In her early career, Delia Kenza was never one to have a five- or 10-year plan mapped out—in fact, she often didn’t know what her next career move would be until it happened. That’s how, after a decade spent practicing law, she took the birth of her first child as a natural off-ramp from a profession she’d long felt just wasn’t quite right for her. Life went on during her career hiatus, as her young family moved into a stunning historic home on one of Manhattan’s oldest streets. It wasn’t until her husband, Júlio, began renovating the home that something started to click for Kenza.
“When we got to the upper level of the house, I said, ‘Júlio, I really want to be in charge of the upper floors—let me do it,’” Kenza tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “I did it, it was a gut renovation—and it was beautiful.”
Kenza went on to oversee the decoration of the entire home. The space caught a neighbor’s eye, and she asked Kenza to design her next home in nearby Harlem. The project led to recommendations among family and friends, and then to Kenza beginning to offer more formal design services.
Then, fate struck again. After a friend brought Kenza along to a panel event featuring local designer Vicente Wolf, she was so bowled over by his story of success without a formal design education that she lingered after to thank him personally. During the wait, she began chatting with a few nearby strangers, who asked to see photos of her work. One turned out to be design editor Wendy Goodman—who would soon secure the first published (and professionally photographed) images of Kenza’s work. The other stranger was Noa Santos, the CEO of the then-fledgling startup Homepolish, who listed Kenza on the platform.
Suddenly, Kenza’s career was up and running. At Homepolish, she gained an understanding of the essential business practices needed to offer design services, like billing, systems and client communications, but after a few years, she felt it was time to see what else the industry had in store, and she formally founded her eponymous firm.
Once she was out on her own, Kenza began to realize that a loose framework for her business practices simply wouldn’t cut it if she wanted to capitalize on her firm’s growing success—and sustain it. “I got a client who was so wonderful and kind, and I wanted to do right by them,” she says. “That’s when I said, ‘OK, I’ve really got to button up—not just for myself, but also to give my client that full experience.’ You’re only going to do that if you are handling it like a business.” So she buckled down and began buttoning up her systems to build a firm that could stand on its own. In this episode, she shares which of her firm’s policies are set in stone, how she cuts through the clutter of online inspiration to help clients find their style, and why raising her rates meant taking a leap of faith.
Homepage image: Delia Kenza | Sean Litchfield