How to become an Interior Stylist

How to become an Interior Stylist How to become an Interior Stylist

I’ve interviewed a lot of Interior Stylists and talked to many people who wanted to get into the Interior Styling industry during my 1:2:1 calls and the question that comes up time and time again is

How do I become an Interior Stylist?

The answer has changed over the years and now the way into styling is more diverse than ever.

Who’s asking?

Since the lockdowns I have answered that question for a professional violinist, Interior Designers, accountants, mums whose kids have finally gone to school (or back to school), and existing interior stylist assistants, and although the answer is similar everyone’s starting point is different.

Today I’m sharing how many have done it and how it works right now… for the moment.

How it used to be

Back in the day – when I started out in editorial styling everything was very different.

Magazines would have whole interiors teams.

There would be the Home editor, Style editor, Home Stylist, Real Homes Editor, Interior Stylist, Interior Stylist assistant, News Editor, shopping editor all on one magazine. The list went on and on.

The first magazine I ever worked on – Homes and Ideas, was a kind of baby sister to Ideal Home and was also at IPC Media (which became Time Inc which became Future). It was aimed at first-time buyers who had little cash and lots of creative energy. I was the homes assistant. The bottom of the editorial interior styling career ladder.

We had a team of six within the Interiors team – Homes Editor, Decorating Editor, Interiors editor, Interior Stylist, a freelance interior stylist and me!  We did all the pages from decorating shoots and cover shots to news pages, DIY projects (that was me) and real home features. The magazine was all interiors so there was a lot for us to do.

Most interior magazines at that time worked in a similar way. There was a head of the department and then a team who worked with them. The pages were planned each month and then allocated to the right person. Everyone mucked in and helped out on shoots and at Christmas pretty much everyone was on one big Christmas shoot for a week. It was a really great atmosphere and I have to say I am forever grateful for that learning time. I met some incredible stylists who I still speak to now (20+ years later)

Where interior stylists got started

Most people would start out with work experience, going around different magazines and helping to clear out prop cupboards, pack and unpack shoot props, request to borrow props – by very slow faxes – thank goodness emails came in soon after I started, they’d help out on shoots and learn the ropes from the bottom up.

I got my first work experience at IPC media. I would go around to all the magazines at lunchtime to get my next 2-4 week stint lined up. Having so many big titles under one roof was very handy.

Work experience was essential – as it is today, for not only learning how it all works and what to do – or more importantly not to do, but for building up a network of people who would want to work with you or recommend you in the future.

A  quick word about work experience

As much as I like to share that we don’t work for free there is an element of needing to learn the ropes before anyone will pay you to do an assisting job. I recommend anyone coming into interior styling for the very first time should offer to do work experience for free on at least one editorial AND commercial shoot before they start charging for assisting. The reason for this is that you’ll need to learn how everything works and be ready for the entourage of boxes and fast-paced work before you’re ready to assist.

Once you’ve been on a handful of shoots and have a good idea of what to do you can definitely charge for your time. It doesn’t take much but it shows that you are serious about a career in Styling.

9 times out of 10 you’ll get your travel expenses covered and be well fed not to mention start growing your network of contacts.

Moving up from Interior Stylist Assistant

When it came time to move up it was the people I had met that made that an easy transition. Other home editors and stylists would share jobs that they heard about or put you forward or very luckily for me – create new positions.

My first 18 months were the learning on the job and building all the connections to get started -whilst working on an interiors magazine. Those first few years were my training.

In house vs Freelance

There were lots of freelancers at that time but progressing via an editorial route was most common. Interior Stylists tended to start off on editorial teams before going freelance to work on bigger commercial shoots and features or tv. But that’s all changed now.

How to become an interior stylist now

How magazines work now.

The days of big teams of five or six people working on one magazine are gone. Budgets tightening, office space shrinking and costs of everything going up means that “Hubs” are now a common thing.

Hubs are small teams of 5-6 people who work across lots of interiors titles all at the same time. This means getting your foot in the door is more difficult simply because there are less positions available. Difficult – but not impossible!

Some magazines do still have dedicated teams but two of the biggest UK magazine publishers now work this way.

Magazines are still a great place to get your work experience and assisting experience and that will never change. Once you’ve experienced a really large editorial shoot any commercial shoot will feel like a doddle!

As there are less in-house staff more freelancers are booked to do editorial shoots and this is where the getting started in interior styling begins.

Assisting freelancers is the way forward. We always need help on shoots and when our regular assistants become stylists themselves we’re back to square one in finding an extra pair of hands to keep our shoots running smoothly.

How to find stylists to connect with.

That is where Inside Stylists comes in. I literally built Inside Stylists on the back of a Facebook group because my assistants kept getting jobs and I had to find new ones to help on my freelance shoots all the time.

The community within Inside Stylists helps you to connect with the people doing the hiring. The stylists put requests out for help for their shoots and the assistants reply. It’s as simple as that.

Connecting with the right people is the best way to get the experience and get found – as well as having an Assistants profile on Inside Stylists too of course!

If you’re interested in joining you can find out more here. 

If you want to learn the art of styling you can sign up to our online course that will teach you how to consider everything from positioning of props and lighting to depth of field and framing the hero. Find out all the details of what’s included in our course here or click on the image below.

Got any questions? Get in touch 

Want to hear more in the words of Interior Stylists?

Great, we have a ton of podcast interviews with some great people sharing their journey to become an Interior Stylist. Sally Cullen talks about how she started off in Fashion. Sally Denning talks about her first book. Sophie Warren Smith shares how you don’t have to live in London to work as a stylist. Charlotte Boyd and I chat about how we nearly set fire to a shoot location when we worked together – yes really!

If you’re more interested in TV interior Styling have a listen to Lynsey Fox talking about her journey or Art Director Ed Robinson.

You can find all these podcasts and more on the podcast page. 

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