Interior designer Delia Kenza grew up in New York City and now lives in the Brooklyn brownstone her aunt once called home. It’s one of many townhouses she has renovated across the city, and she is an expert at revamping historic homes for contemporary living. One of the trickiest—and tiniest—spaces to add or update in these narrow buildings is the parlor floor powder room. Here are her tips for elevating your own.
First, can you give us some info on your background? From what we hear, being a designer wasn’t your first calling.
Delia Kenza: That’s right. I’m trained as a lawyer and I have my degree in that. But I grew up around design. My grandmother had impeccable tastes, and she was always styling her home. It was something that I learned from her and just did. I always had the nicest room in the house. When I went onto college, I always had the nicest dorm room. Then when I got an apartment, I always had the nicest bedroom in my shared apartment. It was just something I always loved doing, but I did not know it was something that I could make a living doing.
When I renovated a property for myself and my family, one of my neighbors saw it and she was like, "Wow, this house is amazing. Next time I buy a house I'm going to hire you." And that's exactly what she did. I think that moment was when I realized I could get paid doing something I really enjoy doing. Then, I was profiled in The Cut. I’ve been developing for some time, but now more people know what I do.
A lot of your work has been in these townhouses, brownstones—basically, very narrow, confined spaces. How do you update some of the smaller spaces, like a parlor floor powder room for example, in these 19th- or early 20th-century buildings for contemporary living?
First, I look at the space as a whole and figure out how I can work with what I have. So many times people think they need to gut renovate, and while there is a time and place for that, I don’t always think that works. I love the oldness of these kinds of space, but I like to mix some modern furniture and lighting in there, too. That’s kind of my schtick.
I think it's easy to walk in and be like, "Let me just tear it all out, just throw out these fireplaces." I get it. That's some people's thing; they want a modern and very new space. But for me, I like the history that these brownstones come with.
In my own powder room, we stuck a piece of glass like a transom near the ceiling. You literally can see where the old plaster starts in the kitchen and continues into the bathroom. I was completely okay with that happening because I wanted to know this is new.
Then, to keep with the style of the home, we reused all of the molding trim. So that really thick-set, wood molding, we reused it around the door. So then it gives this impression like it's been here, but it's not been in this specific place in the house before.
In terms of lighting or finishes, are there specific things for those kind of out-of-the-way small spaces, especially in the bathroom, that you think work really well in some of these renovations?
I know some people hate recessed lighting, but I think it can really modernize and cut down on fixtures in a small space. It’s minimal, but it should also be minimally used. We don’t want a home that looks like a landing strip.
I also like modernizing doors with some invisible hinges. Not that you always have to use that. If you have an older home and they have beautiful, original, very ornate hinges, let's showcase that, right? But if not, an invisible hinge may just help the door to hang differently.
How else can someone freshen up their powder room?
I love to raise doorways. I think that when you raise a doorway and take it as high as you can to a ceiling, that automatically freshens up the space. You see it in commercial spaces, hotels, and utility spaces in high rises. But I like to use those elements in residential spaces and taller spaces, and spaces that you might not expect to be that detailed.