It was as if the entire Bay Area was taking a nap the day I recently reunited with my beloved Bianca Sotelo, stylist and friend extraordinaire. The light drizzle and grey skies had seemingly hypnotized the city – except us, who spent the better part of an otherwise throwaway Thursday on one of those good-for-the-soul lady dates.
We weaved through home décor stores, where she knowingly darted from vase to vase, buying for a client. If anyone can artfully arrange a shelf, it’s Bianca. But she’s so much more than an expertly styled shelf or tablescape or, hell, even a home; she’s generous, introspective and quick with Real Talk, blowing away the smoke from the mirror, and jokes – even if she’s the butt of them.
Then we cozied up on her couch and discussed the complications of life. This boyfriend. That ex-boyfriend. This housing market. That job market. First over horchata lattes (only thebestthingthatseverhappenedtome, thanks Bianca!), then tea, then wine, then cocktails, then corndogs.
She has a long list of cool clients – Banana Republic, RUE, Sunset Magazine, for starters – and an even cooler style. It’s a bit Elizabethan, a bit glamorous, a bit cheeky and constantly changing. See for yourself.
Meet Bianca. You’ll love her as much as I do.
Let’s take it back to the beginning. How did you get to where you are today – a freelance prop and interiors stylist in the Bay Area, with a kick-ass client list and an army of followers and friends (myself included) who all think you’re the coolest and kindest?
I was born and raised in the Bay Area which basically makes me a unicorn because there aren’t very many of us like that around! I always wanted to go into international non-profit work, and I did. I majored in International Relations and French in college, and as soon as I walked that graduation stage, I hopped on a jet plane to live out my dream.
I worked for a non-profit in Uganda and quickly came to realize that change doesn’t just happen over a few months and that fast foreign aid isn’t the best answer. Without going into too much depth, after about four months on the ground in Uganda, I decided that I just wasn’t ready to dedicate my life to a cause that I wasn’t even sure worked. So I got a job back home at a hospital, wore scrubs to work every day for three years and then became so bored with my life that I started a blog. I began going to industry events and meeting people, took an internship and quickly became an editorial director. Fast forward almost six years later and here I am.
I went freelance as a stylist a little over two years ago and I’m so thankful for the amazing projects and clients I have. As a prop stylist, I do everything from set design for videos and commercial shoots to working with tech companies to beauty brands to Banana Republic. I prop style for editorial stories that are featured on blogs or in magazines like Sunset Magazine and RUE. What people may see most is my interior styling. I work with interior designers when they are shooting their finished projects. I love it so much!
Your apartment is an ever-evolving treasure trove and the perfect representation of your sleek styling skills. Tell us about your place: the quirks, the perks, the creaks, and the tweaks you’ve made.
I’ve lived here for seven years. I’m on the ground story of an Old Victorian. I rent from my parents which is a major perk and the main reason I’ve been able to rip up the wall-to-wall carpet in the living room, remodel the bathroom and add crown molding to a few rooms.
The quirks? There are a lot of steps in this apartment which is weird. The kitchen has two levels, you step down when you enter through the front door, then you step down again to the living room. It makes for a bit of a layout challenge. I also never show my kitchen because it’s just a basic kitchen and unfortunately off limits when it comes to updating. It’s also home to an eight-foot dining table which absolutely does not fit and absolutely looks ridiculous, but it was such a steal, I would have been a fool not to snag it!
What did your place look like when you first moved in?
The walls were all beige when I moved in, so the first thing I did was paint. I’ve painted every room at least once and some rooms twice. I still have this unfinished walk-in closet which could look really stellar if I just would finish it. I’d like to paint it (for the second time) or slap up some wallpaper, but I currently am just not up for the challenge. Plus I’m ready to save some money. My bank account could use a nice rest!
“I hold a special place in my heart for “my things.” They remind me of a great hunt, a place I traveled or how far a few bucks can take you.”
What do you love most about your apartment? And what drives you bonkers about it?
I love that my apartment feels so inviting. People walk in and usually say it’s cozy, which is a great home attribute, in my opinion. I’m surrounded by all the things I love in it so it really does feel like my happy place. There’s a fine line between materialism and appreciation, and despite how much I consume for work, I really do value and hold a special place in my heart for “my things.” They remind me of a great hunt, a place I traveled to or how far a few bucks can take you.
I hate the lack of natural light in my apartment. It is so dark in here. I wish my kitchen was prettier too, or that I could change the cabinetry, but I know it’s nicer than most kitchens, so I’ll take it.
In the seven years that you’ve lived here, how has your style (and perhaps personality) changed?
My apartment has changed a lot but I don’t think my style has changed necessarily. I think my apartment today showcases more of what I always strived for my style to be — old world meets new world, moody, eclectic, bits of glamour, full of curiosities.
When I first moved in, I was right out of college so I had a freeby faux leather sofa and an Ikea coffee table to my name. I began adding pieces in and within a year or two later, I had a good base. Over the years, I’ve just added tons of layers to the space. Layering your home takes time and honestly, it’s still not 100% reflective of me. Unfortunately, my ultimate style goals haven’t been met because boy, do I need more money. Ha! That said, I’m loving the seven-year evolution. It’s crazy to look back at old pictures and see how far things have come.
“I try hard to study why something works — why does that vase on that plate in Copenhagen look so amazing?! — and I apply what I learn to my practice back home.”
In the past few years alone, you’ve traveled through Portugal, Spain, Copenhagen, Sweden, Iceland and need I go on? What does travel mean to you? And how does traveling translate into your home and work?
Travel is so important to me for so many reasons. My daily life is so much about things that I really try to balance that consumption with life experiences. I love discovering new places, going to great restaurants, pushing my personal boundaries. (Hello, car camping in Iceland.) Whenever I go somewhere, I bring something back, design-wise, whether it be an actual object or a styling rule. I try hard to study why something works — why does that vase on that plate in Copenhagen look so amazing?! — and I apply what I learn to my practice back home.
Traveling also helps my relationship with my boyfriend – a lot! We’re best when we’re exploring. We actually flew to Argentina after just six months of knowing each other! I guess you can say our desire for adventure is how we keep the spark alive. Whenever we’re in a funk, we start planning our next trip. Thank goodness for us the world is a never-ending place to explore.
Though there’s no typical day in the freelance world, give us a glimpse at what one day, any day – nothing necessarily typical about it – could look like for you.
Today I went to the dentist, went décor and plant shopping for a personal client – yes, there are people who will pay you to shop for them – restyled the pillows on my sofa and made guacamole.
What’s one thing that’s constantly changing in your home?
Errr, everything. This might sound cray, but I actually feel like I have to swap my accessories around because I forget what I have. I also love seeing things styled differently. Think about it. There are so many different ways to style one thing. So restyling it brings a new whole light to the object. Styling is all about how you pair things or how you juxtapose things to tell a fascinating and curious story. I’m always playing with different ways to tell a story.
…And one thing that stays the same?
Literally nothing stays the same.
Name five pieces in your home that mean the most to you.
Let’s pick your stylish brain for a minute. Tell us how to…
…style a shelf without looking like you’re trying too hard?
Such a good question! Don’t try too hard. I actually really love shelves that don’t look styled at all – books every which way, art layered in, just a few scattered objects. The less it has rhyme or reason, the better.
…find art that suits you and your wallet?
Buy antique art! Every time I buy new art, I’m less attached to it, but I never find myself “over” an antique piece. And luckily for all of us, antique or vintage or estate art is way cheaper than the new stuff. The best, easy-to-access source for great vintage art is EBTH (Everything But The House). It’s an online auction-style estate sale and I’m literally on it every week. Even if I don’t buy anything, I love to window shop.
…practice patience at estate sales?
Remember it’s about the hunt, not the find! A gem will come eventually. Have fun finding it.
…forgive yourself when the paint color you choose is a big, bad mistake?
Tell yourself it’s just paint and paint again. Don’t live with something you hate. Take control and change it! That said, believe me, I’ve been there and it sucks.
…come back from a trip with goodies, but also still a savings account and a back that isn’t broken from lugging around a 100-pound suitcase?
Ha! Well, I definitely would break my back. Two general rules are: if you’ve never seen it before, buy it, and if you know it’s cheaper than at home, buy it.
What are you currently…
Dancing along to? Donnel Jones.
Tripping over? My flip-flops.
Avoiding? Working out.
Looking forward to? Some sunshine!
Paging through? The Chamber of Curiosity, AKA my styling bible.
Struggling with? Acne. Is this a new hormonal thing? Acne at 30?? UGH.
Quick! Where’s the first place you look for…
Lighting: West Elm
Mirrors: Elsie Green
Art: EBTH (vintage) or Artfully Walls (new)
Goods from Bay Area artists: West Coast Craft is great and also I love The Gardener.
What’s next for you?
I’m trying to buy a damn house! Nothing ah-mazing, just a starter home. It’s such a struggle because I’m not a millionaire and these days even for a starter home, you need to be one. But I’m hopeful this year is my year!
Images courtesy of Leigh Nile.
Megan is a writer, editor, etc.-er who muses about life, design and travel for Domino, Lonny, Hunker and more. Her life rules include, but are not limited to: zipper when merging, tip in cash and contribute to your IRA. Be a pal and subscribe to her newsletter Night Vision.
BY Megan McCarty - February 16, 2018
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.