Becoming Emily Henderson

We started the Becoming interview series after reading Michelle Obama’s book Becoming in our book club a few years ago. We wanted to hear from women in different walks of life and how they were approaching creativity, mothering, career goals, and more. It’s been amazing to conduct these interviews and get a “behind the scenes” look at so many inspirational women!

This week we’re highlighting the amazing Emily Henderson, in honor of her new book! A pinch me moment I had recently was opening my very own copy of Emily’s book when it arrived at my doorstep. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to deepen their interior design knowledge. Emily is an incredibly talented interior designer and we’re thrilled for you to learn more from her through this interview!

What do you consider yourself ? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator, maker, business  person, educator, etc.? 

These days I identify most with being a design content creator and writer. 

Where did you grow up? Were there aspects of your childhood that have influenced what  you do now? 

I was born into a Mormon family in rural Oregon. A big family with a lot of crafting and DIY.  I learned from a very young age the fun of thrift and how much can be done from so little. Hence my deep and intense love for all things vintage. But, what my childhood really taught me was how to work VERY hard, of which I am extremely grateful for because it’s one of the big reasons I’ve been successful. 

What did you dream of becoming when you were younger? 

Growing up in the 80s in rural Oregon, no one really knew Interior Designer was a career choice you could do. It was Teacher, Doctor, or Lawyer so I grew up thinking I would be a teacher like my parents and studied history and english in college. It wasn’t until I worked at Jonathan Adler and met stylists that I became interested in a creative career. Now I can see that most of my interests merged (writing, history, and design), which isn’t as rare as it sounds in the creative world. You collect knowledge throughout your various interests and sometimes the culmination of it all directly affects your career.

What inspired you to become a designer? 

When I was in my 20s living in New York I was a shop girl at Jonathan Adler and that’s where I met stylists and learned what a stylist even was. I couldn’t believe people got to shop and borrow and make things to style out sets for their job and I thought that sounded really fun. So that experience plus my love for vintage is what got me interested in styling and interior design. 

What is one piece of work that you are especially proud of and why?

The Mountain House I designed and renovated is my favorite place to be. I designed it for my family (and friends) to enjoy and we love spending months up there during the summer. It’s open, airy, warm and inviting. It has this very special positive, calming energy that I can’t get enough of. 

We’re so excited about your new book! Can you tell us more about it?

My book, The New Design Rules, is all about empowering and educating through the renovation and decoration process. It has all the construction vocabulary, distilled renovation process (and my preferences) with the intent to communicate effectively with your contractors so you don’t get man-splained, make as many mistakes, fight with your partner, and feel like a total failure. And yet it’s full of beautifully styled inspirational shots of homes – kitchens, bathrooms, living, mud and bedrooms, office, basements, and more 🙂 It’s all about knowing the rules so you can creatively break them. 

What is your design process like? Where do you find inspiration for new creations?

I use Pinterest to get some initial ‘look and feel’. When I first start designing a room I will pin a bunch of rooms until I can get a sense of what style/feeling I am going for. 

I always design a room by asking myself  “how do I want this room to feel?” Every room is different, truly, and the process is driven more by the needs and wants of the room than a step by step process. But I always try to design the space with UTILITY in mind – not in a boring functional way, but more ‘how do I want to USE the room’, which easily separates the family room from the formal living room. I lean into comfort on most things these days, knowing that we gravitate towards rooms that are the most comfortable (so why not make every room extremely comfortable?). 

What artists and creatives do you look up to, both historical and present? 

I’m all over the place. I find that the people I admire the most have such different style than what I want in my own home, so I try to analyze WHY I love them so much and be inspired by their work, then create my own version. I love Beata Heuman, Heidi Caillier, Jessica Helgerson – all their work is so inspiring. But more livable spaces I also love Amber Lewis and Sara Sherman Samuel. I think what they all have in common (despite being so different) is confidence, clarity and comfort. And they attack that in such different ways, aesthetically. 

What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you and who is it from? Do you have a  personal motto? 

​​”I don’t know the key to success, but I do know the key to failure is trying to please everyone.” As someone with a large following of readers who watch my every move pretty closely, I know that I have to act from my inner moral compass, listen to my close team, friends and family and make decisions based on experience. Trying to please everyone is simply as impossible as trying to be perfect and once you realize that, your life gets so much easier. 

How do your surroundings influence your work?

I’m a huge nature lover and need to be outside to calm down this dumb ruminating brain of mine. So while I don’t think I design specifically around nature themes or anything (although I have done many a tree mural now that I think about it) I think after being in nature is when I do my most grounded work. 

What is a typical day like for you? 

I am currently mid-renovation and right now there are a lot of things happening FAST so I usually start my day going to the farmhouse to make decisions. Then I write for a few hours and check in with my team. I have two kids that have reached the wonderful ages of 6 and 8 which makes them pretty independent and extremely fun to hang with. As a design content creator in the wild west of digital media I have to really monitor my time to ensure I don’t work 80 hours a week. Right now I feel relatively balanced with a great team and a decent work life balance but it took YEARS to get to this point and it wasn’t easy (lots of nervous breakdowns and Eckhart Tolle if you know what I mean). 

Do you have a secret talent? What is one skill that you are working on?

When your life is on social media there really aren’t any secrets, but I have a strangely good sense of direction 🙂 In the fall I’m going to start teaching myself photography – I have the camera, I know angles and lighting, I just don’t know how those buttons work so I’m extremely excited to take some time to learn that next year. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to self-teach a new hobby or skill?

The best advice I can give is to simply START. You can’t let fear or perfectionism get in the way. 

Nobody likes to talk about it, but can you share any advice regarding financing your  business? 

There are a billion ways to run a healthy business and frankly we all have to figure out what works for us which can often be a messy process. But I kept my overhead pretty low for years and it wasn’t until I had a large team and a big overhead that I struggled financially. It’s a process that I needed to go through to learn what is best for me, but just know that bigger isn’t always better for creatives running a business. I spent the first 5-7 years of my career building my portfolio, proving the value of our work and working my ass off with the help from my team, so at this point we charge a lot for our time and services because we know the value of our work. But it takes years of figuring that out (and maybe you’ll do it a lot faster). 

Is there anything more you would like to “become?”

I’m shifting more into the teaching and mentoring phase of my career. I don’t have the same lust for new marketing ideas that I did 8 years ago, but I do feel passionate about synthesizing what I’ve learned and passing it on – both in design and career. While I still blog about swimsuits and tanning lotion because it’s good for the business, my passion is still creating good design content. As soon as we are done with the farm I want to start working with my brother (an aspiring contractor) and do projects together and document them, with a more hands on approach. 

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