By Katy B. Olson
Los Angeles-based designer Emily Henderson has brought her self-described quirky, happy style to her role as veritable style ambassador for Target’s home goods line, Threshold, since 2014. But the journey into design for the lifestyle blogger (and winner of HGTV’s hit show “Design Star,” and host of “Secrets From a Stylist”) initially began with a move to New York to learn furniture design, work at Jonathan Adler’s SoHo shop and assist stylists for years before branching off on her own. She chats with EAL about what a designer’s role is, how she developed her brand, what’s coming for fall 2016, and where she got her distinctive vintage-infused taste. (Spoiler: It all started with some small-town thrift stores.)
Target first introduced its designer partnership in 1999, with an ongoing collaboration with architect Michael Graves. Since then, other partnerships with designers have included Nate Berkus, Todd Oldham, John Derian, Thomas O’Brien and Rachel Ashwell. While each of these designers have spoken to the product and design of their own collections, Henderson's task is to speak to Home styling across the board. Target’s spokeswoman, Amy Koch, shares, “As Target’s Home Style Expert, Emily Henderson is here to help demystify the sometimes overwhelming process of decorating a home. From easy styling updates, to complete room makeovers, Emily exemplifies that design should be fun and accessible to all, no matter the budget.”
How would you describe your role at Target?
My role is Home Style Expert: I show the consumer how they can feel confident buying product and using it in their home. [Target’s research] found that everyone was liking things, picking items up, but not having the confidence to bring them home. My job is to show people how they can use it, to build confidence in the consumer so that they can shop and style without taking too much risk—making their house look better without spending too much. Because [Threshold] is so affordable and accessible, everybody is starting to feel more confidence with their shopping.
A lot of it is exposure. Because of the internet and blogs and Pinterest, people are getting so much more exposure to good design. Growing up, there was no internet, and I lived in a really small town. No design store, no designers. The only way I got exposure was through thrift stores. I started liking vintage. It wasn’t until I moved to New York City that I [developed my taste]. I always had style, but I didn’t have taste. It takes being exposed to have taste, to see what your options are. Now that the internet is so accessible, people have such better taste—so much earlier and faster.
You assisted a stylist for five years before branching off to start your own business. What should emerging designers know about starting out?
I am so glad I assisted for five years; when I left, I was ready. I tell my assistants, “Just watch and learn. I want you guys to not make these mistakes [in your own business].” If you can work for someone who is doing work you want to be doing, you can be saving a lot of time and money [by assisting].
You’ve got a massive following across social media (424k+ on Instagram). What should other designers know about your social media strategy?
Everything we do, we make personal to me. We try to make it either inspirational or informational—typically inspirational. And we try and make it pretty. Even if it’s a DIY, we try to shoot in a way that’s really pretty. I used to just throw up any photos; now we have quality control and every photo has to be pretty.
The mantra is “personal, inspirational and beautiful.” When posts don’t fall into those categories, we don’t post or tweet them. [It’s about] how you want to tell your story on every platform. Having a voice that sounds like an expert, like you know what you’re talking about, but that you don’t take yourself that seriously. It’s about being human, and friendly, and with faults. Take your job seriously but not yourself seriously—that goes for social media too.
From left: Threshold Marble with Copper Handle Serving Tray; Marble Mortar and Pestle Set; Wood Top Salt Cellar; Sandcast Metal Top Bar Cart; and Wood and Leather Accent Table
Part of your design philosophy reads: “I believe that a perfect house is like a perfect person; no one really wants to be around them and everyone secretly hates them. Be the weird person. Be the interesting person...and have your home reflect who you are.” What’s the importance of designers developing their own brands?
It’s a chicken-or-egg situation. The people who want me to work on their houses want me to work on their style. Their house becomes both their style and mine. I try to figure out why [projects] look like “me”; there was a run when I felt like I was only doing California midcentury, but there are a lot of different styles. Layered, storied, collected, happy is ultimately what I figured out. If things feel lived-in and happy—even if it’s a French country house, if it feels like a happy one, not refined or sophisticated [then it reflects me].
Clients want to be pushed. They might say that they want a specific thing—but you have to add 20 percent to it because otherwise they can do it themselves. Your job it to take what they want and put your own twist on it and make it better. Push it into a place that makes their home more them, but also more stylish.
What are some of your go-tos from the new line?
Throws and pillows in black and white, tan and white; marble trays with gold handles; candlesticks. I love the Edison lamps that are marble and wood; the white pottery that’s faceted; and the leather magazine rack. The fall line always kills it. I remember last year—I get the lookbook in the early summer—and I get to the store and there’s 10 times that amount!
The fall Threshold line will be available in stores and online starting September 11.