Q&A With Emily Henderson: Interior Design Tips on Small Spaces, Blank Walls

Emily Henderson shares interior design tips with Sweeten’s Jean Brownhill

Emily Henderson design tips

Emily Henderson, TV host and namesake behind the Style By Emily Henderson blog, and Sweeten’s founder, Jean Brownhill, have a conversation on making your best home through remodeling and design. Read some of Emily’s “aha!” interior design tricks and insight below.

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Jean: Emily, what are your interior design tips to get more space or maximize small spaces?


Multi-functional furniture

Think double-duty, for sure—ottomans with storage, sideboards that have cabinets. When you’re looking for furniture, think, “could this also have another function, a storage function?” That definitely helps.

In a smaller space, having less furniture will help you. It’s easy to be like,  “Well, this is a small sofa and then I have this small chair and this small chair…” and sometimes all of that will actually end up making the room look smaller because it’s busier. Think about bringing as little contrast as possible if you’re trying to make a room feel and look bigger.

Avoid a focal wall

Sometimes the desire is to have a focal wall, which I totally get. But it does chop up the space. It makes your eye feel like the space is smaller when it’s chopped up. We have an accent wall rule, and we’ve blogged about it before…essentially, if it’s a niche, if it’s a dedicated space that architecturally is addressed differently, then that’s a great opportunity for an accent wall. But if you have four walls in a room, don’t just paint one a different color—it just kind of chops up the space.

studio bedroom and living room

(Above) Sweeten homeowners hired designer Julia Oddo for their studio apartment renovation

Jean: When and who should be hiring a designer?


Lack of time and experience

If you’re doing a pretty big renovation, whether it’s a whole house or even just doing your kitchen, and you truly don’t have the time, the desire, or experience, it’s a good idea to think about hiring an interior designer strictly because you’re going to make mistakes. Even we make mistakes all the time. It’s a luxury service, but I would say if you don’t have the time to really do the research to figure out how you want it to look and have the experience, then an interior designer will benefit you.

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Hiring an interior designer will take your house to the next level. You’ll probably get more custom pieces. It’ll look more unique than if you bought all from different big box stores, but you don’t have to do it. You truly don’t.

The internet has made an average homeowner able to buy a great sofa. And because of Pinterest and Instagram, people can really do it themselves. Again, you’re still going to probably make some mistakes, but that’s okay. Whereas I think 30, 40 years ago, they didn’t have the resources. We didn’t have the stores.

Jean: You always talk about how you want your house to feel. Interior designers don’t just create a vibe. They deal with the elements of the actual things that you feel and touch, like the sofas and pillows.

Emily: Yeah, and that’s my favorite stuff for sure. It’s the layering that makes it feel like a unique home.

Jean: How do we save time and money designing a home?


Do the preliminary work

If you’re working with an interior designer, and you have a pretty clear vision, that saves them a lot of guessing, a lot of back and forth. If you have a sofa you love, show it to them, because they’re going to source 10 different sofas to show to you and that takes time. An interior designer’s costs for their time is usually on an hourly basis. So I think the more work you can do upfront, the better.

Spend on “wow” pieces

I have a different philosophy on where to splurge and save than everybody I know. These days there are very good sofas out there that are not that expensive that will also last for years. I feel like you should splurge on the conversation pieces like that amazing rug that nobody else has or a really great piece of art that will create a conversation. They’re the pieces you typically see that are vintage or custom, where you’re like, “Oh my God, I need…” That is going to just shift everything in the room and elevate everything.

Jean: Can you tell us what to do with blank or boring walls?


Personality for each wall

There’s a lot of awesome DIY artwork out there right now. I do have a rule about decorating your walls. When designing a room, address every wall differently with a different style. One wall might be a gallery wall, one might be a mirror, one might be a diptych, and one might be a sculpture. Whether it’s a gallery, big single art piece or diptych, grid, sculpture, or mirror, those are the five go-to’s that we use to address all walls.

dining area with gallery wall and open shelves above a piano

(Above) Sweeten homeowner’s dining area and gallery wall

Art is the key

So if you’re looking around and you’re like, “Oh, I have one small piece on that, one small piece on that wall,” that might be something that you could change pretty easily that would make your house feel more styled, more pulled together. Also, art is the number one way to make your house feel like a unique, personalized space for sure.

Thank you, Emily, for sharing your expert interior design tips with our readers! 

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