so focused on doing things the right way, too. A machine doesn’t touch the rugs until they’re vacuumed and packaged up for shipping. They’re integrated into the fabric of Morocco, paying the workers more than what the competition pays, so it’s very rewarding for me to be a part of that.
AT: What three words would you use to describe where you see the design world going in 2023?
CK: Less hierarchical. The thing I’m really excited about is that design isn’t just limited to residential and commercial spaces. Designers have to become a brand in a world where we’re inundated with so many images. Design should be accessible.
And I think design is going to be less modern, honestly. In a world where anything is available, I think people are craving what’s special and unique and already made — things you can’t get anymore — and I see this return to timeless objects. So less modern in a kind of cookie-cutter sense — white everything. I think it’s going to be more about soul and architectural details. I mean, I don’t know anyone given the choice who wouldn’t want a building with rich, old New York details, versus a white box, unless you really want new construction for whatever reason.
I also think design is going to be more about taking risks. People are looking for ways to express themselves. Even my non-design friends want to inject personality into their homes and are really looking for ways to show off their personality.
AT: Do you have any big plans for 2023 or beyond you can share with us?
CK: For 2023, I’m excited this year in particular to take a step off set and build out my studio and build out my team. We’re doing a few exhibitions and installations this year, and then of course, I have the book coming out in March. I think I’m just excited to have conversations with prospective partners and for people to experience my work in a different way. Things are really going to run the gamut, from bedding to curating an exhibition to the book and even wallpaper. As a stylist, the past three years, I’ve really been sitting with the end result — the fully designed and styled space, so I’m excited to sort of be at the beginning of things a bit with product development.
AT: How do you define success in your field? What makes you feel successful?
CK: Success, for me, is being completely content with where I’m at. Comparison is the thief of joy. To me, success is being happy with what’s in front of me. I want to show up, work hard, and let the rest fall into place and just be present. I heard this quote recently: ‘The future is none of my business.’ And it resonated with me. If I can stay present, put in the work, then I trust that it’s all going to work out.
AT: What makes you feel at home in your own space?
CK: I worked with so many makers and friends to furnish my home — from the Beni rugs to my dining table, so I feel at home when I’m surrounded by things that other people have made for me. It feels like everyone lives here with me, because I think of them every time I see their work, and that truly makes me happy.
Interview has been edited and condensed.