Styling: The Key to a Magazine-Worthy Home

Have you ever walked into a room that felt cold and uninviting? Maybe it was outfitted with beautiful finishes (paint colors, flooring, counters, cabinet colors, tile, etc.) and gorgeous designer sofas, chairs, and tables, but it still felt like something was missing.

I’d be willing to bet the problem was that the room wasn’t “styled.”


You see, even the most beautiful furnishings can’t make a space look polished and magazine-worthy all by themselves. Rooms need layers of texture, color, and personality to keep them from feeling like hotel rooms (i.e. cold, impersonal, and boring).

Styling (which is just a fancy word for “adding accessories”) is what breathes life into a space’s design.

Take a look at any designer’s home featured in a magazine. Notice all the rugs, pillows, baskets and boxes, paintings and framed photos, books, flowers and plants – not to mention the personal collections and mementos.

Now just imagine what that home would look like if you took all of those little extras away, leaving only the furniture.

Ho hum, right?!

Designers understand that nothing else elevates a room’s look and feel the way styling does. It’s the key to making a home look truly polished and complete, and to infusing it with the homeowner’s personality.

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One of the great things about styling is that it’s easier (and less costly) than refurnishing but it has just as much of an impact on how your home looks.

That means you have more freedom to experiment, collecting accessories over time and moving them around your home until you achieve a look you love.

I style my own home twice a year, in the spring and the fall. I find it’s a great way to dust areas that don’t get attention on a regular basis. I start by removing all the accessories from shelves, tabletops, and mantles, giving the items and the surfaces a thorough cleaning.

I then pack those accessories away, changing out the pops of color to more neutral toned accessories or vice versa, depending on the season and my current preferences.

Even small changes like swapping colorful linen pillows and throws for neutral, cashmere and tweed options can make a huge difference in the beauty and comfort of your home.

And of course, restyling is the perfect excuse to bring in a new item or two, so shop away if you’re so inclined!

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Clients often ask me to incorporate some of their personal artifacts like artwork, mementos, and collections from their travels into their homes’ designs. I’m always delighted to add these meaningful items to the mix since I know styling with them is what will make their rooms look personalized and feel special to them.  

So how do you choose what items to style your own home with?

There’s really no right or wrong here. Framed handwritten letters from an ancestor; the vases each of your children made in preschool; your grandmother’s tea tray – if you love it, use it!

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While styling should be a fun ongoing experiment, it isn’t an excuse to hold onto dated items and collections it’s time you let go of. Nor is it a license to fill your home to the brim with clutter and dust-catchers!

In fact, a good rule of thumb is to style your home with fewer accessories that are larger in size, as opposed to filling your rooms with lots of little items, which only leads to a cluttered look and feel. In other words, one large vase and a stack of three thick coffee table books looks better than four small vases and a dozen paperback novels.

One simple test of whether or not an accessory will make a good styling item is to ask yourself, “Will this add a defining element – color, texture, scale, personalization – to the overall look of my home, even if viewed from across the room?” If the answer is no, it may be a good idea to pass on it and wait for something that does.

Here are a few tips to ensure you don’t go overboard on your home’s accessories:

  1. Edit, edit, edit! The classic fashion advice that says to look in the mirror right before you leave the house and remove one accessory to be sure you’re not overdoing it holds true for your home, as well. Once you style a bookshelf or table, take a step back (or better yet, snap a quick photo on your phone). Remove anything that seems dated, looks like it just doesn’t belong, or makes the area feel cluttered.
  2. Just as you keep holiday items in storage until the appropriate season rolls around, do the same for non-holiday, yet season-specific decor. In the warmer months, tuck away those heavy wool throws and glittery metal and crystal accessories. In the fall, retrieve them and store your bright pillows and seagrass rugs.
  3. When in doubt . . . try it in a different room. If you love a particular accessory but it’s not working where it is, don’t give up on it just yet. Try that glass vase that strangely doesn’t seem to look good filled with flowers as a receptacle for guest soaps in the powder room or fresh lemons in the kitchen instead. Or see if the too small mirror hanging over your fireplace looks better leaning against the wall on the foyer’s console table instead.

With just a few simple changes, your home will look and feel more polished, personalized, and definitely magazine-worthy!

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