Genevieve Gorder, Design Star
Television star, single mom, passionate girlfriend—HGTV’s reigning queen, Genevieve Gorder has it all. Now, she wants more.
It’s a lot like playing tennis, actually. Whenever I’m just about to meet a celebrity to interview them for a magazine feature—something I’ve been fortunate to have experienced hundreds of times—I prepare myself exactly the same way I used to when I played competitive tennis: research my opponent/ celebrity; exploit weaknesses/inquire about tough times; go on offense as much as possible/make them laugh early and often. Essentially, the principle of being “game ready” is at play in both of these super- competitive, high-stakes arenas.
If I’m meeting with President Bill Clinton or Angelina Jolie or David Beckham or Eva Longoria, for example, I always know what’s behind Door No. 1. Trust me, I come prepared. I come to play. I come to win.
This pre-game routine prior to a celebrity interview is so second nature to me that when I walked in to meet the reigning queen of interior design at HGTV—and star of an armload of television shows on that network— Genevieve Gorder, in the middle of getting her hair and makeup done, it hit me with a thud: I wasn’t ready to meet her at all. I had actually introduced myself to a celebrity I was about to interview without having a game plan, a line of questioning or even a basic strategy. And this had never happened to me. Not even once.
As the head-turning statuesque Gorder appealingly prattled on with the hilarious Randall Tang, her longtime hair and makeup stylist, she seemed to be as unprepared for me as I was for her; and by that I mean she didn’t have her guard up. Not even a little. She was instantly familiar—sarcastic, playful, real. This casual/chummy drop-by feeling in the air had the makings of becoming a very interesting, memorable day. I wasn’t wrong.
As I continued to assess why my game face wasn’t on, I realized that it felt as if Genevieve and I were already old friends. After all, I’ve been aware of Gorder’s telegenic existence for at least a decade, and not once did she come across as phony. In that magic box in my living room, Gorder seemed to be completely herself; exceedingly comfortable in her own skin. And she appeared to be—wait for it—nice. At least “celebrity nice,” you know? The kind of nice that makes you think that if a famous person got to know you, you’d be BFFs in a snap. I didn’t come prepared to grill/seduce/conquer Genevieve Gorder because why would I have to grill/seduce/conquer such a “good friend”?
Here’s the absolute best part: In person, Gorder is much better than advertised. She’s smart. She’s funny. She’s sassy, with a bit of a potty mouth, and she’s absolutely, ridiculously drop-dead beautiful. She’s pretty, yes, but more than that, she’s hot. I didn’t come prepared to meet Genevieve Gorder, because she’s equal parts Jennifer Aniston and Pink with a dash of Nigella Lawson thrown in for good measure. It’s quite the seductive, quenching, intoxicating cocktail.
Genevieve Gorder was born on July 26, 1974, in Minneapolis and is the oldest of three children (she has two brothers). She attended Minneapolis South High School, where she excelled at soccer and the violin. Upon graduation, Gorder made her way west to Oregon to attend Lewis & Clark College, where she majored in international affairs. After taking a graphic design course, the trajectory of her life completely changed, and she soon landed in Times Square to work as an intern for MTV and finished her studies by earning a B.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.
The internship turned into a permanent job, and eventually Gorder became on-air talent on the MTV series Sex in the ’90s. After MTV, Gorder went to work at Duffy & Partners in New York City—where, among other highlights, she designed the bottle for Tanqueray No. Ten gin. Then came Trading Spaces. Gorder was cast as one of the original designers of TLC’s monster hit show, and from that moment, nothing has ever been the same for the Minnesota native.
Gorder has parlayed her Trading Spaces success into more than half a dozen television programs, most notably as one of the judges—along with Sabrina Soto and Vern Yip—of HGTV Star (formerly HGTV Design Star) and, since 2009, as host of the award-winning series HGTV White House Christmas. Her latest program, Genevieve’s Renovation, debuts next month and features Gorder as the reverse client as she navigates the ins and outs of gutting and renovating her impressive home high above Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
At this juncture in her life, Gorder seems to be seizing her moment— and I’m not just talking about the numerous brand extensions that constitute the growing Genevieve Gorder business empire—she’s literally nothing short of luminous, radiating a palpable joy.
Well past her divorce to TV host Tyler Harcott, Gorder is a single mom of a five-year-old daughter, Bebelle, and is “deliriously happy” in a serious relationship with Anthony Carrino, a star of HGTV’s Kitchen Cousins and Cousins Undercover. Since her home has literally been a construction site for many months, Gorder and Bebelle have been nesting at Carrino’s place in Jersey City, an experience like no other, according to the clearly smitten 5’10″ beauty.
Genevieve Gorder is confident, silly, caring and talented—boy, am I ever glad I didn’t come to our fateful meeting ready for combat. It really does feel as if Gorder and I have been close for years. And after a very long day of shooting, laughing hard and gossiping just a smidge, we actually are becoming friends. Isn’t that a little nuts? And, yep, I do know what a cool gig I have. So, yeah, there was definitely something in the air after all.
I think luxury for me is when things begin to feel like they’re taking care of you, instead of you taking care of them—that feels luxurious. And having the time to enjoy it.
What makes a successful space?
I think it’s a little bit about what you just asked me prior, in that the space—really all the questions are answered. It’s taking care of you. It’s anticipating you. The colors really need to have a family and a balance. Masculine needs to have its feminine.
Tell me about living in Manhattan versus New Jersey.
I didn’t know a lot about New Jersey until I moved there in January. And my boyfriend is from Jersey City, so the last two years I’ve been getting to really know Jersey. But the truth is, there’s nothing that compares to Manhattan. Having moved from somewhere else when I came here— just like the majority of transplants— my job is to really find things and resources that aren’t common. So I’m always in the outer boroughs, and I’m always in Jersey, looking for what’s next and forecasting and finding what I need from Southern India— it’s these kinds of stores I find only in Jersey City—Manhattan doesn’t have it, you know? And there are a lot of beautiful spots in New Jersey. My whole concept of staying in New Jersey, beyond love, was to find all the beautiful things that would bring someone from Manhattan over. And I found it. Besides my boyfriend, [Laughs] I think there’s such diversity, especially in Jersey City.
What’s the single best advice you’ve ever received?
For one, if you think you have the answer, always travel. Because we can think so easily that we’re right and we know too much if we refuse to see. Also, I think some of the best advice sometimes comes from people you like the least, because they’re not afraid to be critical of you. When I was just starting out hosting, there was a show called Town Hall. And being a Midwesterner originally, there’s a social awkwardness from people who can’t keep a conversation going. So I’ll always fill space—easily, naturally, and feel like it’s my job. But this producer who really is a nasty person, [Laughs] who I’ve never worked with again, said to me, “It’s not about the rush. It’s about the listen. Give the pause so that someone else can fill the air once in a while.” And it was an important lesson for my career, and it’s helped me in life, too. Being a listener is one of the most exotic traits anyone can have.
Even the contestants on HGTV Star would do well to heed that advice.
Yes, that’s true, and a sense of knowing comes with less words. I want to know what that guy has to say, because he’s watching it all, and I feel that he has the confidence and understands—that’s more powerful than the jibber-jabber in the corner. So I’ve learned that over many years.
Tell me about your happiest moment, besides, of course, the birth of your child.
Yeah! That’s always the cliché, right? I think beyond the birth of my child, it was when I learned that she was a caretaker as well. When I first discovered she had empathy. And she was only two and a half when I saw it. I was like, “She’s got it! She’s got the gift!” [Laughs]
OK, you have this amazing career. Nothing ’s perfect—you’re busy, you’re tired, you’re guilty—but the bottom line is, you wake up happy with where you are in life, yes?
I am happy. I think having the job that I do, I’ve been able to see so many different ways of living in our country. Locally [Manhattan], suburban and, of course, across the nation and across the world on my own dime. I know that I’m in the right place.
Is HGTV Star that much fun to do?
It’s a blast! We’re a family. I mean, we so rarely as designers on television—we’re always in our own ranch, with our own corral of cattle, doing our own thing—we never get to play together. This is like one month of intensive work with all my peers, and we get to get weird and talk about our weird lives. Because, really, in the end, there’s only, like, 20 of us in the US that do this, so you don’t have a lot of people to talk to.
Tell me something behind the scenes about HGTV Star.
We’re all incredibly dirty! [Laughs] Not literally dirty, we have the mouths of sailors! Except for Vern [Yip]— Vern’s more proper. David Bromstad and myself, all the producers—it’s rip- roaring ship talk!
I had a hilarious bar encounter with David down in South Beach. Let me tell you—I believe it.
We’re brother and sister! [Laughs] It’s a Minnesota thing. Old Viking.
Tell me about your childhood.
I grew up the oldest of three kids. I have two brothers. My mom was 20 when she had me, and I’m the only girl. My parents were definitely bohemian—they were kids of the 1960s. So I grew up in a city that was really progressive, and I definitely grew up surrounded by the arts.
Some say Minneapolis is the New York City of the Midwest.
Yeah, it really is. There’s theater, and it’s just progressive with politics— liberal ideas and thinking.
And Mary Tyler Moore.
Mary Tyler Moore, Prince—I used to work for him. [Laughs] I worked at his club, Glam Slam.
He must have loved you!
I’m not his type. He likes short, petite girls. I’m 5’10″ and so is everyone else from my state. But music is instilled deep in our roots. We’re a funk, R&B town. And we can dance!
What do you remember most from your early years in Minneapolis?
So many of my childhood memories revolve around the entire family restoring old Victorians, because we didn’t have the money to buy the big house in the suburbs. Nor would my parents ever want to.
You would live in the city, restore it and move to another one?
Yeah, we would pick it apart and learn as we went. So we grew up refinishing and sanding. We grew up doing it, so it was inherent. We lived long periods of time in each place, but it was a labor of love and a domestic pot of amazing talents that I didn’t really know about. My dad grew champion roses, and my grandfather is this amazing dancer, and my mom has “the eye.”
So your impressive design talent came from your mom?
Yes, from my mother and my grandmother. What I do for a living is what my mom would be doing, I’m convinced, had it been an opportunity for her career wise in her time, but it wasn’t. I didn’t grow up with interior designers around me. And there wasn’t design television, of course. You either have the eye or you don’t. And so we worked together, cooked together, danced together.
How did you meet your boyfriend?
[Laughs] Actually I was on the set of HGTV Star. Anthony Carrino and I, he’s one of the Kitchen Cousins.
Genevieve, you’re blushing.
[Laughs] We first met on set doing promos, and we didn’t like each other at all. He’s too strong. I was asked to go and say hello to them—being someone who has been on TV a long time—and they’re new, and their show hadn’t aired yet. And he was told I was going to approach them. And he’s a bulldozer. You know: Italian, Jersey, construction man— bulldozer. But I need that strength to tell me no and for me to respect it. I need a strong guy. Strong needs strong. That’s really what both of us were missing in our lives. I want a successful, confident man.
What’s his sign?
Wow. That’s a lot of passion.
And I’m a Leo; that’s a powerful thing! So he came onto HGTV Star. He and his cousin were on the show when it started airing, and I told everybody—and I love everybody, so it’s rare that I say, “Hey, these guys aren’t cool.” So I said—and we’re tight on HGTV Star—“I don’t like these guys, I think they’re jerks!” So everyone else is like, “I don’t like them either!” But we were stranded in Los Angeles for three months, and we missed New York City so much. And these guys come rolling in with big, Italian, East Coast energy—it’s quick jokes and loud humor. And I was like, “Ugh!” An astrologer told me he was coming, too. So what happened is he sat next to me—we all wear these little earpieces—and the producers kept saying, “Shut it down! Shut the cameras down! Chair moving, chair moving!” And his chair kept inching closer to my chair. And they would have to shut the cameras down, pick him up and move him over. And they were like, “Stop scooting towards her!” And he didn’t even know he was doing it. But there was just… heat. Oh, yeah, there was real heat there.
Now it’s getting good. But how did he actually ask you out?
Well, he texted me, and I was like, “Oh, he doesn’t want to go out.” He asked Vern and me out with his cousin to dinner. And I figured Vern wasn’t going to come. Everyone said he was asking me out on a date, but I thought, “No, he’s not. He asked Vern, too.” He knew Vern wasn’t going to come, either. His cousin was a fall guy in case things went bad. And then we were in this restaurant having way too many drinks—and John, his cousin, is hilarious—we’re just laughing. John goes to the bathroom, and he had said that Anthony is a really terrible picker for women. And I told him I’m a terrible picker of men, too—I’m divorced! And we sat there, and John went to the bathroom, and I looked at him and I said, “You know, I did figure it out.” He said, “What did you figure out?” I said, “Strong needs strong—or we just roll over whoever is with us.” He took his fist and hit the table! And he says, “I’ve been looking for those three words for the last five years,” and took my face and kissed me—and that was that!
That’s quite a story.
I need the power. And he needed the power, too. He doesn’t want a lady that doesn’t know what to do. I want a challenge and, luckily, he did, too.
Tell me about your new show. You’re the queen of HGTV.
My new show is called Genevieve’s Renovation, and it’s a documentary. It’s more behind the scenes. I think design often has a tendency to be presented as this formulaic piece of perfection. “Ting! We’re done!” And it’s not like that. We have all the same struggles, and sometimes a lot more than everyone else does, because we’re doing it all the time. People are falling through the ceiling. People are suing you. People are pissed. Things aren’t arriving. That’s the good stuff, I tell you. You want to see that—I want people to see that.
It makes you feel like you’re not the only one who has to endure this money pit called your home.
Right—the tension, the anxiety, the not sleeping, the crabbing at people. I’ve always been about showing the genuine side of everything on television—well, as much as they’ll let me. And they’re letting me! [Laughs]
Who’s your favorite celebrity you’ve ever met?
President Obama. I go to the White House every year, and I’m going down again this year to do all the holiday decorating. I will say beyond that, it’s Prince. He’s like a religion where I’m from. Prince is a genius. We bow down to him.
In five years you’re…
I’d like to have a talk show. Career-wise—there are so many facets of life we have to address here. But I’d like to be in talk, of course always with design, but have an ability to reach out more into the lifestyle world. I guess a bit like my good friend Rachael Ray has done. I’d love to do the same thing with design as the catalyst to get to a lot of places.
What about personally?
I want to be with my guy.
Does that mean marriage and more kids?
I don’t need the ring.
I’m not saying you need it. But if he asked you?
Would I—Richard, you want me to say that on this interview?! [Laughs] Well, he’ll have to ask. And I will definitely answer.
More babies in the future?
If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t happen—I feel like I already hit the jackpot, so I don’t have that anxiety. I have a great kid.
A lot of travel. I want to go way deeper in hospitality and developing small inns. Hospitality is where it’s at. But I want to keep the platform on television. It’s a really fun one.
Tell me a secret.
I am a 23-year classically trained violinist. I toured all over the world. No one knows that!
What’s the one thing everyone can do to make his or her home even more elegant or luxurious?
Stop matching, people! It’s not about matching; it’s about complementing. You don’t want your husband to look exactly like you. That’d be weird. You don’t match your shirt to your pants or socks to your shoes. Stop matching, and stop trying to line it up. Again: stop matching!
Title of your memoirs?
Oh, my goodness, Richard, that’s a hard question. I guess it would be called Real Genevieve. That’s it. I think it’s always about being real.
Let’s talk branding.
Well, of course there’s the TV platform. I have Genevieve’s Renovation. I’ll have a new show coming up next year that we have to figure out what that is. I have the White House. I have HGTV Star this year. And then I have a line of floor coverings and the Genevieve Gorder Capel rugs, which go everywhere from Neiman Marcus to Ballard to Moen Kingsley. And I’m having a great time because I started as a graphic designer focusing just on simple patterns and really pushing color. I have a lot of commercial partners, so I’m working on redesigning four ships for Royal Caribbean, which is like designing a city. It’s one of my biggest challenges. I’m also partnering with Radisson Blu Country Inns, which have hotels all over the world, so I’m redesigning their whole look. I work for Valspar Paints and Hewlett-Packard. It’s a lot, and it comes with the TV platform. But it’s about getting good design into all of these tangents of life, so I consider it an honor that anyone wants to play, and I enjoy it immensely. I feel like I’ve finally gotten to the age where I’m real and legitimate.
Describe your perfect day.
I don’t think it needs to be anywhere specific in the world, but I think it lines up with the perfect amount of breeze, a warm sun that kisses not hurts, that I’m there with my guy, I have my little girl, and I have nothing that’s needed from me. I have no decisions that I need to make. That’s the perfect day—it’s spontaneous.
If you had to cook one meal…
The meal that I make that my family always wants is called “Reveal Day Chicken.” And it’s probably one of the simplest dishes I make, but those are sometimes the hardest. It’s a roast chicken that’s rubbed with fleur de sel and olive oil, and lemons are stuffed under the skin with rosemary, a little bit of butter, stuffed with chopped onions in the middle to keep it moist. I crisp this huge pan of brussels sprouts with a lemon-egg- tarragon whip that goes over that. Then I brown all the sauce from the chicken with lemon and wine. I get my peace from making it. It’s my Zen, my meditation. And everyone loves it.
Parting words, Genevieve?
I had a great day today, Richard! This is very spontaneous because we didn’t know what each other knew. Those are the happiest days for me, when I’m with people I trust. We’re friends now! And those are my parting words. [Laughs]