I don’t think many folks initially realize just how many steps go into designing a home or how many specialized jobs are dedicated to the process. One may think, “Oh, an interior designer will handle everything within the walls of my home.” While that is true in some ways, we will also be working with architects, tradespeople, vendors, and interior stylists. So what is the difference between an interior designer vs. a stylist? Sure, as interior designers, we style rooms regularly. However, there are occasions when I find it best to call in a specialist. I’m breaking down the roles of interior designers and stylists and explaining how they work together to create a beautifully designed and styled room. Let’s start with the basics.
Interior Designers vs. Stylists: The Basics
So, what’s the difference between interior designers and stylists? Essentially, interior designers focus on the function and feel of a room while interior stylists dedicate their attention to dressing a space for a finished look.
Your interior designer will work with you from the project’s onset — creating initial mood boards, designing a functional floor plan, finding solutions for storage and flow, and selecting colors, finishes, furnishings, and accessories. Interior stylists come in at the last stages of a design project. While interior designers regularly do final styling ourselves, professionals know when to outsource the job to a styling specialist.
Stylists work with the elements chosen by the interior designer, adding a few things as necessary to pull together a curated look. For example, they may artfully organize open shelving, create an elegant tablescape, or carefully arrange fresh flowers on the kitchen island. While interior designers make a home livable, stylists make a home look polished.
What is an Interior Designer?
At the most basic definition, interior designers design interiors. We work among our team and other industry professionals to make the inside of our clients’ homes functional, beautiful, and safe for everyday living. Problem-solving is central to our role, finding ways to enhance flow, bring families together, and improve day-to-day life.
What Does an Interior Designer Do?
While many people think interior designers spend their days looking at pretty things and shopping (and we sometimes do), I say what we really do is design for comfort and better living. To do so, we get to know and understand our clients’ daily lifestyles and needs, right down to if they’re shower or bath people and how they take their coffee. Our main job is to translate our clients’ requests into beautiful design plans that will stand the test of time. Some of our services that go into a design or renovation project include:
- Design Consultations
- Project Management
- Spatial Planning and Elevations
- Lighting Plans and Fixture Selections
- Millwork, Cabinetry, and Built-in Specifications
- Color and Material Selections
- Custom Furniture Specifications
- Product and Accessory Procurement
- Coordinating with Industry Partners — Like Stylists
When to Hire an Interior Designer
Hire an interior designer when your room no longer functions for your needs or supplies the comfort a home should provide. You will want to bring an interior designer on early in the process when you need to reassess a room’s function or undergo a complete renovation. Interior designers will take you through the full design process, finding solutions for maximizing space, helping you define your style, selecting materials and furnishings, and securing any necessary vendors, tradespeople, and permits for your project.
What is a Stylist?
Stylists are specialized professionals who come in at the very end of the design process to ensure every detail is accounted for and create a picture-perfect home. Stylists work within an interior designer’s choices, taking the accessories they’ve procured and arranging them for maximum impact. Think of stylists as the icing on the multi-tiered design cake.
What Does a Stylist Do?
While interior designers may start work on a home before contractors even break ground, stylists don’t begin their job until the room is almost complete. Stylists come in to arrange the elements the designer has selected for the home — hanging art, placing accessories, and generally getting everything cleaned up and photo-ready. In many cases, stylists are only brought on for special needs, like preparing a home for a photo shoot or event. For example, they may rearrange accessories to be more appealing or bring in new elements like tableware or fresh flowers.
The Different Types of Stylists
- Interior Photo Stylist – styles a room to maximize photographic appeal.
- Accessory Stylist – helps curate collections and display items for maximum impact.
- Event Stylist – creates tablescapes and picture-perfect backdrops for special events.
- Commercial or Retail Stylist – styles commercial photoshoots or retail window displays.
- Set Decorator – assembles sets for movie and tv apartments or homes.
When to Hire a Stylist
If you are already working with a professional interior designer, they will choose to bring in a stylist if necessary, or they may already have one on their team. Stylists can help you prepare a home for photography and special events or enhance general aesthetics. If you already have a room you are happy with but need assistance bringing together your collection of objects, a stylist can help you curate a display.
How Interior Designers and Stylists Can Work Together
As a professional, I know when it’s best to hire a specialist who can do a better job than me. For example, I may bring in a stylist to set a client’s dining table for a high-end dinner party or purchase collectible pieces at auction. Or, I may consult a stylist after completing a design I want photographed for my portfolio. In that case, they will bring those added props like flowers and arrange things for the camera (which is very different from arranging things for real life). Additionally, if I’m working with a client who already has a vast collection, I may bring in a stylist to shift through the items and find the best spots for display within my design plan.
Why Specialities are Crucial to the Design Trade
Interior designers and stylists are just two of the many specialties within the design trade, and there is a reason we specialize in things as professionals. While I am well versed in structuring a room and selecting materials, you wouldn’t want me actually building your kitchen cabinets! I am here to connect you with the right carpenter, which is one reason why you get so much out of working with an interior designer. The same goes for styling. Stylists are specially trained in giving a room that final finishing touch, especially when it comes to bringing a space to life for photos and events. As a specialist in the design trade, I honor my role in the industry and know when to rely on other professionals to best serve the client.
Collaboration creates the best outcomes.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.