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Q&A with HGTV's Genevieve Gorder

Posted by Kristen Schmidt | September 07, 2012 09:30 AM

Remember the time Genevieve Gorder glued moss to a “Trading Spaces” homeowner’s wall? To this day, there are people who love it — and people who feel otherwise. Gorder has since moved beyond “Trading Spaces” — she has her own HGTV series “Ask Genevieve” — but she’s still a firm believer in making a space personal, soulful and imbuing it with a sense of home, not just house. She’ll help all of us do just that this weekend at the Central Ohio Home & Garden Show at the Ohio Expo Center.

She’ll take the stage at 1 p.m. Sunday to teach us how to create beautiful tableaux around our homes — on tabletops, mantles, bookshelves, any flat surface that needs a “small moment of beauty,” as she said.

I snagged a few minutes on the phone with Genevieve on Thursday. Here are a few pieces of design advice she shared during our conversation:


It can seem overwhelming to see all the things we’d like to change at home. How can we prioritize and make decisions about where to start?

I think obviously budget is important. What you have to work with will define what you can and can’t do.

As far as deciding what space to do first, usually the best is the one that gives you the most oxygen — the bedroom or the kitchen. You rest and revive and refuel in the bedroom, but it’s usually the last space a parent does in their home. They do their kids’ first and theirs last. But it’s a place that takes care of them so they can keep giving.

Then the kitchen — it’s the most heavily used room in any house and absolutely needs to be the most functional. The kitchen is absolutely unusable if it’s not working properly.

Make little plans to do things consistently, as money comes in. I think we think we have to save $60,000 to do the whole room, but there are small fixes: Hardware, a new sink ... it doesn’t all have to go together at the same time.

As far as the other spaces, go from the ground up, staring with floor covering. People are so attracted to accessories — they’re like candy. We often buy those and we look at the rest of the room and think, ‘I have to build the room around this vase.’ You really have to start with the larger pieces.

What should apartment dwellers look for in a space, knowing they can’t make huge changes to it once they move in?

Hardwood floors are something I look for regardless of the shape it’s in, because you can sand them and take it off your rent. I’ve done it before, used it as a bartering tool with landlords. And lighting is huge — if you don’t have enough natural light, if you don’t have windows you can open completely. As a woman, I always look at the quality of the front door. Is it hollow and has a bathroom lock? And storage — is there enough closet space?

What are some effective things apartment dwellers can do to make their space more livable?

I do a full cleansing of every surface with Murphy oil, lemon, vinegar — I go nuts. And I always sage a house in all the corners, all the openings to the apartment. The cleansing I think is the biggest rite of passage, because you have to make it yours. Bring a huge bouquet of flowers and always have a candle going. Scent is our most powerful sense.

Dig in to the world of salvage and vintage. You need to have those finishes in a crisp new place. In design, everything has a counterbalance for it to feel complete. The curve of an armchair needs the masculine corner of a sofa. All of our opposites are attracting, and they’re equal in every space. You have to have juxtaposition for one thing to shine.

Bring in ancient-world things, things from another part of history. Their shape and form is more organic than what we mass-produce today. Bringing things in from your family history is one of the most soulful and easy ways to tell the story. 

Where are you finding inspiration right now?

As a designer your eyes have to be a little wider than everyone else’s and you have to imagine a little harder. I always have to be up on my art history, going away from America and away from my history. I just got back from Croatia and Greece. I’m really inspired by the folk art from Eastern Europe that has been in vogue — like ikats and suzanis.

I’m inspired by fashion, travel, the ancient world. How much of that do we really know? Maybe 10 percent, 3 percent. I’m always looking both outward and backwards.

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