Acquisition and maintenance of cell fate and potential are dependent on the complex interplay of extracellular signaling, gene regulatory networks and epigenetic states. During embryonic development, embryonic stem cells become progressively more restricted along specific lineages, ultimately giving rise to the diversity of cell types in the adult mammalian organism. Recent years have seen major advances in our understanding of the mechanisms that regulate the underlying transcriptional programmes during development. In particular, there has been a significant increase in our knowledge of how epigenetic marks on chromatin can regulate transcription by generating more or less permissive chromatin conformations. This article focuses on how a single transcription factor, repressor element-1 silencing transcription factor, can function as both a transcriptional and epigenetic regulator, controlling diverse aspects of development. We will discuss how the elucidation of repressor element-1 silencing transcription factor function in both normal and disease conditions has provided valuable insights into how the epigenome and transcriptional regulators might cooperatively orchestrate correct development.