By ellenmcgauley
April 01, 2015

In our first Secrets of a Stylist post, you met Liz Strong, who travels to beach houses all over the world to ready them for Coastal Living photo shoots. “Before doing this professionally," she says, "I’d always imagined a magazine ‘stylist’ as a diva-type who simply walked into a home in high heels and dropped some flowers on the table. Not the case! It turns out that even the most amazing homes are not magazine ready...” So what makes them so? Here’s more from Liz…



Why does a well-designed house need a stylist? There’s a big difference between the way a house reads to the human eye versus the way it will come across in a photo. My job is to identify the places that we can strengthen (some basic examples are empty walls or corners, bare or crowded surfaces) to really make the home resonate with the reader.



How do you prepare for a photo shoot? First, I study scouting shots of the home sent to me by the magazine editors and look for places that can be improved. For instance, does a room need more color? If so, I might add artwork. Or perhaps what a space needs is some softening: adding textural pieces, like rugs or woven baskets or a vintage blanket, can give it a more natural, layered look.



And good styling is also about editing, isn’t it? Yes. Often, less is more in a photograph of a room. It's a good "real life" lesson, too, that I have to practice in my own home: a few great items are most powerful when they're not diluted by too many others. If there's a lot of items in a room, it's often easier to eliminate everything and then bring back the best objects from the room into the frame. Essentially, you want to keep the layers of interest but avoid too many overlaps so that the photo has room to breathe. Too much stuff can be distracting, especially if you have an ocean view to take in!



You mentioned flowers in your early understanding of a stylist's job. How important are these and other natural elements? Very! Flowers and greenery add life to a room and can help pull a a single color through a space or help hold an entire palette together. I look for varieties that reflect the vibe and colors of the home. And I've learned a lot about them over the years, from how to make them open overnight to what types are available at certain times and places throughout the year. I like to round out every flower order with local greenery that I can snag with my own hands, even if I have to climb a tree to get it!

What do you think would surprise people the most about what you do? It’s a very physical job and the amount of travel is just about insane!



What is the most exotic assignment you've had for Coastal Living? It was an eco-chic home carved into rock on the remote island of Bequia in the Grenadines. The unusual structure was built in the 1960s, carved out of stone, shells, and whalebones. The home was completely open-air and without windows, which made it basically glorified camping (even the lamps were fixed to stand up to the wind sheer). The owners lived in the home year-round and are completely self-sufficient in terms of water and electricity, completely reliant on solar power and every drop of rainwater. We hiked into the compound and banged a stick against a bell hung from a tree to let them know we were close! A visit here definitely makes you think twice about how much you really need in life.

If you missed the first Secrets of a Stylist post, read it here.