Here at Kathy Kuo Home, we recently announced a new series of interviews here on The Kuotes blog! For our most recent installment, we are thrilled to be chatting with interior designer and television personality (you know and love her from “Trading Spaces” and Netflix’s “Stay Here” Genevieve Gorder. Kuotable Women is our way of celebrating brilliant female entrepreneurs, founders, and CEOs–both in the design world and in other lifestyle categories like health and wellness, fashion, food, and parenting.
In these ever-evolving times, I wanted to spotlight how some of our favorite women in the design business are making it work as they change our industry for the better, work from home, and balance life, work, family, and wellness.
How are you handling the balance of parenting, work, and your TV show right now?
I don’t have a choice but to do anything but DIY right now, which is kind of fun because it’s how I came up. I’m from the midwest, and that’s how we do things, plus, I started out on DIY TV. Home is also my lab–I’m a designer, so home is my happiest place. There’s a lot of beauty right now that I am living off of and breathing in and absorbing and that I will miss when this is over.
But yes, the home school and all of us working in one apartment–it’s trying at times but I’m really fortunate that we have enough room to have privacy and I think that’s probably the hardest thing… My daughter is 12, so it’s not like I have to sit and watch her every second of the day. I check in at the end of the day, but she’s got it. If my kids were 5 or 6, I would be stressed. But she needs less of me now than she did, even two years ago. Homeschooling was stressful–because, socially, I want my kid out in the world with her friends. But now, they’re so digital anyway–they FaceTime all day together. They’ve figured out things we didn’t have as kids, because it wasn’t available 20 years ago.
Tell us about your home and how you’re handling working from it.
I’m typically in very specific places during all my filming throughout my home. I know you’ve seen it 1,000 times on every newscast–someone in front of their damn shelves! And typically, the shelves are terribly decorated. For me, I’m sick of being in front of my shelves. I’m sick of my kitchen, where I film a lot of my stuff, so I moved myself into my den. And there’s this rhino art on the wall behind me. She was done by a student at my alma mater, SVA, and I saw her in a gallery in my neighborhood and I had to have her.
You’re renovating right now–tell us about that. What are you renovating and what are shooting?
I did a whole show on the renovation of this apartment in Chelsea. It’s two duplexes in old brownstones, and I connected them. There are a lot of stairs. It’s been about five years since I did that and it’s time and overdue for [an update]… So, I’m not under any big construction here–it’s just decor, and out with old furniture, paint, and electrical.
Normally, I could do that in my sleep, but right now there’s no one coming in to do the work, so it’s just me and my husband. It’s going really slow. We are limited to what we can finish ourselves, Like: Upholstery is not available. We’re making do until things open up again and then we’ll refurnish. I think every five years is a good filter–it’s like friends and you want to get rid of the ones who aren’t working and aren’t giving back to you. Get rid of those guys every five years–and it’s the same for interiors. Think about what you have and what you like and don’t like every five years.
Tell me about some of your biggest milestones that brought you to where you are today?
It was an unexpected journey. I’m not much of a planner–I’m not an architect of time. I don’t business-plan my life. I never thought I would be on television, because when I was a kid there wasn’t any television like this. Prior to “Trading Spaces,” I got a job working at MTV as a designer, which brought me to New York. That was pretty powerful. Who you work with is so important–the chemistry of that group and how it propels all of you afterward–those are the real rocket ships of your life. MTV was one of those. Honestly, I was making no money at all–I made $300 a week and it was like 50 hours a week of work. It was a very glamorous, young, poor life that I wouldn’t trade for the world. And it was such an international brand at the time. It literally opened so many doors for me all over the world–I worked in Holland, I worked in Spain.
All my milestones came up very sequentially, in a tight span of time. I worked for a studio in New York–this was in the early 2000s and late 90s, so it was the time of advertising, and it was raining money. Dot-coms were raining from the sky and everyone had a web banner. I was doing a lot of graphic design and also designing some spaces for the same group–it was a big advertising agency. And then I got plucked, after designing the Tanqueray 10 model, for “Trading Spaces.”
Those three were monumental jobs in my life, in terms of defining where I work, where I am on the totem pole, learning the ropes of the big picture of design. Then I traded in all the safety nets of working with a big company–like insurance–for a crazy television show.
“Trading Spaces” was lighting in a bottle. It was the first thing like what it was…and it made me a public person. As a designer, you’re so used to being behind the scenes, but I love the stage. It was absolutely perfect for me. I also hate sitting–so the fact that I could design and be physical and fluid and go all over the world? It was great.
Do you have any advice to other influencers or people who want to get on TV or make their own show? What are your guiding principles?
None of this was ever a plan–I had a highway that I was on and I took the side road. I would say, now, it’s so different that it was when I started, because back then there weren’t a trillion of us on this stage. Now it’s really about using your social media as the right kind of vehicle. We can all poo-poo social media as much as we want–just like designers used to poo-poo television for the first 10 years–but if you had the opportunity you’d be doing it too.
I think it’s important to create, not just the fantasy, but your own voice in design. What are you seeing? How are you taking my eyes on a date? Take me on a ride! It’s free, you don’t have to pay a PR agent anymore in order to have a voice in the community. You can be 23 and just starting out, but create that story! It’s important to have that solid story of who you are rather than just having a bunch of pretty things on a page.
Where am I going when you “take my eyes on a date”? What’s in your world right now?
That is such an integral way for me to stay present and be progressive in our field. If we keep seeing all the same things all the time, we keep designing the same beige things over and over. If you’re not taking your eyes on a date, you’re missing out…I would take you, Kathy Kuo–even though you’ve probably been everywhere–to the Islamic wing in the Met and put a pair of headphones on you and make a new playlist. I think when music is on I see harder. Whether I’m on a motorcycle or on a bus or in my own music video. After that, I would create an experience for you and we would eat food related to the experience we just had. We’d go to the Upper East Side, which is like another world to me, and then go downtown for drinks… Your eyes would be full!
What is making your eyes dance today? I know you got married in Morocco and love Islamic architecture.
What makes my eyes dance? Well, I’ve been stuck in these four walls, so now I now on my music walks because I need that time alone. It’s really important to know where you get your gasoline for yourself. That can mean going across the world to Morocco or simply a walk in my neighborhood with my headphones on. I see nature in a different way and I pay attention. I’m at my own ballet. I vibe on nature.
We’re so connected to tech that, globally, we’re responding with plants as art. You see plants in editorial shoots–the merlots, the terracottas, all the Earthiest colors. I see that everywhere. What is next with that? I feel like we’re going to go back to really clean palettes…just really clean with pops of nature colors and the blues of water.
How are you working from home and what are some design tips you can give to those newly working from a home office?
I’ve been through [times like this] now twice before–first 9/11 and the market crash. And those were crescendos in my career that reminded me that home is at the center of who we are. It’s our cradle. But we always put it off. “I’ll fix that tomorrow.” But now, looking at it, we are forced to go through all the layers and fix our home, and it’s so rewarding because home will give back 10-fold.
How we work now, and how we’ll work later, has been incredibly changed from this experience. How can we not be changed? You see big corporations changing their work from home policy. We’re seeing that productivity isn’t being sacrificed from working from home because we’re not getting ready in the morning and we’re not commuting. I think this will become its own design genre in and of itself–designing for work in the home space.
The office has always been a side note–it has been the junk drawer of the house. The big question mark is how do we create these nooks of productivity, that still look cohesive, within the home. I’ll be looking for things like privacy screens that let me create rooms within rooms. How do we do that with furniture and architecture? The office doesn’t have to be a place with paneled wood and a bad veneer. That’s another generation. To really think about office and home cohesively, and how do you make it so you’re not looking at work all the time–that’s going to be just part of our job now. A lot of the old office ways are extinct. How do we create privacy and then take it away when we’re done. I don’t know all of the answers yet but I think we’ll have a lot of new designs after this.
Shop Home Office Must-Haves
Maybe your work space does end up being a part of your main living room and the two are blended together.
I think maybe so. I think in the world of tech, which is probably one of the most progressive genres of work in our country, they’ve taken away the cubicle and they’ve created an open layout. Whether it works best is TBD, but people do want that living room aesthetic when they’re working–when we feel better, we stay longer. Seeing your dog jump in the shot or your kids run in–it’s okay! We’re not shaming people! We like it!
Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon?
I’ll do a lot of commercials set up in my kitchen–because the lighting is great and there’s a counter top table where I can do demos. I’m shooting for Rachel Ray right now–I’m doing a renovation of my daughter’s room right now which is hilarious.
I’m doing interviews–from the New York Times to Elle–and I’m doing IG Lives. I’ve been so grateful and it’s been unchartered territory. I don’t have a plan. I’m letting it all come in and saying yes. I realize that this is one of those times, again, that we will talk about for the rest of our lives and we’ll build the next version of us. When it gets dark, everyone looks to artists and designers. We’re always, in the most tragic moments, the ones who have songs and painting. No one’s writing great songs when it’s raining money and things are amazing.