Two creative women make life more colourful through their interior styling and property staging work
Kate Alexander started her styling business, Places & Graces, on a whim. For the first two years she worked solo, with no real plan to hire staff or expand. Then, her second cousin Shelby George popped over from England on holiday, and Places & Graces found its first employee.
“When Mum said Shelby was going to visit and could do some work experience with me, I rolled my eyes,” says Kate.
“But when we met it was like meeting the sister I never had. We had so much fun, she taught me how to laugh, even in stressful situations.”
The duo worked so well together in Shelby’s first year that Kate employed her full-time and sponsored her to stay in New Zealand. “It was the best business and personal decision I’ve made,” says Kate.
Five years on, and the industrious team is better than ever; styling homes, staging property and inventing creative sets for magazine shoots.
What does a typical day look like for you and Shelby? No such thing. That’s what we love about it. Every day is different. I guess we have ‘types’ of days. A desk day is when we do creative and admin. We design, write proposals, order stock and plan. I love these days because that’s when we are in the studio, and I get to take a lunch break and wander down the main street.
A sourcing day is when we are out and about visiting showrooms and shops. These are fun because you see new things and get inspired and chat to shop owners.
A styling day is when we are meeting clients on site, staging a property or styling on set. These are busy and we don’t stop. They’re fun because we’re on deadline and the adrenaline gets going.
How do you and Shelby split your responsibilities? I make a creative mess, Shelby tidies up. I come up with hare-brained ideas and deliverables and Shelby makes it happen. We are yin and yang, so we both try to work on all projects. Shelby is trained in fabrics, and knows a lot about rugs, so she takes the lead on those. I love to write, so creative proposals and getting the ball rolling usually starts with me. It’s fluid and often depends on how busy we are. We love working together so we try to do the brain-draining work together to make it easier and the fun stuff together so neither misses out.
Talk us through your approach to styling. I’m a graphic designer by trade. All design projects start with a brief. Without it you have no boundaries, and you wander off target.
In editorial styling the brief is to ‘remember what you are selling’ – too many cushions or distractions and the viewer won’t see the couch you’re trying to entice them to love.
In property styling you’re selling the home – the vibe and lifestyle that the space offers. This has two layers; first is making sure the furniture and art are placed in ways that lead you naturally through the space and encourage you to sit and look at the view or show how large a room is. The second layer is about the story – pieces of sea glass that you’ve picked up after your walk on the beach and a pair of binoculars sitting on a table after you’ve watched the boats from the amazing view.
In interior design, it’s about creating a space that is exactly what the owner loves, but didn’t know quite how to create. You have to really get inside their head and figure out what they like, and don’t.
Styling is about story telling, vibe and mood. It’s about composition and using colour. It’s creative, but also quite scientific.
What’s something about property styling that no one tells you? That it is super physical, deadline focused and logistically challenging. There is as much science and planning as there is creative.
What’s the hardest part? Fitting it all in. When I walk into a house, I want to start right then and there. If I could find a way to work without eating, sleeping or going to the toilet I’d be in my happy place.
The most fun? Seeing the vision come to life. Sometimes that happens in a day and sometimes it can take a year.
What’s the trick to making a perfect bed? A Shelby. She’s the best bed-maker/styler. A bed that looks good is not one that’s been slept in. You need new and good-quality inners – especially pillows. We love coverlets as they cover and look fab. It also helps to have linens bigger than your bed (a reason we are not fans of king-size beds).
Can people visit you in your studio?
Absolutely. It’s where we have all our client catch-ups. Currently it’s appointment only, but we’re working to make it open on regular days. And when we add retail to our website (soon), it will be where you come to collect and browse.
Do you sell pieces? We have an annual pop-up shop in which we sell a good chunk of our styling collection. Sometimes our property styling clients choose to buy what we put into their homes. Our interior clients currently get first dibs on anything in our personal collection. We will be adding a curated range of new and vintage items to both our website and studio.
What’s your most interesting recent assignment? A client who runs a daycare called Vintage Kids. She takes a villa or bungalow and retrofits it as a daycare. It feels like you’re stepping into your nana’s home, food and toys included. We’re working on a new daycare. It’s going to be colourful and vintage – I can’t wait to see it come together.
You’re a colour queen. How do you approach it? My approach is experimental. I like to push the boundaries with colours one might not expect to see. The colours that appeal to me and I live with, are primary. Yellow and blue compete for first place, but my studio has a wall currently dedicated to tone-on-tone white.
A lot of the science is about what tone and hue you pick and where you use them. Not all colours work on a wall, but you can add them in furniture or an accent item. One of my greatest joys is seeing how happy clients are when they take a colour leap. They paint a wall or room in a tone or hue they wouldn’t have, and then are completely in love with it. A home filled with colours that make you happy is a joy.