Dahlia:discover – what is an interior stylist?

teacups teapot dahlias orla kiely retro tea set

Detail image of the dining table, note the co-ordinating colours and decorative tablecloth to break up the expanse of the table top. I loved these dahlias – they were divine!

I’ve been an interior stylist since 2000 and I’ve been lucky to have learned from some of the best stylists during that time. It’s an exciting job and one that many seem to aspire to being especially since the advent of Instagram, so I thought I’d give you an insight into what a stylist actually is.


What does an interior stylist do?

Essentially an interior stylist is the person who sets the scene for a photographer, now this can be for a home owner’s house shoot for a magazine, a commercial catalogue shoot – for companies like Ikea, Marks & Spencer and John Lewis or smaller indie companies like Rowen & Wren, Rockett St George or Toast.

Interior stylists also do TV commercials and product shots for websites – these are usually ‘cut out’ images that you see when you want to buy something and they have a white background, yes, these are all styled! We are experts at turning our hand to most things to be honest and we need to be resourceful, great at problem solving and have a great eye – to name but a few skills needed!


modern white kitchen high gloss designer chairs retro accessories

The aim with this shot was to show the kitchen area with the dining area on the right hinted at so readers can see how the rooms join. Bright accessories were used as a contrast against the white.

My kind of styling

When you work on an interior magazine there are two kinds of shoots that you’ll do. Decorating shoots and real home shoots. 


Decorating shoots

When I worked at Woman & Home we often did decorating shoots and they were big! So what is a decorating shoot? Well, a theme is chosen – as an example lets go for ‘how to use floral wallpaper in a bedroom and living room’. Okay, so first we need to find a location house that suits the magazine style. One of our favourites is Light Locations, they have an amazing selection of beautiful houses to choose from that are used for film/tv and the photographic industry. 

Once the location is chosen and booked, there’s a long list of jobs to do before you even get to shoot day:

  • book a photographer
  • book a set builder (if required)
  • book a decorator (for a floral wallpaper shoot the rooms needed to be papered and painted before the shoot date)
  • order the paint and wallpaper
  • flooring – does it need carpet or will you use the existing floor? If the former, carpet needs ordering and someone needs to fit it
  • couriers need to be booked in
  • props – this is one of the biggest and most fun aspects of being a stylist. I used to spend a good day or more traipsing round London stores with a notebook looking for props. Once I’d chosen what I wanted I then went back to the office and contacted the relevant PR’s to arrange for the products to be borrowed and booked in with the courier for the day of the shoot. This also involves furniture – everything from sofas to beds, coffee tables and sideboards.

When we arrive on shoot day the rooms will already have been decorated with what we’ve chosen and baring any disasters (it happens), all the props will be ready. Sometimes on big shoots we hired the location for a couple of days and would spend one day setting up and the second day shooting. 


grey textured wallpaper, book case wall, library, living room

The living room linked through to the dining space and the grey walls and black accents contrast beautifully against the airy dining room. I loved how Chelsea used the right alcove to showcase all their books.

Real home shoots

Since moving from London 14 years ago, I mainly do real home shoots now which I love to do. I either find the houses via word of mouth or on IG and then send recce images to whichever magazine the house will suit best. Or, the magazine approach me to style and write the feature. I get sent a brief and naturally every magazine has a different demographic and style, so I need to make sure I style in a way that suits the magazine – for example, a shoot for Period Living is a totally different kettle of fish than a shoot for Grand Designs magazine. 

I have a few photographers that I work with and we tend to travel within a 2 hour radius of where we live (Leeds outskirts) so I can cover a wide area. In the last year I have been to Preston, Derbyshire, Durham, Lake District, Sheffield and Birmingham to name but a few! 

I always take props with me – you never know what you might need. My usual ‘kit’ consists of various vases, books, nice soaps and tea towels. If the house is quite minimal I will borrow props from shops like Homesense. I also buy flowers that suit the issue and food props – these depend on the season – I might need to create a summery scene with quiche, salad and bread for example, even it’s December!

On the day, the photographer and I get there early and we have a chat with the owner about what will happen. Then, we start working our way around the house. Each room needs to have two main shots and 3-4 detail shots. My job is to make sure that each photo is styled to fit the brief. This often involves rearranging and decluttering, removing wires and generally make sure everything is straight, neat and tidy.


vintage bedroom Venetian mirror floral rug vintage bed antique wardrobe

The light was beautiful in this bedroom and all of Chelsea’s gorgeous vintage finds can be seen here. We took another main shot towards the bed and several detail photos to give the readers a proper 360 degree view of this lovely room.

What do you need to be a stylist?

Fit and strong for starters! You need to be willing to hump furniture around, remember where everything is from, have a great eye for detail, understand composition and have a fabulous knowledge of stores and have a great relationship with PR’s and photographers. Above all else, have a good sense of humour to push through the ‘challenges’ of props not turning up and be quick thinking so you can turn a disaster into something amazing! 


vintage style bathroom victorian house original character features

Still to this day, I believe this is the most beautiful bathroom I’ve ever had to style. To be honest, I didn’t have to style that much because Chelsea has such a fabulous eye! Isn’t it gorgeous!


All of the images in this post are from a real homes shoot I styled for Ideal Home magazine 9 years ago. The home is owned by Chelsea Cefai and she has done an amazing job of making it look beautiful. Photographs taken by Olly Gordon.


Inside Stylists – if you want to learn more about what it takes to be a stylist (it is not as simple as ‘styling’ a few cushions for your IG feeds, I’m sorry to say) then listen to the below episodes which are packed full of useful info:

Top 10 not so secret traits of an interior stylist – Episode 012

Making interior stylist work outside London with me! – Episode 014

Talking all things interior styling with Sally Denning – Episode 19

10 reasons NOT to become an interior stylist – Episode 026

10 things I’ve learnt from interviewing interior stylists – Episode 033

All you need to know about styling editorial shoots  Episode 041

Sally Cullen shares how she makes interior styling work for her – Episode 045


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what is an interior stylist retro tea set dahlias orla kiely



  1. March 22, 2019 / 6:36 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing the podcast Sophie. Hope it’s useful to your readers. xxxxx

    • SWSdahlia
      March 22, 2019 / 6:52 pm

      Pleasure, they are full of fabulous info 🙂 x x x

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