Prop styling is a little bit like industrial design only in that some of its best practitioners never even realized it was a career until after they’d finished school. Such was the case with Rebecca Bartoshesky, an up-and-coming New York prop stylist who studied interior design at FIT. “After working in firms for a while, sitting at a computer 9 to 5, I wanted to switch it up, but I didn’t even know prop styling existed as a career until maybe four years ago,” Bartoshesky told me over the phone on a cozy winter day last month. “I’d be looking at these beautiful photographs, mostly in blogs and magazines — this was before Tumblr or Pinterest or any of those things — and suddenly it hit me that there was a person behind the scenes working with the photographers.” Bartoshesky began cold-calling stylists she admired and spent a few years assisting. Now she’s ready to break out on her own.
We discovered Bartoshesky through one of our new photographers, Pippa Drummond, who worked together on a project we featured earlier last year as well as on some of the other tests and still-lifes that you can see on Bartoshesky’s portfolio site. The two collaborated on the shoot at right as well: a look into Bartoshesky’s own home, the stylist’s ultimate canvas. “In my apartment, everything has its place,” she says. “It’s been meticulously thought out and placed.” But a sense of composition, she says, is something you have to cultivate within yourself. “You can’t really learn it. You can see where another stylist has placed something but a lot of it is in your own head. One of my first jobs was working in a furniture store where I grew up in Maryland, and I would do vignettes or floral arrangements. So pretty much every thing I’ve been doing since I was 16 is about placement or where things should go. The thing with interior design is that sometimes you’re working on the same project for two or three years. With styling you can create a beautiful image within a day or a week and move on to something else.”
The Auckland-born, New York City–based photographer Pippa Drummond is Sight Unseen's newest soon-to-be contributor, but when we were first introduced to her photography, it was the low-key but lovely portraits and coolly moody interiors that caught our eye. We had no idea at the time that she had this hiding in her portfolio. Above (Series 1) is a collaboration with prop stylist Rebecca Bartoshesky, and it reminds us a bit of Carl Kleiner’s Ikea cookbook photographs (which is interesting, considering Drummond’s other passion is food — she's got a cookbook of own in the works, and she assisted on the Amagansett-based shoot for Gwynnie’s latest. Yes, we ARE jealous). But the organized clutter here isn’t pantry staples but rather cheapo salon items that Drummond and Bartoshesky have turned into something almost beautiful.
Faye Toogood, the London-based interiors stylist and creative consultant, has designed exhibition stands for Tom Dixon, windows for Liberty, displays for Dover Street Market, and sets for Wallpaper. But in all of her career, she’s had only one job interview. At the tender age of 21, having just graduated from Bristol University with degrees in fine art and art history, Toogood was called for an interview with Min Hogg, legendary founding editor of the British design bible The World of Interiors. “I had found out about a stylist job and decided I would go for it, even though I didn’t even know what that meant,” says Toogood. “I went in and it was the strangest thing. She asked me, ‘Can you sew, and can you tie a bow?’ I actually couldn’t sew, so I lied and when I got the job, I had someone do it for me.”
Despina Curtis is in her early 30s, and yet when she talks about her college days, it sounds a bit like one of those stories your grandparents tell about having to walk shoeless through the snow to get to school every day. Curtis studied printed textile design at the University of Manchester, and it was only when she left that the program’s first-year students were beginning to use digital design and printing tools — she had to do everything analog, even when it came to her eventual focus on huge 6-by-6-foot canvases layered with painting and screenprints. And yet, unlike hyperbolic ancestral poverty tales, hers had an obvious upside: All that drawing and hands-on work primed her for her current career as a stylist for the likes of Wallpaper and Casa Da Abitare.