It’s Colin King’s Tastefully Curated, Beige-Hued, Branch-Forward World. We’re Just Living In It.
If you were paying close attention, you might have noticed Colin King‘s slow creep towards ubiquity over the last five years. First came the styling credits for unabashedly chic interiors, like Giancarlo Valle’s New York apartment in Architectural Digest, or any number of the exactingly produced homes for Athena Calderone’s semi-viral book, Live Beautiful. Then came the brand work — styling for the likes of Anthropologie, Hay, and B&B Italia — and the collabs: a collection of small goods for the Danish brand Audo, a rug series for Beni, and a collection for West Elm, among others. But things really began to ramp up when King’s book, Arranging Things — a lavishly illustrated how-to guide to his own particular style — announced its 2023 release. By all accounts, a book by a stylist — normally a solidly behind-the-scenes job — is somewhat of a novelty. While those on the inside may be well-versed in the who’s who of creatives realizing magazine editorials and brand campaigns, rarely does someone break out and make themselves known in the mainstream. But King has achieved just that, thanks in part to a brilliantly curated Instagram presence, which begat a legion of devoted fans. His style has been described as meditative and intuitive, synonymous with Scandi-ish magazines like Cereal and Ark Journal: quiet, spare, and rife with negative space, sepia tones, and endlessly long shadows. Sort of like if Dutch Master still-lifes were restaged with Noguchi lamps and stoneware pottery.
Born on a dairy farm in Ohio and trained as a dancer in New York, King’s path was undeniably unconventional, leapfrogging from adjacent careers like estate management and content creation until he found himself styling photoshoots almost entirely by chance. But the move seemed almost preordained. Once he got his foot in the door, his career exploded and he was soon working for publications like AD, The New York Times, and Elle Decor, which quickly evolved into design gigs for brands like West Elm and Beni Rugs, where he remains artistic director. We sat down with King to find out exactly how he made it all happen: from training celebrities with Tracy Anderson, calling up The New York Times’s legal department to find out how to get published in T Magazine, to eventually launching his very own monograph earlier this year.
Scenes from King’s installation design for A Summer Arrangement: Object & Thing at LongHouse, photos © Adrian Gaut
Let’s start from the beginning. I know that you were trained as a dancer. But how did you find yourself in design?
The trajectory was definitely nonlinear. I grew up on a small working dairy farm in Ohio, and dance was my way out. It was this really beautiful art form that allowed me to learn a new language and express myself in a way where I didn’t have to use words. I got a scholarship to dance here in New York and went to a school called Marymount Manhattan College. But after graduating, life didn’t look the way I thought it would. It became really difficult to actually support myself with dance and to face the constant rejection of auditions. I was waiting tables and doing odd jobs trying to make a living.
I ended up moving to Los Angeles because I had an agent out there and began teaching. I would book small jobs, but again, life just felt really difficult as a struggling artist. I knew celebrity fitness instructor Tracy Anderson hired dancers, so I applied. She hired me and I threw myself into that, like I do everything.
She had a lot of high-profile clients, and being in those homes was my first exposure to design. From a little farmhouse in Ohio to a very small studio apartment in New York shared with three other roommates, I had never really been in the kind of spaces that I had seen in magazines. Working with Tracy for many years, my network just got bigger and bigger. A client asked me if I wanted to be her estate manager, and by 26, I was managing like seven homes all over the world. Many of those homes were being renovated, redesigned, or installed. I really got to see that process and build a visual language for interiors — how the client liked their flowers, how they liked their beds made, you know, all that kind of stuff.
After I left Tracy’s, I worked at a small interior design firm in LA. There, I was hired as a content creator. This was right on the cusp of when Instagram was becoming a marketing tool for businesses. So I would style, I would take the photos, and I would really just build out the visual narrative for the company. I moved back to New York in 2017 when they opened a little shop here, but the firm ended up going under. I went back to training clients; I didn’t really care what I was doing as long as I was just moving forward. I was training in the morning, but I was also freelance styling, producing different photoshoots and things like that. Then I went to work for Tom Delavan.
The design editor at T Magazine. How did you first meet Tom?
Funny enough, I went to a house in East Hampton, and I was like, “This is the most incredible house.” I had never seen anything like it. The sensibility was very inspiring to me. So I asked the homeowner, “If you were to ever publish this, where would it be?” And he responded, “T Magazine.” My first thought was, “What is T Magazine?” I didn’t even know what it was. I reached out to The New York Times’s legal department because I knew someone working there. I asked who I could pitch a story to, and the response I got was, “Yeah, Tom’s nearby.” So, about an hour later, Tom called me. Now, Tom is notoriously evasive and hard to get ahold of, but he told me, “Legal reached out to me and said you were looking for me.” I told him I had a story, he met me at the house, and he loved it.
Whose house was it?
It was Jack Ceglic’s house in East Hampton. He was the creative director of Dean & DeLuca. Afterwards, Tom asked me if I wanted a job. So I worked on the interior design business he has alongside his editor role at the Times. I worked as a junior designer for him for a couple of years, hustling really hard. Then I got in touch with Roman and Williams when they opened The Guild. I was able to help them develop their visual language. I’ve been working with them now for six years. And, yeah, then I got an agent and went freelance. Now the rest is kind of history. It feels like a four-year tour of styling all around the world for brands, editorial, and product design, among all sorts of things.
Selections from Arranging Things, from top: Interior by Giancarlo Valle © Stephen Kent Johnson; interior by Green River Project © Victoria Hely Hutchinson; © Stephen Kent Johnson. Bottom photo King’s Tribeca apartment © Rich Stapleton
What would you pinpoint as your first official styling job?
There was a photographer I had met in LA. He called me and said he was hired for a web story on AD, but they didn’t provide him with a stylist. This was in 2018, and I thought, okay, what’s a stylist? He told me to just go to the flower market. And I was like, what’s the flower market? So I went to the bodega and got some ranunculus. And that’s how I ended up with the styling credit. They never commissioned me; it was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
In the past, books by interior stylists haven’t been particularly common. How did Arranging Things finally come about? Whose idea was it?
A book was something that wasn’t even on my radar. I was never actively seeking any of this out. People told me I was a stylist, and I just leaned into that and followed the next opportunity. In my Instagram bio, I had written “arranging things,” because I had a hard time explaining to people what I do; even my parents still don’t fully understand. Then this woman, Carla, cold-emailed me. She said, “Hey, I’m a literary agent. I think you should write a book. I think it should be called Arranging Things. Let me know if you’re interested in meeting, and I can pitch this to a few publishers.” That’s how it all started. So, strangely, that was the easy part. The challenging part was trying to figure out what my actual process was.
© William Jess Laird
© William Jess Laird
King’s Tribeca apartment © Rich Stapleton
© Adrian Gaut
© William Jess Laird
How would you describe your process now?
I love starting with a palette because it helps me zero in on the narrative and the story I’m going to tell. So, even when designing or styling an interior, I focus on what the palette will be. I believe it informs everything else. When I create a mood board, I look at fashion, texture, materials, nature — everything. Ultimately, the best images for a mood board are the ones that evoke feelings. I ask myself, what am I trying to capture with this picture? Is it a sense of melancholy, longing, belonging, or something else? Usually, a million things inform the mood of what we’re trying to capture. It might be a specific quality of light in a picture, or a composition that I love. Then, I create a collage-like idea to communicate with the other creatives I’m working with, whether we’re trying to create a campaign or an image.
You’ve been working as a designer for brands like West Elm and Beni Rugs. How do you apply the things you’ve learned in styling to the process of creating objects? What was that learning experience like?
It happened quite organically. My first venture into product design was with Beni Rugs. I had styled a photo shoot for the company, and I had established a great rapport with the founders. Since this is a people-oriented business, the connection was vital. It began with a question: “If you were to design…” The first collection I designed for them was actually quite the opposite of what I’d have in my own home. I named it The Shape of Color, featuring color fields inspired by mid-century artists. My approach was almost editorial, similar to how I’d work with other brands, companies, and designers. As a stylist, I would essentially be left with whatever’s at the end of the process. But being involved from the ground up, considering not only functionality but also marketing strategies and how the piece would fit into various settings, has been a tremendous gift.
Of course, there have been challenges along the way. It’s a journey with ups and downs, hitting a few home runs out of numerous attempts. Yet, it’s crucial to stay in a constant creative mode. There have been instances where I realized I needed certain objects that weren’t being produced by existing companies — smaller objects, for instance. Here in America, everything tends to be large, lacking nuances and variations in scale. Companies hesitate to make smaller-sized items due to margin concerns. However, this journey has also allowed me to pinpoint gaps in the market. It’s been a process of field learning, learning on the go, and gaining foresight by styling ahead of time — much like the fashion industry. I can distinguish lasting pieces from trend pieces, thanks to experience. It’s been an incredible learning journey, a test of sorts, learning from the best in the field and observing what’s out there, all through practical experience on set.
Selections from King’s Beni Rugs collection, A Study on Balance, © Billal Tairught
Do you ever find yourself drawn to the idea of working within a different style, or surprising people with a completely different aesthetic one day?
Absolutely. Aesthetics and style, I mean, they’re like being a human being — we all evolve and change. My style now isn’t what it was when I was 18, 25, 30, even 33. It’s constantly evolving through experience, travel, and exposure to new things. I’d love to explore different styles. As artists, there can sometimes be resentment when people try to pigeonhole you, or when they only associate you with a certain brand. It’s about more than just the brands; I have the capability to do various things. Displaying range and having a spectrum is crucial. People might be surprised — I love maximalism. It’s incredibly challenging to execute well, so I tend to avoid it because I haven’t mastered it yet. But observing designers who have a rich history and an affinity for living with numerous things is inspiring. It’s like looking at a mountain I plan to climb someday.
Is there any advice you would offer to someone aiming to break into the industry?
Of course, everyone possesses an eye, and that eye can be honed and evolve over time. For a young person stepping into this world without a portfolio, I think it’s really important to get quiet and find what it is that makes you come alive. When I lacked a body of work, I’d pull out my phone, whether on a city stroll or a museum visit, to pinpoint what truly captured my interest. I’d ask myself what I’m drawn to, how can I communicate with everyone else how I see the world. Even through this little iPhone camera, I found that that was really useful for me. I would go to The Met and look at all these beautiful masters but I would actually really be drawn to, like, the stanchions in the corner. Or how a drape falls onto the floor. Things that were unstudied — like how people would get up from a table and just leave it. I would never be able to create that. I think photography is an invaluable tool; it’s such an important way to be able to communicate. Ultimately, find your avenue to convey your perspective. Whether through photography or other mediums, it’s about translating how you perceive the world.
Studio visits were enlightening too. I love seeing artists at work, especially young artists. There are some ceramicists who have huge careers now that I remember DMing in 2019 saying, “Hey, can I come rob your kiln? I need some stuff for AD.” So community is super important. Find people that are like-minded, because ultimately, your community will be the ones that support you. •
King’s installation design this summer at Demisch Danant, © William Jess Laird
A Summer Arrangement, photos © Adrian Gaut
Obscura for Beni Rugs
© Adrian Gaut
Interior by Giancarlo Valle, photo © Stephen Kent Johnson
Hotel Escencia by Giancarlo Valle
King’s Tribeca apartment, © Rich Stapleton
© William Jess Laird