12 Designers Share the Best Styling Advice They’ve Ever Heard

published Dec 28, 2021
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Styling — whether you’re taking on an entire room, a coffee table, or just a single bookshelf — can feel like a daunting task, especially if you’re a beginner. The good news is that if you’re feeling stumped by a corner of your home at the moment, you’re in luck. We spoke with designers who shared the most helpful styling advice they’ve received over the course of their careers. After reading through their suggestions, we’re feeling amped up and ready to make some Insta-worthy updates.

Less is More

“Don’t overcrowd and over-clutter when styling. Pick five of your favorite pieces: Do a grouping of three (I love grouping in odd numbers) and then a grouping of two. Adding some height is a must as well. Layering in some pieces of simple art or a basket with some texture will finish off this styling moment!” —Rebecca Rollins-Garcia, principal designer at Rebecca Rollins Interiors

“Since I’ve gathered experience with photoshoots over the years, I’ve gotten the hang of how a well-curated space will look best in a photo. Ninty-nine percent of the time I end up shaving down the number of accessories I started with. If you’re working with a wide shelf, aim to space out objects with the equivalent of their size — if the decorative item is 10 inches wide, leave that much space on either side of it. —Yael Weiss, founder of Yael Weiss Interiors

Consider Negative Space

“The best styling advice I’ve been given was to never underestimate the power of negative space within an area. The perfect balance of negative space gives breath to your design elements. Too much of it can make the space feel empty and incomplete. Too little makes it feel overcrowded and busy. I see negative space as a reset button for the next item that your eye will catch.” —Marie Cloud, founder of Indigo Pruitt Design Studio

Think in Threes

“Someone told me once that styling should be done in threes. Don’t do a pair of candlesticks; throw in a third to balance it out. I guess we’re always thinking of doing things in pairs and with even numbers. But it makes total sense to do things in threes and really makes things feel effortless. One of my favorite things to style is built-ins or bookcases, so I’m always keeping this advice in mind when doing so.” —Stephanie Hoey, owner and lead designer at Stephanie Hoey Interiors

“Taking this one step further, translate that rule of three into the layering of objects in the background and foreground, so to speak. For example, you might consider placing a larger painting the furthest back on a shelf, adding a few stacked books in front of it, and then finally layering on a small candle, vase, or decorative object on top of those books.” —Alex Nino, principal designer and founder at Alex Nino Interiors

Embrace Trial and Error

“I most frequently tend to lean into the advice regarding the art of the edit, as I call it. Oftentimes, the only way to find the most perfect ‘look’ is through trial and error. Taking a step back helps us determine the ideal compositions, heights of objects, and scale of groupings. Adding and subtracting from the point closest to complete is the most difficult, yet satisfying as well!” —Julie Kantrowitz, founder of JK Interior Living

“I’ve learned that you must be ok with taking things away that may not work. Try a few pieces, walk away, and come back to it to see if you feel the same.” —Lauren Ashely, founder of LA Weddings & Interiors

Credit: Jason Rampe

Study Composition

“I can’t recall the best styling advice I’ve been given, but as an editorial prop stylist (and former designer), I can say the best tip for creating beautiful interior styling would be to study and learn composition. This can be achieved by studying composition found in art, photography, books on the subject, nature, or architecture. While styling does require layering beautiful props or decor, interior styling (especially for the camera) is all about composition.” —Heather Bullard, editorial prop stylist at Heather Bullard

Then Break the Rules

“Understand the rules so you know how to break them. I heard this extremely early in my career and funnily enough, I think it was advice I was giving to myself. When I first decided to go back to school for interior design, this was my mantra. I wanted to understand the rules of design along with the technical aspects, codes, history, design styles — everything. Once I knew the ‘design rules,’ I would know why they existed and then why and how to break them. I use this to my advantage when I layer color, pattern, and texture into a room; it looks unexpected but blends beautifully.” —Beth Diana Smith, CEO and principal designer at Beth Diana Smith Interior Design

Collect Meaningful Pieces

“I love raiding my grandmother’s stuff and seeing what goodies I can put on display at my place, and she’s usually always cool with parting ways with whatever I have my eyes set on. My favorite piece is a brass hand back-scratcher, sitting on my nightstand from her collection of things.

I’m not a big shopper while on vacation but if I am on a once-in-a-lifetime trip or visiting somewhere with a lot of history and culture, I will make it a point to visit some local artisans and museums. One of my favorite pieces I picked up during my travels is a brass cheetah dish from a museum in Paris. It sits on my coffee table and holds my crystals and sage; it’s such a sentimental piece that brings back so many great memories.” —Kara Thomas, founder of Studio KT

Incorporate Living Elements

“For all spaces we create, it’s important to integrate living elements within our styling
such as crystals, flowers, greenery, and plants. I was born in Brazil, so I have always
been surrounded by nature both indoors and outdoors and truly believe that when
there’s nothing living in the room, the room is not living.” —Juliana Oliveira, designer and owner of Beyond Interior Design

Quirk is King

“Every room needs something quirky. In this living room, it is the ceramic monkey that is perched on some books which are also the best styling accessory ever.” —Vanessa Francis, founder of Vanessa Francis Interior Design