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A self-taught interior designer colors homes across the country


British writer Katharine Whitehorn urges, “Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it.”

This is the advice that interior designer Kay Genua followed when she “accidentally fell into” the career she has succeeded at for the past 27 years. Unsatisfied with her job selling and delivering antiques and home furnishings, Genua slowly began to make her way into the interior design field by simply giving advice to customers when she made deliveries. Her tips and ideas quickly expanded into a full-fledged business, driven by her passion to decorate homes across the country.

Genua is known for the individuality of each of her projects. “All of my jobs are different, since I tailor them to each client,” she explains, “and I try to rarely repeat fabrics.”

Genua’s designs tend to attract those who enjoy a nice burst of color, as can be seen in the vibrancy of her finished rooms. Genua’s favorite colors, and those that she is known for, are vibrant tones of pink, blue, coral and yellow. Her colorful statements are combined with a mix of antique and new furnishings, leading to unique finished products.

Genua has received praise from clients, many of whom call her the “rug queen.” In each of her designs, whether it’s for a more public space, such as a dining room or a living room, or a more intimate space, such as a bedroom, her choice of rugs seamlessly ties together the look. Genua is best known for her focus on ensuring that her design fits the picture that her client envisions while staying mindful of their budget. A huge aid in allowing her to achieve this for her clients is her business degree from Tulane University.

“Knowing about business has helped me with numbers and staying on budget,” says Genua. As a self-taught interior designer, these business skills have played an important role in helping her reach the great success that she has today.

Behind each of Genua’s finished jobs lies a detailed process that allows her to complete her designs efficiently and to her best ability. The first and most important step is going to the client’s house and allowing herself a moment to absorb it all. “Rooms speak to me when I walk in them,” Genua says. “I like to just be quiet and take it in for about 20 minutes.”

Genua also puts emphasis on the second step, which is asking clients which pieces they want to keep and which they can live without. “If it means something to them, then I’m not going to replace it,” Genua states. After step two, Genua goes on to drawing the room by hand, without the use of a computer, which is the more common method among interior designers. Step four is the biggest one: measuring and consulting with the client, shopping and selecting, and evaluating every aspect of each room until it’s time for the final reveal.

It’s this final step of installation and revelation that Genua loves the most. “So far, I’ve made two husbands cry when they’ve seen the finished work,” she says, proudly. “That is something that is beyond my wildest dreams.”

The business that accidentally expanded from a delivery service shows no sign of slowing its expansion anytime soon. Genua moved into a studio this past June that will help her to grow her business even faster. Her ultimate goal is to have other designers work underneath her, allowing her to oversee projects and reach even more clients who wish to have homes designed by Kay Genua.

In the meantime, Genua is excited to continue to see homes transformed by the passion that has driven her from the beginning of her career. “As a kid my Barbie Dreamhouse was outfitted with accessories, a rug and artwork,” Genua says, laughing. “I’ve just always been built this way.” Fortunately for her clients, this lifelong passion is making their design dreams turn into a reality.

Emma Burleigh is a part-time freelance writer living in College Station, Texas.

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