6 Styling Rules That Make Your Home Look Professionally Decorated

Do you ever come across a photo of a space that makes you want to dive right in? While that background may have been set by a talented designer, a lot of the magic of photographs comes thanks to careful styling. Interior photographers know the best tricks for making dreamy spaces appear even dreamier for the lens (and some even have tricks good enough to turn a mediocre space into a head-turner). These methods can teach the rest of us a thing or two about making our homes look great in person, too.

Lucky for you, Sara Ligorria-Trampa Los Angeles-based photographer and interior stylist, and Joanna Hawley-McBridethe digital influencer behind the lifestyle blog Jojotasticspilled their best styling secrets in a discussion at the inaugural Meridian Experience, a 4-day conference and retreat for interior design influencers and content creators in Bellevue, Wash. (Calling all aspiring or active design content creators: the waitlist for the 2023 events is now open!) Whether you’re looking to spruce up your bookshelves, put the finishing touches on a room, or just impress company, read on to learn styling tips you can implement right now. Your home is about to get a serious upgrade!

green shelf

A shelf of assorted decor items styled by Joanna Hawley-McBride.

Joanna Hawley-McBride

Pair “Cousins”

When styling a single shelf, wall, or table, select items that are similar, but not the same, or “cousins, not twins” as Hawley-McBride puts it. A simple way to put this tip into practice is with vintage art. Two portraits with similar color palettes or objects with relatively similar scale will help add that special something and keep your home from feeling like it was pulled from a catalog.

Group in Threes

You may have heard of the rule of thirds in photography. Well, it works with styling too! When using the principle in photography, you divide a scene (in this case, a room) into a grid – three horizontal lines and three vertical. If you’re having trouble visualizing this part, it may help to look at the space through your phone’s camera app with the gridlines turned on. The points where the gridlines connect make great spots to place decor items.

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Small paintings make an impact in groups of three.

Joanna Hawley-McBride

Remember the Golden Triangle

By grouping accessories together in a triangle, you can create more complete “moments” around your space. Experiment with objects until the combination feels right, and when in doubt, use odd numbers to create visual balance.

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Warm wood and greenery add life to a bedroom in cool tones.

Joanna Hawley-McBride

Bring in Signs of Life

To avoid that sterile, catalog vibe, remember it’s okay for your space to look like people live there. Be it a casually draped throw or the novel you’re currently reading set on a side table, the pros know there is such a thing as too perfect.

Go for Variety

Variation is key! Bring in a balance of height, color, and texture to create visual interest and to avoid a scene that looks too flat. Think brass sculptures alongside a textured vase or stone objects stacked on coffee table books.

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An assortment of framed and unframed art and souvenirs make a statement on an otherwise unremarkable wall.

Joanna Hawley-McBride

Size Matters

Like in any element of a room, you want to consider proportion and scale when setting up the finishing touches. Oversized art or tall greenery in a large vase can help fill space, but a too-large vessel may make your shelving look crowded. Similarly, a massive table with tiny decorative elements will look vast and uninviting. Play around with a few options to find the best fit. (Learn more about scale and proportion in decorating here).

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