“Pretty goes with pretty.” This one sentence, written by Emily Henderson in her Styled: Secrets for Arranging Rooms, From Tabletops to Bookshelves, liberated me to style my rooms exactly as I wished. How? Well, it freed me to think outside of the color-scheme and outside of the named “decor style” convention.
I didn’t have to have a primary color, a secondary color, and an accent color (all carefully selected via a color wheel).
I could layer my pink hat cum fan from Thailand with a series of photos of my childhood against a plum wall and a quilt, made by my long-dead grandmother and composed of the clothing wore by my aunts and uncles. And it was okay.
In her book, Henderson invites her readers to name their own style. After I’d spent a few hours putting pretty with pretty – a fun activity that involved scavenging through my garage and deep into my bedroom closet, among other mysterious places, I realized that I like accent lights. I like potted plants. And I like souvenirs and musical instruments. My style, in the end called “Glimmering International Jungle.”
That’s a far cry from “Colonial” or “Tudor Style” or “Shabby Chic,” although those happen to be styles I love looking at. And, although I’m not terribly prone to shopping or collecting objects, it was also far from the gleaming post-modernism of “Minimalism.”
What is Styled, anyway?
Well, you know how there’s an interior designer? They’re the ones who figure out how to make the electrical work for those can lights. The figure out furniture measurement and placement. They get the hardware installed and the paint on the walls and they select hard-wearing carpets and tile or wood for the kitchen floor, right? They’re the ones who knock down walls to make the room airier. It’s a full-on technical trade.
And then there’s the interior decorator. They figure out things like the best place to source materials, objects of art to hang or display, determine things like aforementioned color-wheel palettes.
After all that! There’s a room stylist. They do the things that most people think of as interior designing. They’re the ones who place a candle here, a flower there, a throw pillow here, and cluster a few objects together to make a pleasing display. Think of them as the bringers of the finishing touch, the final editors and beautifiers of a nearly completed room.
And Styled teaches you how to style a room. It’s the kind of thing you can do in the flow of the moment and on an ongoing basis. In my experience, it also inspires decluttering and furniture arranging and general cleanup. And anything that inspires – rather than demands – cleanup, can only be a good thing.
Styled: Secrets for Arranging Rooms, From Tabletops to Bookshelves Review – A fun read with many practical tips for prettier rooms
After I read this book for the first time, I styled my bedroom. It was a delight. The top of the bookshelf I use for storing my clothes became an homage to my marriage. I covered the top with a silken red shawl that I picked up India (remember: glimmering international jungle).
Then I placed a vase that I received as wedding gift, a beautiful little book that our officiant gave us way back in 2002 at our Ceremony of Union (an unofficial ceremony that celebrated our relationship before we officially married ten years later). Ribbons from aforementioned Ceremony of union. I hung the shawl that we received as a gift from my church upon the occasion of our wedding on a nail next to the bookshelf.
Then, on my nightstand, I spread another shawl from India. On it, I placed the shoes I wore on our wedding day. A little pillow that read “Without Music, Life Would Be Flat” (I’m a piano teacher by trade), and, on another nail, I hung my little white bridal dress. In a fit of inspiration, I angled the shoes at a catchy angle.
My goodness, it was so pretty. And it involved nary a shopping trip, nary a rule, and no inhibition or fear of doing it wrong. I just puttered about in freedom until I liked it.
And I’ll tell you what – months later, my room is still styled. And it has taken no effort. No virtuous upkeep. It’s just the way the room is. And when I pick up the clothes on the floor and spread the bed, our bedroom looks like adults live in it.
That’s what Styled can teach you how to do.
How the book works
- First, Emily walks you through the process of naming your style.
- Then she teaches you some industry vocabulary: what a vignette is, for example, the six elements of contrast, what a color palette is – and more. (That section about vignettes changed the way I decorate rooms forever, and may be the most useful section of the book.)
- She guides you through a linear ten-step process for styling a room.
- She provides lavish examples of each type of room in a home.
- Then she provides you with an entire section of resources, miscellaneous tips, specific products and brands that she loves, tips for shopping at flea markets, and advice about how to become a stylist.
This is a book that blends the practical with the aspirational. You can apply the principles she outlines without ever needing to spend a cent and you won’t have to hire anybody to rip up your floor and replace it. It’s a book that can guide you through pleasant days or evenings of contented styling and room-prettying. And you can return to it again and again for bits of wisdom and technique that your missed during previous reads (or forgot since).
This book won’t teach you about interior design or interior decorating because, as we’ve established, those are different fields. Interior design, in particular, is a much more technical field, and to do it well you need either a ton of practical field experience that involves plumbing, electrical, and home structure, or you need a degree. If you’re an interior decorator, you need to know where to buy beautiful furniture, storage pieces, rugs, and art at bulk or discounted prices from business-to-business retailers. Room styling functions as the icing on the cake.
But if you just want to make a room prettier, this book is THE book.
Is there a better book about room styling than “Styled?”
When it comes to books about styling a room, Styled is the very best.
But there are some other books that are useful and that complement the topic beautifully:
Confessions of a Happily Organized Family is the best book I’ve ever read about organizing a home.
If you’re going to style a room, it makes sense that organizing it would also be a good use of your time.
This is the book that taught me tips that I continued to use successfully for years.
Home Comforts is THE go-to reference book when it comes to keeping a house clean.
Elegant, comprehensive, practical, and inspiring, Mendelson describes the art of housekeeping and makes it seem downright and appealing.
Then she shows you exactly how to make things get clean, and provides handy schedules for home upkeep.
I’ve found Styled useful time and time again. If I could only recommend one book about prettifying a space, this is the one I’d choose. You can gank a soundbite from it and go to town with success. Or you can follow her complete process and end up with a functional masterpiece of the room. Most of us don’t actually have the time and means for an expensive, exhausted home overhaul. But this? This we can manage.
My rating: 9/10
Easiest place to buy: Amazon
(If you buy this book through the preceding link, I’ll get a cut of the profits and that will help me keep this site afloat at no additional cost to you.)
Next week, we’ll talk about personal finances! Until then, you might enjoy reading through the 30-Day Bipolar Domesticity Challenge.