My 12 Styling Essentials

I’ve been meaning to write this post FOREVER. I have so many go-to’s, or styling essentials, things that I buy and re-buy, and the world simply must know about them.  So here goes … As a stylist you do a million different styles of jobs at the same time. One might be a interiors shoot for Good Housekeeping and the next might be a Anthropologie ad, but regardless you need a lot of good cheap “filler” — those pieces that don’t necessarily stand out, that aren’t show stoppers, but are inexpensive, accessible, and available. They add texture and depth in the places, or dare I say “moments” where they are much needed. These 12 pieces are pieces that I have bought so many times IT’S CRAZY. If you go up to my portfolio and click through (and look closely) you’ll see a lot of them. Let’s break it down.


1. West Elm Martini Table, $149. Every stylist’s best friend. I’ve bought the white and the gold both probably five times. They are perfect for next to a credenza, as a floating cocktail table, under a sofa table to fill that empty space, in the foreground so the shot has more depth. They are simple enough that you don’t really notice them, but they have a shape that is interesting (as opposed to a straight up and down cylinder).

2. Ikea White Racka Curtain Rod, $4.99. I used this less as a stylist because normally for styling you tape the curtain to the wall, you know, with gaffer tape. Which is why when I started designing I truly had no idea what the rules were to hanging drapery. Well now I do and I have learned that unfortunately they can be as expensive as all of Paris Hilton’s Burkin bags combined. Especially if you have like five windows in a room. So I took the risk once and used this rod and white ring set, and I’m telling you, it’s awesome. So cheap, so clean, so simple, and so far none of them have broken.

3. Ikea Sheepskin, $29.99. The amount of chairs I’ve thrown this over is stupid. But it just softens something hard so fast. It adds texture without adding pattern and warmth without color. It’s just good.

4. Ikea Ribba Frame (square), $19.99. I like the whole Ribba line, but the square one has a larger profile and the art sits in the back of the frame with the glass at the front, making it look custom framed. It looks so high end for $20. It’s my favorite go-to frame.

5. Gold Rhino, Dwell Studio, $35. I’ve technically only bought two of their gold animal menagerie; they have a horse, antelope, giraffe, and elephant. But I use shapely animals all the time for the sculptural, and yes, glamorous effect.

6. Ikea linen pillow, $12.99.  So simple and in a lot of ways unexciting, but I keep buying them because they look pretty (very textural linen), are a good size, and perfect to put a bright, poppy, patterned pillow in front of it. And the ties make it look more expensive for some reason.

7. West Elm Mongolian Sheep Pillows, $59 – $139. Again with the texture. These suckers aren’t cheap, but for some reason I can’t not throw them in a shot. They reflect the light so beautifully, look rich and luxurious, without sparkles or shine, and again add texture and depth without pattern or high contrast. It’s the perfect quiet “moment” — of which I own two myself because that sheep is very cuddleable.



8. LampsPlus Robert Abbey Lamp, $166.91 Great shape, scale, and size. It doesn’t steal the show, but it’s not boxy and boring. It could be for someone traditional or modern, so it’s just kinda a good extra option for a pretty lamp that every editor likes. I just used it again last week and was reminded that it is the perfect scale/height for most situations. Perfect for nightstands or side tables and it looks handmade and pretty, when its really only $160.  (P.S. if you click on the link and get a bunch of question marks like I do, open it up in Safari or Explorer — for some reason their site has bugs with Google Chrome).

9. CB2 Marta Glasses, $1.95/each.  Every dishwasher’s (and Brian’s) worst nightmare. These things can’t wait to break. It’s like they have a contest on the shelf before you buy them which one will break first and potentially dismember or de-thumb a husband. I’m technically not allowed to buy them anymore because we are just constantly picking up the glass. But they are just so god-damn pretty because they are so thin. They are modern, simple and terribly cheap. When I grow up, I will have them, but until now I just buy them for shoots.

10. Ikea Eivor Throw, $19.99. This one has more contrast and doesn’t necessarily “go away,” but what about when you need to effortlessly throw a blanket in a basket next to the roaring fire? Or fold a blanket on the top of a bench next to a stack of books? I love this blanket and have found myself buying it over and over again. It’s graphic, simple, and cheap.

11. West Elm White Lacquer Trays, $24 – $69. They come in a million colors and sizes, but I’m partial to the white or small rectangle. Nothing special about this tray other than it’s simple, functional, graphic, cheap, and available. At times I’m even sick of it, but then I find myself buying it again because it’s so god-damn necessary.

12. Container Store lacquer boxes, $7.99 – $19.99. Again with the simple, nondescript, and graphic. Perfect for shelf/coffee/console styling to put next to the more decorative pieces. Every shelf needs some simple boxes to kinda fill it out. The white ones totally go away, and the hot colors are super poppy and graphic. I have an arsenal of these in my prop closet ready for that sad lonely credenza.

So there you are, folks.  The real question is what of these things do you also have? I’m sure i’m not alone here, so let’s here ‘em.

  1. Ana

    I love that your styling essentials don’t break the bank! :) And so happy I have 5 of them in my home. Yay! Have a nice weekend!

    • Emily

      5 out of 12 is amazing, right? it just goes to show. These companies better not stop making these things. xxx

  2. This is such a great post, Em! I’ve had that same Ikea sheepskin for years, and I also use it ALLTHETIME in photo shoots. That thing can do no wrong.

    Also, I want that rhino.

    • Emily

      Buy the rhino, lesley. It’s $35 and you won’t regret it. Also, ‘hi’. We were talking about you the other day. :) All good things.

  3. Susan

    Love this post! I’m working on decorating my new home, so styling pieces that don’t break the bank are essential. I think that the curtain rod that is shown is actually the Skuggig from Ikea though, and I can’t seem to find it on their site anymore. Any other suggestions for cheap curtain rods? I can’t bear to pay some astronomical amount for a piece of metal that no one is going to notice anyway. Thanks!

    • Emily

      their other white one is equally as good. same rod, just different bracket and totally great. the point is they are cheap, white and totally worth it!

  4. Laura

    Such a good post! I have a few of these items and a bunch more on my wish list so I’m probably about to spend some money right now after reading this. I’m a sucker for any animal decor, especially when it’s gold!

  5. Julie bee

    Thanks for sharing!! Have been wondering about the white frames. ;)

  6. Billy

    Thank you for the source of that martini table. I’ve been OBSESSED with it and I just saw they had a tomatoey red one too. And that curtain rod is totally mine next trip to IKEA.

    If you ever need some inexpensive not breakable tumblers, Target has 4 packs of libby brand tumblers for I want to say $2.49. straight up and down lines, and I think we’ve managed to only break 2 in the couple years we’ve had them.

    And I manage to break a lot of things.

    • Emily

      Very good to know about the Libby glasses. Brian will be very glad to know that. I’ll check them out. xx

  7. Carlos

    I bow down to your expertise and generosity!

  8. Cathy

    I had similar thin wine glasses from crate and barrel that broke when you looked at them wrong. But god were they beautiful. Most of them managed to last through 2 moves but it took a male roommate to take down the rest of them.

    Looks like I’ll be going to Ikea this weekend for drapery hardware!

    • Emily

      I just bought two super thin super beautiful stem glases from Crate and Barrel for me and brian to drink out of. Just 2. Like what am i, in college? i just couldn’t bare to spend $10 a glass when i know i’ll shatter them immediately.

  9. Raquel

    Love the ikea sheepskin! Also the West Elm Lacquer tray… I have one in a sort of Hermes orange…. it has been styled in every room of my place by now. Bathroom, bar, living room, bedroom, kitchen… works everywhere

  10. Elise

    The Ribba frames from Ikea are awesome! I love all their frames, actually. SO crazy cheap. I like to sneak into Ikea through the exit in order to avoid the floor where you have to walk through all the rooms. I just swim upstream, grab some frames, and am out in less than 10 minutes. Next time though I have to find that striped blanket!!!

  11. Kyle

    Does the stool have a good weight to it for being lightweight?

    • Emily

      Yep. I think that kids can knock it down if they try (i’ve used it in kids houses because i figured it was ‘kid friendly’ being round and not fragile), but its not crazy heavy or light – kinda in between.

  12. Just read your post today, the day after I happened to come home from Ikea with that striped throw. (Unfortunately $30 in Canada!). But I thought to myself, how on earth am I going to decide which room to put this in? It goes with everything!

  13. LaineyR

    Why do we not have West Elm in the UK? Why, oh WHY? We can order over the internet but it’s not the same as browsing in an actual shop. You guys are so lucky!

  14. Eagle Eye

    Oof, the Mongolian Lamb throw in White – the smallest one would be perfect for my colorful, patterned re-upholstered wingback, that desperately needs some texture… but, I’m pretty sure my poor boyfriend would rebel, he’s not a huge fan of furry things, especially when they’re $60 pillows and we’re broke grad students.


  15. Mary

    Emily, you need to write a book!! Your ideas are fantastic and your writing style is informative but funny and easy! I hope that you are currently working on a book project. Thanks!

    • Chelsea

      I agree with Mary! I would definitely buy your book!

      • Emily

        AHH, I am, guys. Its slow, but its my new years resolution to be pretty far into it (sounds vague, but ‘finishing’ sounded too unrealistic) by the end of the year. Thanks so much. xx

  16. What a great list! I have an idea for a future blog post that i would love some guidance on: How to style the top of a piece of furniture. I have what I think is called a gentleman’s chest or dresser that is about 5’5″ tall. So not tall enough to ignore and not short enough to see something small or detailed that is set up there. Over the years, i’ve tried a million different things (vases, books, picture frames) and it all looks blah. (Also I have an old school TV that has to sit up there which definitely makes it more of an eyesore than it would be normally.) Just something for you to consider blogging about…

  17. Tara

    So, Ikea with a sprinkle of West Elm and Target…great to know!! Now I gotta get shopping! Thanks, great post, actually all your posts are great, love reading them :) Tara

  18. I have a few of these! I love my black and white throw. I like that most of these are very affordable, but help achieve that high-end ‘finished’ look. Thanks for the great tips as usual Emily!

  19. Saint Louis doesn’t have a West Elm (or CB2 or Z Gallery or much else…) but I ordered 2 of the Martini side tables for the Bachelor Pad I just did. I also got knock off Dwell brass animals at Target for $10 but had to return them. Apparently straight guys don’t like animal figurines. Who knew?

    • Emily

      Thats hilarious. the amount of times i’ve tried to put animal sculptures in dudes houses is plenty as well. It doesn’t make sense if you like animals why don’t you like these? but i guess they are innately ‘decorative’ which is innately not that ‘dude’. xxx

  20. Jo in NZ

    Your blog is the business. I love it.

    • Emily

      Thank you thank you. :)

  21. Michele

    Another helpful and accessible set of tips. You are so awesome to share your knowledge in your blog. I would also LOVE to have it all consolidated in a gorgeous book. Yes, please!

    • Emily

      Its coming! thanks, xx

  22. Sarah

    A gazillion votes for a book, right here! Everything you do makes my heart sing. I may be slowly changing my entire house into navy, gold, white, and pink…

  23. heather

    The Robert Abbey lamp!!!! I love it so much and have it in a peacock blue. It comes in soooo many pretty and vibrant colors. They remind me of ring pops!!!! I also have the West Elm tray in a goal leaf color on my coffee table (love it!). I’m ordering the elephant version of the Dwell sculpture in gold (or maybe white? or silver?) for my nursery that I”m working on (very subtle elephant theme going on in the room). Not on your list, but an item that I love and keep buying for different rooms are the west elm glass boxes with the black framing. They come in different sizes and i have matches from my fave restaurants in one, corks in one, pearls and pretty jewelry in another, shells/sea glass in one in the bathroom, etc. I love them so much. Such a great way to keep a collection organized and curated! Great post!

    • Emily

      Good call re the glass boxes, i have one, too. It was just getting so west elm heavy but man that company does accessories right.

  24. gwendolyn

    thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! my problem is i’m always drawn to the really amazing standout pieces with pattern and color, but have trouble buying the neutral accessories that are so key. i really appreciate this and love how you really share your process on here. unlike a lot of blogs that just show beautiful and inspiring images, you actually help us figure out how to do stuff. :)

    • Emily

      Yeah, that makes me feel VERY good. Thank you thank you.

  25. Melissa

    Thank you Emily! Such great help and ideas.

  26. This is mega helpful. Thank you! I always think I know what to do with stuff but it never comes out right….a few of these items would go a long way! Even better – I already own a few :) Thanks again!

  27. patty blaettler

    Great post.
    Ribba frames, check.
    ikea sheepskin, check.
    black & white striped throw, not yet..but soon.
    I, too, will buy your book.

  28. Love this post & the tip on the Ikea curtain rod is SO key. Target now has brass menagerie animals (elephant, lion, rhino, which looks JUST like this one so now I’m a little afraid it was a “copy” but oh well…) – I have all three at $10 each! Perfect for adding a little brass to my desk and bookshelf styling :) Now I have to go buy that Ikea sheepskin. Gah!

  29. Julie

    almost bought the white lamp last week. now I kinda sorta have to, don’t I? ;)

  30. Ashley

    I love these styling posts! I’m a visual merchandiser for a furniture company and have started styling for our photo shoots. I love it! I think I’ll have to pick up the sheepskin and tray for my next shoot. Your tips have been so helpful. Thanks!

  31. Jennifer

    OMG. The Martini Side Table. World Market had one just like the West Elm version for about $40 less and I wanted it so bad. But we had just moved and had no money, etc. Now that I am ready to buy it, I can’t find it ANYWHERE!! And, of course, I don’t want any other side table, but that one. =) So, we are side table-less until it returns, or I save up enough for the West Elm version!

  32. Alisa

    Is that IKEA curtain rod capable of being BENDY (but in a good way… like bendable without snapping)? Have you ever tried it? I’m imagining it’s made of a material (aluminum?) that is easily bent… but then perhaps also prone to breaking. I’m thinking of trying it for a bay window with a really small angle (approx 25 degrees), so no crazy 90 degree bends or anything. Think it could do it?

  33. Great post!! As much as I try to stay away from IKEA, I just keep coming back. Totally agree on all your picks from there. I would also add one to the list…vintage books! Sometimes nothing does the trick like a big old stack of hard cover cloth bound vintage books.

  34. LOVE the Ribba line, have the sheepskin throw as well, and covet the martini table and mongolian pillow. i also really like the lamp. What’s great is that the pieces you use in your styling as accent pieces can kind of subconsciously ‘make’ the space for the viewer. you are good at what you do girl!

  35. West Elm trays & pillows, plus Ikea frames & sheepskins are my go-to’s too. Love the list… need to check-out the lacquer boxes. Love those! Thanks for sharing. :)

  36. Angel Li

    Im surprised at all the ikea… i gotta go there now.

    I wish you could come to our new apartment in Beijing, China…It’s new like just built new. It’s big beautiful completely clean palate… and we don’t know what to do with it. Come help! :)

    thanks for these great posts… it helps.

  37. Monika

    I’m laughing, loudly, as I was in Manhattan on Wednesday and, of course, I went to CB2. I was with the husband and quickly zeroed in on the Marta glasses. Proposition: We get rid of all other glasses and just have, say 40, of these. Husband was intrigued, picked one up and, while looking at it–literally!–broke it, right there, in the store. Sooo, we didn’t get them. But I love them and have one in my bathroom so I can look at it and touch it lovingly, away from the hub’s hands.

  38. Julia R

    so well written! enjoyed it.

  39. kirsta

    great post. i love that your styling essentials are so budget friendly. your work is beautiful!

  40. Meri

    Emily – you are such a little beam of light! Your TV show is great and so is this blog. Thanks!

  41. Lori

    I went to the Dwell Studios page to look around because I haven’t in a while. I can resist the rhino, but I’m starting to think there’s very little chance of me not buying the white elephant. The amount of need I feel looking at it is a little ridiculous.

  42. Great list. Loving that lamp and throw. I’ve been wanting a black/white stripe throw but didn’t know where to find a good one, so thanks.

    So much stuff from West Elm has found its way into my house that I feel like I should shop other places. But I can’t help myself. I love that store.

  43. Alisha

    Emily – love your blog…obviousily! I saw this craigslist ad for set of brass (2 feet tall!) swans, and thought of you. I just had to share, since you gravitate toward shapely animals!

    (PS…I have no idea who the seller is, so this is not a recommendation!)

  44. AH amazing post, Emily. I agree with everyone else… I have trouble remembering the basic stuff and only end up with a bunch of random show-stopper pieces. This is such a great list! Thanks for sharing, gal.

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  47. I am just eagerly waiting for the download links.

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