Making a space feel strikingly beautiful and authentically livable is no small task. But with experience in high-level architecture as well as interior design, Brady Tolbert has developed the tools—and the eye—to pull it off with seemingly effortless ease. During college, he landed an enviable gig interning with the legendary Frank Gehry. After a stint at a luxury design studio in L.A., Brady joined the team at Emily Henderson Design where he currently serves as the Editorial Director.
In spaces filled with natural light, distinctive works of art, and an inspiring mix of modern and antique pieces, Brady uses Schoolhouse home goods to add a flare of heirloom Americana. We caught up with him to talk about his passion for design, his personal style, and his favorite Schoolhouse pieces.
Describe your aesthetic when it comes to decorating. What styles are you drawn to personally?
"I’ll always gravitate towards timeless neutrals and layered textures. Working as a stylist I am constantly using color and pattern for shoots or spaces every single day so I love coming home to something that feels neutral and monochromatic. It’s timeless without feeling boring and the neutral palette allows you to bring in a combination of pieces from so many different styles."
Where do you find most of your inspiration and who are your influences?
"I’m constantly inspired by other designers. There is something to be said about those that have forged the road before you and have years of real life experience in the field that you are in."
Frank Gehry—"I was fortunate enough to work under him as an intern on a project he was designing in Washington, DC. He pushed every boundary and limit possible and when he was told no he always asked, 'why not?' and figured out a way to make it happen."
Jessica Helgerson—"Every project she puts out is inspiring, unique, timeless and different. She designs for people rather than just decorates their spaces and you can see it in the quality of her work."
Nate Berkus and Jeremiah Brent—"I love their aesthetic and attention to detail and textures and using pieces that have a story. They layer a room with detail and personality unique to every client which results in rooms that feel authentic and personal."
McAlpine and Tankersly—"They are the genius duo behind some of the most beautiful homes in America. I have followed their work for years and everything they design is so well thought out and intentional."
Oliver Gustav—"The king of layered monochromatic interiors always creates insanely dramatic but approachable spaces."
Cliff Fong—"The man behind one of my favorite stores in LA (Galerie Half) he has an insane eye for pairing vintage furnishings in a room and creating a space totally unique and one of a kind. He always knows how to add something unexpected as well which I love."
Tell us a little about your process when it comes to designing a space for clients.
"Start by finding out how they want to live in the space—is the living room a place that they hang out in every weekend with the kids or a place that they drag their leftovers into late at night to finish up work while watching a movie? Until I really understand how the client lives in the space I can’t design it to work for them.
Once I determine how they live in the space, or more importantly, how they WANT to live in the space, I ask them to start collating ideas, rooms, products, or anything that inspires them. I ask them to think about the places that they have been to that they love to spend time at. Maybe it’s their favorite hotel lobby or restaurant or coffee shop. A lot of people don’t know how to communicate what they love when it comes to design, but they do know when they love the feeling a space evokes.
Once we go through those spaces together then I can hone in on a design for a space that not only will allow them to use the room how they want but also feel the way they want in the room. A space is much more than the furniture you put into it and honing in on how the client wants the room to feel will end up in a product that they are happy with and love to be in."
Favorite projects you've done?
"I recently finished up the living room design for a project with Emily Henderson that was neutral, modern and slightly boho that I had a ton of fun pulling together. But one of my all-time favorites was a bright and playful nursery that I did for my niece a few years back. Finishing a room for a grown adult that loves the result is one thing but seeing that look of pure joy and excitement on a four-year-old’s face when you just gave them what they think is the 'greatest room in the history of all rooms' is pretty euphoric. Although my job does entail a lot of fluffing pillows and picking out fabrics, when you deliver a room that really changes the way someone lives on a daily basis in their own space it’s insanely rewarding."
Favorite design trends or timeless looks you love?
"Although the California casual look is a trend that has become huge (thanks to Pinterest and Instagram) over the last year, the layering of neutrals, woods, and iconic mid-century pieces in a light filled space will always work for me."
Least favorite design trends?
"Anything that feels like an imitation or 'faux'. There are so many good antique and vintage pieces out there that I usually have a hard time with a lot of the wannabe pieces that attempt to look old, antique, or authentic."
Favorite color palette or materials to work with?
"I will always gravitate towards a neutral palette of colors. I love layering texture to bring in interest and contrast visually to a space rather than a bunch of colors. A palette of wood tones, whites, creams, with a few graphic pops of black as well as some metallics are something I can always get into."
What's your top design trick?
"Always include something unexpected. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Emily Henderson (the queen of styling) for the last five years and I’ve learned so much from her. If there is one thing that every space needs it is something that is unexpected, irreverent, and out of place. It helps the space feel real, interesting and gives the photo, the vignette, or the room personality."
What's your dream design project?
"Maybe it’s because I just turned 30 or maybe it’s because I work in design every day but the next big box to check on my 'life to-do list' would be to buy a fixer-upper and revamp the entire house floor to ceiling. It would be an experimental project and I would be my own client—making mistakes, learning, and documenting the entire process along the way. I would love to show people the ins and outs of doing a project like that as well as the realities of cost, timing, and what it really takes."
Finally, what makes a house a home to you?
"Personality and patience. No home comes together overnight and sometimes as designers and homeowners we feel the need to get the 'perfect' space by pulling together a bunch of 'perfect' products. Creating a home for yourself takes time, you need to live in the space, experience it, and find out how you (or your client) really uses the space. Design isn’t perfect, nor is it serious. It should be fun and you should enjoy the process. Make your house unique to you and bring in the things that you love and make you happy."
Photography via Brady Tolbert