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'Design Star' Winner Emily Henderson on Her New HGTV Show, 'Secrets From a Stylist'

by Kelly Woo, posted Feb 24th 2011 2:00PM
Emily Henderson Secrets From a Stylist'HGTV Design Star' season 5 winner Emily Henderson knows the secrets to styling a room, but she also knows the secret to being a good TV host: Not to act like a host at all!

When Henderson spoke to me by phone recently, she said one of the biggest lessons she took away from 'Design Star' was just to be herself. "Nobody wants to watch a real person perform," she said, "they want to see an actor perform."

In her new show, 'Secrets From a Stylist' (premiering Sat., 9PM ET), Henderson redecorates a room based on a style diagnostic of the owners. She transforms the space based on one style, then takes it to another level by layering on another -- giving the show two big reveal moments.

As she worked to fix a rug emergency, Henderson chatted about her new show. Read on to see what she said about her own personal style, her budget-conscious tips to updating a room and what to expect from the first season.

Will the rest of the season mirror the first two episodes, one of which featured your friend, 'Glee' co-creator Ian Brennan?
There are some episodes that are more similar to others, but there are a lot that are wild and different. There is a particular, not formula, but we always start with a diagnostic and end with a reveal.

Are you going to do most of your makeovers in Los Angeles or all over the country?
In L.A. as of right now. It might change, but the first season, or the first two seasons are in L.A. right now.

You tweeted recently about a bachelor-pad episode. Was that one of the more difficult episodes this season?
I'm doing the bachelor episode right now and I'm actually installing it in five minutes! I have these huge black leather sofas to work with and I took on the challenge because I think a lot of people have these and can they be cool? Can big, black, overstuffed leather sofas ever look cool? Basically, I think I'll know in 5 hours when I'm done. I'm still not totally sure, but I think I can [do it]. It's not even the final look, we're switching them out for some more modern sofas, not so '80s sofas in a couple of days.

The most challenging episode for me was this couple that wanted minimalism -- really stark, clean. I'm a maximalist. I don't know how not to accessorize. She came in and was like, "Why are these [items] here?" And I was like, "Because they're pretty! I like them. You can't just have nothing on your shelves." We were just coming from pretty different wavelengths. That was for the first layer, and the second layer they were really really happy with. That was just rough for me because I edited as much as Emily Henderson knew how.

I'm glad you're trying to make the leather sofa cool. I had one once, it was awful.
I did one once. One of my best friends in Portland, her husband had just bought one from DWR and it was enormous. It was like $7,000 so when she asked for my help, that was the one thing that couldn't go. It ended up looking really pretty with everything else I brought in there ... But I think it'll be fun for the audience to see, if it does, I think it would be fun for a lot of dudes to see. It'd be like "See? I can make that work."

What else can we expect from the rest of the season?
Everything from industrial meets atomic kitsch to Pottery Barn chic, except we can't call it that on the show. A normal suburban home is really challenging because they have to be super kid-friendly, which is a huge buzzkill to hear. Actually, I did one last week, my first family room and I was like, "I don't know how I'm going to do this. What's kid-friendly?" And it ended up being my biggest success and the family was so happy.

That's another challenge: making each episode different ... No matter what style I do, I tend to gravitate towards a certain color palate and I have to watch that a lot. I don't want the audience to say, "Of course." I've been really mindful of this as far as making every episode really different. There's a lot of style variation. We want everyone in America who's watching to be able to relate and think she nailed it for me.

When you go into an episode, you identify two layers for the room that you're making over. What would you say your two layers are?
I would say some sort of '70s boho-glam with more Victorian. I know people think Victorian furniture is stupid, but I think it can be really beautiful, especially combined with interior lines and more mid-century stuff. I can't stop buying it. I love vintage florals so much.

I would say those two, but I would love to diagnose myself. I keep telling the network, "Let's do me! We'll buy me a house and I'll do it!"

What would you say is the biggest lesson that you learned on 'Design Star'?
If I had to give advice to people who were auditioning, it would be to be yourself because the more you perform, the more people can see through it. Nobody wants to watch a real person perform, they want to see an actor perform.

Would you say your style or approach to designing evolved at all?
Yeah, for sure. I think as a prop stylist, I didn't have to worry as much about function. It's for a couple of days, it's rigged. I can buy these chairs or rent these chairs that are super beautiful that people don't necessarily want to sit in, but it doesn't matter, it's for a photo shoot ... For the show if I give somebody a chair that nobody wants to sit in, it's a problem. They actually want to sit in their furniture. I learned this on 'Design Star' too, I've had to worry so much more about function and re-learn certain things ... I need to be sure that I give them a space that exactly is completely functional and not just pretty. I can do pretty, that's easy for me, but pretty and functional is difficult. I'm learning so much.

For somebody who is looking to update a room, do you have one budget-conscious tip to get started?
I always think that you should splurge on what is most unique. You could spend $1,500 on a sofa and you'll be sitting on it a lot, but what will make your room unique is those one or two things that nobody else has ... That's what makes your house go from cookie-cutter to really interesting and exciting.

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Just watched her show for the first time...Hollywood Regency and Country Club-HORRIBLE. What a waste of time, paint and money to paint a room twice. Get it right the first time. I like an ecclectic sense of design but this was just a thrift store nightmare. The hidden tv was a cross between a dorm room bulletin board and a dart board game. NO creativity at all...the couch was spectacular but dull and boring with the cheap fabric selection. The only thing I did like was the improvement of the fireplace but still not what it could have been. Poor design and cheap, I've seen better design on trading spaces...

February 26 2011 at 9:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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