Emily Henderson

stylebyemilyhenderson.com · Jun 14, 2017

How to Get that ‘Effortless Expensive California Casual’ look, on a budget


There is a lifestyle conspiracy happening right now on social media and it looks a lot like that photo (from the AMAZING book Surf Shack – they certainly aren’t all shacks but it’s such a pretty book with photography by Brittany Ambridge). Post after post show this look/vibe/style that feels so effortless and simple – just thrown together on a Saturday afternoon, and yet it’s not. No one is trying to deceive anyone and there aren’t any individuals at fault here – instead it’s been this big movement towards people with wealth veering away from garish 24-carat-gold-this and diamond-encrusted-that and instead opting towards artisanal pottery and hand dyed linen. It’s often a great thing as anything ‘fancy’ is deemed ‘ostentatious’ and smaller, (yet, still expensive brands) are on the rise for everyone, especially millennials. The problem is, just like those ostentatious, fancy homes that used to be in fashion this style that looks and feels effortless and affordable is still generally really expensive to execute. It’s a just a bear with a different coat on.

What beautiful and stunning effortless look am I talking about? This:

This is the house by the owners of General Store in Silver Lake which I explore for inspiration and the occasional splurges. It’s insane and so beautiful.

This is from the book Surf Shack, but I believe it’s Vanessa Alexander’s Home of Alexander Design Build in Malibu.

Tessa Neustadt’s work – above and below (I believe below is also Vanessa’s work).

Beautiful photography full of stunning pieces. It looks easy and casual – and because of that vibe you really want to be there on any given Sunday morning. Which is why it’s so cruel.

I realize that I’m a part of this conspiracy, too. That I, too have become part of that lifestyle mafia that I’ve been enamored with/complaining about for a decade. Of course I try to be transparent about the work/time and amount of money that it takes to pull together even the most “effortless” of looks so it doesn’t feel deceptive. But I know that it still looks easy to pull together. Trust me, it ain’t. Ask my total emotional breakdown that I had on Friday, after months of working on the house, even with gifted stuff and many an assistants helping – I lost it due to exhaustion and fatigue. I’m fine. It’s the first time its happened in 5 years, but apparently the two toddler situation pushed me mentally farther than I could handle.

As a “content creator” you want people to see and feel the joy that you have for your job so that is what you feel proud enough to post. Honestly during the mess and stress of daily life you don’t even have the brain space to share, let alone the desire. I know that unless you read all of the posts (design mistakes, marriage issues, toddler issues) and watch all my insta-stories it can certainly seem like I’m only showing you the beautiful, easy life of a California family with 2.5 kids.

But it’s not my style that this post is about – mine is far too colorful and full of whimsy and children – it’s this “Effortless-Minimal-Casual-California” look that is so popular right now, one that so many people want (me included) but can be really un-affordable.

I often call it being part of the “Effortless Expensive’ club, with our friend and founder Gwyneth as president and Goop as chief of marketing. This is not a criticism. Curating a high end, casual life-style full of wellness is actually their brand and nothing is wrong with that. They curate it beautifully, telling a story of a life in which many of us love to listen/watch.

But what has happened subsequently is that the ‘Goop’ look has caught on and taken FIRE on social media, provoking many a copy-cat and increasing the expectation of what a beautiful life means. What started for mostly the upper class is now being sold as mainstream, leaving many people burned because they feel sad about the mess that is their life, face, body and home. Every day there are more people talking about wellness, wearing $400 cotton dresses while barefoot, and drinking a smoothie worth $22 in organic vegetables. Not to mention what is in their beach “shack”.

All good things if you can afford it, but if you can’t, it can be a bummer to watch. I love looking at the photos of the life that is projected, too. It truly can be inspiring….but sometimes it’s depressing.

While I’m not Gwinnie, I still often feel like I’m a bigger part of the problem than the solution and recently many of you called me out on it. I do buy some expensive pieces both in fashion and home – pieces that I would not have 7 years ago. I love Rachel Comey shoes, Ulla Johnson shirts (the QUEEN of expensive effortless fashion) and last week I bought a beautiful $110 olive oil cruet for that perfect backsplash “moment” I was styling for the magazine shoot in our kitchen. As you know I also have a ton of Target, Urban outfitters, Ikea, Madewell, West Elm, thrift and flea market finds. etc. I’m not fancy, but yes my budget has increased which could make you think that I’ve changed. And in the 8 years that I’ve been writing this I suppose that I have. We all have. But I don’t feel bad or feel like I need to apologize for my success.

What I do know is the biggest a-hole move is to just silently throw ridiculous splurges in my home as if it’s nothing, as if anyone can have that olive oil cruet on their live edge marble board with a $60 ceramic salt box peeking into the shot. So I try to be transparent about whether its gifted or not and give a budget roundup version whenever possible. I may still be an a-hole, but I’m trying to be an honest one.

This isn’t me saying that I will no longer buy what I love if/when I can afford it. But that I will try to help find budget sources to substitute any splurges, and give every day sources and ideas to help make sure that people feel like they can have the look and life they want, regardless of their budget. It’s kinda what I’ve always tried to do, I’m just recommitting myself to it.

So let’s break down what exactly goes into this “California Casual Minimalist’ look. What exactly are the key ingredients?

First – all white walls – maybe an off white, but don’t even think about painting any sort of ‘color’ anywhere. Every single piece is neutral in color and organic in nature, with maybe a light blue or sage green breaking up the white on white on wood on leather on white on cream on taupe on wood on leather on white.

More ingredients: live-edge wood, hand-thrown/studio pottery, wicker, rattan, fringe, tassels and linen that has been washed a million times with frayed edges. Mix with some more refined pieces, like the classics (Cherner, Saarinen, McCobb, Alto, Windsor, Thonet – they are all welcome and I’m guilty of obsessing over them all). Minimal modern art with hits of black is invited, and don’t forget a leaning blanket ladder (of which I have 2).

Caramel/black leathers, a ‘minimal sculptural chair’ in the corner, pottery bells, leaning rustic cutting boards and SO MANY WONKY BASKETS are essential to this look. Lastly please collect any and all wooden/organic/string three dimensional pieces and hang them on hooks next to your sun hats and fringed blankets. And don’t forget to put crystals, rocks or shells in a handmade or wood bowl on your coffee table.

Sure, I sound like I’m making fun of this look but seriously, I can write this so easily because I’m both a perpetrator and victim of this trend. I’m VERY into it.

But despite its ease and affordability getting this look can certainly add up.

As I’ve said before – AND THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT – if you can afford for everything in your life to be made locally, artisanally and sustainably then please support those designers and businesses. I will. Or if you can source these at thrift stores and flea markets, then please do so to eliminate as much waste in the world as possible. I will. But if you want that look, but have a budget that doesn’t support that desire – then TODAY IS YOUR DAY (and mine).

We went on the hunt to find these ingredients, as cheaply as possible and I think we did a pretty darn great job of it. Here you go, folks.

1. Cream Pom Throw Pillow | 2. Washed Linen Beige Pillow | 3. Faux Leather Throw Pillow | 4. Horizontal Striped Lumbar Pillow | 5. Linen Throw Blanket | 6. Ceramic Table Lamp | 7. Matro Dome Stool | 8. Woven Pendant | 9. Sofa | 10. Rug | 11. Coffee Table | 12. Accent Chair | 13. Tree Stump Side Table | 14. Magazine Holder | 15. Ink Wash Painting | 16. ‘Read Between the Lines’ Print | 17. ‘Stones’ Print | 18. ‘Uncertain Place 15’ Piece | 19. Leather Stool | 20. Wood Ladder | 21. Woven Wall Covering | 22. White Planter | 23. Leather Butterfly Chair | 24. Woven Floor Stool | 25. White and Black Short Bell | 26. Tall Black Bell | 27. Rose Gold Flatware | 28. Terracotta Dinnerware Set | 29. White Linen Napkins | 30. Short Cutting Board | 31. Long Cutting Board | 32. Ceramic Pitcher | 33. Drinking Glass | 34. Mustard and Tan Woven Vase | 35. Handmade Ceramic Vase | 36. Stone Dipped Vase | 37. Ceramic Tabletop Planter | 38. Brass Tray | 39. Wooden Rack | 40. Leather Jumprope | 41. Straw Hat (similar) | 42. Woven Basket | 43. Rattan Basket | 44. Black and Wood Chair | 45. Small Wood Stump Stool | 46. Large Wood Stump Stool | 47. Cream Fringe Pillow | 48. Macrame Lumbar Pillow | 49. Black Ladder | 50. Fern Plant | 51. Cane Chair (not available until Fall) | 52. Black Planter | 53. Tall Lidded White Vase | 54. Tan and Cream Throw | 55. Pompom Throw | 56. Cream Crinkle Throw

As I was writing this I found even MORE pieces that fit this particular look, that I love, so if you are into this post let us know and we’ll be sure to break it down even further (aka a whole roundup of those amazing sculptural corner chars that are affordable).

This post wasn’t meant to be a statement, but I think I’d been wanting to write about it for a while. How are you feeling about it all? Are you a part of the lifestyle mafia? Do you feel bad when you are on social media ever? Or do you think I’m just being sensitive and cloying?

The lifestyle mafia just got a whole lot bigger. Welcome, folks. 🙂

****Photography by Brittany Ambridge for Surf Shack

The post How to Get that ‘Effortless Expensive California Casual’ look, on a budget appeared first on Emily Henderson.

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