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Renovating in Style

Nancy E. Berry

HGTV host Genevieve Gorder shares her secret to success when it comes to revamping old buildings into home sweet home.

Genevieve Gorder has soulful style and genuine enthusiasm for interior design. She is the founder and director of the Genevieve Gorder brand, a television host and producer, a home product designer, contributing author, and global ambassador for home and human rights. Currently, you can find Genevieve on Netflix, HGTV, The Design Network and as a regular contributor on The Rachael Ray Show. A two-time Emmy nominee and regular design host at the White House, Genevieve has built multiple home lifestyle collections ranging from rugs, textiles, wallpaper and stationary to a full line of furniture and decor for children with partner The Land of Nod.

EotC: How is it different designing for yourself versus designing for a client?

GG: I’m by far more agreeable but less decisive than any client I have. I know too much of what I can play with, what I like but get stopped only by fiscal limitations. I hate it when money hurts my imagination, but that is life. 

What are some of the biggest challenges with being your own designer in a renovation process?

The challenge is keeping up with your imagination—how many ways are there around the word no? How can I make this fit my budget? How can I make my second idea better than my first because it won’t work?

In your apartment renovation, what were some obstacles you faced when expanding the space?

Historical cities are the most difficult cities in America to do home renovations by far. And the most difficult part of this puzzle is the people who live under, over and around you. There will always be one neighbor that loves to make this process even more difficult than it already is. Renovation is so disruptive in tightly-packed communal living situations.

Beyond this phase, just like anyone, my biggest obstacle was my pocket book versus my creativity. 

Is it more difficult to renovate an old building versus designing rooms in a brand-new home?

Yes. You are dancing with a lot of unknowns and history that needs to be carefully handled versus a white box. I prefer pre-war always but would love to bring a modern piece into my life as well. 

What were some of the surprises in the renovation of the apartment?

Well, you’ll have to watch my show but one of the funniest was falling through the ceiling onto my neighbor’s bed below and having her cat give us the sour eye. I’m sure my neighbor thinks differently of this moment.

Can you speak to saving an existing building versus building new in terms of sustainability?

When you live in the inner city, you take up less living space, walk almost everywhere and use public transportation more than any other city in America. Existing buildings are one of our most reliable green resources. However old needs to be brought up to efficient eco standards of now…electrical, plumbing, roof, heating, cooling, windows, etc. I’m a huge preservationist and most likely a very old soul.

What were some of your design wishes in your personal space?

I wanted more life on one level of my home. My room needed to be closer to my daughters, space for a real closet, a kitchen that was more fluid with more storage. Stylistically, I wanted to make my soul tangible though object and movement—it worked. 

What are some of the requests you are seeing from clients in terms of renovations and interior design projects?

This is an endless list as every personality is so different. What I’m getting asked to do most often privately is to make their home look like mine. I will include some of the same key ingredients but always make a different “cake” as it has to represent them and their life not mine. 

What advice can you give someone renovating a kitchen or a bath?

Spend your money in these two spaces, they always appreciate and give back in resale. Design storage wherever you can and don’t skimp on tile or stone; these are the stars of these rooms—do it all the way. 

Do you prefer to cook with natural gas in your kitchen?

Gas, no question. More control, easier to clean. Every chef in the world would say the same. 

If you had a choice of renovating your 1850s apartment again versus going out and purchasing a new apartment, what would you choose?

My house is a treasure, I would always try to add/redo this remarkable piece of architecture. They don’t make these anymore. 

What is the allure of an old building?

Prewar buildings were handcrafted more than not. We were artisans. We were architects. We were immigrants with Old World skills. We were building an empire. This combination of superpowers lent themselves to build incredible cities and neighborhoods with walls as thick as forearms (great sound quality), embedded details and flourishes, built-in storage and hand-leaded glass. Thought, care, and personality were all being communicated through these great edifices. 

Planet Ambassador

Genevieve Gorder is a Planet Ambassador of Oxfam, a global movement of people working together to end the injustice of poverty. With 70 years of experience in more than 90 countries, Oxfam takes on the big issues that keep people poor: inequality, discrimination, and unequal access to resources including food, water, and land.

Tell us about your work with Oxfam.

I am a sister of the planet and Ambassador for Oxfam. After my work with the White House, I was approached by Oxfam to partner in their worldwide efforts of fighting poverty. I design, speak and care for everything and everyone from the heart firs. I guess they understood this and approached me and asked, “What is your cause? How can we best make a world platform together?”

I think it may have been my most favorite professional ask of my career and the answer was so quick to come out of my mouth--The Refugee Crisis. It has everything to do with my loudest voice--home. Together we traveled to Tanzania to work with the designers, weavers, and furniture makers. Designers and artists all speak the same language everywhere.I can learn a story quickly and most effectively when I’m with my tribe anywhere in the world. I also shot with Female Food Heroes, an incredible and highly-rated television show in Tanzania hoping to sway popular opinion that women can farm, and deserve equal land rights.

I collected these stories and experiences and came home to lobby in D.C. with Oxfam. 


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