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Should You Hire an Interior Stylist for Project Shoots?

7 min read

When photographing projects for your portfolio, accurately capturing the beauty and functionality of every space is essential. Faithful representation of each project communicates your firm’s vision, your client’s aesthetic and lifestyle, and your strengths as a design team. Often working in lock-step with your photographer, the right interior stylist can help present each space in the best possible light—ensuring prospective clients and partners notice the key aesthetic details and functional elements that make it truly special. Collaboration with an interior stylist can be highly beneficial when done right, but there is always a risk that the original design intent might be misconstrued or overshadowed. Plus, hiring a stylist adds yet another cost to your project. In this article, we weigh the pros and cons of working with an interior stylist before photographing portfolio projects. Read on to learn more!

Key Differences Between Interior Decorators and Interior Stylists

Interior stylists work with interior architects, designers, and photographers to style soft furnishings and other aesthetic design elements.

An interior stylist focuses primarily on the aesthetic presentation of a space. Unlike interior designers who often deal with the structural, functional, and space-planning aspects of a residential or commercial interior, stylists dedicate their time solely to decorative elements. For example, an interior stylist will not choose window treatments, but they might decide how drapes and shades are styled for photography.

They curate and arrange interiors to create visually appealing settings—often for photoshoots, advertisements, or specific events. Interior styling involves making temporary changes to a space—especially when staging homes for sale or setting up for a photo shoot. Their additions might be removed when clients actually move into the space.

Interior stylists are typically well-versed in current design trends and can incorporate contemporary styles or classic touches based on the project’s requirements. They often collaborate with photographers, magazine editors, and other professionals for editorial features or advertisements.

In many cases, interior stylists work hand-in-hand with interior designers to determine how a space will be presented within the design firm’s portfolio. They might not share styling ideas directly with the designer’s client.

On the other hand, interior decorators…

Interior decorators work on a variety of domestic projects and commercial interiors. An interior decorator is distinct from an interior designer, stylist, or interior architect. They present mood boards to clients, select paint colors, source furniture, and execute the design.

Interior decorators focus on the decorative elements of a space—such as color schemes, furniture selection, textiles, lighting, and accessories. Unlike an interior designer, an interior decorator typically does not make structural changes to a space. Interior decorating works within the existing layout and structure.

Decorators work closely with clients to understand their preferences and lifestyles—ensuring the final design reflects the client’s personality and functional needs. One key difference between an interior stylist and an interior decorator is that the changes made by decorators are intended for long-term use.

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They aim to create a cohesive and harmonious living or working environment for the client. While many decorators have formal training, take interior design classes, or obtain certifications, it’s not always a requirement. Their expertise is often based on natural talent, experience, and a keen eye for design.

While both interior stylists and decorators focus on the aesthetics of a space, their purposes, approaches, and areas of expertise can differ.

An interior stylist is more about creating a specific “look” for a temporary purpose or event, while an interior decorator works to enhance the overall decor and functionality of a space for long-term use.

Should Interior Designers Hire Interior Stylists for Portfolio Projects?

The right interior stylist can showcase products like the vase on this sideboard in front of a mirror in people's homes

As an interior designer, you might consider hiring an interior stylist and professional photographer for projects that will take center stage in your online portfolio. The interior design industry is incredibly competitive, and a stunning digital portfolio that truly reflects your firm’s work is invaluable.

Hiring an interior stylist for project photoshoots might be the right decision. Below are a few pros and cons to weigh before working with a stylist.

Pros of Collaborating with an Interior Stylist for Photo Shoots

Expertise in Styling

Many designers hire stylists for their expertise and for the time it saves their design team. An interior stylist has a keen eye for detail and can add finishing touches that make a space look magazine-worthy. They can elevate the overall aesthetic of the photoshoot.

Trend Awareness

Stylists are often updated with the latest trends and can incorporate elements that make the photos look contemporary and appealing. If styling a client’s house or your own home for sale, this awareness can be helpful.

Similarly, if your target market follows interior design trends, this photography can be repurposed for blog posts, newsletters, and other content intended to catch the eye of potential clients.

Collaboration

A stylist can collaborate with your photographer to achieve the best angles of interior architecture, lighting that faithfully captures the space’s ambiance and color palette, and arrangements of decor—ensuring the design is showcased in the best possible way.

Increase in Value Perception

Even the best-executed interior designs can fall flat in photography. The life given to a space when clients move back can make it feel more dynamic and resonant. Imagine a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter, a slightly rumpled duvet, or a book lying on the seat of a bay window.

Interior styling can make a space feel real and lived-in. The cohesive and curated look that styling provides can also reinforce an air of luxury. For example, consider how fresh flowers make a space that much more elegant and inviting. Prospective clients can imagine living in such a space. As such, well-styled photographs can increase the perceived value of the designer’s work—attracting higher-end clients or more publicity.

Styling can be expensive. Not all designers will pay to have their projects styled. In competitive markets, a well-styled space can help your firm stand out from the competition.

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Versatility

An interior designer focuses on a space’s day-to-day functionality and appearance in accordance with the client’s preferences. A stylist can handle the nuances of the photo shoot—ensuring everything looks perfect in each shot. Stylists also help showcase the versatility of a space by styling it in different ways for various shots.

Potential Drawbacks of Working with an Interior Stylist

Additional Costs

Hiring a professional stylist is an added expense. It’s essential to weigh this cost against the potential benefits.

Potential Style Clashes

There might be differences in vision between the designer and the stylist. It’s crucial to ensure clear communication and alignment in design intent.

Over-Styling

Whether a dining room or a primary suite, there’s a risk that functional spaces might end up looking too “staged” or unrealistic if over-styled. This can do a serious disservice to the original design concepts and existing space.

Consistency Issues

If a designer has been working on multiple areas of a property or project, they might have a cohesive theme or style in mind. An interior stylist—if not fully briefed—might introduce elements that disrupt this cohesion.

Loss of Authenticity

The designer’s original vision might be overshadowed if the stylist’s input is too dominant. This might not only upset the designer but also the client.

Clients hire interior designers with certain expectations based on the designer’s portfolio and style. If an interior stylist makes significant changes, the end result might not align with what the client was expecting, leading to dissatisfaction.

How Much Does an Interior Stylist Cost?

The cost to hire an interior stylist can vary widely based on several factors including location, reputation, and scope of work. Just like with any service, rates can differ significantly based on the region or city. For instance, hiring an interior stylist in a major metropolitan area or design hub might be more expensive than in a smaller town.

Experience and expertise also dictate the cost. Established stylists with a strong portfolio and industry recognition typically charge higher fees than those just starting out. The complexity and size of the project can influence the cost.

Complex commercial projects might cost more to style than single-family residences. The cost can vary based on the type of service, too. For instance, home staging for real estate might have a different pricing structure than editorial styling for a magazine shoot.

Some stylists charge by the hour, while others might offer a flat fee for a specific project. If the project requires multiple days or extensive planning, the cost will likely be higher. Depending on the project, there might be additional expenses involved.

These costs can also include expenses for props, furniture rentals, accessories, or any other items needed for the styling. Some stylists might charge a markup on these items. Some stylists charge a separate fee for initial consultations, while others might include it in their overall service fee.

Common Fee Structures

Common fee structures include hourly, flat fees, and packages or retainers. An interior stylist might charge anywhere from $50 to $200 or more per hour, depending on their experience and reputation. For specific projects like commercial spaces or editorial shoots, stylists might offer a flat fee.

Depending on the creative concepts involved, this can range from a few hundred dollars for smaller projects to several thousand dollars for larger or more complex assignments. Some stylists offer package deals or retainer agreements for ongoing work—which might provide some cost savings for clients.

It’s essential to get a detailed quote or proposal from the stylist, outlining the scope of work, estimated hours, and any additional expenses. This will provide clarity on what to expect and help in budgeting for the project.

Final Thoughts on Hiring an Interior Stylist for Your Design Project

Whether or not to hire an interior stylist for project photoshoots largely depends on the interior designer’s confidence in their styling abilities, the budget for the photoshoot, and the desired outcome. If the goal is to have high-quality, magazine-worthy photographs that might attract more clients or publicity, then investing in an interior stylist can be a wise decision.

However, if the designer is confident in their styling skills and has a clear vision for the photoshoot, they might choose to handle the styling themselves.

Are you interested in becoming an interior stylist? Consider taking an online course like this one from NYIAD. These online courses teach color theory, portfolio development, and more.