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Styling the Perfect Window Shot

It’s styling GIF time – where you get to see behind the curtain of what it takes to pull together one perfect shot, in this case for the book. I know it looks like we just go into a house and snap some photos with our iphone, but we set the camera up to each angle then style meticulously to that angle AKA styling to camera. Some houses we shot for the book were a lot easier from the get-go, and it was just about gzushing to camera. Where as some were a lot more difficult, where the architecture was great and the pieces were great, but everything needed to be rearranged to make the most compelling photograph for the page. So, we kept all these process shots mostly because I am a photo hoarder, but also to help show you how to do it (and to illustrate my obsession with styling).

Here is what the room looked like when we came in. All the elements were good – the window, table and chairs were all super pretty, but the space certainly didn’t feel as inviting or alive as we wanted it to be.


We take this before shot to frame it up, then once we are happy with the exact angle we get to work. Everything gets moved around a tiny bit at a time. For this shot we were looking for something more lived in and more relaxed. The style of the house is rather old-world-french with legitimate beautiful antiques and paintings so this wasn’t the time to be sparse or minimal. We wanted layers, depth and personality – represented in a bowl of cherries, apparently 🙂


Now you probably wouldn’t live everyday with all that on your desk, right? But for a shot to feel really welcoming, inviting and to give it a sense of ‘person’ (the true calling of a stylist) you accessories and personalize until you really feel like you know the person.

The painting obviously added that statement we needed. The second chair helped fill the foreground so it didn’t look so lonely. The art leaning in the window sill gave it the ‘Under The Tuscan Sun’ romance that never hurts. That table was pretty long and empty, so we dressed it with the combination of some real life things (books, computer, a mug, those cherries) and more pretty stylized pieces (that gorgeous blue bowl and the flowers). Then, to help balance the shot we added those branches in the vessel on the floor (which also echoed that rose-y tone we had going on). And to break up the back of those chairs we snuck on there a fringe-y throw that echoed the blues – but were a different tone so it didn’t look too art direction (ironic, eh?).


The End Result – a window office retreat, ready to write the next heart-throbbing romantic trilogy in. Actually, I’m not really even joking, the client who lived here is a writer and she did write Country Strong and Endless Love. So, maybe it just takes the perfectly styled window office to make you a wildly successful and creative person?

I know that a natural reaction is to say ‘but it’s all fake and why would I ever prop a random bowl of cherries on your desk in real life?’ and lets face it, you might not really have that there unless you were trying to sell an idea, a lifestyle or a person to someone. But hear me out: sometimes you want to sell that to yourself. I style my house all the time to look pretty for me, not just for photos or my guests, but because everyday I want to walk in and be like ‘Ooh, I want to be this person’. It’s all about composing the things you love in a way that tells your story. Some of us have more things than others and more complicated stories to tell. Just having the chair, table and the window wasn’t good enough. I didn’t want to be there and I didn’t want to be that person… and now I do.

In case you are looking for that “oh so romantic (and yet productive) office retreat”, we have pulled together this “get the look” for you to get you in the mood.


1. Coral Desk Chair | 2. Blue Turkish Blanket | 3. Gold Task Lamp | 4. Woman Painting | 5. Marble Footed Bowl | 6. Wire Basket | 7. Leather Journals | 8. Flowering Branches | 9. Farmhouse Table | 10. Blue Marbled Bowl | 11. Blush Pink Mug | 12. Seascape Painting

For more about the book, behind the scenes, and a few more peeks inside the pages look here: Book Title And Cover Options | The Real Book Cover | Behind The Book – Styling The Perfect Shot |Styled On Shelves Now

***Photography by David Tsay

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7 years ago

This is fresh and light and stunning and cozy all at the same time. Thank you for the encouragement to style for ourselves. I love beauty in my home, yet my practical side drowns out that need far to often. I’m going to press on an keep working to find the happy middle ground between the two.

Also, your tone in your posts is great! I love that your pep isn’t being brought down by constant stream of negative comments lately. Way to stay classy!

7 years ago

I love styling gif time!

Stacey W.
7 years ago

My question is about the larger context of the room/house. I can style the hell out of a little vignette like this, but how would this desk work for everyday within the room? Does that make sense?

I can get my end table to look great as a framed shot, but it can look really off when you start factoring in the whole room.

7 years ago
Reply to  Stacey W.


7 years ago
Reply to  Stacey W.

This post is about styling so we don’t get to see the whole room. I would definitely love to see this whole house. Such a tease!

7 years ago

I LOVE that painting. Y’all knocked it out of the park with this one. The photo itself is composed as a painting.

7 years ago


7 years ago

Oh – I love that space so much. Every single thing about it. My dream working space. Adore your styling and love the gif. Truly is a peek behind the scenes.

7 years ago

Just lovely. Also thank you….I thought your book was filled with all or at least most of the time images of how these homes looked with just a little help from you and your team.

7 years ago

Love the philosophy of styling for yourself in your own home. Something I’m hoping to convey to my readers in the long run. This space is really beautiful and I could work there all day!

7 years ago

You did a very beautiful job. Thank you for sharing.

7 years ago

These are all such amazing tips! We’ll definitely have to try them on our next shoot!


7 years ago
Reply to  Paige

Whoa that is beautiful. You should do this for a living.

7 years ago

Absolutely gorgeous! Love seeing how much is just in the styling.

What is your preferred way for dealing with moving artwork around in your styling? Do you just putty/plaster over holes a lot?

7 years ago
Reply to  Liss

I have the same question! That’s always one of those things I have wondered about.

7 years ago
Reply to  Liss

I thought the same thing when I saw the GIF!

7 years ago

WOW I’m amazed by what a difference your styling makes! Beautiful!

7 years ago

Love it. I am really intrigued by your take on “Country” spaces and styles. It feels so timeless! I can’t wait to see your guest bedroom…

7 years ago

I like that you address the why. I love your style and what you do from a purely artistic point of view, and I really appreciate that you take time to think about why you do it too.

7 years ago

The blog has been on fire lately!

7 years ago

Beautiful. Pictures and content! Thanks!

7 years ago

“Just having the chair, table and the window wasn’t good enough. I didn’t want to be there and I didn’t want to be that person… and now I do.” I don’t know… Quite a few studies recently have shown that being online and on social media often makes people feel depressed, precisely because of this kind of thinking. It’s always about comparing what we have against the contrived images we see online and wishing that we were somewhere else or living someone else’s life rather than valuing and enjoying our own. I totally appreciate your honesty- that this is about “sell[ing] an idea, a lifestyle or a person to someone.” I also appreciate that you show us these behind the scenes peeks so that we can see the sausage being made. And I’m not trying to pick on you in particular; this is more a reflection of a general weariness I’m feeling with design blogs. I think there are ways to inspire and teach people to live their best lives without sending the message that we should all be aspiring to be something else all the time, especially when that something else isn’t even real for the people or homes… Read more »

7 years ago
Reply to  Jen

I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t take Emily’s expressed ideas about styling the way you do. It’s not about wanting to be rich or to be something you’re not. It’s like an actor dressing for a role. If you want to be calm or confident or sexy or artistic or nurturing or intellectual, dressing to reflect that can effect your mood; so can styling your home. You still have to put in the work to write something or make art or be a strong mother or an accomplished businesswoman, but being able to imagine yourself in one of those roles is just a small tool that can help get you in the mood.

7 years ago
Reply to  Emily

You do a great job of showing both. Beautiful room and beautiful styling, by the way!

7 years ago

Love the “how to style” posts and gifs! Thank you, Em! xx

7 years ago

just want to put my two cents in–i love the way you think about a space. and as a former window dresser, i totally relate to your concepts & styling. btw i just got the book last weekend, pored over it all day sunday and spent most of yesterday re-doing the vignettes in my apartment. totally inspiring! thank you! 🙂

p.s. my husband who is an architect (and an interiors snob) completely digs your work as well. (and he is seriously hard to get a reaction out of).

7 years ago

How beautifully said! I used to buy things just to fill my house but now I buy things that put a smile on my face and at the same time tell a story about myself.

Thank you for being so inspiring.

7 years ago

I’m absolutely in love with this post and can’t wait to share it! Really awesome to see behind the scenes of a styling day. Can’t wait to try styling towards the camera!!!!

7 years ago

For me, this was the most helpful post you have ever written,,,and there has been many. I have never thought of things this way (creating a lifestyle vibe and so forth). I think for those of us that struggle with vignettes this would be a big help, to actually compose a picture. I may get off my couch and start now.

7 years ago

I love this post. I love seeing how it comes together and thinking behind it. I want to be in that room, working, thinking, and looking out the window. And, I agree. Staging is for selling or impressing. I would do it for me. Like Emily, I too want to walk into a room and say ahhh. I like being here and I want to stay here. I have rooms I close the door to and don’t want to go back in them. As for the cherries, they would be on my desk, in a pretty bowl and eaten with delight.

7 years ago

A bowl of cherries seems a reasonable thing to have on one’s deck while working – same with a pomegranate or some tangerines – or am I the only fruit bat?

7 years ago
Reply to  Liz

I’d eat ’em! Better than a bowl of popcorn, anyday!

I read your blog almost every day, but I rarely comment. Why not? Sorry! I loooove your blog: the personal posts and of course the makeovers! This little desk space is one of my favorite spaces that you’ve done (second only to that gorgeous Spanish house with the massive living room containing the large couches and that picture below a window). Keep up being awesome 🙂

7 years ago

the picture below the window in that house is one of my favorite design details *ever*!

Melissa Arnold
7 years ago

Ok, so I totally get that you style your house for you….just to be pretty. I do the same thing. Maybe everyone doesn’t, but I absolutely do. It really is never about what other people think….it really is all about the feeling that I get when I walk into the room. Most people don’t get it, but I do. Totally.

7 years ago

So, I have a question…how did you hang the large picture of the nude lady? Because after I hang something on the wall, I always want to just scooch it “A little to the left. Then a little up. Nope, that was too much. A little down…perfect!” Resulting in way too many holes. I noticed that you moved your picture around a bit…so how do you hang it without making multiple holes? Or maybe you did just make multiple holes, I don’t know. 🙂

7 years ago
Reply to  Amy Graham

I came back to this post hoping for an answer! Emily please- tell us your secrets of a stylist 🙂

7 years ago

Just watched that gorgeous GIF for a good ten minutes whilst listening to musical piano jazz. Simply wonderful. After a while you begin to notice the flowers wilting.

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