I’ve made a very important personal style and career change decision after a couple weeks of reflection, a change that you won’t hear ’til the end because you need to experience my style evolution to form your own opinion. It’s been almost 10 years of showing my style to the world and, sure, things have changed, and yet kinda stayed the same. I guess that goes for personalities and all of life: if you haven’t changed in a decade then something might be wrong, but if you are unrecognizable then where did YOU go? I suppose growing up means that your tastes, circumstances and budgets change and thus it affects your choices (and trends obviously play a part). It’s made me wonder how things have changed, stylistically for me, why they have changed and more importantly, is this change good? Let’s walk you down EHD memory lane and show you a lot of the former spaces in my homes past and present.
The above photo was my living room prior to Design Star, nine years ago. It’s the first real photo of my house I ever took and it actually helped me get on DS. And I kinda see why. It’s eclectic, happy, clean, bright and fun. The rug was purchased on Craigslist for $75, the sofa is from IKEA and everything else was thrifted or vintage. I’m very happy to say I still have and love three pieces of that art, my vintage fabric floral pillow that I sewed and boy do I wish I had that coffee table because it’s just so simple and classic. In a lot of ways, that room is still me, just a younger version of me.
I was 29, broke, kid-less and had so much time to play in my apartment.
I’d set up vignette after vignette and work with a professional photographer (Teri Lyn Fisher) to shoot it (even then I knew that professional photography was the key to any sort of blog success).
I didn’t have specific goals, I just bought weird, cool stuff and put them in a vignette—and while some of these colors aren’t what I’d gravitate toward now, I love so much of what I see in these.
I mean, that above is a hot mess, but I still love everything in there. Just not ALL of it together.
I had fun, shot constantly and put a lot of brass and/or ceramic animals places. After Design Star, I decided it was time to purchase my first grown-up vintage sofa, from The Good Mod in Portland, for $700, below. It was the biggest purchase of my life up until that point.
That was 2010. That version of the living room went a bit more Victorian-country-midcentury-boho but you know I can go there. Perhaps that’s even who I really am. I DIYed the flag on some wood to frame it and again, everything else was vintage except maybe the white pillow. That is still me.
I still have most of that art except the portrait of the man. Why, for the love of god, would I have sold that? The sins of our past…
Apparently, I thought I was missing some BOLD pattern and glam in my life. Thus, entered the below (side-by-side with the previous photo so you can see the changes quickly).
Now, if I could go back in time, I’d love to see that room (the one with me in it) with a solid rug or something more subtle like a vintage Tabriz. I still love the sofa, the safari chair (RIP) the flag, the coffee table, leather pouf (which I gave to a friend, but still visit) painting and even that white bird lamp. It’s just the rug, the 300-pound cement dog, the granny pink roses on the side table and the letter A on the mantel that I would change.
Basically, I like it but now would have way less stuff. Is that because being “crazy eclectic” is out now? Is it because being more minimalistic is “in” or is it simply that I want less stuff because I have too much chaos with two kids in my life already? Maybe all of the above.
Meanwhile, I was shooting the show and while we don’t have a lot of great photography from it, I still love Ian’s house:
The sofa needs a refresh, and of course they have changed a few things (his now wife, my friend, Trilby moved in and obviously had her style to incorporate) and yet I still love this space, nine years later. Being proud of your design choices a decade later is something to celebrate. And I suppose it’s because it’s layered, eclectic, full of vintage pieces and in a color palette that does not date.
Around the same time, I was REALLY starting to express myself. These are what we refer internally as my “Commonwealth” years (where we lived in a generic bungalow on Commonwealth Street). Here, I became even more eclectic and glam and like a kindergartener, I really “explored my colors.”
Hot pink was having a moment, clearly, and I was its brand ambassador. I FLIPPED OUT when I found those hanging lights and I still love them in a way, for sure. Everything was vintage. The navy tufted headboard, lights, rug and paintings are probably a bit much and there is certainly something Liberace about it all, but it’s still kinda exciting to look at. I still have that painting and blanket. (I think my pants were vintage, too and boy I think I look strangely older than I do now?)
This is also when vintage campaign furniture (those nightstands) hit the market hard. I bought those on Craigslist and refinished them myself. Oh to have that kind of time. And that Deco rug was from Bette Midler’s house (via CL).
Our living room at the time (2013) looked like this:
I’d like to quote a former commenter now when he wrote, “This living room looks like SpongeBob Square Pants threw up. Everywhere.”
I get it. There are A LOT of strong moments and it’s kinda wacky. We honestly still laugh about that quote. But I still love the sofa, coffee table, side table, wooden hand (which just got returned to me last week—Orlando was holding it hostage) and a lot of the accessories. I would just take down the tapestry, and switch out the pillows for something more neutral. Also, girlfriend loved some accessories on the mantle of which I would reduce now. But I still like the room, guys, and it’s still “me”, for better or worse.
Then we moved into our first purchased home and had our first baby. I sold the navy sofa (I still regret this) and went with a more muted color palette of lighter blues and blushes. I think we can safely say this was the beginning of the “blush and blue” era, that frankly still reigns supreme. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been in a blue and pink place basically since Day 1. It’s just the shades that change. I love that sofa in the above shot, but I think I should have kept my other sofa forever. It’s also just so sentimental to me…if you bought that sofa and are looking to sell it back, I’ll pay more than I sold it for just to have it.
Here, we have a lot of teals and brighter pinks. This was also when I was designing the ban.do house and using crazy bright colors that informed my decisions at home.
I truly love that room, even though the colors are a bit too bright for me right now in my life.
I still have so much of that pottery and art, but it’s not in my living room anymore. I still love this vignette and I would double tap on Instagram.
For the book, I got back into my SpongeBob costume and admittedly, that dining room above is hilarious. It’s like I was trying to prove to the world what quirky meant. More on that later.
For a Good Housekeeping feature (which was at least a year later), we switched somethings out and I LOVE how it looks, still.
We tweaked things a bit for the Darling Magazine feature, which I still liked a lot and has a little less color.
Then a shift happened, where I wanted to go a bit more muted and sophisticated. To be fair, it was fall. I think bright, saturated colors had had a larger moment and the blush and powder blue moment that infiltrated design was starting to take over the brighter tones. I fell victim to this zeitgeist for better or worse. I also was pregnant with another kid and could sense the impending chaos.
The above shot was taken by Tessa and the below was for the Good Housekeeping fall story, and while I think that there is too much stuff in the above, I love it.
Then we staged it to sell, and I may have been the happiest yet with it.
That was almost two years ago and it’s by far my favorite version of the room, visually at least. I currently super regret giving my friend my coffee table for her 40th birthday, but the truth is that it’s so heavy to move and we do move our coffee table all the time for wrestling matches or fort making so it’s not really the right coffee table for us right now anyway.
In my opinion, that room is hard to argue with and was a good lesson to me, which was to stick with more neutrals and layer on lighter colors. But there is still a lot of vintage and it’s pulled back and simple.
I didn’t exactly do that in our old bedroom, as I really went for it on that custom bed, but I do still love it. It’s risky. It’s bold. It tells a story with high impact, but the rest of the room was quieter.
If I could go back in time, I probably would have reduced the scale of the headboard and the footboard. But I still have that rug, nightstand and bench.
Birdie’s nursery was finished and blogged about around the same time, and honestly, there is NOTHING I would change. I almost wish that I had used that same wallpaper in her current nursery instead of the pink one, just because it pops so much more (although her current room is tiny so we wanted to keep it feeling as big as possible).
There was this mix of bold paper, solid rug and that amazing vintage daybed. Sadly, I’m actually looking for another one of those for Birdie’s new room because the kids want to share a bunk bed in Charlie’s, so I may get a napping room/home office!!
Then we moved into a 100-year-old english Tudor. Before I “decorated it,” I brought the furniture we had from the other house:
While I actually love (and kinda miss) that room visually, the sofa wasn’t terribly comfortable. I do wish I had kept those chairs and we still have that coffee table and the other comfy chair up at the cabin. When I found this image online (while Googling myself, of course) I was like “Woah, that’s an awesome room.” But at the time, I thought it was too mid-century for the 100-year-old house. Some of you called me out on it, saying “I think you are getting too into this ‘100-year-old style’ and forgetting who you are.”
Because as you are about to see, there was a pretty big shift:
The reasons for the shift?
- I moved from mid-century to “English Tudor” and frankly was ready for a new style, creatively.
- I wanted every single room and every single piece of furniture in that room to be extremely comfortable. Not just a place to sit, but a desirable one. That awesome vintage leather strapped sofa in the first image was just not comfortable. Generally speaking the more beautiful a piece of furniture, the less comfortable (like shoes).
- I had two kids and needed everything to be kid-friendly and not precious.
Despite how much I love that room (and rug) in the photos, in person, it was too much stuff and too chaotic for me mentally while living in it. I just wanted the whole house to be tonal, quieter, less bright red and pink and more blues and grays.
Replacing the rug was the big shift and it worked. It quieted the room down A TON.
And while it all looks good in a photo, for sure, the room itself is less interesting than I want it to be.
We obviously don’t live with that much stuff on our coffee or side tables (kids, etc).
When I walk into this room, it feels less young and quirky. It feels safer. It is safer. I showed this evolution to a new architect friend the other day who didn’t know anything about me or my style and he said, “It looks like you’ve gotten less eclectic and more practical.” Indeed. But is that what I want??
So why the shift? What drove it and who is to blame? After much thinking in recent weeks, here is what I’ve come up with:
- The original shift happened after the SpongeBob comment. Sure, we laugh about it, but I saw it, too, and I remember thinking “oh boy, that person does look silly.” I remember a fairly famous person came into my house around that time who didn’t know me and said “Oh I get it. Your style is ‘thrift.’ That’s cool” and it wasn’t meant as a neg, but I remember thinking, I have a design show, shouldn’t my house be more elevated, more “designed” than that? So I made a shift to look more “pulled together.” More sophisticated. More high-end.
- Having kids meant being more practical. Practicality can kill creativity and having two kids can really bury it deep. Comfortable furniture is not as beautiful as sculptural furniture. Kid-friendly fabric is not as textured or beautiful as what I want to put on my chairs. Splurging on expensive furniture feels stupid and anything too refined will quickly get destroyed. I could still take risks on art, accessories, but the main pieces needed to be more practical.
- Having kids also meant WAY LESS TIME. They say it takes either a lot of time or a lot of money to have a stylish home. Before kids, I had more of the former, less of the latter, but now it’s all shifted and time is the one commodity that you can’t buy (although I’m trying by hiring so many people so I can have more of it). How does time have anything to do with it? Well, I used to go to the flea market religiously and buy cool vintage stuff. I used to thrift in the valley on Saturdays and buy garbage to redo. I used to DIY, play, not care, experiment because I had so much time and I didn’t mind upheaving my house to see if a credenza would work in that corner. IT WAS FUN. Lack of money meant I had to be more resourceful, and excess of time meant I could dedicate hours to that resourcefulness. And where practicality kills creativity, resourcefulness ignites it. This is not to be misconstrued as “poor Emily can’t have fun because she’s so busy but can just buy stuff instead.” It’s really just the truth for ANYONE.
- Less time meant that I was buying new, online way more from my laptop at 9 pm on Friday nights. I also get a lot of new pieces gifted, where vintage never is, so when a company with awesome chairs is gifting them, it’s hard to say no when I don’t have the time to go shop for some vintage alternatives. I’m just being honest.
- Also, many of you commented along the way that vintage is less relatable because you guys can’t easily “recreate” the look and I was getting a lot of feedback about that. So opting for something that could be purchased by the masses was good for you guys. I liked that you could recreate what we were doing and SO many of you have.
- Age. We take more risks in our youth in every way and I suppose design is no exception. We don’t mind messing up, we aren’t embarrassed by it because that is what you are supposed to do. But once you are “established,” the expectations for yourself and from others change. When you have two kids and limited time, staying “safe” seems “smart.” But the evolution of creativity will always need risk-taking.
- There has also been this resistance to me changing things around my house, which I don’t understand but I have previously tried to respect. When enough of you think that me switching out a rug or repainting a room is wasteful, then I resist doing it at times or even do it in secret. But that is what stylists do and if a fashion stylist only wore an awesome pair of shoes twice a year and then sold it on consignment, people wouldn’t balk because they would understand that that is how she/he expresses their creativity and practicality is often not part of it. I really try to balance it, mixing affordability with pieces with longevity, comfort with style and I really TRY to not change things too much for no reason. But I’m DYING TO. My dining room is a good example of where practicality won out over creativity and it’s bumming me out.
As much as I really like everything in that room, there is nothing risky here. Not one thing. I want to play around with replacing some pieces, either the table, chairs or light but every time I think about it, I know I’ll get shamed by many of you. But why? It’s not like I’ll throw the table away or burn the chairs. I’ll either paint/redo, donate it to charity, or sell it to try to recoup some of the cost.
Spending my time and money redecorating my house is not wasteful; it’s an act of creativity and self-expression. Styling my house is my hobby. Yes, I worked hard enough and was lucky enough to turn my hobby into my career, but that doesn’t mean the joy has to be sucked out of it.
I miss being a stylist.
My tagline used to be “Perfection is boring, let’s get weird” but when was the last time I ACTUALLY GOT WEIRD? And then my tagline was “Style. Play. Every Day” but I feel so much pressure to get it perfect the first time and not change things, which is exactly what “playing” means. I’ve taken playing out of the process because I don’t want to be “wasteful” or have things out of scale or not 100% perfect. It’s like it should say “Style. Be careful. Don’t mess up. Everyone is watching. Do it once and never touch it again.”
So where does that leave us? How am I changing?
I’M BACK. I’m a stylist, again.
What I learned from the Portland house is that no matter how many mistakes I made and had to fix, when we decorated that house, it SUNG. I looked around and remembered thinking, oh, this is what I’m good at. For the mountain house, now is the time where I get to go shopping. Buy what screams out at me even if I don’t know where it’s going to go. I’m far more experienced now than I was before so I have a much better sense of what will work and the risk-taking will be far less stressful. I like shopping and styling, not making 1,285 permanent decisions while I’m also trying to be a great mom, be on camera, produce videos, pitch books, write every day, run a company, blah blah.
Does this mean that we won’t do renovations? NOPE. It means that I’ll have a team of people (the lovely design team) who are focused just on the interior architecture and renovation portion of this job and frankly they are better at it than I am. I’ll be more like their client, almost like I have been with the closet design, upstairs bath and powder room. I’ll be involved, but not stressed, although they likely will be. 🙂
I’ll focus on creating interesting spaces, full of personality, warmth and comfort…and yes, with A LOT OF VINTAGE. Sure, this time around the vintage pieces will likely be more special with surely some investment pieces by designers whom I have loved for my entire life. But that will take time. And by the way, there is a reason that so many houses designed by interior designers don’t drip with personality and instead, are all starting to look the same and that’s because sourcing vintage takes too much time, while pushing “place order” takes far less. I get it. I’ve been there and it’s one of the reasons we stopped working with clients. It takes so much time or an endless budget to create a home that represents your personality (assuming your personality is interesting :)). But I’m not going to put a deadline on this house…I have the time. I’m going to let myself have SO MUCH FUN designing it.
I’m so excited to get back to expressing myself creatively and I do that by buying weird stuff, trying to put it in a space, assessing whether it works or not, and then recognizing the mistake or celebrating its success. I’ll do this in a more mature way, with more cohesion, experience and practicality. But if and when I want to put a tassel on a doorknob for no reason, I will. If I want to string vintage beads over the back of a chair, I will. That’s what stylists do. We buy something that brings us joy even if it doesn’t have a use, and we put it where we can see it even if that place makes no sense. We lean art when we could hang because we like the flexibility of life. We have unnecessary collections of vintage fabrics because it brings us hope that we will turn one into that perfect pillow. We hoard beautiful things like a writer jots down ideas on cocktail napkins. We don’t know where they are going to go but we know that someday they will make a room. We source, curate and create vignettes for no other purpose than to extract a compelling emotion in the unused corner of a room.
This time around, I’ll care more about function and practicality, sure, because I have two kids and I also REALLY love to be comfortable. I’ll buy an awesome ’60s wingback and recover it in vintage deadstock fabric…or a flag…or a quilt…or vintage denim—WHO KNOWS. Maybe I’ll recover it a few times. I’m not sure. It’ll be whatever I feel like doing because it’s my house, and my house is my laboratory for creativity and my blog is where I document it all for those of you interested.
And for those of you who aren’t interested in this more eclectic, vintage, style experimentation OG EHD, don’t worry. I’m not the only person here and not everyone on the EHD team shares my enthusiasm for experimenting (in a good way). Velinda, Julie and Grace are MUCH more precise and, intentional in their designs. This year, you’ll see their homes, along with Sara’s new house, Jess’ apartment, Arlyn’s first LA home, Emily B’s place and I’m sure Brady will shake things up (he is a changer, like me). Not all of them are as nuts as I am but they are all talented and have interesting and creative design perspectives.
So there you go. That’s the face of a woman who can’t wait to start moving things around/swapping things/shifting things ALL OVER HER HOUSE and, well, getting weird. If I still know how to. Stay tuned.