Emily Henderson doesn’t know what to do with her hands. She’s talking into the camera of an iPhone held by one of her team members, taking her Instagram followers behind the scenes of the house tour we’ve come to capture, and she can’t decide how to stand.
Legs in a power stance. Arms on her hips. Hands gesticulating wildly. After a few takes, she grabs the phone to look at what’s been filmed, then quickly turns it to selfie mode to rerecord her spiel.
That’s the cut that lands on minutes later, and that’s the reason her 716,000 followers adore her. They feel like she’s talking right to them, like they’re part of her inner circle.
It’s great, mostly, to have a tight-knit crew of diehard fans who can talk anything from rug sizes to immigration policy. But then there are the times Emily’s readers feel like they’ve earned the right to tell her that her eyebrows look like sperm.
“I think they created a hashtag for them!” Emily laughs, clearly not phased by the so-called beauty blunder she committed. She’s used to wars breaking out in her comments section. They’re just usually about mismatched table lamps, or kitchen stools, or paint colors.
Emily’s path to interior designer wasn’t a straight one. “After school, I went to New York and started walking dogs, bartending, teaching piano.” Eventually, she landed a job at Jonathan Adler, back when the designer only had one small Soho shop. Emily made enough connections to get a few gigs as a prop stylist, before packing up and moving to Los Angeles with her husband, Brian.
“I started watching a lot of HGTV, and I auditioned for Design Star as kind of a joke,” she says of HGTV’s 2010 competition show for up-and-coming interior decorators. She had just started her design blog, Style by Emily Henderson. But then, as luck would have it, she won.
"I was highly unprepared for how adorable and fun it is to have a tea party with your child."
“I KNOW!!!!! ITS INSANE!!!!! MUST WRITE ONLY IN CAPITALS FOR A YEAR BECAUSE I’M SO EXCITED!!!!!” Emily wrote in a blog post from August 23, 2010, announcing the news. Clinching a win meant she got her own show, Secrets From a Stylist, on HGTV. The first episode was a one-time special, but it performed well enough to snag two 13-episode seasons of the show.
Things kind of snowballed after that, Emily admits. She continued to take on private clients while juggling jobs for bigger companies. “My ‘I made it’ moment was when I did this commercial for Target,” Emily says. “I was so proud of myself after that shoot.”She’s got a lot of other things to be proud of: Emily's been one of Target's go-to home experts ever since. She’s designed for Snoop Dogg and Airbnb. In 2015, Emily published her first book; ; now a New York Times bestseller. And then there’s her blog, which is like a design bible for frequent visitors.
Emily — or someone from her carefully curated team of writers and stylists — churns out a post every day. Sometimes they’re service-oriented: Emily’s known for her ultimate guides (choosing the , , , ). Other times, Emily leans in on personal connection, penning heartfelt essays on family separation, gun rights, or elections. They’re divisive topics that have no place on a design blog, some argue, but the way Emily presents her thoughts — giving credence to both sides of the debate — has only served to expand her fan base. She feels a pull to use her platform that way, she says.Emily doesn’t really play the piano anymore — she banged out a rusty rendition of Chopsticks to prove it — but the vintage Baldwin in her living room is one of her favorite spots in the LA house she shares with Brian and their two kids. (Her son Charlie is four, and her daughter Elliot, who goes by Birdie, is two.)
“Brian and I always knew that we would have a piano,” Emily says. Her parents and siblings are all musicians, and Brian is involved in musical theater. Now Charlie’s taking piano lessons. There was a moment when Emily thought about shipping her family piano from Oregon to California, but a $13,000 quote put the kibosh on that. This one’s been restored. “It looks great but still sounds kind of awful,” Emily jokes.
The rest of the living room was designed with the intention to fit its name — to really be lived in. “We are in this room all day, every day,” the designer admits. It’s flanked by multiple sets of French doors, which provide incredible natural light — and no place for a television. So Emily installed a giant projector that’s hidden beneath a curtain rod. Peter Pan and Moana play on repeat these days.
Just outside those doors is the reason Emily and Brian purchased the 1920s English Tudor in Los Angele’s Los Feliz neighborhood. “The entire house needed to be renovated, but the backyard — we were like, ‘This is why we are buying this house,’” she says. “To have flat land in L.A. that’s enclosed for kids is priceless.”
They built a castle — with flags and a slide — out back for Charlie and Birdie. The patio looks out onto it — again, intentional. “The parents can hang out here and overlook the kids playing,” she says. “Friday night, the happy hour is always at the Hendersons’. It’s always on that patio.”
is the ultimate space for a two-year-old girl. But it’s more Emily’s fantasy bedroom, she admits, laughing. There’s pink everywhere: the custom-designed wallpaper, the blobby beanbag that’s impossible to style, the pint-sized chair that’s been overtaken by the family feline, Bearcat.
But some of Birdie’s favorite things are in there, too. The crib is overrun with her collection of stuffed animals — “It’s like one of those carnival games where the claw comes down to try and find your child” — and last Christmas, Emily purchased a vintage tea set for play time. They have tea parties almost nightly before bed. “I was highly unprepared for how adorable and fun it is to have a tea party with your child,” she says.
It’s those candid moments that Emily — like any mom — vows not to forget, so she tries to capture them all on camera. “Toddlers will not sit and smile, so I pull screengrabs from videos and frame them,” she says. There’s a line-up of those freeze frames in the entry way of the house. “It’s the first thing I see every day when I come home from work, and it makes me very happy.”
When you ask Emily what’s in the future, a sneaky smile spreads across her face. She wants to keep growing her blog (and the “We’re hiring!” posts prove she’s doing a good job of it). But she also wants her own product line, she says, maybe even her own store. She wouldn’t mind returning to TV or writing another book.
But she knows that no matter what direction she heads in, she won't be in it alone. The road is going to curve, and she'll have her millions of fans watching, cheering, and debating at every turn.
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