Secrets from a stylist

Mix an ounce of 70’s Palm Springs; a dash of kooky British grandma; and one 2013 eclectic artist and you’ll get HGTV Design Star, Emily Henderson’s personal style. She blends tons of character and oodles of personality to create her picture perfect space.

interior design by emily henderson
interview by ariene c. bethea
photographs by zeke ruelas

You are such a colorful person, both in your wardrobe and in your interior styling, yet you went with white walls in your living room. Why? And when is it okay to go with white walls? The reason is totally counter intuitive, but colorful walls paired with colorful things make a room look like a circus – made this mistake before. The room can look like a kid’s room. If you like color, you should go with white walls to balance the color. White works best in a room with lots of light because without the light, white can read dead.

Many designers both in fashion and interior design favor neutral spaces, possibly because they are surrounded by color and pattern all day. What made you surround yourself with colorful pieces? To me, if someone works with trends and patterns a lot it’s strange that their space doesn’t look like them. I love Cynthia Rowley’s stuff and how her home reflects her style. For me, I don’t have a huge emotional connection to my things; I switch them out a lot. I mix big and crazy with trendy and kooky. I switch things out all the time; I love to redesign and restyle. I don’t have to live with it for 10 years. I’m my favorite client!

What was your style diagnostic when approaching your living room? I gravitate towards seventies bird sculptures. I’ve loved them since I was little. I mix my current items in with them. The chairs are mid-century straight and masculine, and I soften them with throws and pillows.

What percentage of your living room is vintage? I would say 70-80% of the room is vintage and 30% of my accessories are vintage. The new stuff is the textiles, pillows, rug and throw. The shelving unit is from West Elm and I love how simple it is. The sofa is vintage but has been reupholstered. I mix my vintage accessories with classic pieces from West Elm and Ikea.

What items did you spend the most money on? The least? The two leather safari chairs were the biggest splurge at the time. Believe it or not, framing art was a close second. After itemizing all the pieces it became very expensive to buy and frame. I don’t splurge on throw pillows and accessories because I change them out a lot.

Styling is a highly personalized process for completing a space. What factors about a client do you keep in mind when selecting pieces? I try to match accessories to their personality and sense of humor to make them smile, mixed with some quiet moments. I splurge on pieces that represent them the most. I find that clients are proud of those things and show them off to friends and family.

When do you start styling for a space? After you’ve picked out the paint color? Or after you have selected the furniture pieces? Not until the end. I’m consistently hoarding and collecting all the time. But I have purchased things early in the process before install and so much had changed that the items didn’t work anymore. Since the items are so specific to the client I end up having to keep them. An expensive lesson learned!

You started out doing commercial styling for magazines and advertising campaigns. What commercial styling tips do you bring to your residential projects? I’m obsessive with details and how things are placed. I care a lot about the personality of the space and whether people can picture themselves in there. In commercial styling, you care more about the space being full of personality not just furniture and accessories. I bring that obsession with me in my residential projects.

What is one of the most insane things you have done to get a room styled perfectly for a photo shoot? Hmmm… let me think. We moved trees in from the outside for one shoot. We needed them for a shot. Oh and one time we had to place all the furniture at a slight angle to get a shot. It looked like wonky town. Then, we had to create a beach inside the studio. We got 60 bags of sand, a backdrop and sea grass in the middle of winter. We couldn’t afford to travel for the shoot so it’s the next best thing. It was both weird and exciting at the same time.

What is your approach to decorating with knickknacks? Can there be too many? So here’s the thing… collectables should be displayed together. Only keep the rare and unique ones. You should care that the collection is good, not just big. It should look intentional together, not like a hoarder. I use collectibles on shelving units mixed in with art, but I keep coffee table surfaces pretty clean.

So what would the Emily Henderson movie set design look like? The Royal Tenenbaums meets Marie Antoinette meets Footloose.

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This interview was conducted summer 2013.

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