Q & A with Emily Henderson

By Kate Riley June 16, 2011

Greetings friends, I have the most special treat for you today!  Michelle of Ten June is a monthly contributor here, and she’s back with an amazing interview she snagged with the latest sensation to hit the design world, Emily Henderson, winner of HGTV’s Design Star and now host of the design show, Secrets From A Stylist.

clip_image002We’ve witnessed her room reveals over the past year, and each one continues to wow.  We love Emily for her bohemian chic style and magnetic personality. 

This talented stylist is refreshingly down to earth and lucky for us, she agreed to sit down with Michelle and chat about breaking design rules, Nate Berkus, and her forgotten love for DIY.  Grab a snack and get comfortable, because we’re about to learn more secrets from this stylist!

All images from Emily’s portfolio. 


Q & A between Emily and Michelle:

emily henderson living room


Q:  When styling the accessories in a room, how much is too much?  Do you have any advice as to how to accessorize a space well and add balance without creating chaos?

A:  This is my biggest challenge because I like a LOT of accessories. Like, a LOT.  But here’s what I do, because I’m crazy – I style vignettes using groups of threes or odd numbers.  I keep it balanced by using a healthy combination of weighty/graphic objects (stacks of books or boxes) with more feminine sculptural objects (vases, sculptures, flowers).  Then (and this is the crazy part) I take a picture with my phone and stare at the picture.  If something isn’t “reading” right, then I might have too much stuff, so I edit.  I look at the picture as if it’s a magazine page and think “if I had styled that, what would I change about it?” It’s hard to be objective, so I try and take myself out of it and stare at the picture instead.

emily henderson bookcase


Q:  Who inspires you? Do you pull inspiration from any particular designers, online sites or shelter magazines? 

A:  I’m always psyched to get Elle Decor in the mail. Once a month, I go to the newsstand and buy Living Etc, Elle Decor Australia, Italy and England, Vogue Living Australia, Inside/Out… any and all of them.  I also love Lonny, Rue and Anthology.  As far as individual designers who I keep track of, my list would be: Emily Chalmers, Robyn Glaser, Nate Berkus, Jonathan Adler, Kelly Wearstler, Lilli Diallo and Sibella Court.  And my list of favorite blogs is endless, so I won’t even start. But I read a ton of them, trust me.

Q:  When working with a client’s budget, how do you prioritize your spending? How do you choose which pieces to splurge on and when to take the more affordable route? 

A:  Here’s what I do, for myself, as well as for the show:  I splurge on what will make the biggest and most interesting impact.  Normally, this is a vintage sofa whose shape I can’t get out of my head and I must have it, reupholster it and use it.  (Check out my first episode sofa, a teal deco piece that I love so much).  Often, it’s a huge found object that I turn into a piece of art.  Splurge on something that is unique and one-of-a-kind, because as much as a comfortable sofa is a worthy investment, it doesn’t really say much about who you are. You want those pieces that say it big and fast (especially in TV).

emily henderson teal sofa


Q: What is your best advice when clients come to you looking for sleek, stylish storage options?

A:  It can be hard to hide the junk in a fashionable way!  I’m not gonna lie, “storage” is a huge buzz kill.  I’m a big fan of converting vintage buffets and credenzas into media units, or using storage trunks as ottoman (Urban Outfitters has some great ones).


Q:  Speaking of, you have a knack for finding incredible design sources. Do you have a few favorite design related chain stores?

A:  Yup, West Elm and CB2 have bailed me out more than a few times.  Ikea is great, obviously, but I don’t use their furniture so much, more their accessories.  I’m picky, but I’m not a snob… I’ll shop anywhere to find the best stuff.


Q:  How often do you DIY projects for your home or the spaces that you create? 

A:  We do a lot of refinishing furniture, building frames for artwork, and recently, I chevroned some drapery, but Secrets From A Stylist is not a DIY show, necessarily.  I used to do a TON in my own life, but I’m happily too busy now.  I don’t remember the last time I sewed something or collaged something for me.  I just realized this second that I miss it, shoot.  After this season, I’m hoping to get back into it.

emily henderson carved wood buffet


Q: One of the traits that you are most respected for as an interior designer is mixing different types of design styles in one room in a seamless fashion. What are your top three tips on how to layer more than one design style while keeping the space cohesive?

A:  Ah, yes.  Okay, first off, choose a consistent color palette. I truly believe you can mix any styles together as long as you keep color in mind.  And, you don’t have to be super strict, just have a family of three or so colors that work together and reference them while shopping. 

Second, make sure there is enough weighty furniture… if you are mixing, say, Victorian with Spanish, you have a lot of ornate details, scrolly stuff, small scale tables and chairs, etc., and it will get bitsy and busy really fast.  Don’t forget to ground the space with something potentially more modern and visually weighty to make sure you don’t get lost in the styles.  Finally, I’m a big fan of using more masculine furniture with feminine accessories – not always, don’t quote me on it- but I find it works.


Q:  Do you ever break any specific "textbook design rules?" If so, which ones?

A:  I’m sure I do.  I know that sometimes, I put higher tables next to a sofa than you are supposed to (or lower).  Same with nightstands. I’m a big fan of “anything can be a side table or a nightstand” so sometimes it’s a taller piece whose height is higher than the bed, which I think is the rule. Some design rules are important and for a reason, but some just aren’t.

emily henderson for oh joy


Q: Balancing the use of color in a room can be tricky. In what ways do you use color in your designs without creating a room that looks like a circus or a children’s room? 

A:  I always mix cool and warm tones, first off… that keeps it balanced and warm.  Always.  And if I use a pastel, I use just one pastel color and balance it off with a masculine grey or navy.  I choose one big saturated color, an accent saturated color, then a healthy dose of some neutrals.


Q: Which room that you have designed are you the most proud of and why?

A: Ooh, I don’t know, good question!  “Proud” is hard, but where I would want to live is easier.  I love the Bohemian Modern (the second episode) and Joy’s house (the third episode), as well as three rooms from the new season that haven’t aired yet.  There are some that I LOVE but just aren’t my style and some that scream “Emily” – those are the ones that I’m happiest in.

emily henderson blue walls map

So there you have it, folks!  Incredible design insight from an HGTV star.  Thank you for sitting down with us, Emily. And if you haven’t yet, don’t forget to check out Secrets From A Stylist  on HGTV!  If you’re not already a subscriber, be sure to read along with Emily herself on her blog where she gives us all her behind the scenes look at the show. 

Thank YOU Michelle for this month’s contribution, what a fantastic interview!   We’re all so inspired by Emily’s portfolio and the fact she’s so willing to share her secrets.  We love her for being so approachable, and we will be watching her for years to come.  

Be sure to follow Michelle over at her inspiring blog Ten June

michelle bio



  1. What an *awesome* interview! Loved Emily on Design Star and love her new show. I’m such a fan of her eclectic style and desperately wish I could pull it off on my own. Her helpful tips have pointed me in the right direction!

  2. What a great interview! I loved getting her insight on how to mix styles- I have no idea what my “style” is because I just buy what I like and I make it work, so my house is a hodge-podge of styles. It was nice to read that that’s okay, and to hear how she makes that work. Thanks for posting this!

  3. thank you for sharing!!!! i literally just watched online the season finale last night where Emily won.

  4. I haven’t commented in forever here, but I just couldn’t resist an interview with Miss Emily! She is always so witty and her spaces are some of the best around. In my dream day, I get to follow Emily around to one of her flea market shopping trips, finding all sorts of vintage amazingness…hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?!? Great interview, Michelle!

  5. Holy cow!! I just adore Michelle and this interview with Emily is awesome. I feel like I’ve learned so much just in the 10 minutes it took me to read it. Secrets of a Stylist is definitely my favorite HGTV show because I think Emily thinks so practically, using the layer technique. It’s so important to make sure everyone using the space enjoys the space, and she always gets to that point with it looking amazing!

  6. How great is this post! What an awesome interview. I LOVE emily. Watched every single show. But there hasn’t been any in a while. I’m guessing the season is over? Anyway, love this. So jealous you two got to interview her. :)

    Take care!

  7. Kudos, Michelle!! Great interview, and I loved your questions!!

  8. Michelle nailed this interview! Great questions and how awesome that Emily would take the time to do this! If it’s at all possible I think I just became an even bigger fan of hers! The sofa in the first episode rocked my socks off!

  9. Thanks for this great interview. I LOVE Emily. I was rooting for her from the very first episode of Design Star and was over the moon when she won. She has upped the cool factor on HGTV by a thousand percent. Thanks!

  10. Great interview. I love Emily’s energy and style and look forward to watching next season’s shows.

  11. My 13 year old daughter and I love Emily’s show. In fact, she begs me to try and get Emily down to San Diego to do her bedroom! Anyway-great interview-thanks so much for sharing this!!

  12. Great interview, thanks for posting it. I especially love Emily’s tip about taking a photo and then looked at it like it’s an image from a a magazine. I often think a room in my house looks perfect, take a photo and then realise that it is too sparse.

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