Celebrity Designer Emily Henderson's Top Tips for Pro-Looking Home DIYs

Even beginners can avoid disaster

Living Room Styled by Emily Henderson Design

Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp, Styled by Emily Henderson Design

For those of us whose Instagram feeds are filled with posts of gorgeously decorated spaces, Emily Henderson is probably a staple of your scrolling. The interior stylist and TV personality’s IG grid is like peeking into the perfect home, and her DIY projects have a highly elevated look. 

But, you might be wondering: why don’t photos of my home look this polished and pristine? Henderson is letting us in on her secrets: her best “behind the scenes” tricks and tips that you might not see in the final photo (or even documented in her Instagram highlights) but that are vital to a professional-quality DIY project—and a like-worthy image.

  • 01 of 05

    Don’t Skip the Primer

    Blue bathroom mirror and sink with wall art

    Emily Henderson Design

    Sometimes a paint color might look so good that you want to skip the primer and go straight for the Pantone. But Henderson said you shouldn’t overlook the undercoat. Even though no one will see that primer when the room is painted, everyone will be able to see its impact shining through. 

    “Your walls will be smoother, your paint will stick better, and some primers even have mold- and mildew-fighting abilities,” Henderson said in an email. Her go-to primer for any paint project is KILZ.

  • 02 of 05

    Carefully Consider Your Cabinet Layout

    kitchen with blue-gray cabinets

    Emily Henderson Design

    Cabinets can make or break your kitchen, and we’re not just talking about looks. If your storage and layout don’t work for you, cooking dinner—or even just heating up a frozen pizza—can be a headache. 

    Henderson recommends meticulous planning before starting any reno job, but especially with cabinets. 

    “I understand the urge to just dive right into a cabinet project, but your life will be so much easier if you take a beat, analyze your needs, and make deliberate functionality decisions ahead of time,” she said. 

    In her latest kitchen upgrade, she created pull-out drawers for pots and pans (no more digging in the cabinets!), a tech drawer for charging personal electronics, and pull out cabinets for utensils, spices, and oils.

    “All these little considerations make maneuvering around the kitchen such a treat for the whole family,” she said.

  • 03 of 05

    Don’t Overlook Molding or Paneling

    Living room with moulding on ceiling

    Emily Henderson Design

    Wall features such as molding and paneling (we love a good shiplap wall!) add visual interest to a space, without being overwhelming. Think of them as a happy medium between a plain painted wall and a busy floral wallpaper. 

    Often, these wall features aren’t the centerpiece of the photo, but Henderson said they subtly add extra wow-factor that makes a room look beautiful—as long as you stay true to the time period of your space.

    “They often go unconsidered in favor of installing builder-grade crown molding around the home,” she said. “And don't get me wrong, that does look beautiful! But I do think that a home can really sing when the architectural features reflect the design direction.”

  • 04 of 05

    Spice Up Your Balusters

    white staircase with modern railing

    Emily Henderson Design

    Here’s the thing: most people’s eyes aren’t going to be immediately drawn to your staircase railings. But subtle details like custom-made balusters (like the ones Henderson used in her Portland project) go a long way towards tying a room together. 

    “There are so many beautiful, special, and affordable options out there now and they can really make a staircase feel considered and elevated and finished,” Henderson said. 

    When selecting balusters, or any other permanent finishes, Henderson said the most important thing to think about is how you want the space to make you feel

    “If you want to walk into your house and feel like it’s clean and simple and modern, maybe metalwork is for you. On the other hand, if you want to feel like you’re in a historic and collected and warm space, maybe you’d go with something more classic and wooden. Beyond that, it’s all about the intersection of personal taste and history.”

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    When in Doubt, Call a Professional

    White and dusty pink bedroom with XO wall art and a wooden door

    Emily Henderson Design

    It’s always smart to run your ideas past someone, and interior design is no exception. Henderson said she even taps fellow professionals, including Portland-based ARCIFORM and Max Humphrey, for her projects for a fresh set of eyes. 

    “[It’s] so easy to get tunnel vision during your own renovation, so even the pros need someone to lean on!” she said. “Even a quick consult with a local designer or architect could really open your eyes and help take your project to the next level.