Inspired by Emily Henderson - 5 tips to great style

I'm a big, and I mean BIG fan of Emily Henderson. In case you don't know who she is, she was the winner of HGTV's Design Star, hosted her own show, and is now a partner with Target and others on her fantastic blog, Now to be honest, I didn't always love Emily as much as I do now. In fact I have a confession to make… I thought she won Design Star because she was blond and pretty. So shallow of me (um, a little envy do you think?).  Truth is, Emily is a pro stylist, her background is in prepping photo shoots so they look lived in, natural, and of course super stylish.  She's expanded to other aspects of interior design, but her roots are in making spaces look great with the placement and choice of accessories and furniture.

The reason I'm a fan is because Emily SHARES and she shares big. Her blog is full of great tips and sources. A book was a natural step and STYLED: Secrets for Arranging Rooms, from Tabletops to Bookshelves by Emily Henderson came out last month. I snapped it up and did some studying so I could apply some of her great tips to my next project photo shoot.

Screenshot 2015-11-06 09.43.43
Screenshot 2015-11-06 09.43.43

This project was a townhouse, and the living room before I touched it looked like this:


There were some obvious things, like the painting, and some less obvious things to bring it around to where it would be a good starting point for decorating.

Redesigning a space comes a lot easier to me than the styling so first I tackled the following architectural elements:

  • The fireplace (yikes!) was replaced with a vintage marble fireplace from Demolition Depot
  • The wall on the left (in the “before” top photo, you can see that it goes in and out) was filled in so it was all one level. I frequently do this in brownstones which often walls that jog in and out (usually due to unused fireplaces), making it hard to place furniture.
  • The radiator was awkwardly located so I designed a built -in to house a smaller radiator as well as a media cabinet. The key was to create a solution that integrated their needs with the reality of the radiator (which they also needed). I surrounded the TV with floating shelves so the TV was not the focal point on that wall.

Then we dealt with paint and furniture: Lighter colors, a furniture plan including a cozy sectional for the living room, and a generous dining area satisfied the clients needs and created a multi-use space.

After the redesign and renovation here's where we landed:


Not bad, and definitely a big improvement on the bones of the space, original idea had included a coffee table and a rug like the one below, which was nixed because the homeowners have 3 kids under the age of 5 and it just didn't seem practical.

Diamond Wool Rug

Now, it was time to style the room for the photo shoot. Fortunately, the homeowners had purchased a similar rug for another room and I moved it into the living room for the photo shoot (which they liked so much they kept it there). Here's what it looked like after:

livingroom numbered
livingroom numbered

See how the small details make such a big difference? Here were some of Emily Henderson’s tips I implemented from her book, “Styled”, I include page number for easy reference.

  1. Oddball sculptures (p 103):  I love this idea of working in little sculptures and 3D art to break it up a bit. For the bookshelves, I used these budget-friendly cubes from CB2. From now on I will keep an eye out at flea markets for unusual small sculptural pieces as they really do a great job of adding interest.
  2. Layering items (p 72): The space needed a coffee table, and this this West Elm Clover table had it's own layered, dynamic shape. Pillows with varying textures were added to the mix as well. An existing side table was relocated to the other side of the chair so it breaks up the view of the side of the chair. The shelves got a mix of books and objects, and books were arranged in a more random way on the shelves.
  3. Add depth with bright colors (p 219): The throw and the multicolored corner pillow pulled together a brighter color palette to complement the textured neutrals.
  4. Use plants (p 192 and throughout the book): While this seems kind of obvious, adding a couple of plants to the space brings life in, and that feels cozy and inviting.  For low light situations, a bowl of succulents looks fabulous - which is what I used in the living room on the coffee table (which by the way the owners also kept after the shoot).
  5. Contrast (this is something that comes up throughout the book): The original rug was close in tone to the sofa. When we put the brighter rug down, the sofa looked so much better as well as the other furniture. It just brought additional light into the room that helps the furniture separate more.

I learned a lot from this process - and here are my suggestions for applying it to your space:

  • take a photo of the space you are styling and print it on regular paper, then draw your notes in on it, including sketching in plants, tables, and additional furniture items
  • make a list of what you need including size notes (for example, 30" round table, 18-24" high potted plant, 60-70" floor lamp)
  • get out of the house and do some shopping/propping in person with your photo (and a tapemeasure)  in hand to help with visualizing
  • get more than you need (especially with pillows) and be ready to return what you don't use

Happy Designing!

Want my fabulous pillow resource cheat sheet so you can save loads of time? click below!