When interior designer Kay Genua suggested hot pink leather chairs for her client’s living room, he said, “I love it!” And just like that, they were off on another design adventure. Genua is a native of Fort Worth, who honed her skills working in the fashion industry in New York City and Dallas. She is a world traveler who uses a graceful mix of antiques and new bespoke furniture to create interiors with timeless elegance. Though she is a fifth-generation Texan, she’s completed projects all over the country, as well as in the Dallas area.
Her latest challenge is an 8,000-square-foot family home on Possum Kingdom Lake, a 17,000-acre reservoir on the Brazos River. The house has five bedrooms and baths, a study, a playroom, dual primary bedrooms and a bunk room. During the pandemic, the clients wanted a second home where they could more easily gather with their kids and grandkids. “When COVID hit, my clients had a second home in Miami, but a lot of their favorite restaurants closed, so it wasn’t much fun,” Genua says. “They wanted a new place near their primary home in Fort Worth where they could all get together without flying to Miami.” They decided to sell their upscale three-bedroom condo in Miami and tasked Genua with renovating their newly purchased lakefront home.
Though the home has contemporary architecture, the clients wanted a French country aesthetic, and they wanted to repurpose as much as they could from their condo. They also have an extensive collection of bright, bold Britto artwork that had to be considered in the new design. “I said, ‘OK, here we go!’” Genua recalls with a chuckle. “When I’m in Paris, I spend time just walking all over. I decided to give them the wilder side of Paris; the colors go with the Britto art, so everything will make sense.” Because the homeowners have been clients of Genua’s for more than 20 years, they trusted her vision.
Genua is known for her long-term relationships with clients. She keeps an archive of swatches, furnishings and design elements for every project she does so that when clients are ready for a refresh or a move and want to repurpose what they have, she can refer back to the specifics of their current home. The designer has an endless bag of tricks; unless it’s a solid, she makes a point never to repeat a fabric. “Every one of my jobs is unique to the client and the home. This home was a blank canvas waiting to be painted. I had their fabric swatches from the Miami project, so I knew where the furniture was going to go and what would need to be reupholstered,” Genua says.
With a background in fashion, textiles are Genua’s passion, and one of her favorite fabric lines is the French design house Pierre Frey. Though the company was founded in 1937, Frey textiles are incredibly eclectic and embody the bolder side of French art and design. Genua says when she had the idea to use the wilder side of Paris as inspiration, she knew Frey would have what she needed. “I played off the Britto art, kept an open mind and one fabric led me to another. I was in the Culp Showroom for four hours—I just got lost in the process,” she says. The result is a fresh take on contemporary French design that echoes her clients’ fun-loving, outgoing personalities.
As we enter, we can see through the open-plan living room, kitchen and dining area, and floor-to-ceiling windows to sweeping lake views. In the living area, Genua wanted to create a cozy niche from the large open floor plan. When she drew the plans, she knew she wanted a pair of long Louis XVI sofas. Luckily, a custom upholsterer found a frame for her in Canada, had it shipped, built it out and upholstered it in vibrant velvet Romo fabric.
Genua displayed the client’s antique majolica collection in lighted niches beside the fireplace and had a Lucite coffee table custom built. Enter the hot pink chairs: “I had to have the most comfortable lounge chairs, so I went chair-sitting. I found one that was absolute heaven, and I knew hot pink leather would be the icing on the cake,” she says. A remarkable rug from Dallas-based Abrash Rugs, another of Genua’s go-to vendors, anchors the grouping.
Seven Kravet swivel counter stools in the kitchen with Jim Thompson pink upholstery stand ready to host a crowd. For the dining area, Genua ordered a new round table with a Lucite base. The client’s existing dining chairs leaned contemporary, so the designer ordered two more and reupholstered them all to match. With bright orange, blue, pink and purple hues, the new upholstery connects the dining room aesthetics with the rest of the home.
Here and in other rooms in the house, Genua used a remarkable Manuel Canovas fabric embroidered with pink, purple, red and turquoise for draperies. “The fabric is an embroidery and was perfect because of the design and the vivid colors,” she says.
Outside, a wraparound veranda was updated with Janus et Cie outdoor furniture designed to be comfortable without cushions. “Not only is it beautiful, but it’s also easy to take care of in a second home because you can just rinse it off,” Genua says. The veranda has a firepit surrounded by four chairs and shades that drop down in the winter so the family can enjoy the warmth of the fire even when it’s cold outside.
To the left of the fireplace, a hallway leads to the client’s bedroom, while to the right, a hallway leads to the stairs. In the primary bedroom, Genua reupholstered a headboard with an energizing Pierre Frey fabric that virtually frolics through the space. The colorful pattern is so complex it has to be seen in large scale to appreciate it, so the showroom let her take the 3-yard wing to show her clients. Two Louis XV antique mirrors replaced sheet mirrors in the bathroom, and a large vanity stool by the tub completes the space. In the second primary bedroom, which now serves as a guest room, Genua repurposed the client’s original bedroom furniture, including a one-of-a-kind Moroccan headboard originally from a European antiques market.
While the entire home gets a 10 out of 10 for bold color and pattern, the client’s study threatens to steal the show. “He wanted somewhere to watch TV when the grandkids were there, and he needed a little escape,” Genua says. She added a new sofa, dressed the windows in Pierre Frey, and included a set of pink chairs from the Miami house. She also added fabric on the backside of the French doors, so they kept the aesthetic going when the doors were closed.
In the downstairs powder room, the designer faced a unique challenge: The former homeowners had installed a massive, wall-mounted wooden fixture that would be difficult to remove but would be a sour note if left as is. “Instead of reinventing the wheel, I found a piece of marble to cover it and used an incredible piece of Jim Thompson fabric to make an apron,” she says.
Upstairs, a second sitting area has been transformed into a playroom. Genua repurposed a sectional and two chairs from the former home and added drapery with fabric by Jim Thompson. The apple green coffee table is a find she had painted, and the ottomans that slide under are custom. Barstools from the Miami house now serve as seating for gaming.
Upstairs are three guest rooms. One smaller guest room is a bunk room with a chaise that can accommodate a third person and another has two twin beds. These rooms share a Jack-and-Jill bath. A small stairway leads from the bunk room to a panoramic eagle’s nest the clients use as a small sitting room, with furniture repurposed from their condo. The larger guest room has a king bed with custom bedding and a custom chest of drawers from the client’s former primary bedroom.
The finished project is a quiet riot of contemporary French style and a home unique to the client’s personality and lifestyle. Not only did Genua use every piece of furniture from the client’s former home, except the dining table, but she also added new pieces that complemented and expanded their aesthetic narrative.
“I really had to use my 30 years of experience on this project, but this was such a fun job,” Genua says. “I was able to use everything from their Miami condo, including their Britto art. We just added to their collections and reupholstered whatever needed it.” Genua and the clients especially love the fabrics, and there are plenty of them. In fact, the project required so much of the embroidered Manuel Canovas drapery fabric, the company had to do a special run.
“I love this home, and so do my clients. The art is spectacular, the view is spectacular, and the fabrics throughout the home are so bright and colorful,” Genua says. “The whole family can enjoy it; the kids can be rowdy upstairs, and there’s a huge backyard where they can play outside. The adults have their own space, but there’s enough seating and room so everyone can be together. It’s turned out to be a really fabulous home for them.” The designer says that the homeowners were blown away when the home was finished. “He paid me the nicest compliment. He said, ‘You are the only designer I would use, no matter what.’” *