We’ve been there — flipping through the latest home design magazine, gawking at the unattainable perfection of strangers, pausing to glare at our own TV room that hasn’t seen a spruce-up since someone shot J.R. Even successful designer Emily Hewett says her Lake Highlands home is a constant work in progress. Hewett understands the challenges of real life, so she takes a practical approach to home design. A few years ago when she started her blog, A Well-Dressed Home, Hewett discovered that all kinds of people wanted her help. So she quit her full-time job and started her own business. The mother of two shares with us some of her interior design insights and offers some simple tips for the homeowner who loves beautiful things, but doesn’t quite know where to begin.
Give us a little bit of background—what ignited your aesthetic ambition?
I grew up in Plano and lived there through high school. Then I went to Texas Tech, where I got my design degree. I’ve always been interested in design. As a child I felt a need to create and to style. My own room is a good example. When I was 7, I begged my mom to let me redecorate my room, which was this girly, mauve-and-forest-green Laura Ashley-type bedroom. My mom took me to a furniture store in Dallas where the walls were this intense blue, and I said, ‘I want my room that color’. I still remember the name of the paint — Tide Pool Teal. With that as the background, I turned my room into an ‘80s oasis.
How did you break into a design career after college?
When I graduated in 2002, I did design work for Brinker International. I traveled around the U.S. and, you know that junk on the walls at Chili’s restaurants? I installed that. After that I worked for a homebuilder and helped clients choose finishes such as cabinets and countertops. After six years I started feeling the need to be more creative. In 2010 I launched the blog, and readers began contacting me. I realized that they would hire me, so I quit my job and went out on my own.
That seems a little scary.
It was a big risk. I had a very good job making good, reliable money. But I knew I wanted a family soon and I understood that if I wanted to do this I had to do it promptly. My husband was very supportive. For the first two years I took a big pay cut, but also, there were personal factors that caused the work to be less than full time — I was dealing with fertility issues and went through in vitro fertilization, then, thankfully, the second year I was pregnant with twins. The timing was good because by the time they (a boy and a girl) were born and my maternity leave was over, I had the pieces in place to really launch the business.
You wrote about some of your personal experiences on your blog. What was that like?
I shared about how we had tried for a year and a half to get pregnant through in vitro and about the pregnancy, and I was just amazed at how many people were reading and how many letters, comments and emails I received from people who related.
As a personal designer, what are your challenges — like, do you ever have the big reveal and the client hates it, as we sometimes see on these home-makeover shows?
Thank goodness, no. But our process prevents that from happening. Our client has participated in the design development and knows exactly what they are getting. We specialize in ‘no surprises.’ There was an instance a few weeks ago, however, where one of our remodels was featured on the website of a major publication, and my client read every comment. It is never a good idea to read the comments section, because a lot of people are just there to be negative. She was offended, and I had to remind her that what people in the comments section said didn’t matter. What matters is the client and her happiness.
More popularity means more subjection to internet trolls, huh?
Yes, but luckily I haven’t dealt with nasty comments on my blog.
What do you do when clients want things that go against your fundamental design sensitivities?
I sit down and talk to people, try to steer them, but in the end it is their home and their money, so we do what they want.
What are the most important components of a well-dressed home?
We encourage clients to put the bulk of their budget into big pieces — the couch, the bed, the things that you will have for a long time — and to keep those classic. The accessories can easily be changed over the years as trends come and go, but the fundamental focus should be on those big furniture pieces.
What is a trend that you are seeing this spring?
Well, Pantone just came out with their color of the year and it is Radiant Orchid, a purple, so we expect to see a lot of shades of purples mixed with neutrals.
What do people frequently get wrong when decorating?
I see a lot of people buying rugs that are too small for the space. A rug should fill most of the room rather than just being the size of the table under which it is positioned. Also, while it is not necessary to hire a designer, if you do, talk to her or him before you go out and buy all the furniture. One reason is that designers have access to furniture that the public does not have access to. Also, if you are working with someone it is smoother to go through the process together start to end.
Do you have to be wealthy to hire a designer?
No, not at all. We are price-conscientious. We know from experience where to find deals without sacrificing quality. While you don’t want to scrimp on the key items in the home—those are investments—there are various options and levels of interior design projects, and you don’t have to tackle everything at once. My own home, for instance, is a constant project in progress.
What are your design preferences—things you’ve done in your home?
I think it is important to design around the style of the home. We live in a house that was built in the 1940s in the M Streets area and moved here to Lake Highlands … it feels like an old farmhouse. Two years ago I would have told you I wasn’t a farmhouse kind of girl, but I have embraced the style—added white horizontal planks on the walls, stationed a rustic farmhouse kitchen table in place of an island, but then, in a methodical and tailored way, I add touches of modern color and animal prints and glam. And I always like to have fresh flowers.
What tips do you have for someone who is preparing his home for sale?
Always declutter. Declutter. Declutter. Do whatever updates you can do without losing money in a sale. The kitchen and bathrooms are the most important. The master bathroom, especially, but mostly the kitchen. That is the center of the home.
Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.