Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Design hero: Emily Henderson

Emily Henderson, star of Secrets from a Stylist and blogger at Style by Emily Henderson
She's kind of rockin' a Cameron Diaz look here, no?
(Photo by Angela Kohler)
Emily Henderson won Season 5 of HGTV Design Star. She was a professional photo stylist, which means it was her specialized job to arrange things artfully, like a 3D collage, for a photo shoot.

As I wrote in a previous post, to style something is to create an aesthetic experience--and in photo shoots, form is prioritized over function. You ever look through a catalog and think, "It's going to take hours to remove all the pillows from that freaking bed before anyone is going to sleep"?

Really?
(I can't find the credit for the image, but it's from a post on Smirk.)
That's because the image is styled. It's not meant to be functional, it's meant to be artistic and fire up your imagination, or be "aspirational," according to Emily. This means that the final picture should make you want what it's selling to you: a lifestyle, a moment, an experience, things, etc.

The part I like about how Emily styles on her show, Secrets from a Stylist, is that she makes it functional. She interviews people (her "style diagnostic") to figure out their styles based on the objects, colors, textures, and time periods to which they're drawn. She then decorates and designs accordingly.

Check out the "before" pic of the living room of Glee's co-creator, Ian Brennan, from Emily's first episode:

Nice...airy...but kinda bland, right?
(Image from Take Sunset)
The room feels forlornly empty and devoid of Ian's personality; sure, you know where to sit, but you don't care. It's like having tubes of paint sitting on a canvas. There's even a fireplace (you can't see it, on the right) that's being ignored!

Below, check out the space after Emily has her way with it. It's shot from a different angle to highlight the inclusion of the fireplace as a focal point.

Yeah, baby.
(Image from Take Sunset)

Notice that the sofa is facing the fireplace, because fireplaces were the first TVs! I could stare at a fire for ages, as if I were watching a Firefly marathon. Not only that, but she's placed a big ol' painting of President William Harrison to make sure you know: look here, this fireplace is for you, so enjoy.

And did you realize how awesome that window surrounded by the built-in bookcase was? Look at those panes! I love how Emily reveals the architectural details and features of the room by simplifying (she removed the curtains).

The bookcase itself is highlighted by carefully chosen art objects and books. Nothing is cluttered and there's a lot of space for the things to breathe, and be contemplated, on the shelves.

I also enjoy the way Emily combines the different things that appeal to Ian, and makes everything a unified whole. There are organic, cross-cultural elements, such as the wooden side table from Morocco, and inorganic objects like the metal trunk coffee table. The contrasts highlight the differences purposefully, and make the room harmonious versus clashing. It's a good example of oppositional design theory.

She does love her blue outfits, but you know what? It's one of her best colors! Ian himself is highlighted by the design of his living room. 
(Image from Take Sunset)

Here's Ian and Emily. Check out how he literally fits his space now--the room is an extension of how he looks and dresses, which is to say, how he expresses himself stylistically. He belongs here.

Rather than styling to sell, Emily styles to help her guests on the show connect with their space--and themselves. Her guests see their self-expression (style) expressed throughout their environment in a cohesive and beautiful way, and learn what it's like to be comfortable in their own skin (or abode). As Emily would probably describe it, it's like dressing your home like you would dress yourself.

This is about helping people to reestablish control of their environment, and to create congruency between their internal and external worlds. By emphasizing people's positive choices and strengths in their surroundings, they can feel like they belong in those surroundings.

Joke as anyone might about "control issues," but we all want some control, especially over our own environment. Think about that the next time you open a window for a breeze, straighten your desk, or miss your hamper trying to swish your socks in (and leave them wherever they fall)--and how someone else living or visiting with you might want to do something different.

The 14th reincarnation of the Dalai Lama was discovered when he chose objects placed before him that belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama. What we choose says something of our psyche, no?
(Image from the movie Kundun)

It seems that a lot of life is about learning to accept ourselves, what we love, and the way we want to be in the world; sometimes that requires help from empathetic people to reflect back to us how truly wonderful and beautiful we are--and can be, when the path is cleared.

Thanks to Emily Henderson for being a guide on this path, and for sharing her secrets!

Invite Beauty,

I.

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