Harrington College of Design Alumna Kendra Cato Competes on HGTV Interior Design Show

November 28, 2012 General, Interior Design, Alumni News & Events 0 Comments

Kendra CatoNot many interior designers get the chance to design a room like a candy bowl. Kendra Cato, who graduated from Harrington College of Design in 2009 with an associate's degree in Interior Design, had this unique opportunity as a contestant on HGTV’s new show, “The White Room Challenge.”

On the show, four designers compete for a $10,000 prize by designing a room that starts as empty and blank. Their designs have to fit a surprise theme, and for Kendra it was designing a room using Hershey’s products.

We spoke with Kendra about her experience on the show and how her education at Harrington prepared her for the challenge. Here’s a look at how she became an interior designer and how her interests led her to appear on TV.

From Journalism to Interior Design

A graduate of Ohio University with a degree in journalism, Kendra was working a corporate job when she realized that she could become an interior designer. “Interior design was something I loved to do, but I never considered it as a career.” The signs were there all along, however. Kendra’s apartment in college was “fully decked out,” and her friends would always turn to her for advice, telling her she truly had a knack for design. It was only when Kendra decided to remodel her kitchen that she started to take interior design seriously.

Now Kendra owns her own interior design business, Kendra Cato Design, in addition to working full-time in Chicago. “I’m working on a huge project in Charlotte right now, for example,” explains Kendra. “My office is two blocks from the Merchandise Mart and various furniture/home interior stores, so I often spend my lunch sourcing items for clients.”

From Harrington to HGTV

Kendra, who was once interested in becoming a news anchor, was motivated to appear on TV because she enjoys performing in front of a camera and getting the chance to connect with an audience. She originally auditioned for another HGTV show, and when the “The White Room Challenge” came up, the network contacted her and asked if she would be interested.

On the show, each contestant had five minutes to grab as much free Hershey’s product as possible to use in their design. They also received $500 to spend on other design materials and had access to a carpenter. Kendra and her fellow contestants had to complete their designs within two 8-hour days, and the final designs were judged on creativity, execution, and completion.

When we asked her what she thought of the Hershey’s theme, she said, “It caught me completely by surprise! I was NOT expecting it. It was hard to take those tiny pieces of candy and create large, visual impactful designs. And I ate way too much of it.”

One way Kendra incorporated candy into her design was to line a sofa with Twizzlers. She also created a table shaped like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and covered the top with Reese’s Miniatures.

So what was it like facing such an unusual design challenge?

“It was scary initially because I didn’t know what to expect. After a few unsuccessful attempts at getting started on my design, I took a deep breath and stepped back to really look at my blank room,” says Kendra.

And then her interior design training kicked in. “I ended up approaching the design like I used to approach my design projects at Harrington. I decided on my concept, then my color palette, and then went from there. I had to scrap unsuccessful ideas rather than try to force them (a huge lesson I learned at Harrington), and the end result was a design I’m proud of.”

Although Kendra didn’t win the competition, the judges admired her candy bowl design. “I loved my wall graphics and how the room itself didn’t seem to have any gravity. The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup table was a big hit!”

Shooting “The White Room Challenge” for two exhilarating days was an experience that had an impact on Kendra’s design skills. “Being on the show definitely made me more prepared for the craziest of time constraints! It also reminded me to keep my designs a tad playful. That’s something I’ve always striven to do, but as a designer it’s sometimes hard not to take your designs too seriously – you feel the pressure of pleasing your client and want a perfect end result.”

In the end, Kendra had a blast. “I enjoyed filming a show in L.A., meeting all kinds of new and interesting people, and most importantly, getting to do what I love! It was such a good time. I hope to do more things like this!”

Want to learn more about Kendra Cato? Visit her website at or check out “The White Room Challenge” for more details about the show.


What do you think?