Emily Henderson, Amber Lewis, and More on the One Item in Their Homes That Sparks Joy

The list includes a ceramic leopard.

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Designers make their living by crafting beautiful spaces for others to inhabit—which is why we love peeking into professionals’ homes to see how they’ve parlayed their day job into their personal space. 

And when you take a glance inside, one thing is instantly clear: Any preconceived notions that pristine spaces are devoid of individuality should be swiftly tossed out the window. The contents of our favorite designers’ houses are deeply personal, chock-full of cool touches and unique ideas that, to paraphrase our favorite philosopher, Marie Kondo, spark serious joy. Here’s the highlight reel. 

The Auction Score

living room with palm tree and colorful rug
Photography by The White Arrow

I love the thrill of bidding on old items, and one of my favorites is a Josef Frank wool rug I won at auction. The colors were instrumental in driving the palette of subsequent pieces in our home—and I love its playful Matisse-inspired geometric illustrations. —Keren Richter

The Wedding Memento

blue kitchen pantry nook with wallpaper
Photography by Seth Caplan

There’s a collection of vintage blue and white chinoiserie vases that I display in our bar area. They were on cocktail tables at our wedding, and I spent the months leading up to the party collecting them and collaborating with our amazing florist! They make me smile every time I see them. —Ariel Okin

The French Souvenir

neutral kitchen with open shelving full of frames
Photography by Dan Mazzarini
I took my mom on a memorable trip to Paris about a decade ago; it was a rosé-fueled, carefree time in my favorite city. While at the flea market, I saw a ceramic polar bear inspired by François Pompon’s at the Musée d’Orsay that I loved. When we got back to the hotel that night, my mom surprised me with the statue. Since then, I’ve always kept it in my apartment to remember our great trip together. —Dan Mazzarini

The Item That Would Be Saved in a Fire

Photography by Tessa Neustadt

When I was living in New York City, I bought my first piece of “real” art. It’s a huge vintage drawing of a cartoon blimp, and I love it as much today as when I bought it 10 years ago. Although it was not much in price, it felt like a big and important purchase for me at the time. It not only still sparks joy, but if my house were on fire, you bet I would be ripping it off the wall as my arm hairs were about to burn off. —Emily Henderson

The Upcycled Steal

Photography by Cody Guilfoyle

You know that feeling when you make a big decision to invest money in a piece of furniture that you very quickly end up getting bored with? This is the opposite situation—I had no money left in the design budget, a 33-inch wide space to fill, and a hankering for a good multifunctional case. I am a huge thrifter and essentially cannot walk by a secondhand store without going in. I found this perfect little brass-foot cabinet for $15, threw my body on it as fast I could (I have severe anxiety about people swooping in on my thrift furnishings), called a car, and got that sucker out of there as fast I could. I did make one adjustment by replacing the top with a marble slab for a little more texture and variation. It was the opposite of a drawn-out, thoughtful decision, but it’s one that has gotten better with time and most certainly brings me joy. —Megan Hopp

Tour Hopp’s NYC apartment here.

The Kids’ Room DIY

Photography by Reading My Tea Leaves

I’d say my most recent favorite project is a china cabinet that I found on the street and refurbished to use in my kids’ room as a dresser. Since there were lots of signs of lead paint and it was going in a room with two little kids, I had it professionally stripped, and then I replaced the broken glass doors and hardware, removed some ornamental woodwork, and gave it a fresh coat of paint. It’s made such a difference in their room, and I love that it went from literal trash to treasure. —Erin Boyle

The Sentimental Surprise

Photography by Monica Wang

When we first moved to Los Angeles, I wanted these bust vases so bad. They are fun and quirky and the epitome of joy. I was just getting my business reestablished, and my husband was starting a new job, so it really wasn’t an item that made sense to purchase. But after my husband got his first paycheck, he surprised me with a set of two busts. They are still my favorite pieces, and they sit in our living room front and center. —Joy Cho

The Multipurpose Treasure

Photography by Ashley Petrone

I’m such a lover of fun finds and treasure hunting. Normally my go-to spot is a garage sale or thrift store, but I found my favorite decor item at Homegoods. It was $4.99 (which makes it even better) and it’s a small wood stool that I move all over the house. It has been used as a candleholder, spice display, paper towel holder, plant stand, and the list goes on. It’s a sweet treasure that sparks joy every time I see it, and it reminds me why I love my “buy now, return later” motto. I’ve never seen it at the store again. Ashley Petrone

Tour Petrone’s Northern California home here.

The Ottoman That Used to Be a Rug

Photography by Tessa Neustadt

One item that makes me happy beyond belief is my Chautauqua ottoman. It’s one of the prettiest pieces of furniture in my home; it’s versatile, it’s one of a kind—need I say more? It’s made with a vintage rug I found, and while it’s beautiful, I don’t need to be too careful with it. It’s sturdy AF and truly made for living. I kick my feet up on it every night when I hit the couch, and it’s easily my favorite piece. —Amber Lewis

The Pseudo Pet

Photography by Autumn Hachey

I have a 1970s ceramic leopard statue in front of my mantel that is hands down one of my favorite things ever. I first saw a leopard statue at a vintage shop in Vancouver when I was there for work and became obsessed with finding my own. I ended up locating one at a local consignment shop. At the time, we weren’t allowed to have any pets in our apartment, so the leopard was our first pet. We named him Jackson after the guitar, because my partner is a musician. We have very different decor styles, and Jackson is a great mix of both: a little bit badass and a little bit rock and roll. Jackson was also in the first profile photo I posted to my vintage shop, Make Moves Vintage, thereby becoming a bit of a mascot for the brand. He was later included in my logos—I’m even planning to get a tattoo of him. Autumn Hachey

The Mural With a Message

Photography by Lisa Romerein

This mural, commissioned by surf artist Matt Allen, reminds me every day to slow the heck down and count my blessings. Raili Clasen

Tour Clasen’s Newport Beach, California, home here.

The Conversation Starter

Photography by Zeke Ruelas

I’m a big fan of anything in the home that not only sparks joy but also initiates discourse. For me, this usually means adding something funky or fun by way of art or a unique vintage piece—we don’t want our house to look like everyone else’s, right? This chair is weird in the best way possible. Plus, it previously belonged to Kelly Wearstler, which is a great conversation starter. Dee Murphy

The Personal Paintings

Photography by Room for Tuesday

I painted portraits of my dogs last year and am constantly smiling when I see them. They’re quirky and fun from a design point of view, but also sentimental because our giant schnauzer has since passed away. I’ll definitely paint portraits of all of our dogs from here on out—they’re so special to us. —Sarah Gibson

The Flea Market Find

Photography by SG Style

There are so many things in my home that spark joy, but I’d have to say that at the top of the list are my vintage, hand-carved three wise monkeys. I love them so, so much. They are so special to me because I happened upon them at an antiques flea market, and I’ve never seen them anywhere else since. They bring such good vibes to our home and are such a conversation starter. I’ll probably request to be buried with them. Shavonda Gardner

The Wish-List Furniture Piece

Photography by Marisa Vitale

I spent months looking for a vintage sideboard that fit my budget and aesthetic. I finally found my dream piece. This 1963 Broyhill Brasília brings wonderful vibes to my house. I’m a firm believer that we need to be acutely aware of what we surround ourselves with, especially in our home. Intentionally styling your space with wellness in mind is key to every happy home. —Anita Yokota

The Painting That Influenced an Entire Room

Photography by Allison Crawford

Although I love every detail of this entryway, the Zoë Pawlak painting steals the show. For me, it represents feminism, confidence, and originality, which sparks joy. Pawlak is a talented painter based in Montreal, and when I saw this piece, I immediately fell in love. The purchase was the first building block when designing Hotelette Austin, and I based the entire living room around the colors and vibe of the painting. —Allison Crawford

See more ways to have your decor spark joy: I Put a Disco Ball in My Window, and It Has Brought Me Great Joy It’s Time to Reconsider Decorating With Glitter This Latest Decor Trend Is All About Body Positivity

Elly Leavitt

Writer and Editor

Elly enjoys covering anything from travel to funky design (tubular furniture, anyone?) to the latest cultural trend. Her dream apartment would exist on the Upper West Side and include a plethora of mismatched antique chairs, ceramic vessels, and floor-to-ceiling bookcases—essential to her goal of becoming a poor man’s Nora Ephron. You can probably find her in line at Trader Joe’s. You will never find her at SoulCycle.