Emily Henderson

Style Guide

How to Make Your Home More ZEN


I personally think February, not January, is the best place to start when planning for the new year. In December, we’re so wrought with holiday stress and excitement that we overexert our emotions and compensate by pushing our physical limitations to regretful extremes. Once January rears it’s deceiving “clean slate” of a head, we start making extreme goals that essentially double as penance for our overindulgences. Come February, we’ve been deprived of so much joy on this intense voyage through choppy seas of spiked eggnog and raw kale juice, that we admit defeat and shout “GIVE ME FRENCH FRIES OR GIVE ME DEATH.” It’s a humbling rock bottom moment, that I think is actually the best place to star new-year-new-you-ing. This month, I challenge you to stop being extreme, and start being ZEN.

Whether or not you most closely identify with the Zen style outlined, and pictured, in STYLED, it’s safe to say we could all benefit from a little Zen in our homes. No matter what your taste is, if you’re rich or poor, live in a mansion or a shack, you, yes, you can make your home a place of Zen.


Let’s start by figuring out what Zen really means. It is a way of life that I wouldn’t dare sum up in one sentence . . . which is why I will let Urban Dictionary do it. Zen: total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind. Zen in your home is similar, but focuses on the warmth of materials in a minimal way. This peace-inducing home is cleared of clutter, and has only necessities – things that truly inspire the home owner and connect him or her with the life force of the planet. It’s stripped down, but still very comfortable. AKA, get rid of your junk and focus on the most important objects and necessities of life.

Zen_Style Diagnostic_Styled Book_Minimal_Zen 2

Is an excess of stuff in your home keeping you from achieving a streamlined and functional space you feel happy to call your home? If so, try this self-tested, fun-for-the-whole-family, super cool 90-second mental exercise to get your started.

1. Close your eyes (because everyone knows that’s how all peaceful activities start) and picture a room in your house that needs some ZEN.

2. Take 60 seconds to roughly imagine your daily and nightly routine in that room for the last week.

3. Open your eyes (unless you can write with your eyes closed) and make a list of the items, and only those items, you saw yourself using in Step 2.

4. Now, close your eyes again (trust me, it’s way more ZEN this way) and imagine your daily routine in that room for the next week, but this time there is nothing in it but the items you wrote down, and the places they live (i.e. a dresser, or a kitchen cabinet).

5. Take a deep breath, open your eyes (all three of them) and feel the sweet sensation of enlightenment.

The goal here is to feel how peaceful and functional your own space can be when it’s almost empty. Achieving a “step 4″ home isn’t the goal, the goal is to always be striving for that optimal minimalism. There are some things worth keeping around that you don’t use every day, but don’t be afraid to let go of most of them to make way for the things that truly inspire you this very moment.

Here are some things that are currently inspiring our quest for Zen . . .

Get-The-Look_zen_7 copy

1. Misty Forest Print | 2. Linen Pouf | 3. Easy Chair | 4.  The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up |
5. Mounted Stag Horn Fern | 6. Origami Pillow | 7. Waffle Weave Linen Throw | 8. Panel Bed Frame
9. Fray Pendant Lamp | 10. Funnel Sweeper | 11. Antique Japanese Combs | 12. End Grain Coffee Table | 13. Linen Bathrobe | 14. Handmade Ceramic Dinnerware | 15. Japanese Face Towel |16. Teak Accent Vase

Craving more style diagnostic roundups? Be sure to head back and check out SeventiesRustic, Scandinavian and Contemporary/Minimal. What are you craving next – Industrial, Mid-Century Modern, Bohemian, Modern Glam, Traditional, or Totally Eighties?

If you haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy of the book, and are craving some more interior and style inspiration you can pick up your copy here, and while you’re impatiently waiting for that postman to arrive you can check out some behind the scenes, and a few more peeks inside the pages of the book here: Book Title And Cover Options | The Real Book Cover | Behind The Book – Styling The Perfect Shot | Styled On Shelves Now

***written by Jessica Isaac for EHD

Photo Credits: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4


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    1. And it appears the ‘jute yoga mat’ is missing in the round-up also….. Cool post and very timely what with all this attention on ‘capsule wardrobes’ lately. Herein lies one of the big battles– beautiful decor often begets having ‘stuff’ (sometimes alot of stuff) and yet, there is also beauty to more simple and serene spaces (which begets getting rid of alot of said stuff). What’s the balance? Or is there even one? Ironic to include a round-up of more stuff (to make your space look more ‘Zen’) :) It would have been hilarious for the round-up to have included: nothing….(Ha, ha….) Love this post!!

      1. Most of the numbered links 1-16 do not open on my browser (tried on different devices), or rather lead to a black image, not a store link. Am I doing something wrong?

  1. wow! this just blew my mind it was so incredibly helpful (i’m trying to downsize to 20 boxes of stuff for a family of three before a move). Thank you so much!

  2. So agree about January and a New Year. Guess that is why I feel more connected to the Lunar (Chinese) New Year. A late January/early February start seems more in tune.

  3. I bought your book, did the test, and got Zen and I was SO pissed off. I was like “SURELY I am mid-century?! Or even 70’s?!!!” But then in the weeks since, I notice that despite my tastes always leaning towards mid-century or thrift-store opulence, the reality is my mind is a very busy place and I feel easily overwhelmed by STUFF – ie – keeping it clean, organised and feeling good in relation to the rest of the stuff. With every day since that test I have realised that you know me better than I know myself. Zen, I indeed AM. (Still pissed off, I thought I had way more fun in me. Oh well, off to buy a sheepskin…)

    1. Similar situation…zen is boring, beige, and crazy-making…I hate all pics of it anywhere. I’m more of a glam mid century 80’s traditionalist. But. In the book, Emily says that Zen people like flow, and that is the truth for me. And I like things neat, even if there are a lot of things. And there must be plenty of blank space. So the diagnostic was right. That tidying up book and its sequel, Spark Joy, are life-altering.

      Emily, maybe a post sometime on spaces that have zen qualities but with color and stuff? Surely there are others out there who can handle layers and all the good stuff!

  4. I was hoping you would have a link to the screen leaning against the wall in the first picture! I LOVE it – do you have a source? Thanks!

  5. Speaking of zen and decluttering, I’ve jumped on the Marie Kondo bandwagon through her “The life changing magic of tidying up” book.
    I thought it was just a silly little book until I tried her methods. Now Im hooked AND obsessed with looking at #prekonmari and #postkonmari posts on instagram.

  6. do you have a link for the screen? that really has a Zen vibe. Also the Japanese combs need a link. I try VERY hard to keep things minimal and only keep what brings me joy (I did read the Kondo book). Has helped with gathering — not so much. that said, that screen is calling me . . . . .

  7. Thank you for posting these beautiful photos. I wouldn’t normally describe “zen” as something that appealed to me, but you’ve shown how versatile the look can be. Clean lines, minimal aesthetic. Lovely. Thanks for broadening my view!

  8. Dear Emily,

    I just wanted to thank you for all the beautiful inspiration around here!

    I’m an architect from Germany and I really love your style content! I also like the entrepreneurial pieces – I started my own company a year ago and beeing a young female in a male-dominated industry (building construction) can be challenging sometimes. But it’s also a lot of fun and I always feel inspired by the stories of other women doing their thing.

    So thanks again and greetings from Germany :)

  9. I find myself gravitating more toward zen / minimalism lately but find it hard to strike the balance between zen and unfinished looking. I pared down my dining room for example and it just looks kind of empty to me now even though I kind of like it that way. Maybe I just need to experiment with the items that I have pared down to? Thanks Emily!

  10. I love zen but what’s with so much wood! Even the first one is a collection of 6 wood pieces then the rest are just wood paneled rooms with wood ceilings. I feel like wood is a nice element in a zen room but if you’re encased in wood it feels busy and boxy– which isn’t peaceful and open feeling. I don’t study this, though, so it could be just me!

    I know zen should feel spa-like but those rooms look more like saunas. lol.

  11. Yes! Start real New Year stuff with the LUNAR New Year. January is for settling one’s stomach, drinking less alcohol, catching the flu:). At least that’s what I did…

  12. That screen in the first photo caught my eye. I have the original four-panel screen in immaculate condition – thanks Grandma! It’s teak and from Finland c. 1970. This piece is missing some of the design in the middle, and then bottom section was replaced with the basket woven strips of wood. I’m glad they saved it from the trashbin, but it sure looks odd.

  13. Jessica, excellent post! People seem really into your posts on the styles from Emily’s book. I particularly like the mental exercise you suggest and hope it will help me declutter my bedroom. Can’t wait for traditional!

  14. Modern Glam!

    I got zen in my style diagnostic which doesn’t make a whooole lotta sense because I LOVE stuff. I would be very sad without pretty things surrounding me. I do love natural things like plants and wood and have some Asian inspired bits around so maybe that’s where it came from? No idea. But I think i’m more mod glam/mcm.

  15. I don’t have my EH book right now (vacation time !), but I wonder: what is the opposite of zen on the style wheel ? Is it traditional ? It would explain my home !

    Anyway, I love having antique or vintage pieces I inherited, but just a few of them, and with very little decor. Lately, I have even stopped decorating my coffee table at all: it’s just empty, and I like the calmness of the look. As for the rest, I don’t have art on the wall (yet ! haven’t found the right piece that we both love), and decorative object are lamps and a non-functional 19th century clock (it will stay non-functional because it is silent). Two photos and a ceramic bird in my bedroom. That kind of things !

    I also loved the post and its tone. I would have laughed even harder if you had proposed garbage bags for KonMari-ing your home in the roundup. The combs are beautiful.

  16. I don’t have my EH book right now (vacation time !), but I wonder: what is the opposite of zen on the style wheel ? Is it traditional ? It would explain my home !

    Anyway, I love having antique or vintage pieces I inherited, but just a few of them, and with very little decor. Lately, I have even stopped decorating my coffee table at all: it’s just empty, and I like the calmness of the look. So, I vote for traditional next !

    I also loved the post and its tone. I would have laughed even harder if you had proposed garbage bags for KonMari-ing your home in the roundup. The combs are beautiful.

  17. fireplace: I am on the other side of life-kids grown-LOVE vintage and your styling-how about having the stones dry ice blasted to clean them and look for a super amazing architectural piece for above that space? Don’t waste time or money on changing a very cool original feature to your “not” forever home……keep your measurements in your purse and do what you do best hunt for coolness!!!

  18. The mental exercise left my room empty. Any suggestion? Joke! I am trying to get rid of stuff that I have been collecting around. It will be a nice start. Thank you!

  19. I have taken the style diagnostic at least 75 times, and because I am torn about my answers to the first two questions, I either get zen or modern glam. And those two styles happen to be directly opposite on the style wheel (which I’m hoping is a good thing?). I would love to see some posts on how to mesh two seemingly opposing styles like these.

    1. I got the same. I think the book explains that you should draw from one style to perk up the other. I’m not sure how Zen my home really looks, but I was pleased to get that result anyway. My own solution for enlivening Zen is have a little shiny gold or brass here and there. Just a smidge.

  20. I really enjoyed the article and the ideas in it. I actually have ordered Teak Accent Vase and I’m thinking to buy some other stuff from your suggestions. Thank you very much.

  21. There’s something I’ve been wanting to comment on for awhile. When you have links in your post, it’s much better for them to open in a new (additional) window. I hate clicking on a link and then having to navigate back to your original post. It’s especially annoying if I want to keep more than one item’s window open. Sometimes your posts are set up this way, and sometimes they are not. I’m sure this is an easy fix/adjustment. Thanks in advance!

  22. Wonderful writing Jessica. I like this post quite a bit. From your description of the December/January extremes, to your very approachable step-by-step to creating a Zen space. This is a very effective example of additional content contributors on EHD. Way to go. Can’t wait to read your next piece. :)