I have been lucky enough to have worked with Milly several times. Through watching her dress a room, I have developed a new appreciation of the importance of styling. That vital and frustrating skill. Luckily, Milly has been generous enough to share some of her tips and ideas. For me this is the most useful interview on styling I have ever read. I only wish I could have read it years ago. Thank you Milly!
Who are you and how you got into working as a stylist. Who do you work for and what kind of work do you do?
I am Milly Goodwin, I work for myself as a freelance interior stylist, styling and producing imagery for commercial clients and architects / designers. I also work with private residential clients and developers as an interior design consultant.
What is your workflow for styling a room? Do you work from a brief from the client or your own judgement?
Ideally it’s a mixture – you need to plan certain elements, depending on the job (overall feel for the styling, trends, decorating or set build) but you always need the freedom to be flexible on set to get the best results as what looks good on paper doesn’t always look as great behind the camera.
The ideal project starts with a brief which will include an expected number of images or set ups that suit the brand / product(s), image crops to work to and an idea of what the imagery will be used for. For commercial clients there are usually trends to consider so I will work ideas up that incorporate all the required product around these and put them into styled room sets. The precise styling of these will then be done on set using my judgement and usually with the client present for approval. Styling for architects and designers is typically more straight forward, I take a car boot full of useful props with me and then work with the photographer on set to subtly prop a space to bring it to life.
It works best if the styling is kept as open as possible to allow the process to be as creative as possible.
Are there any key items you always bring to a shoot?
Generally speaking I will always bring props that are what is known as ‘signs of life’ – things that show someone lives in the space – books, plants, food, drinks, stationary etc. I also always bring my kit, although sometimes slimmed down it always contains my useful tools of the trade like lighter fluid (good for sticky marks), baby oil (good for making dull stone look new) or sticky strips for temporarily hanging artwork.
Are there any principles that guide you when styling a room?
As I said earlier I always try to include a ‘sign of life’ but that isn’t always a prop, it can be as simple as a cushion with an indent in it or a door slightly ajar. On that note a strange thing I have noticed often makes an image work better is a ‘exit’ to a room – a door or window – I thinks it’s probably a mix of them being lovely sources of light and a very familiar architecture that makes an image flow best.
There is also the rule of odds – nearly always groups of odd numbers look better than even – 1 will typically look better than 2!
Finally I also try to consider that less is more – it doesn’t always come naturally to me so I tend to start with too much and then gradually take away until I am happy.
Are there any techniques or skills that you have found particularly helpful?
You have to have a very critical eye for this job, the devil really is in the details. I often find myself searching for lines of symmetry or place things deliberately askew. Although you can sometimes over think it and find that your first version (which of course you can never get back to) was the best so you also need to be careful not to over fiddle!
What are your favourite resources for styling, both in terms of sourcing props and researching trends etc..
Fashion tends to lead interiors so the runway is always inspiring. With commercial styling you need to be careful any props you use don’t look similar to those they sell so antique shops / markets / ebay are all great for sourcing these if you have the budget, if not then there are some fantastic prop hire shops out there that are always inspiring
Are there types of room that are more difficult than others when it comes to styling e.g. are bedrooms harder than kitchens etc? Do you have a favourite? Why?
BEDROOMS by far are the most time consuming – all those tricky layered textiles to deal with and lots of ironing. I am also keen to do things differently where possible but there are only so many ways you can style a bed.
I love living areas – lots of opportunities for a nice prop and different angles / depth of shot and more variation.
Are living things (fruit/flowers/plants etc) particularly important? If so, how do you select what type to use?
They can be but I also love using dried flowers / plants. You need to be conscious of anything too seasonal so mostly I use simple, impactful greenery like big bunch of eucalyptus or structural, interesting house plants. Anything too bushy is often too dense and just shoots like a dark mass so I look for plants with an interesting shape or light foliage. Again when choosing food props I try to keep it simple and go for scale, like a large bunch of tomatoes on the vine or lemons on their branches.
I find cushions, throws and bedding particularly tricky – how do you approach them?
These guys have a life of their own so I try not to over think them. If the look we are after is formal then I will make up the bed fully with crisply ironed cotton bedding, pillows placed horizontally rather than sitting up, (then you don’t have to deal with any floppy ‘ears’) and lots of layered cushions placed in smart rows, finished off with a big, heavy velvet bedspread. The final touch is the “surrey chop” in the middle of the cushions like a hotel suite and I keep the rest of the styling similarly smart and minimal. This is quite an easy look to achieve and works well for photographing real homes for architects / designers but commercial clients often like more of a ‘story’ to the styling where it looks like someone has just gotten out of bed (stylishly!). I start with the bedding, linen works best and only the lightest iron to take the main folds out, I make the bed fully and then work backwards artfully folding and ‘wriggling’ the top sections down the bed as if someone has just woken up. The blanket or throw will fill in the gaps and add texture at the base, spilling into small layered folds that sit on the floor a little, the cushions then scatter randomly filling any gaps. This is a much harder look to achieve as it can look over styled and too staged so it takes practise to know when to step back.
If people want a stylist, how can they contact you?
Milly Goodwin – email [email protected] or Instagram @millygoodwin