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Styling a Story with Margaret Zainey Roux

New Orleans-based Lifestyle Journalist and Interiors Stylist MARGARET ZAINEY ROUX has an eye for detail and a fresh approach to styling. 

Her storied career has led her to collaborate with some of the country’s most celebrated interior designers and publications from Louisiana to Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and New York. Her unique approach to styling is intimately connected with her work as a writer, drawing her towards pieces that tell a story. Speaking of stories, she is also known for a number of her published projects in magazines including Traditional Home, Southern Home, and New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles. Read on as Margaret Zainey Roux shares the inside scoop on her best-kept secrets, upcoming projects, work methods, and insight into her editorial process. 

 

1. Tell us about your origins and how you became an interior stylist.

I’ve been obsessed with all things design since childhood. According to my mother, I would spend hours rearranging the furniture in my old-school Victorian dollhouse and even begged her to let me repaint the walls and add wallpaper! In college. I studied interior design but ultimately switched gears and earned my degree in journalism. I have so many passions: travel, art, fashion, and entertaining, just to name a few. As a writer, I can immerse myself in those worlds and in the design world as well. After graduating, I was chosen for a post-graduate editorial internship with Coastal Living magazine which was an invaluable experience for me. Upon completion, I had done a little bit of everything and loved it all so I started scouting, writing, and styling on a freelance basis for various shelter magazines.

Through those projects, I met and collaborated with so many talented (and busy) interior designers and I am blessed to have forged many incredible working relationships and friendships with some of them. Beyond those shoots, I have continued to help style their own portfolios and even for some of their private clients. I am often asked why an interior designer would hire an interiors stylist, and that’s because we both look at things through different lenses. Interior designers focus on “the big picture.” They take a very holistic approach to design to ensure that the rooms in a house visually connect with one another and that each room’s individual elements connect within that room. Interiors stylists see “snapshots” and style the individual elements within a room—the coffee table, bookshelf, or mantel—as a means to enhance it without overshadowing it. 

Interior Design by Cindy Nunez, Photography by Sara Essex Bradley 

Interior Design by Karen Menge, Photography by Sara Essex Bradley

2. How would you describe your style?

In both my home and in my wardrobe, I lean towards classic styles and silhouettes in a warm, feminine palette of pinks, corals, and soft whites with some gold for a little glam and some black for a little edge. I have a constant craving for accessories! To me, they have transformative powers that can take a room or outfit to the next level. In my house, the sofa never looks the same for long. I have serious commitment issues when it comes to throw pillows, and I’ll change them up for the season or for absolutely no reason at all. I have a thing for lampshades, too. Fashion-wise, I swoon for statement necklaces and chunky bangle bracelets.

 

3. What is your modus operandi, your work method, your differentiating factor?

I always do my homework before I start scheming for a project. If I didn’t scout the location myself, I’ll do a site visit in the weeks before the shoot or installation to see things up close and do some digging around. What do the homeowner or designer’s vases and vessels look like? Are they the right style and scale for the areas that need flowers? If we plan to set the dining table, is the silver polished? Are the linen napkins pressed? Do we need to bring in some colorful stemware to make the setting pop? What are the bookshelves eves like?  Are the book spines and decorative elements up to par and are there enough to work with? What is the height and depth of each bookshelf in case we need to bring in more props for them?

Admittedly, these questions sound trivial. But you can’t wait until the day of the shoot or installation to find out the answer or you’ll lose precious time and natural light doing what could have been done in advance. When I do shoots or installs out of town and can’t do a walk-through beforehand, I’ll ask the interior designer to take tons of photos and I’ll create a checklist of what is needed from them. Thanks to FaceTime, I am now doing a lot of virtual walk-throughs!

4. What’s your go-to when you need a little creative inspiration?

I find my inspiration in emotions and reactions more than intangible things. When I walk into a room, how do I feel? Calm, cheerful, sexy? Understanding the mood of the room is important when you’re trying to enhance it.

 

 

5. What are the lengths you’ve gone to please your clients?

The lengths are great! I’ll climb a tall, shaky ladder to perfect a single pleat on a drape header, crawl under a bed to hold a bed skirt taught for a photo and smooth a down comforter with a kitchen spatula until it lies flat. I’ve also been known to move a chair back and forth for 5 minutes to just get it at precisely the right angle and drive to three different grocery stores just to find the perfect color pear. It’s not all that glamorous, and the work can get physical! But at least I can write it off as my cardio for the day.

Interior Design by Heidi Friedler, Photography by Sara Essex Bradley

image: Margaret Zainey roux

6. What’s your favorite best-kept secret?

Estate sales and auctions! In New Orleans, we are lucky to have so many. I love the thrill of the hunt and the rush I get from finding the proverbial diamond in the rough. Even if something isn’t particularly rare or valuable, it is unique because it’s been “off the market” and otherwise unavailable as part of someone’s private collection.

 

 

7. What new projects are you currently working on?

My magazine work is cyclical—scout, style, write, do it again. Right now, I’m in the middle of scouting for locations that I will style in the fall and write about in the spring. Because I work for different magazines with different production schedules, the actual timelines vary but the process is more or less the same. As the holidays approach, the styling I do for interior designers will start getting busy. Their clients want to have their projects wrapped up and ready for holidays so often I’m enlisted to help with sourcing and styling while they tackle the big to-do’s left on the list. Before the pandemic, I’d also get a lot of calls from private clients wanting their homes spruced up and party-ready. That is always so much fun and puts me in spirit!

8. You have worked with so many projects that have been published.  can you give us your insight into how to pitch a project and how the editorial process works?

Different magazines have different processes for reviewing and accepting locations but these are a few things that will help make your pitch stronger: 

Wait until a project is complete to pitch it. You want your photos to show the home in its best light, so it’s worth waiting for things like art, drapes, or landscaping to be installed.  

Take scouting photos like you’re taking the editors on a tour. They want to see pictures of overall rooms and areas and how they flow with one another. Vignettes and details are important, but only if they are also shot within the context of the room. 

After you pitch it, give the editor some time. Most likely, he or she will have to pass it around to several members of their team for their review and approval.    

Wait a few weeks to follow up, but definitely follow-up! Maybe there is something else the editor wants to see or know that would help them make a decision? If it’s not a right fit for their publication, can they suggest where else it could go? Maybe it didn’t go through? Things really do get lost in CyberSpace, especially when you are sending large photo files.

Interior Design by Cindy St. Romain, Photography by Jean Allsopp