The self-deprecating and extremely likable Design Star winner, stylist and blogger Emily Henderson chitty chats with kellygolightly editor Kelly Lee about her new HGTV show Secrets From a Stylist, shares her design tips, tricks, loves and fantasies (flowers, fabric, Domino, Oprah, babies) and makes us laugh the entire time. As she says, “design isn’t rocket surgery” so grab a cup of Scotch tea and enjoy.
BB: Congratulations on winning Design Star and getting your own show on HGTV! Your new show Secrets From a Stylist debuts on HGTV this Sunday, August 29th at 10/9c and you get to work with Ian Brennan, co-creator of Glee, as your client. What can we expect from Secrets From a Stylist?
EH: You can expect not one, not two, but three reveals. You know how on most shows there is a before and an after? Well, my show is about layering and mixing styles. Mixing styles is kinda my thing. Almost everyone I know identifies with a couple different styles and so instead of me choosing what they should be, we figure it out together through a ‘Style Diagnostic’ test and then mix those styles to create a space that looks exactly like that person. Oh, and we have a ton of fun while doing it, because it’s just design, not rocket surgery.
BB: Who would be your next dream client?
EH: Ooh. Let’s see, I would love to do Jenny Lewis (from Rilo Kiley). And while I know that Michael Smith already did the White House for the Obamas, I wouldn’t mind styling their next home. Dear God, that would make me happy.
BB: If you had to have someone else design YOUR home, who would you choose and why?
EH: I’ve actually never thought about this. And there are very few people that I would trust, and probably not the usual suspects. I would probably have to convince Dara Caponigro or Sara Ruffin Costello (ex-Domino magazine creators) to do it. Both of their tastes and styles are killer and timeless. And they are super, super lovely people.
BB: Your fans really responded to your quirky yet modern vintage style, both fashion and design wise. How would you describe your signature style? And who inspires you? Who are your design and fashion heroes, your style icon(s)?
EH: Signature style, eh? In general I like mixing feminine and masculine (I wear dresses with manly oxfords) and in my home my furniture tends to be more modern and simple and my accessories are more feminine and Victorian. I mix so many different styles but keep consistency through a color palette, which tends to be whites, blues, blacks, grays and hits of hot pink or reds. But one sentence? Eclectic, effortless, bohemian modern – that’s not really a sentence, but you get the idea. Design heroes? Michael Smith, Robyn Glaser and all of the Domino editors and stylists. As far as fashion, I look to the ’60s and ’70s and like the weirdness and the risks that were taken. Also, is it redundant to say Kate Moss? She’s one fashionable lady.
BB: We love your show idea about using someone’s personal fashion style to inspire and create his/her living space. Do you have any tips on creating great personal style, at home and in your wardrobe?
EH: When you put together your wardrobe you pick things for a reason. I guess I would ask myself, ‘por que?’ That is exactly what I did. Why do I like princess sleeves so much? Because it is kinda Victorian. Why do I love oxfords so much? Because they are classic and masculine. Why do I wear bright blue so much? Because it makes me so happy just to look at – and offsets my oh-so-pale skin. Why have I never worn that gray American Apparel shirt that I like a lot? Because gray makes me look dead. Everything I wear is super comfortable, unfussy and relaxed. And the fact is, that is so true for my home style as well. Feet are on the coffee table, the dining table is getting more and more ‘rustic’ by the day. Nothing is precious, and that is the way that I love it.
BB: You’ve said that your philosophy is that if you buy a bunch of pretty things, you can generally make a really nice room out of them. We’re all in favor or buying what you love. Can you share any tips on how to make a cohesive design with a bunch of pretty but disconnected things? And do you think you can buy pieces you love along the way or should you have a complete vision before you start buying?
EH: I don’t think you need a complete vision, but I would make a mood board to start your ‘story’ so you aren’t shopping blindly. I kinda think there is nothing worse than a room that looks like it was bought all at once from the same store, but at the same time when you move into a larger space, sometimes you just need stuff really quickly. In LA, we have the luxury of really great flea markets and vintage stores, and I think that buying vintage and mixing pieces from the big box stores is the easiest way to make a space look collected over time. When you are collecting your ‘pretty things’ think of color and scale. Creating a color story is important but also not buying things all the same relative size. You want contrast in every way – color, shape, size, and texture.
BB: What’s your best design tip or secret for those on a budget? The best way to get chic on the cheap or to make the biggest impact?
EH: Painting the walls. Redundant, I know, but it does make the biggest impact for like twenty bones. Oh, and also flowers and branches. I’m a huge fan of branches because they are cheap, last a long time and make a bigger statement than flowers. Bang for your buck, as we say in the biz… Hmmm, not sure we actually say that in the biz.
BB: If you only had $200 to change a room, what would you spend it on and why?
EH: Ooh, textiles or wallpaper. You can wallpaper an accent wall with 200 bucks and it adds so much pattern and personality. The same with textiles (throw pillows, cushions, etc.). I’m a lover of patterns, both bold and subtle, and I feel it adds a lot of depth and texture to any space. And both wallpaper and textiles are unlimited in patterns so you can really personalize the space to exactly what you like. For fabric, buy yardage (even 1/2 yard) at your fabric store and take the fabric, a zipper and your insert to a tailor or an upholsterer and they will normally sew it for $30 or less — it’s just four seams, and you can switch it up seasonally if you have pillow ADD like I do.
BB: What’s worth splurging on and what’s okay to save on?
EH: Splurge on a sofa. If you are like me, you’ll spend years of your life on it, probably watching reality TV, no doubt.
BB: What are your biggest design dos and don’ts?
EH: Do have fun. Don’t try and be perfect. Do mix it up often. Oh, and don’t worry about what your guests think. The more you fuss, the less fun you’ll have.
BB: You have such a great design (and, dare we say, humor) blog, The Brass Petal. How did you come up with that name and what are some of your favorite design blogs and online destinations?
EH: Funny you should ask because there is a good chance that the name is changing as we speak – not HGTV related necessarily, just something with my name in it. Basically every blog name was taken and I like brass and flowers a lot, so voila, The Brass Petal. I like the image that it conjures up, but I think I’m re-branding myself.
BB: In the first entry on your blog back in January, one of your resolutions was to “become rich and skinny.” Job well done! It seems as though you were putting it out into the universe that this would be your year of really making things happen. Can you tell us a bit more about that and how the Design Star opportunity came about, the audition process, etc.?
EH: I spent my twenties watching people that were frankly less intelligent and less talented get more and more successful because they had less fear. It’s kind of a curse to be smart enough to know that you aren’t the best at something. I was full of excuses. So I was sick of it. I decided that I would stop caring what other people thought about me, whether ‘I take myself too seriously’ or not. The blog was the most empowering and liberating thing I ever did professionally because no one is in charge of it except me. It’s my creative outlet.
The audition process was long, it was a series of in person interviews, on camera interviews and portfolio reviews. My husband Brian saw the casting call at HGTV.com and he encouraged me. A lot.
BB: How do you feel about becoming a public persona?
EH: So far it’s really awesome. It’s a very small level of fame amongst really really nice people. In general, the HGTV audience is nice and interested in design and home style, so whenever I’m recognized everyone is super sweet and supportive. I do have to take myself a bit more seriously because of it which is weird. As much as I am self-deprecating, now I have to make sure that people know when I’m kidding and that I actually do know what I’m doing.
BB: What’s been the best part of creating your show and what’s been the biggest challenge?
EH: The best part is having total freedom to do what I want with the space – as long as I keep the client in mind. I’ve always had to style a set in order to sell a product, but with the show, I’m really just selling the style. And I love having so much responsibility. The biggest challenge has been figuring out how to relax. I can’t stop thinking about the show, like a loon. Brian would force me to go to the movies and I swear to God my eyes were open, but I saw nothing. My mind is just constantly reeling with ideas, with things I should be doing, with how often I should get my teeth whitened, you get the idea.
BB: What’s been the biggest surprise about winning Design Star?
EH: I guess the waiting. I got back from shooting and I had to keep this huge secret and I couldn’t really do anything except wait around. And that was super hard because my biggest problem (amongst many) is my lack of patience.
BB: Any advice for those who want to become the next Design Star?
EH: Just be yourself. I was just me all the time and the judges knew that I was not acting or putting on a persona — you get what you see and I think that translates with an audience. So just be yourself. And I didn’t do any hosting videos, which I think would’ve helped a lot. All of the other designers said the same thing, that they wish they had practiced before.
BB: For all of the interior designers and aspiring designers out there, what’s the key to getting a client to commit to a design decision? And how do you reconcile your signature style with a client’s needs and wishes?
EH: I love every style, every decade, every century, every country (except Southwestern, I can’t seem to get behind that style). I don’t love every piece, obviously, so the hard part is choosing the pieces wisely. You can find tasteful pieces in any style that your client wants. And don’t over do it. Theme rooms are pretty ‘out’ if you ask me.
BB: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
EH: Ooh. Hopefully still hosting Secrets from a Stylist, with three books under my belt and maybe a fabric and wallpaper line. I would like two kids, please (boy and girl), a house in Beachwood (next to my friends) with a view of the canyon. I would also like to be able to eat A LOT of French fries and drink a lot of wine and have it not affect my body, and I’m not totally opposed to being a guest on Oprah, although time is running out for that.
BB: Anything you’d like to say to all of your fans and supporters and aspiring designers?
EH: Dear fans, supporters and aspiring designers,
Thank you so effing much for supporting me. I always thought that you had to be some sort of big serious personality to have a fan base, but through my blog and the show I feel like that is just not true. So I promise to try as hard as I can to just keep being me, and I hope you guys will remind me of that whenever you feel like I’m not.
BB: What are your favorite shops, both online and off? Do you have any online shopping secrets for us? Or favorite sites you can’t live without?
EH: I’m not the biggest online shopper. I use Etsy of course, and eBay when necessary, and all the big box stores (West Elm, CB2, Ikea, Anthropologie). But LA has great shopping, and I need to touch things and see things in person. I love 45 three Modern, Casa Victoria, Gibson, Lawson-Fenning, Maison Midi, and tons more really, that’s just a few.
BB: What items can you absolutely not live without?
EH: Fabric and flowers. Every one is different, there are endless amounts of each, they are always reasonably cheap and make such impact in any space. But if you weren’t talking design-wise, I would say coffee, TV, podcasts and my cats.
BB: What’s your favorite film for style inspiration?
EH: I loved Marie Antoinette, 500 Days of Summer and I thought the sets of Eat, Pray, Love were beautiful, too. Right now, though, Mad Men is really doing it for me. I want to be in that world, drink that Scotch, sit on that sofa, wear those clothes. The production designers and set decorators are killing it.
BB: Where do you go in LA for inspiration?
EH: I’m probably supposed to say ‘the beach’, but the beach totally bores me — I’m a city girl. The flea market and antique malls are what make me happy no matter what. I love vintage pieces from every decade (sans the ’80s and ’90s, but watch me take that back in two years). I’m inspired by history and age, pieces that tell a story. The flea market moves around every Sunday and I never miss it.
BB: We’re new to your newly adopted town of LA… What are your favorite spots for shopping, eating, playing?
EH: For shopping, there are a bunch of vintage stores that pepper Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake and Echo Park, all good, well-priced and reliable. For eating, we love Little Dom’s or getting Vietnamese food downtown. And playing? It’s such a cliche, but hiking Griffith Park is pretty fun and despite the fact that, yes, it can be just LA’s version of walking, you do get a good workout from it.
BB: What’s your favorite room/space in the world?
EH: Right now it is Ian’s living room that I designed for the premiere of Secrets From a Stylist. I spend a lot of time over there and I love how warm it is and how it is so collected, yet cohesive. It’s kind of my baby. Not in a creepy way. Okay, maybe in a creepy way. But I also love a hut that we stayed in when we were backpacking around Laos recently. I think that grass huts, while they often represent poverty, can be extremely romantic in their simplicity. All I need is a bed and a sort-of roof with Brian, in a foreign country where every second is interesting, to make me happy.
[All photos courtesy of HGTV.com]