Love where you live. Sign up for our newsletter

Makeover Tour: A Stylish, Light-Filled Senior Home Makeover with Designer Emily Henderson

by on May 20, 2013

If you’ve spent any time on the Internet in the last few years or have ever watched HGTV, you’re familiar with Emily Henderson. On top of being a wildly talented interior designer, she’s also one of the funniest and most down-to-earth people around. We are beyond thrilled, then, to share this month’s Makeover Tour and get a behind-the-scenes look at the room Emily recently transformed for Fran Ferguson, a resident at an assisted living center.

Read on to see how Emily tackled the unique challenges of this room, including her tips for creating a stylish living space for seniors — and more! 

Woman in a blue blouse leaning up again the window adorned by white curtains and the walls painted teal.

Name: Emily Henderson and Fran Ferguson

About Emily: HGTV Design Star Winner and host of “Secrets From A Stylist“, Emily works as an interior designer, stylist, and blogger. Raised in rural Oregon, Emily spent her twenties in New York doing everything from dog walking to working for Jonathan Adler, eventually becoming a successful photo stylist. She now lives with her husband and two cats in Los Angeles.

For the past two years, Sunrise Senior Living has partnered with Henderson to offer tips for designing spaces for seniors. In 2013, Sunrise introduced its “Suite Style Contest” for one lucky resident to win a suite re-design by Henderson.

Give an natural light settings for senior homes.
No image available.

About Fran: The winner of the “Suite Style Contest” is Fran Ferguson, an 81-year-old technology maven and self-proclaimed “Apple addict” who is the “go to” resource for residents at Sunrise on Connecticut Avenue who need help catching up on email or researching online. Despite being wheelchair-bound due to scoliosis, she is active in the community and was just thrilled to have a space created for her to make the “Franmade” greeting cards she shares with friends and family. Ferguson was impressed by the way that Henderson found a place to showcase the memorabilia she had collected traveling the world with her late husband of 52 years, a fighter pilot and U.S. Air Force General.

Project: Makeover for Fran Ferguson at Sunrise Senior Living in Washington D.C.

Budget: $3000

A light-filled room with furnishings and books.

Tell us a bit about this space and what inspired the makeover!

Fran was the inspiration for the whole makeover. She has great taste, great style, and had a number of beautiful Scandinavian mid-century pieces in her collection. She’s been into modern minimalism since the 1950s, but she also loves color, so I decided to create a colorful, elegant place that reflected Fran’s style.

Bookshelves and white table near a green window.

Did you start with a clear vision for this room or did the design evolve during the makeover? What were some must-haves for this space?

The biggest priority was making sure Fran’s taste and personality came through in the design, meaning we wanted to use as many of her pieces as possible. She loves crafting and needed room to store her large collection of art supplies, so I was also concerned with providing her with enough storage space. Finally, because Fran is in a wheelchair and likes to keep things clean and minimal, I wanted to keep everything open and accessible, which in the end made the space look larger and brighter.

Five people are working with books in a living room.
Two women look at a laptop screen while one of them holds a palette of paint colors.

What were your main sources for design inspiration?

Fran had a pretty good idea of what she wanted in terms of style and color. Because the main staples of her collection are mid-century, I took inspiration from mid-century design, bringing it up to date with a few fresh modern accents.

A nightlamp is on the table.

Any setbacks, unexpected design dilemmas, or unique challenges? How did you solve them?

The biggest challenge was adding as much storage as we needed without making the whole space look like a walk-in closet. Fran has not only a ton of great supplies for her art making, but she also has a good deal of amazing family keepsakes. As someone who loves sentimental objects as much as I do, I know how important it is to keep these things around. The solution was to display some of them up on the walls (which had previously been pretty bare) and to stow some away in our new storage pieces.

Subtle and stylish ideas for senior living homes.

How did Fran respond to the big reveal?

I can’t imagine a client more gracious, grateful, and genuinely sweet than Fran. I kind of want her to be my grandma. She was so excited and so complimentary. Working with her made the project so fun because she’s so sweet, funny, and outgoing!

Senior citizens faces filled with smile.

What was she most excited about? Most surprised by?

She absolutely LOVED the color and was excited I went so bold. She actually requested that color specifically and was super stoked to live in a space that hue.

Chairs and desk in an eggshell blue living room.

What is your favorite new feature of this space?

I love how bright, airy, and inviting it is. The new color, with the addition of some white furniture and a more open layout, made the space much more comfortable to be in.

Tufted chairs under bright windows in a living room.

Can you offer tips for creating a living space for seniors that is comfortable, safe, and stylish?

I’d say tip #1 is to listen to your client. The older someone is, the more they’ve seen. They’ve seen styles come and go and have an idea of what they like. So take your inspiration from the items they’ve collected over the years, their favorite colors. As far as making things safe, you just have to keep their mobility in mind. For Fran, this meant keeping the apartment open enough for her to maneuver her wheelchair around in.

A young woman talks to an old woman who is in a wheelchair.

Any advice for others about to start on their own room makeover? What are some key things to consider?

I’d say just keep in mind the possibilities and limitations of your space. Fran’s place had great light, so I capitalized on making it as bright and plant-filled as possible. There wasn’t really enough room for a sofa or a loveseat though, so I chose some cute club chairs instead. When figuring out your layout, make sure you’re designing for the space you have, not the space you want. Because if you design a small place based on a design you saw in a large one, you will be disappointed with the results.

A bed side table with a small plant and a lamp on it next to a bed.

What’s next for you? Any exciting projects in the pipeline?

Right now I’m most excited about Fig House, which is a huge event space I am designing in LA. I’ve designed everything from the dining hall to an outdoor patio that is going to be a giant hand-painted mural. I’m also working with Joy Cho of OhJoy designing her new office, which is going to turn out as cute as Joy is. Nevermind, that’s impossible.

A woman stands in an office that has a desk, electronics, binders, and photos.

Thanks, Emily!

Check out Emily’s blog for more decorating tips, design and style inspiration, and some seriously drool-worthy room makeovers!

A list of suggestions explains how to design.

Do you have a makeover tour you’d love to share on Curbly? Let us know by sending an email to!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *