trade tales | Feb 4, 2022 |
13 designers on whether or not they work with stylists

Once a project is complete and it’s time to bring in a photographer, a designer has one last decision to make: do they bring in a stylist to stage the shoot or take a crack at it themselves? We asked 13 designers—Cachet Adams, Glenn Ban, Laura Burton, Sarah Montgomery, Alicia Murphy, Krissy Peterson, Regina and Robin Reaves, Marla Walker, Kathleen Walsh, Jennifer Weisberg, Nicole Zarr and Laura Zender—how they feel about that extra hire.

Nicole Zarr
Nicole ZarrCourtesy of Nicole Zarr

Staying in control
“I think I am too much of a control freak when it comes to my work [to hire] a stylist. It would be like getting dressed and someone else choosing my shoes. There are so many talented stylists in the design world and I’m not saying I would never hire one. I just honestly enjoy the table-setting and flower-arranging and the chaos before the shoot. I love trying to bring a coffee table to life, or adding a personal touch like a purse and jacket on an otherwise plain entrance hall bench. And I am crazy about controlling height and scale, it would be so hard for me to surrender that! But it sure would free up more time in my life if I could.” —Nicole Zarr, Nicole Zarr & Associates, Houston

Sarah Montgomery
Sarah MontgomeryCourtesy of Sarah Montgomery

Never going back
“I just worked with a stylist for the first time and I don't think I can ever go back! I used to spend weeks prepping for a shoot by shopping for accessories. There's the packing and loading and buying flowers and the stress that you still won't have enough. My stylist has an amazing inventory and will handle all of that, so all I have to do is show up. It all makes for a more fun and collaborative shoot day as well!” —Sarah Montgomery, Sarah Montgomery Design, Chicago

Jennifer Weisberg
Jennifer WeisbergCourtesy of Jennifer Weisberg

Honoring the vision
“I don’t work with a stylist when photographing projects. Stylists certainly add objective expertise and value to a photo shoot. However, as a creative, I have a very specific vision of how I want my art to appear. My clients will also frequently end up purchasing the majority of accessories that I have selected and styled for a shoot. This is what completes my interior and is always included in the scope of work.” —Jennifer Weisberg, JLW Interiors, New York

Laura Zender
Laura ZenderCourtesy of Laura Zender

Plan it out
“Working with a stylist saves us a lot of time and is money well spent! We typically only do light styling and try to use as many items that belong to our clients as possible. Our stylists are most helpful in planning for and purchasing floral arrangements and any other random items we may need to flesh out the space, like a small vase or throw pillow here and there. We always do a detailed walk-through together beforehand so the stylist can collaborate with us on a very particular list of items for each room we photograph. On the day of the shoot, we have a firm game plan and are ready to maximize our precious time with the photographer.” —Laura Zender, Laura Zender Design, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Cachet Adams
Cachet AdamsCourtesy of Cachet Adams

Not in the budget
“I have not previously worked with a stylist simply because my budgets did not allow for it. However, I do see the value they add to the final photographs, especially if the plan is to pitch them to publishers. As designers, we spend so much time perfecting the big picture, that when it's finally time for those small, albeit important details, it's easy to feel burned out. Working on projects for extended periods of time, become too close to it to see its full potential, and a stylist can lend a fresh perspective. It truly is a different skill set from designing! It's like having someone proofread your thesis.” —Cachet Adams, Cachet Demaine Interiors, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Krissy Peterson
Krissy PetersonCourtesy of Krissy Peterson

Fresh perspective

“I worked with a stylist for the first time on a recent shoot. Sometimes you just get too close to the project to see a different way to style it. But a fresh set of eyes, trained to see the shot potential and how it might be styled better to capture that moment in the design, absolutely elevated the images beyond what I could do on my own.” —Krissy Peterson, K. Peterson Design, Seattle

Regina and Robin Reaves
Regina and Robin ReavesCourtesy of Regina and Robin Reaves

See it through

“We do not work with a stylist when photographing our work. Decor for our projects is always completed by us. Styling is a huge part of the final product and we take pride in completing every part of a project from start to finish. Our clients hire us to see the project through from mood boards to construction and the final decor aspects of the process. We also want to make sure the decor speaks towards the design and the vision for the space.” —Regina and Robin Reaves, R & R Interior Design, Charlotte, North Carolina

Alicia Murphy
Alicia MurphyCourtesy of Alicia Murphy

A collaborative effort
“We just recently crossed the chasm of working with a stylist and I now believe it’s one of the best investments you can make in your shoot, as it ensures the projects will look complete and properly styled. I also think hiring a stylist takes a lot of pressure off the designer to manage filling in the holes, and they handle a lot of the day-of shot coordination for you. I personally used to dread photoshoots because of the physical and mental toll it took, but now with a stylist on the roster, I genuinely look forward to the collaboration and love to see how they can transform our work.” —Alicia Murphy, Alicia Murphy Design, East Hampton, New York

Marla Walker
Marla WalkerCourtesy of Marla Walker

Game to try
“In the past I have not worked with a stylist because I was concerned about the additional cost of hiring another person for shoots, in addition to the photographer and sometimes a photographer’s assistant. However, this is at the top of my list for this year and I plan to hire a stylist for all of my shoots moving forward. I’ve received feedback from a couple of editors who I really respect and admire, advising I could be landing higher profile editorial placement of my work with the help of a good stylist. Photography is expensive, but I’ve accepted that it is an important investment and critical to my continued success and growth.” —Marla Walker, Marla Walker Interiors, Rhinebeck, New York

Glenn Ban
Glenn BanCourtesy of Glenn Ban

“With a background in photography, I often approach my design work as if I’m looking through the lens of a camera, always considering what the camera might capture vs. what our eye sees when looking at a room. Although I think there is real value in working with a stylist, I find, in most cases, I enjoy doing it myself. Having a strong understanding of the spatial composition, its balance and tension, affords me the opportunity to play with the objects I discover throughout my design practice.”—Glenn Ban, Glenn Ban Design, Sag Harbor, New York

Kathleen Walsh
Kathleen WalshCourtesy of Kathleen Walsh

Money well spent
“We typically work with a stylist. I believe in owning your strengths, and while design, color and evoking a mood are just a few of mine, capturing the perfect photo is not. What the eye sees and what the camera sees are two different things. A stylist can work well with a photographer who knows how to coax out the best parts of a composition and focus on the important highlights. The level of attention a stylist brings to a project is that final layer that makes the photo, and our work, convey the mood and aesthetic that can make a viewer miles away from that actual room, connect with it. That’s worth every dime.” —Kathleen Walsh, Kathleen Walsh Interiors, New York

Laura Burton
Laura BurtonCourtesy of Laura Burton

Lesson learned
“We didn’t use stylists in our early years, but what I found is that photography was time and energy intensive for my team to plan, shop for, and return the items we were using. Working with a stylist allowed us to keep our designers focused on their current projects, and to tap into the resources offered by the stylist rather than being limited to retail showrooms allowing returns. We also found that stylists have experience knowing what items will photograph well, so they make decisions that I might not have. For example, for a recent shoot the stylist brought a tree in a pot for the kitchen island and said, ‘The ceilings are tall and architecture minimal—we need impact.’ I reluctantly agreed, but I think the shots turned out great. If left to my own accord the items I picked would have likely disappeared or felt wimpy.” —Laura Burton, Laura Burton Interiors, Austin, Texas

Homepage Photo: A living room by Kathleen Walsh | Rikki Snyder

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our newsletter, which recaps the week’s stories, and get in-depth industry news and analysis each quarter by subscribing to our print magazine. Join BOH Insider for discounts, workshops and access to special events such as the Future of Home conference.