Objects, textures and light are integral to the atmosphere of a room. Few understand this better than Colin King, whose moody well-lit vignettes have now been turned into a beautiful book. Colin sat down with Camilla Frances to share his story, and the secrets of successful styling. 



 Studio Giancarlo Valle interior; © Stephen Kent Johnson.


“My parents still have no real idea of what I do,” laughs Colin King, modestly reflecting on his less than conventional career path (particularly for a boy raised on a farm in rural Ohio). “I’ve tried to explain,” he muses. “I’ve sat them down, shown them and they still have no idea. It didn’t seem to exist as a career when I was a kid."

Humility aside, Colin is referring to his ever-so-slightly nebulous job title - interior stylist - a vocation that is aspirational and essential, to the initiated, and decidedly inscrutable to others. “There is still quite a lot of mystery around what an interior stylist is and what we do,” he admits, “but the people who do recognise the art form and the work, it’s really reassuring; there are people who get it and people who don’t.”

As the title of his book suggests, Colin's talent is indeed in "arranging things": taking the everyday objects around us and encouraging us to see them - and the space they inhabit - differently. Suddenly, we notice shapes and scale more, the difference in textures and the interplay between light, tone and color.

“It’s about honing in on the relationships between objects and light; how you’re telling the story and capturing the rooms," Colin says. "You become this translator for designers; you try to capture their rooms as they ought to be remembered."

It’s a job he loves, but never aspired to have; “It found me for sure,” he says. After training as a dancer and personal trainer in New York - via a stint in London training clients, among them Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham - Colin landed a job as an estate manager, with responsibility for his employer’s seven homes.

His role was, essentially, to define the standards for each home, "from how they wanted their beds to look, to the florals". It required exacting attention to detail, and an innate understanding and appreciation of the small details and delicate touches within a space. He became "obsessed" with aesthetics and interior decor, and in particular the feeling his clients would experience when they walked into their rooms.

He left the job with a new-found love for interior design and a keen interest in the relationship between objects and textures, but no clear sense of a career path, embarking instead on a "winding road" of trial and error. "l tried real estate, that was terrible; I got a job at a design tech start up, that didn't last, then someone literally told me I was a stylist," he says. "'This is styling, everything you do is styling,’ they said."

While the rest is history - a photographer asked him to style a shoot; the work flooded in and never stopped - it was not until lockdown that Colin fully understood the direct, personal impact of his work. In the early days of the pandemic, locked down in New York with most work on pause, he made a commitment to himself: to continue creating the moody, well-lit vignettes with which he has become synonymous, but in the only space available to him - his own home.


Home of Athena Calderone, styled by King; © Adrian Gaut

“I didn’t really do it for myself - styling - I was always at the flower market or on shoots, and it was dark by the time I got home,” he admits. “I was like the cobbler with the hole in their shoe. So, I made a commitment to myself during quarantine - to get up and create these [scenes] and look at the everyday things around me for inspiration - fruits, food, books - and try to see beyond the intended use of objects.”

The ‘Lockdown Still Life Project’ quickly gathered momentum, with Colin posting a daily still life on Instagram and encouraging his followers to do the same. "It kept me sane and gave me structure, and the community that built around it was so helpful.” The spirit of his still life project, and the meritocratic nature of social media - where anyone with a well-trained eye or interesting perspective, regardless of status or training, can find a captive audience - still resonates with Colin.

It’s why he’s released his first book, Arranging Things, a sumptuous study of his masterful styling work, often for some of the design world's biggest names. “My favorite design is non-hierarchical," he says. "That’s what styling is, making pairings, creating interesting relationships between different objects, whatever they are and wherever they’re from… That’s really what I’m saying with the book actually: stop looking at the things and start looking at the arrangements. It's not about buying more things, it’s about how you work with the things you already have - a lamp, a chair, a dark corner - to create an arrangement and a mood.”


Interior, Anna Karlin, styled by Colin King © Adrian Gaut


Colin's Tips: How to Style a Mood


Shop your Shelves

“I encourage people to shop their own shelves, pull out stuff you haven’t seen in a while or move stuff around; maybe things from your bedroom will look great in your living room. You'll start to see the potential of different objects."

The Three Bs

“I always say the ‘three Bs’ are all you need to create a poetic scene: a book, a bowl and a branch. I think you can make a beautiful vignette with just those three things. Books are a great way to express your interests, and a great way to differentiate some height between different objects."

Negative Space

“People can get overwhelmed by having to fill negative space, but I think the space around an object is just as important as the objects themselves, as is playing with scale, form, and different materials."

Practice makes perfect

"I’m so self taught that I really just want to share what has worked for me, without being too formulaic. [Good styling] is quite instinctive; you can't be super prescriptive because then you’ve missed the practice of it, and success is really in the practice and the process.” 

Find your point of view

"We’re all blessed with the curse of having a phone, but it’s been such a tool for me. In the early days, I looked at Instagram to find my point of view and my visual language. I would go out to galleries, to museums, and I’d find things I liked; people begin to see the world how you see it, through your Instagram. Take pictures, find your point of view.

Use your zoom

On shoots, I’m always looking at different things to the photographers; they’re looking at lighting and composition, I’m looking at little moments within the space. I always tell people to use the zoom on their phone, get in there, find these little moments and the whole room becomes amazing.

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