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The Insightful Beauty of Colin King’s “Arranging Things”

The interior stylist shares thoughts on his debut book with Rizzoli

Courtesy of Adrian Gaut

Oftentimes, the aesthetic influence of one object is only fully realized when it’s placed in dialogue with something else—whether that’s a series of complementary pieces or the atmospheric framing of empty space. An inspiring guide to accessing the beauty of the objects we display at home, Arranging Things is the debut book from acclaimed interior stylish Colin King. Written with Sam Cochran, the global features director of Architectural Digest, the recent Rizzoli release pairs artful visual references with intuitive insight culled from personal experience. Throughout, King provides compelling counsel—and makes clear that as one elevates their space through the arrangement of vignettes, they explore their relationship with every object therein.

Courtesy of Rizzoli

When you set out to create Arranging Things, what did you hope to offer readers?

My goal was really to demystify styling and to help people look at their home with fresh eyes and create a space for beauty by arranging the things that they love in unexpected ways. It’s about offering a fresh perspective on things. It’s also about sharing the joy I feel in the daily practice of arranging things. It’s not about buying new stuff. It’s about creating compositions and vignettes that change your relationships to the objects already around you.

What was your process like for brining this book together?

I thought it was going to be very intuitive. I don’t want to say “easy,” but I thought it would be a version of what I do for a living. It ended up being quite the process so I brought my dream team together. I sometimes have trouble differentiating the true from the false with my own work. It’s hard to see the work from an outside perspective because I am so in it.

I reached out to Sam. I love the way he can pull out exactly what you want to hear. I asked him to help me write the book that he would want to read and he did that. We were able to put vocabulary to a process that felt so intuitive to me. I brought on Javas Lehn, who is an incredible graphic designer and creative director. He had done the Kate by Mario Sorrenti book that sits on my coffee table. I love it—the font, the sensibility. I knew if I were ever to do a book, I would do it with him. All of my work is so collaborative. I find that if I can hire up and bring people around that I want to learn from, I get the best results. That’s what I did.

Courtesy of Rich Stapleton

You touch upon it in chapter five, but I’d like to begin with your use of light. You embrace natural light and the application of shadow.

It came from asking myself what I like about certain images. I would experience paintings, like those from Dutch masters, and I would ask myself “what is it that I am drawn to in these images?” It would always be the light. Even in non-photographic form, it was about how the artist captured light. It’s the first thing that I notice when I walk into a room, as well.

It corresponds to my dance background. As a dancer, we were never front lit, we were always side lit. We were always going in and out of the wings. When you are lighting multidimensional spaces, you always light from sides so that you can see the layering. With dance, there was this natural understanding of how light works and how it lends dimension and texture. I brought that with me into this field, as I transitioned from dancer to interior stylists. The best work captures a feeling. It’s an emotion. It evokes a mood. There’s a stillness, as well as a power that I try to achieve.

Courtesy of Adrian Gaut

Do you feel that the aesthetic of the book is a reflection of your aesthetic as a stylist?

I feel like it’s a moment in time. As a creative, I’m always pushing forward. I am always asking myself new questions and checking in on my intentions. I hope to always be evolving. I never want to be still. This book is a great representation of how my career started—but I hope it is the first of many books.

I don’t want to give the book’s secrets away, but you nod to the fact that styling should be a daily practice. Can you speak to me about what this means to you?

I don’t realize I am doing it. I have an intuitive need to change things, to move my surroundings. I go into a room and it’s almost a track that I fall into, something that’s guiding me. I realized this most when I was home alone in Brooklyn, during quarantine, as a single person. I made this promise to myself, that I would creative a still life every day. That was my job when I didn’t have much else to do. It became a meditative practice. It empowered me to see things in new ways. I was abandoning the intended use of objects: a pear became a sculpture, a vase because a pitcher. Objects became paint.

Courtesy of Adrian Gaut

You encourage people to accept constraints and utilize the power of emptiness. What would you say to a person who is a big collector?

I love collections. I went to Jack Winter Larson’s Long House in East Hampton. He was such a collector. The thing I will tell you about his collection is that it is all in incredible arrangements. Arranging things is not limited to one or two objects—or what I like to do with my own work. I want to encourage trial and error. Get in there and move your things around, even if your environment is maximalist.

Of course, there’s power in peeling away noise so that an object can be felt. As powerful as an object, is the space created around it; it almost makes a frame from the atmosphere. But for avid collectors, it’s about experiencing their objects in different ways.

In Arranging Things, you also speak about objects in dialogue with one another. Do you think people should take risks here?

I am such an advocate for just buying things you like. You don’t have to explain yourself. There should be no hierarchy to design. I collect rocks all the time and place them right next to a beautiful Japanese vase. I think there’s something interesting about forging relationships with all of these objects. One might lift one up, the other might balance both out. There’s a dialogue that can be created without having too much pretension around it.

Courtesy of William Jess Laird

What do you think your book cover conveys about what’s inside?

There’s a jacket which shows my home, which is my greatest teacher. I basically took all my learnings from years of styling and experiencing other peoples work in my space, all through trial and error. For the cover, I didn’t want to make any clients favored or feel less than others so it made sense to use my own place.

On the interior, there’s a small moment of objects that I made with Menu Space that just kind of shows a very simple arrangement. People can see that it’s step by step, small moment by small moment, that makes a home. It doesn’t need to be something grand.

Courtesy of Stephen Kent Johnson

Before Arranging Things, we had the opportunity to see your rug collaboration with Beni at Alcova during Milan Design Week. What drew you to Beni Rugs as a collaborator?

I admire them. They saw a niche in the industry in Marrakesh. It came from this very simple task where they were trying to select a Moroccan rug for their home but they couldn’t find the right size or color or design. They began to wonder “how do we keep this ancient craft but find people who can make rugs in the size and shape that we need, in the colors that we want.” This is what started it for them.

They are raising up their weavers, these talented women, paying them double the national average and giving them access to benefits, healthcare, childcare and transportation. They came to me and said “what would a rug collection look like if you designed it?” and I said “this” and gave them a series of designs. I saw something in them that I see in myself, this insatiable desire to create.

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