Emily Henderson never imagined she would become an interior designer, let alone one with her own Home & Garden TV show. After winning the reality TV competition Design Star, the former prop stylist received her own show, HGTV’s Secrets from a Stylist. Each week, you can catch Emily on the tube, diagnosing clients’ style and creating customized looks for their homes. It’s hard not to be inspired by Emily’s creativity and knack for styling, or love Emily for saying she’s more at home sourcing pieces from thrift stores than fancy decor boutiques.
We met up with Emily after a long day of shooting to get the scoop on what it’s like being an interior design star, and how to nab a job as cool as hers!
What was the hardest part about being on Design Star?
Not being able to use vintage. I’m a thrift store girl, and we were given only certain stores to shop from, which really stifled my creativity. Send me to a thrift store, and I’ll tear out pages from a book and decorate the walls, but if you’re sent to expensive stores, you can only do so much with the stuff. I think I won because from the first challenge, I was completely honest and myself.
How does designing homes on a TV show differ from what you were doing before?
Before, I was a prop stylist, so I only did magazines, catalogs, and advertising — never homes. It was a lot of rigging of things… for instance, I never really knew how to install drapery, because in photo shoots you just duct tape them to the windows because you never see the top of them. I knew a lot about style but not a lot about function. So, this last year has been a crash course in interior design.
The best day is Fridays, when we reveal [the redesigned space] to the client. You’re making peoples lives much happier. I get e-mails way after we finish from people who are so happy. I’ve cried [with happiness] multiple times, whereas on magazines I never cried.
If you had one tip for people trying to spruce up their spaces, what would it be?
Not to worry about being perfect. People are obsessed with perfection. Just like people, you don’t want to hang out with perfect people, you want to hang out with interesting people.
Did you always want to be an interior designer?
I wanted to be a professor of comparative literature. That’s what I studied in college, and then when I moved to New York, I wanted to be a writer. Then, I decided, if I’m not going to be Paul Auster or Joan Didion, I’m not going to be a writer at all. I was walking dogs, teaching piano, bartending, and then I fell into styling. I worked at a store, and I met all these stylists [whom I asked], “What do you do for a living?” and they [said], “We shop and make things.” So, I started inundating them with e-mails and one hired me.
How would you describe your personal aesthetic?
I think I’m half crazy English grandma and half ’70s Palm Springs glam. I’m obsessed with vintage flowers and furniture, and I love anything brass.
What’s your favorite period for interior design or architecture?
I don’t know! The good thing about the show is that I’m forced to do every single period and style. If someone came to me and said, “I want ‘70s glam,” I’d be extra excited, but there’s good stuff from every period, country, and style. It’s just a matter of finding the good stuff.
What’s your best advice for those who want to land a job in interior design?
I would say you don’t have to go to school, you just have to want to do it. A lot of people come out of interior design school and they’re like, “This is my style for sure.” It took me ten years to even come up with those two styles [mentioned earlier] and even then I’m not sure because every style is awesome. For me, I was obsessed with [decorating] on the weekends and then I was like, “Maybe I should make it my job.” Now I’m obsessed. I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ll be really quiet in the car — and [my husband] Brian’s like, “What are you thinking about?” and I’ll [say], “Whether or not I should use a floral or chinoise drapery for the Osbournes. Yes, I’m just sitting here thinking about that.”