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How to Style Your Kitchen Like a Pro

black and white transitional kitchen
Photo credit: Studio Dearborn

Photographing Your Kitchen

Since the kitchen is the soul of the home, it’s not surprising that we find ourselves taking kitchen pics and posting them online. Judging from Instagram, it seems like the kitchen may be one of the most photographed rooms in the house.

As an interior designer who specializes in kitchens, I photograph a lot more kitchens than most. After all the measuring for custom cabinets, adding hidden storage to every available inch, and working with my client to create a new look they’ll love, I want to capture the final details.

But my kitchen photography and staging skills went to a whole new level late last year when a team from This Old House came out to shoot my home kitchen. After years of having a ho-hum kitchen, we remodeled it into a pretty amazing modern farmhouse space with all kinds of hidden storage, mismatched cabinetry, and a built-in wet bar.

this old house photo team
This fabulously well-prepared and fun photography team from This Old House includes @ellenmcdermottnyc, @bridget.sciales, and @jvdesignstyle.

Taking great kitchen shots isn’t too difficult; it’s a matter of prepping your kitchen and then styling. Follow these steps and your kitchen will look great in photos, whether you’re taking them for fun or to put your home on the market.

Getting Started

Stage 1: A Couple of Weeks Before…

1. Let the sun in. One of the best ways to do this is by having the windows cleaned before the photos are taken. It’s a pain, but you won’t believe the difference it makes. And while you’re at it, leave the screens off the windows during the photos. Did you know removing the screen lets in 40 percent more natural light?

A bright red Le Creuset pot, bowls of fresh fruit, white vases filled with one type of plant, and a stack of white plates are kitchen staging classics. Photo credit: Studio Dearborn

2. Clean everything. Photos are a good incentive to clean the house from top to bottom. That means the tops of the appliances, the baseboards, the fingerprints on the doors, and the drawer handles. I also had my upholstery and carpets cleaned in the whole house. Nothing like people with cameras to get you to do the deep cleaning you’ve been putting off.

3. Declutter ruthlessly. Whether you use Marie Kondo’s spark joy method or just cull things you haven’t used in a year, make a sweep through the kitchen. Bag up everything you don’t need and share with friends or donate them to a local charity and let someone else love them.

4. Remove personal items – just for the photo. Just as you would if you were staging for an open house, take down your personal items like family photos, kids’ artwork, and school papers. Even though the feature is about your home, you still want viewers to see themselves there. But skip this step if the way you display these items is the focus of the story.

5. Pre-style shelves. And if you have shelves with decorative items, like vintage tins, copper cookware, or baskets, arrange similar items in groups, to create vignettes. Add a few items that contrast with the color of the wall or the back of the shelf – these will pop in photos. And if you have glass-front cabinets, make sure everything in the front row matches.

open shelving sarah's kitchen
Grouping like items and repeating your accent color will give your shelves and the rest of your kitchen a pulled-together look. Photo credit: Studio Dearborn

Stage 2: Style Your Kitchen

Once you’ve done these basics, it’s time to start the fun part: Styling. On the day of the shoot, the magazine’s photography and styling team pulled up in a small car. It reminded me of that clown car in the circus, except this one was packed with enough props to fill a small housewares boutique. The car was so full, that it looked like they were moving in. Here’s some of what they brought to style my modern cottage kitchen:

  • Artsy handmade cutting boards or ones with a mix of marble and wood
  • Live-edge wooden bowls, like these from World Market
  • Olive wood bowls
  • Copper pots and bowls — they brought copper Moscow Mule cups from West Elm
  • Serving trays in neutral colors
  • Table cloths and napkins in neutral cotton, flax, or linen
  • Stainless steel pots that are perfectly shiny
  • Colorful Le Creuset or Staub cookware in red or blue
  • A glass pitcher and clear basic glassware
  • A clear bottle of water
  • A stack of white dishes

Stage 3: Add Food and Flowers

Placing food around the kitchen will add eye appeal (we eat with our eyes), and give your kitchen that lived-in look as if the residents just stepped away for a moment.

Adding fresh food and flowers is the final step of staging your kitchen for photos or a real estate open house; it can feel a bit sterile without them. Photo credit: Studio Dearborn

No room is fully dressed without flowers, so add a cylinder vase with one type of flowers or greenery and place it on the kitchen counter or island. I don’t always do this, but stylists prefer opaque vases so the stems don’t show. Choose sculptural flowers like calla lilies, Asiatic lilies, sunflowers, tulips, hydrangea, or eucalyptus branches.

Bowls of bright green Granny Smith apples and lemons are my go-to’s, I’ve also used acorn squash and seasonal veggies. For my shoot, the designers chose strawberries, with some in a bowl and others sprinkled on a cutting board. They also like small cutting boards with cheese and crackers.

With these kitchen photo styling tips and a prop shopping list, you’ll be ready to stage your kitchen for a real estate shoot or your Instagram.