Rooms & Gardens

STYLING A MOOD

Words by Camilla Frances
All images styled by Colin King
Images from Arranging Things, Rizzoli USA
Image from oltrepò pavese

Left: Colin King; © Rich Stapleton. Right: Studio Mellone interior; © William Jess Laird. 

Objects, textures and light are integral to the atmosphere of a room, and the #Cabanamood. Few understand this better than Colin King, whose moody well-lit vignettes have now been turned into a beautiful book, Arranging Things. Colin sat down with Camilla Frances to share his story, and the secrets of successful styling.
 
“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), albeit one that has seen him work with leading designers and some of Hollywood’s biggest names. “I’ve tried to explain it to them,” he muses. “I’ve sat them down, I’ve shown them and they still have no idea. It didn’t seem to exist as a career when I was a kid."
 
Humility aside, King 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,” King 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.”
 
Put as simply as the title of his book, King's talent is 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 and color. “It’s about honing in on the relationships between objects and light; how you’re telling the story and capturing the rooms," King says. "You become this translator for designers; you try to capture their rooms as they ought to be remembered." 
 
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Studio Giancarlo Valle interior; © Stephen Kent Johnson.

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Left: Home of Athena Calderone; © Adrian Gaut. Right: Interior, Anna Karlin; © Adrian Gaut.  

It’s a job King 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 - King 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 the career path he should take, 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 King has since styled hundreds of homes and photo shoots, it was not until lockdown that he 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.

 

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Left: Home of Kirsten Dunst, styled by King; © Laura Joliet. Right: RW Guild; © Gentl & Hyers. 

“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,” he adds, laughing. “So, I just 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 King posting a daily still life on Instagram and encouraging his followers to do the same. "It kept me sane and gave me some structure during the day, and the community that built around it was so helpful during such a time.” 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 King.
 
Indeed, it’s why he’s released his first book, ‘Arranging Things’. “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: 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.”
 
Colin King's Arranging Things is out now, published by Rizzoli New York. Read on for Colin's styling tips.

 

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Styling for Roman and Williams Guild; © 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 move into your living room."
 
The Three Bs
“I always say the ‘three Bs’ are what you need: a book, a bowl and a branch. I think you can make a poetic scene with 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 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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Left: Studio Giancarlo Valle; © Stephen Kent Johnson. Right: Roman and Williams Guild; © Adrian Gaut.

Colin's Favorites
 
Your favorite room?
I remember the first time I went to Donald Judd’s Spring Street studio the sensibility of the space really struck me; the ceiling matches the floors perfectly in terms of the woodwork. I love the way he laid out his spaces. Rooms that artists have lived in tend to fascinate me the most.
 
Your favorite flower?
It’s called Smoke Bush and it only blooms for around two weeks of the year, but when it does, it’s like cotton candy. It’s beautiful.
 
Your favorite fabric?
I always lean on linen, I really love it. I love the wilder linens by Designs of the Times; I really like the weight of the weaves and the colors. They’re so nice.
 
Your favorite city?
I’m going to say London. I love the history and architecture. I can lean into the grey, wet weather, and it’s beautiful in the summer. It was my first international city, I moved there when I was in my 20s, so it’s special to me.
 
Your favorite hotel?
I was just in Mexico for a shoot and we stayed at Hotel Esencia, which was divine. It’s about an hour’s drive from Cancun, towards Tulum, and it’s one of those places where you feel alone and at peace. There are no room numbers, the only time you really see people is at dinner, it’s very secluded. 
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Styling for Roman and Williams Guild; © Adrian Gaut. 

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