Jess Bunge is the Editorial Director of Style By Emily Henderson, a massively successful interior design and culture blog created and run by the famed home stylist and former HGTV host herself. Throughout her tenure, Jess has climbed the company ranks; she was first hired in 2016 as Graphic Designer/Blog Assistant, received a promotion two years later to Senior Market Editor, and just a few weeks ago was bumped up to her current Editorial Director title.
In 2019, Jess curated and decorated her 363-square-foot Silver Lake studio from scratch as part of Emily’s Makeover Takeover series. Seeing photos of Bunge’s sun-soaked, minimally modern space with hints of color and custom wood pieces — not to mention her gallery wall — you’ll understand why her work has been admired by industry forces including Domino, Remodelista, and Apartment Therapy.
Jess found her calling in the Los Angeles design world, but that path wasn’t always clear to the Orange County native, who had initially vowed she’d never return to Southern California after moving across the country to New York in 2010. “I equated success with leaving where I grew up — Southern California felt too close,” Jess shared during a recent interview with Cinnamon at Echo Park’s Eightfold Coffee. “I created this idea in my head that I needed to move away.”
She first settled in New York City to work for a Broadway producer as a newly-graduated actor from San Francisco State University, and when the opportunity came to join her boyfriend at the time in moving back to his home of Melbourne, Australia, she decided to take the leap. The two moved across the world together, but seven months later realized they weren’t quite right for each other.
“I could feel my relationship was starting to fall apart, and my Visa made it difficult to get hired,” Bunge remembered. “I debated if I should go back to New York City and in general was questioning what I was doing with my life. I was genuinely unhappy and searching for answers. Lying in my bed and feeling sad, I saw a photo of my cousin Becca working with Emily Henderson. I had known Emily’s work for years through Instagram and was very inspired by her. I always thought ‘if I could work for anyone it would be Emily, but she’s in LA and I’m never moving to LA.”
Shortly after, Jess and her boyfriend amicably split, and she headed back to America, staying with her dad in San Diego while she figured out her next move. As luck would have it, a few months into her San Diego stay Jess’ cousin decided to leave LA for a stint in Austin, Texas, and recommended Jess as a replacement for her role working on Emily’s blog. “I thought ‘what if I screw this chance up?” she said. “What are the odds of me getting this chance at this point in my life, with little to no experience?”
During the interview process, Jess ultimately decided to move to Los Angeles because the design aesthetic and the designers she admired were there. She got the job with Emily a few months later, and has been excelling with the company ever since. Although she now lives fairly close to her hometown in Orange County, Jess’ return to her roots was accompanied by a powerful realization.
“It was a weird time when I got back from Australia,” she reflected. “I was single, and I was jobless. I was coming up with all of the reasons why you can’t do something. Don’t ever feel embarrassed if you feel you’re too old to change something about your life. I lived a lot of my life in fear. I downplayed what I was capable of just because I was scared. And I still struggle with it — but it is a total waste of time. There’s always a way if you’re unhappy to grow and to find something that you really love.”
Jess’ leap of faith certainly paid off, and the passion in her voice is evident as she explains the responsibilities of her role. “I’m in charge of making sure everything is very much on-brand,” she explained. “Along with Emily, I help curate the general aesthetic of the blog, the photos, and the products we recommend. I write blog posts and brainstorm ideas. I manage the editorial and social teams and I’m in charge of all of the press.”
Her favorite part of her job is knowing what’s coming out next: “What’s going to be the next trend…and how can someone bring it into their space without having it cost a trillion dollars,” she laughed. “With the site, we try to give people a lot of ideas for low budget-high impact. If you don’t have a lot of money, it’s hard to justify the cost of styling your place, but I do think it makes all the difference in the world. There’s so many ways to affordably decorate, from Craigslist to garage sales, to make your space feel like a home where you go back to recharge.”
Jess is naturally resourceful and references the ‘work-with-your-hands-way’ as a huge part of her upbringing. “My dad is a carpenter … I grew up with him building things,” she said. “My mom was a very crafty person, she knew how to sew. I had thoughts in Australia of being a woodworker or ceramicist. I’ve always been handy. I really enjoy it.” Although Jess regularly puts her skills to use, she explains even the slightest adjustments can have a dramatic impact in revitalizing your space.“I think making small tweaks is really valuable,” Jess explained. “I would get in a rut, and then do one thing, like hang curtains, and it would bring a whole new burst of activity. I’m also a huge component of switching out your lights. Just those little things … it’s yours. When it looks like somewhere you don’t want to live — it can go into other aspects of your life.”
And when moving into a new space, Jess understands it can be overwhelming to know where to start, so she recommends Pinterest as a good virtual mood board before taking any action. “If you’re trying to find your own style, you can pin a bunch of items you’re drawn to and find the common threads,” she suggested. “Whether that’s color palette or material. A jumping-off piece is helpful as well. That Katie Gong Wall Squiggle that was part of my takeover, I knew I had to have that. So then it’s figuring out how to work everything together.”
Another insightful take from Jess that goes beyond design suggestions and into life philosophy — things are just things, people are and will always remain the most important part of anyone’s life. “My mom passed nine years ago,” she said.” One of the good lessons I learned when I was going through all her clothes was to detach from things that have meaning. Remembering they are just ‘things’ was important and valuable to me: ‘This shirt … I didn’t like this shirt when she was alive. This shirt is not her.’ I think that I really try to keep everything in my home that I do love.”
Jess describes her dream design aesthetic as peaceful but motivating. “My style is inspiring and calming at the same time. Hopefully forever that’s how I decorate my home,” she concluded.
Your twenties and thirties can be a confusing time. There’s no road map, and deciding what the right direction for yourself to go in can be overwhelming. Sometimes the expectations that we tend to hold ourselves to can be limiting, whether that’s location, relationship status, industry, or job title. For many of us, the next opportunity may present itself if we know where to look, and for Jess — it was returning to California with an open mind and a newfound trust in herself.