Anna James chats with interior designer Emily Henderson

Hey ladies, it’s Anna again from Fash Boulevard, bringing you another edition of my interview series, Ladies Who Laptop. This month’s spotlight is a bubbly interior stylist, reality TV star and home style expert for Target, Emily Henderson. From her unique renovations to her must-have eye for design, it’s easy to see how she has gone from working as a shop girl for Jonathan Adler to becoming a household name of her own! Today, Emily opens up about being a new mom, her biggest pinch-me moment, and why her blog is her greatest marketing tool. Let’s dive in…

Read about Emily Henderson's inspiring career in interior design

Lets start from the beginning. What inspired you to get into interior design?

Being born into a Mormon family in Oregon who made their own clothes at times, canned their own veggies and fruits, and lived modestly, I learned from a very young age the beauty of thrift and how much can be done from so little. I wasn’t exposed to the newest trends or much in the fashion or design world until I moved to NYC in my mid-twenties and started working as a shop girl at the Jonathan Adler store, which back then was not as big as it is now. I had always loved and appreciated style and design but wasn’t really sure what I could do or how to really be a part of it. Growing up you were a teacher, doctor, lawyer, etc. I didn’t know you could choose to do this as a living (let alone being a blogger, ha). Flash forward to when I met a prop stylist and I felt like I found my calling. I mean, who doesn’t want to shop and play with beautiful things all day whilst getting paid for it? If you asked me then if I could see myself running a full service interior design firm and daily style blog 10 years later, I never would have believed you—but here I am, and I am still loving each and every day of it. My aesthetic has definitely changed over the years but in everything thing I do I try to make it happy, personal, layered and with something vintage.

Emily Henderson's philosophy on design

How would you describe your design philosophy?

Perfection is boring, let’s get weird. Now, I know that isn’t exactly a philosophy, but designing a room is all about finding the juxtaposition between expected and unexpected and working with your client to find out what works and doesn’t work for them to further bring that out in their space. I think you should ask yourself how you want the space to feel first, look second and always remember that you are the most important part of your home therefore make it personal, even while you are trying to pull it together and have it look cohesive and professional.

Emily Henderson's career in interior design

You won HGTV’s Design Star and landed your own HGTV show, can you share a little about that experience?

I had been a fan of HGTV for a long time but I didn’t feel like there were very many shows that were very ‘me.’ But I really had no intention of changing it; I wasn’t a big ‘I should be on TV’ person. But when we saw the post for Design Star auditions (on Craigslist), my husband Brian insisted that I audition and I thought he was crazy. The whole thing was totally nuts. It was a 6-week adrenaline rush. 5am – 12am everyday, quarantined from all contact with friends and family, competing every day for your dream job all surrounded by a camera crew at every moment. All said and done, I do think that I was the right person for the job (although my friends Dan and Casey could have taken it at any point), but man I still can’t believe I won. I was pretty terrified and had wildly less confidence than I do now, years later. It was an incredible experience that I’m obviously extremely glad I did, and it completely changed my life, propelled me toward success, and gave me the validation to really make things happen. Winning the competition totally propelled me into a career that I had no idea that I wanted. It’s opened a million doors, has given me tons of validation in a design sense, made me financially stable, and was the catalyst to where I am now. It’s just pretty much the best (and weirdest) thing that I’ve ever done.

See Emily Henderson's interior design and her interview with Anna James of Fash Boulevard

Can you tell us a little about your blog? Why you started it and how it’s helped your business?

My blog is absolutely my best marketing tool. It’s totally made my career. Writing for it is also still one of my favorite things to do. When it started it was a small outlet for me to post what I loved to see and what inspired me, but as it gained momentum it is what I woke up doing from 7am till 10am every day, and obviously more if I was shooting. I had to make it a major priority or else it won’t get done. Now I have a staff that helps keep it running on a daily basis and we fill it with original content every single day. With every post, we want to be our own reader and ask ourselves, would I find this interesting, helpful, informative, and beautiful? If not then we come up with different content that we feel will better suit the audience.

What is your favorite social media platform and why?

I am always using Instagram not only as a place to post my own work but to be inspired by others. Being in the digital age really allows us to tap into some of the best designs/designers as they create so I really enjoy how much inspiration and interaction I can get from that social platform.

Read about Emily Henderson's career success in interior design

What is your favorite and least favorite part about owning your own company?

The actual business side of things. Running a SUCCESSFUL business as a creative person is like a drunken horse walking on a tight rope the size of a silk thread. While it’s totally possible, it’s really, really awkward at first and has a huge learning curve that I was not ready for. I have been freelancing since I was 24—first as an assistant stylist, then a stylist and then after Design Star it seemed pretty obvious that working for someone else wasn’t totally in the cards. But I didn’t really ‘decide’ to start a business until after we stopped shooting my show and I had to answer the ‘what now?’ question. The business somewhat started overnight and systems weren’t set up even though employees were hired. It got totally out of control…fast. I never really defined the business in the early days because it was constantly changing. Obviously I’m an interior designer first, but then the blog started to become a bigger part of my business than actual client work. Now as the home style expert and spokesperson for Target as well as a full client list, we are running a full operation over here but things continue to evolve and change which is the thing that I love about what I do. It is fortunately now more about the quality of work than the quantity as it once was when I started. I now have a specific end goal that I’m working towards and if a project doesn’t help me along to that end goal, then it’s the wrong project for me and I have taught myself that it is OK to say no or pass on things that don’t feel right.

Read about Emily Henderson's inspiring career in interior design

Where are your favorite places to shop for décor?

I will always love shopping at the flea and antique stores, but long gone are the days of waking up at 5am without any kids and trekking through the flea market. Don’t get me wrong, I still venture over there as often as possible, but I do now love being able to browse through some of the great online resources for used, antique and thrifted goods like Chairish, EBTH, Craigslist and eBay. I am also constantly impressed with all the great stuff that big-box stores are putting out. And no, Target did not pay me to say that. I genuinely love their stuff and constantly am working it into my decor and projects. The mix of high and low, or vintage and new is what really gives you a custom look that is all your own. In LA I love Nickey Kehoe, Lawson Fenning, and the Pasadena antique malls.

What is an interior design trend that you’re loving right now?

I’ve been really excited about some of the new color trends that we are seeing. Fashion has dictated design for quite some time and the ‘90s have been very big in fashion over the last couple of years (cough cough, Dr. Martens, socks with your Birkenstocks), so it has been very fun to see some of my favorite ‘90s colors reinterpreted in new ways in 2016. I am just waiting for the perfect clients to let me use those muted greens, rosy reds, dusty blues, and beiges in their home—and yes I did say beige. It’s coming back, people, and with full beige-y vengeance. Also the re-emergence (or at least my newfound love) of traditional lines that are more modern than they used to be, but more rounded shaped, carved detailing and a call back to classic furniture. But I just bought an English Tudor home so that might just be me and all of the pinning that I have been doing lately.

Emily Henderson's design work

Do you have some design tips for creating a beautiful space on a budget?

Start with the larger items and keep them simple. A nice simple English roll arm or midcentury sofa in a neutral color will always be in style, so start with that as your foundation and then incorporate more fun, trendy pieces in with a mix of vintage to round it out. Nowadays with all of the big box stores out there providing such affordable and on-trend options, we can all enjoy and incorporate some of the newest trends into our homes without going over budget. The easiest way to try out a trend is with the final layers of a room: art, textiles, accessories. Those can easily be swapped out and exchanged through the years to keep your room feeling fresh and your toes in the trend game.

What is a common design mistake you see people making in their homes?

The easy answer is that most people commit a few of the most common mistakes so they are not alone. A few that we have talked about on the blog to help people get through these common mistakes are: Hanging your art too low, buying the wrong rug size, hanging your curtains the wrong height or width, using generic/cheap furniture with bad finishes.

read how Emily Henderson balances work and play in her design career

As a successful business owner and a mom, how do you find a healthy and productive balance?

I don’t think it’s particularly healthy lately, to be honest, so right now I’m in a ‘not right now’ phase of life. My work is my 1st priority from 9:30am – 5pm and my kids are my 1st priority every other hour of the day and on the weekends. And nothing is negotiable right now. Don’t even try to book me on a weekend. 🙂 Also, I try to not book shoots on Mondays in case I need to help our kids start the week and I usually take a ½ day on Friday. But at 10pm I am surely writing the post for the next day.

Emily Henderson's interior design

I know it’s hard, but if you had to pick your favorite space you’ve designed, what would it be and why?

The most fulfilling project that we ever did was earlier this year when we surprised my Nanny, Sylvia, with a whole house makeover. It started as a small project where we had just planned to do a few rooms and once Target jumped on board we were able to redo almost the entire house. It was insanely rewarding because I know how much it changed her life. So emotionally that is number 1. But I love doing my own house—the client is indecisive but I have a lot of freedom and it turns work into a full-blown obsession. We are knee-deep in my own renovation of a Tudor-style home that we just bought and I am having so much fun with it.

What was your first “OMG Pinch Me” moment during those early years of starting your own company?

Probably flying first class for HGTV. I will never ever ever get sick of that luxury when it’s on someone else’s dime.

Anna James' interview with interior designer and creative mind, Emily Henderson

For all the young entrepreneurs out there, what advice would you give them?

PRODUCE, produce, produce. Leave your perfectionism at the door and just put your work out there. Get feedback, adjust, move on. Without creating and putting your product/service out there, no one will find you and hire you. JUST START.

Words to live by?

Create something unique and universal. Make sure YOU would want to buy your product or hire you, yourself.

Thanks to Emily for these words of advice. Be sure to check out her blog here and Instagram here!

Who would you like to see me interview for my next Ladies Who Laptop?

Let me know in the comments below!

Anna James
Fash Boulevard

Photos: Emily Henderson