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Design 101

What Is Brian’s Design Style?? An Exploration

There’s something I used to do when we lived in New York that would really annoy Emily. I’m sure there were actually tons of things that annoyed her, probably still do, but this one would really drive her nuts. Like, dead-eyed, “Don’t do that again” annoyance. But it was something that I kinda couldn’t control and it kinda became a problem.

Basically, anytime we got in the back of a cab whose driver had a thick New York accent, I would eventually take on the accent as if it were my own. It would start out subtle, just changing a few sounds here and there, but if I got into a back and forth conversation with the driver, it would become a full-on scene of two guys from New York chewing the fat. I couldn’t stop myself! Even after the first few awkward reactions from Emily, I couldn’t stop. Just imagine a dude from Fair Oaks, California trying to commiserate with a driver from the Bronx about midday traffic, IN AN ACCENT!

Yeah, pshhh… I bet the Manahattan bridge is crazy right now.”


You sure you wanna take 7th?”

The more I think about it, the more I realize that it hasn’t just been accents. I think I’ve mimicked people in other ways throughout most of my life. Maybe it’s why I became an actor. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. But it wasn’t just mannerisms, I spent much of my youth copying people’s tastes – What they wore, what music or movies they liked, how they wore their hair. I remember saying in seventh grade that I really liked Bob Dylan, just because a cool eighth-grader named Jordan Heinrich liked him. I knew nothing about Bob Dylan, but I took on their style and even went so far as buying a Bob Dylan poster without ever owning any of his CDs. I did the same with clothes. Did I like Mossimo or Stussy? Was I a surfer or skater? No! Did I wear them because it’s what Jason Currier and all the cool kids were wearing? Yes! I even got big into hacky sacks because the Regan Reynolds was big into them. I never really thought of my own taste or style, never brought anything of my own to the table.

Of course, that changed the older I got, and I began locking into my own little “likes” and “dislikes,” but I still think I have a tendency to take on the style of whoever I look up to. Or sometimes, just whoever is around. So when Emily and her team asked me to write a post about what my design style is, I started getting butt-sweat because I’m not sure I really have one! I think maybe I’ve just been taking on Emily’s thick accent of style, because I look up to her, and passing it off as my own this whole time! We’ve lived together for so long, that it’s now hard to distinguish her design taste from mine.

photo by tessa neustadt | from: custom framing for our home office With framebridge

It would be easier if I had to write about any other aspects of my style, I’ve actually come into my own in most of them. I have a clothing style – relaxed hipster. I have a music style – Grateful Dead/Taylor Swift. I know what I like in movies and books and plays, even cars. But when it comes to design, I feel like sitting down and taking a long time out. I don’t know what my style is! I mean, I know when I’m in a space that feels cool, but I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily my style. I’d say that each of the houses we’ve lived in were super awesome, but I don’t know if any of them have been my style per se. I’m a little worried that my style changes with each space I’m in, like I’m taking on the accent of whichever house I’m currently living in.

Glendale Brian – “I’m a mid-century guy”

Los Feliz Brian – “I’m super eclectic”

Mountain House Brian – “Gimme more wood!”

Farmhouse Brian – “I’m a Shaker at heart.”

Brian writing about his actual design style – “…Hey! Look over there! (jumps out nearest window)”

I think that maybe I just don’t think about design. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it, I know great design when I see it, and I know when I like things, but it all feels so subjective to the specific house I’m in that I’m not sure how to translate that into an overall style. And if I’m being truthful, I’m not all that interested in trying to find it out. I know that sounds crazy coming from the husband of a design superstar, but it’s true. I wish it weren’t. I’ve tried to force myself to rethink it before and make it more of a priority, but it never sticks. I just don’t have the desire to go shop for furniture or art. Like, ever. I don’t know why, it’s just not in me. And sometimes the saying is true – you can’t change a tiger’s stripes to chevrons. 

That’s not to say that I don’t like design. I actually do. I just admire it as something outside of me. Like, I know when I see something beautiful in a room or a picture of a pretty space, and I would even venture to say that I’ve got a better eye for that stuff than most dudes (perks of living with a star) but that doesn’t mean that it’s what speaks to me on a personal level. And it also doesn’t mean that I go out of my way to look at them. Never have I ever picked up an Elle Décor for inspo. I have opinions on how we’re designing the farmhouse, sure, but it’s in relation to the space itself, not necessarily my desire to get my style in there. I think. Maybe I’m wrong. For instance, I recently told Emily that I don’t want it to feel too modern, that I really want to keep an eye on the rustic side of the farmhouse. Maybe that means bringing in more natural wood. Now, does that mean that my style is like, rustic? Maybe? But I think it has more to do with the space in context. But maybe that is my style coming through. Like, if we were designing a super modern house or a mid-century space, would I stress about having too many modern elements? I DON’T KNOW! AHHH!!

photo by tessa neustadt | from: brady’s bedroom makeover with parachute

Emily said, just imagine if you had to design a blank space, what would you put in it? Well, I actually have lived in a blank space. The one year we broke up in New York, I lived in a house in Queens with my buddy Edi from acting school. I had a whole year to decorate my room. A whole year. It was like the white room challenge from Design Star, but for dumb-dumbs. And guess what I did to it? Nothing! I put a bed and a desk in, with a chair that I found on my block. And I was fine with it! It never once bothered me that I should decorate my room more. And I’d love to say it was because I was just in my twenties and didn’t know better, or that I was trying to save money, or didn’t have the time. This is all true, but the REAL truth is, if I were to have a space without Emily’s help, I don’t think it would be that much different today. Sure I’d put some random accessories in there so that people don’t think I’m a total psychopath, but I’m just not the kind of guy who will hunt for the perfect side-table to go next to the credenza. And I know those guys exist, and they make all of us non-design guys jealous or furious when they wow all the women in the room by talking about how much they care about design. I know they’re not putting on an act, and I don’t really want to punch them in the face, they just have something in them that I don’t. They genuinely enjoy getting deep into design. Just like I enjoy getting deep into Dead concerts, finding the perfect live version of Scarlet Begonias (It’s 10/9/76, Oakland Coliseum if you’re curious). And I really wish I had that genuine enjoyment of design instead of just riding the coattails of my superstar wife’s taste. 

Maybe I should just list some things I know I like and you guys can decide if it actually adds up to a style. Ready?

Wood. Clean lines. Muted colors. A mix of vintage pieces with new luxuries. Unique architectural accessories. Natural light. And a kegerator tap. Is that a style?

Look. I like design. I really do. I just think it’s ok to be an admirer of it rather than feel like I have to force myself to become an active participant. It’s like art. I know what appeals to me, it’s a wide array of styles and mediums, I love looking at all of it, but I don’t think I need to go out and buy an easel and brushes. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe I have a vague idea of what speaks to me in design and I can add some ideas here and there. But do I have a strong definition of my style writ large? “Ayyyy, forget about it!”

From Em: Stay tuned for part 2 because Brian is getting a full-on Emily Henderson “Style Diagnostic” and I can’t wait because it’s going to be SO MUCH fun. xx


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54 thoughts on “What Is Brian’s Design Style?? An Exploration

  1. ” I started getting butt-sweat” 😹😹 Too funny, but real. It’s a thing!

    Brian, I reflected on things you’ve written or things Emily’s commented on about you and this is what I recall:
    – cabin, rustic wood, not too perfect, relaxed, comfortable, no fussy finishes, and a good dose of unique/quirky, light.
    My words, from interpreting what I’ve read.

    I also think the vast majority, like almost all, cis men don’t have that much opinion about so-called style. It seems to be more about FUNCTION instead of FORM. Amiright??
    As long as the space is comfortable and functional, that’s fine n dandy.
    And … there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
    In fact, gosh, life would be a lot easier if I didn’t care ‘too much’ about this stuff, because it’s so time consuming. But, it’s so fun for me, it’s a good thing.

    I reckon you might just settle in and wallow in how lucky you are to live with aforementioned Design Super-star and enjoy the ride, piping in so you get the stuff you really DO want and not the stuff you really DON’T want.

    Lucky you!
    Can’t wait for Part II.

    1. Rusty, I just want you to know that I love you. Your comments are always my favorite part of this blog!

  2. I don’t think it is a gender-thing. I don’t think I have a style myself, although I enjoy reading this blog and I like to pick a design magasine for inspiration. However, I have no clue about my own design and tomorrow I might like something in a magasine that I did not even notice last month.

  3. Brian I think we are the same age – all I could think was EVERYONE wore Stussy and Mossimo and nobody liked it!

  4. Oh man, I feel you on the accents! I just can’t help it – and then I’m always afraid people will think I’m making fun of them…! Always love your writing, Brian! I do think that on the whole men are probably less encouraged to enjoy/experiment in ‘design’ and making thinks look pretty? So that could be part of it, but of course that doesn’t mean everybody/ every man is the same. My dad for example loooooves design and making spaces beautiful. And I think part of that is down to who he is and part of that is also his upbringing. My grandparents were really into design and greatly enjoyed furnishing and decorating their spaces together with the money they had when they were young. My grandmother still has one of the most stylish homes I know and you can see traces of that style in both her children’s spaces both my dad’s and my aunt’s.
    It sounds like maybe you also never really had that much time to figure out your style on your own? I do think its something a lot of people do in the years they live alone in their twenties and if you spent most of that time living togehter with a design savy person such as Emily, I could imagine that maybe wasn’t the time for you to experiment stylistically by yourself – especially if you weren’t interested in that in the first place… But this way you really didn’t have to
    But also I think its definitely fine to not have your style all figured out or even be that concerned about it. There’s a lot of people who don’t and still live happy lives 😉 You just happen to live somewhere with a high concentration of design-enthusiasts 😀 I would argue that all people feel more comfortable in some places than in others even if they can’t articulate for themselves why that is (yet). I’m definitely looking forward to the Design Analysis with Emily!

    1. Love the insight into your dad/grandparents! I feel the same about my husband, but in the opposite way. He grew up military living on base (and moving a LOT) so he had no control over the space he lived in/option to personalize it. Since there was always the chance they could move, and since they didn’t own the home/space, his family didn’t prioritize any type of investment into the surroundings. I think it’s taken him some time to think about what he likes or why he likes things when I ask.

    2. I want to see your grandma’s place! This idea of people whose environment ages well alongside them is so compelling, and I don’t have any examples in my own life.

      1. I too would GREATLY enjoy a feature on stylish old people’s homes! I think this would be so cool to see what stands the test of time! I personally know several people who have incredibly beautiful homes (in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s) but maybe this is because I like an older style? My mother’s home, for example, is truly beautiful IMO, but I am not sure if others would find it so. I think the design environment we grow up in has a HUGE impact on our style as adults. I would actually love to see a feature from the EHD team and alum all about how their parents or grandparents have influenced their taste.

        My husband has fairly wretched taste I would say. His parents both come from intergenerational poverty (hey rural Newfoundland) and they were the first to go to college in their families, and I remember just feeling so confused when I went to their house for the first time. I had never been in an adult’s home that felt so juvenile and not put together…For example, bedrooms did not have side tables or lamps, the guest bedrooms had a sheet permanently tacked up on the window in one room, in the other room a broken shade from 1980 something was left up for 8 YEARS meaning we literally could not open the blind and have sunlight in the room…mind you these are people whose home is now worth almost 2 million (thanks Canada), they had very good jobs with solid pensions, two cars, sent their two sons to one of the most prestigious private schools in Toronto…what I’m saying is they had money but no taste or desire to make their home cozy or warm. My husband is happy with random furniture from Costco.

  5. I feel the same way!! I appreciate many different styles, but don’t know what I want for my own spaces. It has me totally stumped in my house, so looking forward to the diagnostic.

  6. I love Brian’s posts. I fall into the butt-sweat category. I love a beautiful room, I love design as far as looking at all the pretty rooms, but I do not know how to execute. I freeze. We’re in a major remodeling of our house. Nothing has been done to it in 30 years. I am venturing into the unknown and scared to death. I need to learn how to trust my gut and not go with what is flashy and trendy, but design a place I want to live in.

  7. 1. See pic and zoom in to see Brian’s hat.
    2. Immediately skip post and scroll down to comment.
    3. Comment: ⚡️ YES, Brian, YES!⚡️
    4. Go back to read post.

  8. Brian, I am a designer, and I can’t define my style, either! I like so many. At least you appreciate good design. I would feel lucky if my husband was as easy-going about design as you are! My husband is really into wine and I enjoy wine, but having him around, I don’t have to think about it much at all. When I observe him getting together with other wine people and talking wine, I am always amazed at how much he knows. Also- I have a house full of traditional furniture bought 30+ years ago. Why? My roommate when I was 23 had a house full of brand new Ethan Allen furniture, and I admired her.

  9. This is the way I feel about music. I feel so much JOY from listening to music – no desire to create it myself. (But a blank white room for a year – that’s my personal hell, hahaha).

  10. Hey, Brian, first tip, usually you wouldn’t put a side-table next to a credenza.

    And it sounds like you have a style, but you’re trying to define it. It actually sounds very close to some design books I used to have on creating an organic or natural home.

    “Wood. Clean lines. Muted colors. A mix of vintage pieces with new luxuries. Unique architectural accessories. Natural light. And a kegerator tap.”

    Maybe not the kegerator tap.

    Looking forward to hearing more, especially since you’re walk down memory lane makes me think just a bit about my husband (he wore a lot of Stüssy).

  11. Perhaps not having too strong of a design opinion is what makes a relationship with an interior designer sustainable. Two people with strong, defined personal taste in interior design, with only one home in which to express that taste sounds like a recipe for conflict unless you both have the exact same taste 😊.

  12. I feel the same way! I couldn’t describe my style. Our house is a mixture of things we love and hand me downs with sentimental value. My husband is 1000000000% function over form. Sometimes I wish our house was more curated but it works for us and that’s all that matters.

    I can’t wait for part 2.

  13. This has nothing to do with today’s post but…can we PLEASE see Sara’s kitchen. Or get an update. I’m feel super invested in her house and want to see this space in all its glory. pretty please!!

  14. Oh man, oh man, you *shouldn’t* be looking for a side table to put next to the credenza, Brian–even I, a total noob who is not married to a design star, know that!

  15. I found this post a little perplexing. Like it seems like Brian knows what he likes and his likes are somewhat eclectic but doesn’t have a name for that style? Or he’s concerned that his taste is malleable? Or he is concerned that he defers to his wife, who is a design professional? But, um, who cares? I mean, what does labeling one’s style preferences do that’s helpful? Why is it bad to have taste that changes over time? He is lucky enough to live with someone who knows how to design, so why not take advantage of that? I just don’t see the problem here and I’m not sure there is one. I mean we all get angsty over weird things and Brian has a nice writing style, so it wasn’t an unenjoyable read, so maybe that’s all that’s important.

    1. Annie, it’s no problem to not have a style or to be unsure of what it is. I think this article came about because Brian and Emily are renovating a home and Emily wants to make sure it’s reflective of both their tastes, not just her own.

  16. Brian! I relate so much to what you said. I also tried on lots of personalities in high school and I can easily pick up an accent which I always thought was because my parents are immigrants with weird accents and I moved around a lot as a kid. I don’t know what my style is either. It’s basically, natural materials, lots of windows, slightly eccentric kitschy accessories, blue, books and plants. Does that have a name?? Probably not. But that’s what my ideal home would be like. Most of us, like you, in your twenties, are constrained by budgets. If we all had to design from scratch with a pretty big budget, we’d all be pretty stumped too.

  17. Like you, I have an imitative ear. Worst case scenario; job interview in front of a three person panel and one had a very pronounced stammer. Kill me now. I spent more energy trying not to imitate him than I did on answers to their questions.

    I did not get the job.

    My style; I’d probably answer with beiges and wood tones with accents of blue with a hit of leopard print. Lots of textures. Interesting lamps from antique stores and handmade by me. Collectibles from all over the world. And our homes have reflected that.

    But the truth is I just want a book nook with a big nap-able couch, good light and tons of books. And a secret room hidden behind a swinging book case. I want that most of all. And chocolate moose tracks ice cream in the freezer.

    It’s all about the secret room behind the book case. I’d even give up the ice cream.

  18. I actually love that my husband doesn’t have a prominent sense of style. He looks on everything from the utilitarian perspective. Which makes my life is much easier as I can decide and choose design which I love, asking him just occasionally.
    This is totally not the case with my younger one who definitely inherited passion to design from me. We are butting our heads all the time!!

  19. This is SO good and so relatable, Brian! I’ve been trying to pick out paint colors and new bedding for our room and my husband claims to “have no opinion” or that he “knows I’ll pick out something good”. I don’t necessarily want him to mood board or get to a complete agreement on a color/style with me, but I DO want to get input from him so he ultimately likes the space. I narrowed it down to three colors finally and he gave me a “I think I like the idea of a darker room because I want the bedroom to be cozy for sleeping” – THANK YOU, I can work with that! I don’t expect him to research all components, but I do like getting feedback on our home. Especially since I bought the house we live in before we were together and much of the furniture/decor originally was mine…any changes I make I want him to feel like it’s OUR home, not a place he just lives that I control. He would 100% have white walls with nothing on them if he moved into an apartment tomorrow though. It’d be that way for YEARS before he’d think to do something about it – ha!

  20. PS- When Brian guest stars on the blog, it’s my favorite. I never miss it. Always an honest take, abs I always laugh out loud. Way to go, Team Henderson for seeing this so well.

  21. Bahahahaha! And I unwillingly do the same when I hear an accent. I’ve become British multiple times and to the surprise of the unsuspecting participant I’m talking to. Ugh. I also channel Moira Rose and my family gets squeamish. My husband would wholeheartedly relate to you on the “style” front. BUT I disagree with you, I think you do know your style, you just don’t know it as such. The fact that you recognize design as art has a lot to say.

  22. I feel like I have a “style” BUT if I was married to a HGTV Design Star winner I’d still probably let them design everything. It’s like being married to a chef and trying to make your own dinner. Why bother when you have an EXPERT?

  23. Enjoyed reading this post Brian!
    Down to earth and relatable…I should also say engaging, because here I am commenting!
    After reading your list of, ‘things I like’, I’d say yes, you do have a style…it’s ‘Brian’s style’
    My thought is, if you stick to those things you naturally gravitate toward, I believe those things will naturally start blending together and relating to one other, and your own style will naturally begin to emerge… and easier for you to start identifying with other styles rather than picking one and imposing it on yourself. If that makes sense??
    All ‘art’ is just bits and pieces really, of things we like, pick up along the way, conscious or unconsciously, and then rehash them into something new…hopefully. Because copying is pointless and never the goal anyway.
    So not pinning down any particular prepackaged style, as your own style, I see as a plus for you, rather than a negative.
    It leaves you some room to adapt.
    Otherwise you’re stuck in a pigeon hole defined by a term.
    It actually makes perfect sense to me that your style likes would change according to the house you are in.
    (I love your new house btw, but I’ve been trying figure out, or coin a term, for it’s style.. is it farmhouse or craftsman? Is there such a thing as a craftsman farmhouse?? Because I see a bit of both, and it’s keeping me up at night!)
    Everything starts with inspiration. There has to be a jumping off point.
    The character and era of a house seems like the perfect inspiration from which to start. I guess then there is always a point of reference to return to as well, if something feels off or out of place.
    I have no credentials to talk as if I’m a designer, the only thing I can talk about is in relation to what I know of the creative process itself.
    I look up to Emily too, and have a great respect for what interior designer’s do. It’s a lot of hats to wear!
    I’m into lighting, that’s my ‘thing’ among the greater picture of a completed space.
    So as a ‘non interior designer’ I think the idea of grasping every element that goes into a total design, is overwhelming. Overwhelming enough to not know where to start, and then easy to just scrap the whole idea all together.
    So maybe starting with one aspect of the design element is a better approach?
    It’s got to be fun, or satisfying in someway, otherwise there isn’t much point to it.
    Which is probably the reason your room was left bare for that year. It was temporary, it wasn’t going to be your home. So the less you moved in, the easier it would be to pick up and move out…and on into your life with Emily! So there was reason to it…
    Anyway, I’ve gone off on a tangent and why I should stay away from commenting!
    My parting thoughts…Cornell 1977

  24. Okay… I have so many thoughts on this post. But let’s start with the most important one: Brian Henderson, you are a writer. I’m not sure if you are looking for a career change but you perhaps should. Your writing is the best! I ALWAYS read your posts and I am always left wanting more when they end. Keep writing. Secondly, you are allowed to not care about design. You are allowed to not have a discernable style. I do care about design and I am not even sure I have a “style”. You can’t care about everything. And if you share a home with Emily, it is probably best that you DON’T care. She has you covered. 😉 Lastly, the Grateful Dead/Taylor Swift musical combination has me swooning. I didn’t know other people like me existed! You clearly have great musical taste! So…what is the best song on Evermore? And do you think Evermore is a better album than Folklore…Do tell. 🙂

  25. My husband travels all over the country for work and every time he comes home he has acquired an “accent” from where he has just been. Minnesota, Alabama, North Carolina… But the funniest and most had to stop immediately was when he went to visit his aunt in Nova Scotia and came home with the accent of an eighty year old Canadian woman!! It was hilarious and he didn’t even realize he was doing it. Thank goodness it never lasts long!

  26. Brian, I feel you on the accent adoption. I don’t know I’m doing it and if I figure out I’m doing it I don’t know how to stop it and spend more time concentrating on what I’m saying than what the other person is saying. It’s so embarrassing. If anyone has a solution to this – please share! It’s the worst when traveling abroad and the person I’m speaking to seems to think I’m mocking them and I’m not!
    Anyway, good luck with your style search, Brian.

    1. It actually helps my husband in business to adopt the local accent even though he does it unconsciously. It takes him a week to drop it and get back to his own voice. I find it rather endearing.

  27. Brian, I loved your pieces about your personal challenges…but this one, blaa. I figure you are looking for input or you wouldn’t be on here? Nothing personal, but I don’t care if you don’t know your design style or how you, like every other teen ,copied style. Just saying..

  28. I read the post to my husband and he loves the fact that Scarlet Begonias stands on its own, for its own merits. Just listened to Dick’s Picks 33 love Scarlet Begonias. Right on.
    Thanks for sharing. Awesome move to Portland. I’m jealous you will probably be hanging out with Colin Maloy and Carson Ellis.

  29. Brian, if it helps at all: I’m a literal interior designer – like, for my actual job where I get an actual salary and healthcare and stuff – and I feel a lot of these same things! I mean, I wouldn’t be happy living in a white box and I do enjoy sifting through furniture, but my house is designed as much to the context of the house as much as it is to my taste.

    I think sometimes it comes from having a neutral personality (I’m just not an extreme person), but it also comes from exposure. Once you’ve seen the huge variety of styles and dug into why they work, it all looks good when done well. There are definitely designers whose work is easily spotted because of the continuity between projects. But I’m not sure they’re incredibly common (like, maybe among residential influencers, but not within the broader context of the design world).

    Even Emily is constantly refining her taste and style, and it’s applied very differently between projects and as trends shift. You wouldn’t necessarily guess that the most recent Henderson LA house and the Mountain House were done by the same designer. But they were!

    It’s my experience that people chase a feeling more than a style. Yours seems to be casual comfort or something in that range. Houses, offices, higher ed – most of my clients seem to do it.

  30. I just want to say, you sound like the ideal partner for me (and you sound very much like my husband!). I hear all the time about couples doing renovations and getting into major arguments over style decisions, and I think it would be quite horrible to have to take someone else’s opinion into consideration! (Yes, I do acknowledge my steamroller personality in general, why do you ask??) I’m sure, just like with my husband, there are topics and areas in which you are DEEPLY invested and opinionated, but it might just be a positive overall that this isn’t one of them. 🙂

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