The First Things Emily Henderson Notices When She Enters a Room

Her pillars of good design.

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We’d guess that Emily Henderson’s unwavering dedication to keeping it real has a lot to do with how she’s amassed 800,000-plus loyal Instagram followers. (That and her design know-how, obviously.) So when she decided to conduct a recent impromptu interview on her Instagram while cooking a mysterious green soup in her kitchen, we weren’t surprised—but we definitely tuned in. 

Between fielding questions on whether she’s a texter or caller (texter), what skill she wishes she could work on (photography), and her meal-prep habits (they involve a roast chicken), she also shed some insight into Emily Henderson Design 101. Namely, the first things she notices when she walks into a room. When asked what the tenets of good design are, she responded with comfort, functionality, personality, interest, and crafting a place where she actually wants to hang out. 

Armed with this information, we dove a little deeper into our past chats with Henderson for some concrete tips on achieving each of those attributes:

On comfort:

Whether it’s a cushy, éclair-shaped sofa you want to sink into or some eclectic throw pillows, eschew sleek lines for the decor equivalent of sweatpants. That includes something as simple as a plush rug to warm up cold wood floors—it’s what Henderson did in her crowdsourced kitchen.

On functionality:

If you regularly stalk EH’s website (guilty), you’ll notice that all her spaces—even the ones featuring more daring trends—include a timeless element to ground them. One way she does this is with a neutral base that ensures a room’s longevity. Functionality isn’t just for furniture—your color palette should have a purpose, too. 

Henderson’s latest obsession is none other than beige. “The key is to keep the color light and airy—stay away from anything too yellow or muddy and you’ll have yourself a room that feels more dimensional and welcoming than a bright white space,” she says, sharing how to make the controversial hue feel fresh. 

On personality:

This is where testing out the latest trends comes in—pick some low-risk items, like smaller furniture or accent pieces, and try your hand at a funky style that speaks to your creative side. “Start small and within your existing color palette,” Henderson recommends. “Choose a cool vase or side table, then see how that goes. You can honestly mix whatever styles you want as long as the color palette is consistent—I say just go for it.” While she’s extolling the virtues of tubular furniture (one of her own favorite trends) here, the philosophy applies to any look you’ve been waiting to delve into. 

On visual interest: 

One of Henderson’s secrets to making a room feel exciting: taking an overdone style and turning it firmly on its head. For example, all-white kitchens. Tired of the monochromatic look, she turned her eye to more dramatic color palettes, championing the dark-on-dark kitchen aesthetic. “[It’s] a risk, but for those willing to go moodier, it can pay off,” she tells us. “I think the key is to keep the colors deep and inky, meaning there is more of a charcoal or black undertone. It’s going to look more modern.”

On desirability: 

Personal spaces are welcoming spaces,  so incorporate a few sentimental mementos. “When I was living in New York City, I bought my first piece of ‘real’ art,” says Henderson of her favorite nostalgic item. “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. 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.” 

See more Emily Henderson design tips: The Emily Henderson–Approved Kitchen Trend Taking Over in 2019 The “Dated” Design Trend Emily Henderson Can’t Get Enough Of Wait, Is Beige Cool Again?

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.