With her latest tome—The New Design Rules: How to Decorate and Renovate, From Start to Finish (Clarkson Potter)—debuting this April, Emily Henderson (stylebyemilyhenderson.com) distilled two years of research into a succinct, visual guide for homeowners willing to immerse themselves in their own projects. Here, the high-energy stylist and interior designer shares the inspiration behind her second book, when to dig in versus when to hire a contractor, and why she chose to move from L.A. to Portland with her family.
PHOTO REPRINTED FROM THE NEW DESIGN RULES © 2022 EMILY HENDERSON, PHOTOS © 2022 BY SARA LIGGORIA-TRAMP, PUBLISHED BY CLARKSON POTTER, AN IMPRINT OF RANDOM HOUSE
What inspired you to write a second book? This book was inspired by my own frustration toward the renovation process. As I was very publicly documenting two huge renovations, I longed for a handbook, a guide that I could reference to help me through the process. But I didn’t want a boring textbook, instead something that gives [examples of] mistakes and anecdotes and is full of gorgeous photos of highly creative people.
I love that this book breaks down home renovation, which is a scary topic for so many people. What types of projects are ones you’d recommend for a novice? Your experience level doesn’t make much of a difference if you are hiring a great contractor, but I’d say that you want to gauge more of your emotional, mental and financial capacity for a whole house renovation. I really try to prepare people for what that is like and not sugar coat how stressful it can be. In the book there are a lot of ‘updates’ and even DIY projects that people can do if they aren’t ready to embark. And heck, a coat of paint can be transformative, and rehanging art can enliven a room. But if you feel like a design novice and are embarking on a renovation, then I’m confident in saying that this book is required reading—it’s so helpful, I promise!
And what types of projects are better suited for a contractor? I get into this in a chapter in the book. It’s more about you than your house. If you are moving walls, plumbing, HVAC or electrical, hire out some help. But if you are replacing tile or flooring, that might be something you can do yourself with the help of some handy friends or YouTube videos. Think about your bandwidth, skill level and honestly desire to be hands on. It’s not for everyone, but it can sure save some money.
Looking back, what are some projects you’ve attempted on your own that may have been better outsourced? I’ve never really been a renovation DIY-er. I like to paint rooms and switch out sconces, but otherwise I’ve hired handy people or contractors. I like an expert.
And what projects have you done that you feel the most proud of? The Mountain House is our cabin up in Lake Arrowhead, and it turned out just as I wanted in my head—a calm, warm, minimalist retreat. Every time I walk into that house (even after living there through lockdown), I’m relieved and proud that it turned out like it did.
How can one get into what’s trending without regretting it a few years later? What’s worth going for trendwise, and when do classics make sense? If it’s high-quality materials and installed with good craftsmanship, you are 90% there. ‘Renovation trends’ are typically less risky than decor trends. I’d let the architecture of the home influence the materials chosen. Then if you want to play it even safer, stay away from bold colors and patterns in your permanent finishes (like tile, flooring) and bring those colors in in your furniture, decor, accessories, textiles.
For her own living room, Emily Henderson went for a fresh look, incorporating a blue sofa from Lawson-Fenning and a vintage trunk she had in her arsenal PHOTO REPRINTED FROM THE NEW DESIGN RULES © 2022 EMILY HENDERSON, PHOTO © 2022 BY SARA LIGGORIA-TRAMP, PUBLISHED BY CLARKSON POTTER, AN IMPRINT OF RANDOM HOUSE
Speaking of, what are some classic materials you’d recommend? Brick tile (subway), hex, penny tile never go out of style. High-quality wood flooring and materials are forever classic—the less shiny, the better. I have a general rule that for older homes (before 1950s) I keep the finishes more classic and the applications more traditional. While there are no ‘rules’ in creativity, for people who aren’t professional designers, I think mitigating risks will mitigate regret. Think function, go classic and layer on the fun.
The New Design Rules is Henderson’s second book. PHOTO REPRINTED FROM THE NEW DESIGN RULES © 2022 EMILY HENDERSON, PHOTO © 2022 BY SARA LIGGORIA-TRAMP, PUBLISHED BY CLARKSON POTTER, AN IMPRINT OF RANDOM HOUSE
What has been inspiring you lately, designwise? I love following people who are really bold and make big, risky decisions—again, I’m not likely going to do them in my own home right now (opting for quiet minimalism), but it’s still inspiring and opens my mind, creatively. I love Beata Heuman’s and Heidi Caillier’s work so much.
I see that you’ve left L.A.! What prompted that decision, and how are you liking life in Portland? We moved home after 20 years of being in New York and L.A. and we love it. We found a mini farm that we are restoring, and it’s a gem of a property. We wanted a simpler, slower life, and while I’ll always love to visit, the vibe of the PNW just suits our stage of life more.
For a fresh look that separates different zones in the kitchen, Henderson advises readers to mix materials throughout PHOTO REPRINTED FROM THE NEW DESIGN RULES © 2022 EMILY HENDERSON, PHOTO © 2022 BY SARA LIGGORIA-TRAMP, PUBLISHED BY CLARKSON POTTER, AN IMPRINT OF RANDOM HOUSE
What do you miss most about L.A.? The weather. The design stores. The food—oh, the food. I love the creative vibe you feel just visiting and the endless salads and fresh produce. I swear I’ll fly back just to eat at Botanica and All Time (both in Silverlake) and visit Lawson-Fenning, Nickey Kehoe and Lost & Found. I don’t miss the traffic, but L.A. has a special vibe full of opportunity.
What’s next for you? Alpacas, obviously. Our kids are young and documenting this farmhouse on the blog will take years, which I’m loving. In digital media we don’t plan the future, instead shifting with the tides or choosing to stay put. Right now, I have a great L.A.-based team, I’m thoroughly enjoying the two major projects I have to renovate and, yes, we’ll be getting chickens, alpacas and miniature goats soon. I think that will keep me and my kids busy in a really fun way.