Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky Homestead | February 15, 2013

Part 3: Houzz: Ways to Style Your Interior Photo’s Like a Pro

This blog post is part three of my recent blog series that focuses on tips and techniques for better photo staging.

NOTE: This article was written by freelance writer Becky Harris. All credit goes to her.

12 Ways to Style Your Interior Photos Like a Pro

For great home photos, declutter, prop well, and tell a little story

Hi There! I currently live in a 1920s cottage in Atlanta that I’ll describe as “collected.” I got into design via Landscape Architecture, which I studied at the University of Virginia. I’ve been writing about design online for quite a few years over at Hatch: The Design Public Blog.
Do you ever pretty up a room and take a shot, only to print it out and think, “Sheesh, my room looks so much better than this in person!”? I do. I do it all the time. There’s so much you notice in a photo that you don’t notice in person. For me, the number-one thing I notice in my pics is a cord. Lamps, phone, computer, you name it, I hate to see wires in a photo. In other people’s’ photos, its that ugly dish towel you leave haphazardly hanging off the stove handle or shoved in the fridge handle. In stylists’ photos, its the over-karate chopped throw pillows.
Enough with the negatives. Here are some positive things you can do to up your interior photo styling prowess.
Go ahead and use overused props. Top three kitchen styling props:

    • Citrus fruit • Campbell’s Soup cans • Perfectly aligned bottles of Perrier

Hey, you know what? They work! Tuck your appliances, herbs, olive oil, etc. into drawers; leave out only the cute canisters or a La Crueset pot, and use one or more of the items mentioned above. This shot balances lemons on one side and lemonade on the other, visually telling us that when life gives us lemons … yada yada yada.

Pick a show. Television sets almost always ugly up a shot; I don’t care how expensive and fancy they are. So choose something fun to put on and make it look like a painting. I’ve been taking careful notes of where Houzz photographers have chosen to freeze the screen (upside down Spiderman/Kirsten Dundst kiss; Avatar), but seeing some sort of Toddlers and Tiaras in this very contemporary room is my favorite pick so far. Do I believe that someone with such clean, minimalist taste would indulge in such trashy reality TV? You betcha!
contemporary kitchen by Fisher Hart

Use flowers. When in doubt, go for dramatic flowers. Is the colorless, minimalist palette that emphasizes the textures of this room beautiful? Yes. Does it make for the most interesting of interior shots? Not really. Enter a tall drink of purple wildflowers. Take it a step further and compose the picture with said flowers anchoring the right corner and almost all of the side, and you have a beautiful interior shot.
Play with your tablescape arrangement. Get rid of the messy notebook, coffee cup and IKEA catalog, bring out your favorite monographs, perhaps a bowl or a tray, and of course, flowers.
For more advice on these kinds of arrangements, take a look at this ideabook about trayscapes.
eclectic living room by john thompson designer 

Tell a story. There is A LOT going on in this room, from the deep blue walls to the Greek Key-ish sofa, zebra pillows and exotic collectibles. However, the styling tells a story. Some sort of intellectual naturalist (glasses on book with leaf drawings on it) likes to make himself comfortable in this study, where he enjoys the coral and butterflies and other specimens from the field. Perhaps he uses this book and a magnifying glass to identify them in here. Perhaps he looks like Harrison Ford.

contemporary family room by Atmosphere Interior Design Inc. 

Declutter. You don’t want your dog-eared paperbacks distracting from the rest of the room. The shelves here have the right amount of empty space and enough items to keep things interesting.
Go for symmetry. Although this room is not perfectly symmetrical, draw a mental line through the center. Now fold it along this line. There are enough mirror-image items to give the shot a pleasing balance, yet enough different elements to keep the image interesting.
Light that fire. More exciting television screen picks abound. I often turn on all the lights in my bedroom and enjoy ski racing from my bed, don’t you? Anyway, the blazing fire adds to the ambiance, and closing the shades here keeps the view outside from distracting from this calm and serene bedroom. Well, it’s calm and serene until a skier crashes.
Tell us: Where would you choose to freeze the TV screen? Let us know on our Facebook fan page (and see what everyone else is saying).
Put the lid down. Bathrooms are full of shot-ruining pitfalls. The number one rule: PUT DOWN THE LID ON THE TOILET! Number two: Get your towels and wash cloths in check. Number three: Put your toothbrush, toothpaste, and tacky plastic liquid soap bottle away. Number four: Get that stupid fluffy loofah thing that hangs from your shower head out of the shot. In fact, throw it away; it’s probably moldy. Tuck your shampoo bottles, razors, and other shower items away.
This shot makes the room look just lived-in enough. The rolled towels, the texture from the lidded basket, and the perfect tissue box and matching counter accessories are just right. A shot without these little touches would be rather boring. Note that there is not a loofah or a bottle of Garnier Fructisse to be seen in that shower stall!
Don’t overdo dining setups. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like that fake, overdone set table in shots. I call it “Model Home” syndrome. You know when you go into a model home and there’s even a fake turkey and all that stuff like the Bluths had on Arrested Development? Anyway, I think just a simple bowl or centerpiece can be plenty of style for a dining room photos, but I really admire this table. They used just the right amount of items without looking too fake.
Do not fear using people in your interior shots. Exploit cute kids, cute pets, and cute chefs. The people in this picture are not the focus of the shot, but they certainly enliven it and let us see it as the perfect family kitchen.
Pull out the chairs. Take this advice more generally. If you take a shot and something doesn’t seem quite right, play with the furniture as well as the composition. If these charming chairs were tightly tucked in under the table/desk, the room would have a completely different feeling. Pulling them out makes the room seem more welcoming, and makes it more obvious that this is a workspace and not a dining table.
Hope you enjoyed this reposted article!
Small House / Big Sky Donna


  1. Hi Donna! This is something I am trying to learn, as I am constantly dissatisfied with my photos. I appreciate this series. Thanks.

    • Thanks for checking in Leslie. I appreciate your comments. Obviously this interests me too! I figure that the best way to improve my styling skills to 1) Study the experts and 2) Keep on creating the setup and photographing it and then do it again and make it look even better. Good luck! Donna

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