How to Be an Interior Stylist: 4 Steps to Getting Your First Commission

If you want to be an interior stylist, there are a few things you need to know about nabbing your first commission. But, good news, you came to the right place.

After more than 20 years in the interiors industry, working as an interior stylist, consultant, and creative director, and working alongside other incredible interior stylists too, I know what it takes to be a stylist – and how to secure your first commission.

How to be an interior stylist: shelf with stack of plates and mugs against pink wall

How to be an interior stylist: 4 steps to getting your first commission

1. Build a portfolio of interior styling work

If you’re looking to secure your first commission as an interior stylist, then you’re going to need to be able to demonstrate your skills and experience – that’s where a portfolio comes in.

Stying portfolios don’t have to be huge, and they don’t need to be printed and professionally bound (unless you want to do it that way, of course), but they do have to communicate your talent and your style to the person considering commissioning you.

Assuming you don’t already have a catalogue of your work, the first step for you is styling some small interiors sets and shooting some great quality images. If you’re fortunate enough to know a newbie photographer who is also looking to beef up their portfolio, this can be a great opportunity for both of you – it may also be worth connecting with aspiring interiors photographers on social platforms too to see if anybody wants to team up.

Alternatively, take photos yourself using a fair-quality camera or phone. What’s most important (for you, as an aspiring interior stylist) is that the set is styled beautifully and speaks to your personal style. Of course, the higher quality the images are the better, but as long as they’re clear, you’re good.

When shooting for a portfolio, consider styling a few different types of sets, such as full rooms – kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, for example – and smaller sets too, like shelving or individual products. This will demonstrate your ability to work on lots of different types of shoots.

Make space for your portfolio on your website, and consider sharing imagery (with the permission of the photographer or person who owns the rights) on your social platforms, too.

Note that a portfolio is never complete and should be updated regularly as you gain experience and confidence, and as your style evolves (which it most likely will over time).

2. Network

Speaking as someone who has been on both sides – a freelance stylist hoping to get commissions and an in-house editor doing the commissioning – it’s much easier to find work when you have relationships with people in the industry.

Think about it: who are you more likely to trust with a big, important job? Somebody you have built up a relationship with (whether in-person or online) or someone you were just introduced to? Of course, building relationships with industry contacts takes time, but it’s worth it.

So, how do you network with those in your industry? Well, social media is a good place to start. Politely reaching out via DM to introduce yourself and praise someone’s work is generally acceptable.

If you have a pitch or you’d like to share your portfolio with someone, in particular, go down the cold email route, but make its contents warm and friendly (yet, still professional). Attach snippets of your work and propose a call to talk through your ideas for a collaboration.

When Covid-19 is less of a concern (though, who knows when that might be), you could invite editors (and others in charge of commissioning) for coffee, or arrange to meet at press events.

Another note – don’t underestimate the importance of networking with other interior stylists (and designers, writers, photographers, and so on), too. Not only are these relationships great for the sharing of advice and support, but you can also help one another secure commissions with recommendations, when possible.

3. Actively search for interior styling opportunities

In the early days, it’s unfortunately very unlikely that you’ll be approached for work, but that’s OK. It just means that you’ll need to put (a lot of) time into searching for opportunities.

Where can you find interior styling work? Well, styling jobs don’t tend to be listed on jobs websites, which does make it a little tricker scouting for opportunities. However, there are lots of helpful sites and resources if you’re just starting out. 

Inside Stylists is a community for, you guessed it, interior stylists looking to learn more about the biz and connect with others in the industry. There’s also a Facebook group that members use to ask for advice and find assistant stylists. Similarly, there are a number of other Facebook groups used by editors and the like on the hunt for interior stylists.

Another great way of finding work as an assistant stylist is to follow your favourite established interior stylists on Twitter and Instagram – sometimes we share call-outs when we’re in need (also, don’t be afraid to send a polite DM introducing yourself and putting your name on their radars).

Finally, get your cold email game up to scratch. Editors and brands don’t tend to publicise when they need styling help, so how will you know when there are opportunities if you don’t ask? Draft a friendly email to the person in charge of commissioning stylists at your favourite publications and brands (make sure you address them by name – you can probably find it on LinkedIn), share a snapshot of your portfolio, and ask to be notified when any opportunities arise.

4. Be persistent and don’t give up

It can take a while to secure your first commission – try not to get disheartened. Of course, rejections and – even worse – ignored pitches and proposals can be extremely disappointing, but know that we all have experienced them from time to time (in fact, I have a whole folder full of rejection letters from when I started out as a freelance interior stylist which I printed to remind me how far I have come since).

Keep at it, though, because you’ll get there eventually. Continue adding to your portfolio, networking, and applying for opportunities, and you will reap the rewards of your persistence.

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