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Kay Genua breathes new life into a family’s Fort Worth home by using their collection of vintage furniture

by DANA W. TODD / photography by HOLGER OBENAUS

The homeowner admits to loving wallpaper. Designer Kay Genua chose Lee Jofa wallcovering for the dining room.

Designer Kay Genua has a deep appreciation for antiques.

She even spent her college graduation money on antique furniture. “I still work at that desk in my office,” she says. A past job in sales and design at a home furnishings and antiques store was a natural fit for her interests. As she began to collaborate more with homeowners who shopped in the store, they started asking her for additional design services. It gave her the courage to strike out on her own as an independent designer 21 years ago.

One of her early clients was a Fort Worth family she met at the store who shared her affinity for antique furniture. It was a natural connection in which the two parties found common ground over their love of traditional English and French furniture. She worked with them for 12 years at the home furnishings store before taking them on as a client when she became an independent interior designer. “I’m not a clear-cutter,” Genua says. “I don’t ask a client to get rid of all of their furniture and start fresh. I prefer to work around things people already love.”

The homeowners’ antique kitchen table and chairs from their previous home fit perfectly in the new breakfast room. The drapes were custom made from GP&J Baker fabric.

“Kay never tried to push me out of what I love—French and English country antiques—despite the fact that so many other people lean toward modern furniture,” says the homeowner.

Known for her use of high-end, colorful fabrics and a special affinity for mixing patterns, Genua was a good fit to take on a project where the client wanted to shake up the color palette of the home. “I will sometimes use a less expensive solid fabric in the room to support a pricey print,” Genua says. As a self-taught designer with a business degree from Tulane University, she is fastidious about meeting clients’ budgets.

The Fort Worth client, who has worked with the designer for more than 30 years through the design of five homes, appreciates Genua’s reuse of antique furniture throughout all of her family’s redesigns. She most recently hired Genua when she and her husband, whose children are now grown and gone, decided to downsize to a slightly smaller footprint. The couple purchased a small lot in the same Overton Woods neighborhood in which they previously lived, planning to build a smaller home with fewer rooms and less upkeep so it fit their current lifestyle. “Our very first home was in the same neighborhood,” says the homeowner. “In fact, our last three homes have been just a quarter of a mile apart. We love this neighborhood and wanted to stay here.”

The living room rug moved from the previous home and served as the inspiration for a new color palette. Sofas refreshed in a cozy green velvet highlight the rug’s green tones.

A serendipitous call from a real estate agent familiar with the homeowners’ style and interests redirected the couple’s focus. The agent asked them to look at a neighboring home with an easy-to-maintain zero lot line in a traditional Tudor style that was about 10 years old. “We fell in love with it at first sight,” the homeowner says. “We felt that this was our home.” They quickly sold the lot and instead purchased the house, which had been custom constructed by a builder for his parents. It featured the warm wood wainscoting the homeowners loved, complete with finely carved details. “It was ready for move-in; all we needed to do was freshen the home and update the bathrooms,” she adds.

They tasked Genua with deciding which of their collected antiques would make the transition to the new, smaller home. They also asked her to change the palette to bring more color into it. “We used calmer neutrals in past homes with a lot of blue. This house needed more color but with a heavier focus on green,” says the homeowner. She also welcomed accents of orange, yellow and gold into the rooms.

Designer Kay Genua relaxes in the reading nook in a wingback chair, one of the few pieces of new furniture in the home. An antique chandelier presides over the comfy corner.

Genua set about putting together the puzzle pieces of furniture, fitting them into new rooms or repurposing them as needed in the 4,500-square-foot house. Although some pieces had to be left behind, such as the husband’s office desk, since the new home had a built-in desk, Genua replicated some rooms with only a few color changes. The dining room furniture and rug, for instance, were picked up and moved from one home to the other. Similarly, the previous library furniture and rug were simply moved to the new home. Reupholstering some of the furniture in fresh colors and hanging custom drapery created new life in the rooms. “Everything just slid right in,” the homeowner says. “We lost 2,000 square feet, but we didn’t feel like we lost anything we needed. Everything landed where it needed to be.”

Genua used the large, colorful living room rug from the previous home in the new living room. “It was quite expensive, so it was a given that we keep it. I worked the room around that rug,” she says. She used all of the same furniture in addition to two new custom chairs snuggled into a reading nook, reupholstering the couches that were in a blue-and-white damask in a rich, green velvet sourced from Osborne & Little. “Reupholstery changes a piece of furniture’s character. The blues in the sofa fabric once brought out the blues in the rug, while the new green fabric emphasizes the greens in the rug,” she explains. “The living room ended up warm and wonderful, or as the homeowner says, ‘cozy and yummy.’”

A 30-year-old collection of antique accessories lines the library’s shelves and accents the color scheme determined by the Asmara rug, antique French country stools and new draperies designed using Mulberry Home fabric.

Genua is known for her use of sumptuous print fabrics, but she refuses to reuse fabrics from project to project. “Every client has a different personality and deserves a tailored design,” Genua says. “I can usually tell what direction the client needs to go by seeing what they already own.”

The star of the primary bedroom is the matching luxury fabric and wallcovering. “We wanted the main bedroom to be fabulous,” Genua says. Surrounding the room in a matching wallpaper and drapery fabric from Lee Jofa designed by Oscar de la Renta ensured a glamorous yet cozy feel. An antique iron bed in the primary suite was used in two previous homes, but both upstairs guest bedrooms received new beds. Since the homeowner wanted to move to king-size beds for her guests, Genua found new ones that blended well with the antique furnishings. She moved period bedside tables into the rooms to continue the overall well-loved, traditional aesthetic.

Every bathroom features a different wallcovering.

“My husband says the primary bedroom is his favorite room. He just loves the surrounding draperies and wallcovering in the same pattern,” says the homeowner. “I’m a wallpaper person, whether it’s trendy or not. I had never used it in my bedroom before but always use it in the bathrooms.” Lee Jofa, Sanderson and Brunschwig & Fils provide different wallcovering patterns throughout the home, both in the public and private rooms.

One of the favored rooms, the library, features “gorgeous wood,” says the homeowner. Warm wooden built-in bookcases wrap the room. The first day they saw the house, it was one of the rooms that informed the homeowners that it was meant for them. “My youngest daughter always called our old library her Harry Potter library. We used it for Bible study groups and as a prayer room. We got the same feel from this home’s library,” she adds.

Even the primary bathroom has a touch of vintage furnishings. Antique Louis Philippe mirrors blend seamlessly with new Walker Zanger luxury tile and custom cabinetry.

While the majority of the home fit like a glove for the new homeowners, the bathrooms were a bit lacking for their taste. “The bathrooms were ordinary,” says Genua. “We updated all of them with new tile, countertops, wallcovering and fabric to bring them into the overall style of the home.”

Genua has been designing for this family for so many years that she knows their taste quite well. “They love traditional furniture that leans English with a touch of French,” she says. “Like me, they do not believe in disposable furniture. I buy quality furniture, go slowly during the decision-making process of purchasing it, and move it from home to home.”

Since Genua shopped the homeowners’ previous home and used the antique furniture she helped them collect over the last three decades, she was able to replicate the comfortable feeling of being surrounded by the things they had always loved. With new fabrics and a different color palette, the look is relaxed and fresh, not staid. The remaining vintage furniture found new homes with the family that purchased their last home and with one of their daughters who recently moved into a larger home of her own that was designed by Genua. “I’m so proud that I’m on the second generation designing for this family,” she says.

An antique iron bed made the move from home to home over the years. It holds its ground in the primary bedroom against the swath of fabric and wallpaper enveloping the room.

There is a solid case for investing in high-quality, heirloom furniture. It is a sustainable option, as there is less landfill waste and a repurposing of goods instead of the additional consumption that goes with buying something new. Antique furniture adds charm and approachability to a home and infuses rooms with a sense of history. Its patina develops over many years to enhance the look of the piece and bring a comforting, timeless presence to a newer home.

“I want people to walk in and feel completely at home,” the homeowner says. “I hope that’s what we’ve accomplished.”

Dana W. Todd is a professional writer specializing in interior design, real estate, luxury homebuilding, landscape design, architecture and art.

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