November 28, 2014

Elyria
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Former apple queen to compete on HGTV design show

Kendra Cato, Apple Queen turned journalist turned interior designer, tackled the Hershey’s challenge on HGTV’s “The White Room Challenge”

ELYRIA — It drives her crazy when her mom tells people she was the 1999 Apple Festival Queen.

“Mom, I’m 30,” Kendra Cato said. “Quit telling people that.”

Perhaps after Cato’s upcoming appearance on HGTV’s “The White Room Challenge,” she will.

Cato, a 1999 Elyria High School graduate, is appearing on the show Friday to show off her interior-design skills.

Four designers are each given a 10-foot-by-10-foot white room to decorate. During Cato’s episode, she and the other designers were given the Hershey’s challenge. The candymaker provided the merchandise and the designers did the rest.

While Cato can’t reveal whether she won or not, she does say the show was an incredible experience for a designer like her.

When she was just 8, she and her mom, Cindy Cato, decorated her dollhouse — hanging wallpaper, installing carpeting and painting furniture.

When the family moved to a new home, Cato helped her mom pick out furniture and hang wallpaper.

“I was always artsy,” said Cato, who owns her own Chicago-based design firm, Kendra Cato Design.

But when she graduated high school, Cato pursued a degree in journalism from Ohio University.

Still, she couldn’t get away from interior design.

“My apartment was fully decorated in college,” she said. “I didn’t think then that it was something I could do as a career. It was just something I loved to do.”

After graduation, she worked as a business editor for five years. She made good money and enjoyed working with the clients but wanted something more creative.

“I figured I’d give it a shot,” she said. “I quit my job and figured I still had my journalism degree to fall back on.”

Cato enrolled in the Harrington College of Design in Chicago.

By day, she works in a corporate law firm. When she’s not at work, she runs Kendra Cato Design. Since starting the company three years ago, she has completed about two dozen designs — home interiors, office spaces, public restrooms and a sports bar.

She most enjoys working on homes.

“I love that people let me into their homes and trust me with their homes,” she said.

Cindy Cato certainly did.

“She designed my whole house, really,” Cindy Cato said. “She uses what I have around the house or what I’ve bought, so it’s still me, but she designs it.”

Cato is flying her mother in to watch the show in Chicago on Friday.

“I’m excited,” Cindy Cato said. “I know she did fine. I have faith in her. No matter what, it was a good experience, and I know she wants it to lead to bigger and better things.”

Cato had actually auditioned for another HGTV show, but did not get it. The casting company forwarded her audition to “The White Room Challenge,” and she was in. In addition to the design work she had to do, Cato also needed to choose someone off the street to be a “client.”

The winner of the show receives $10,000 and the “client” receives $5,000.

“It was just a crazy experience,” Cato said. “We worked 16-hour days and had to complete the entire room in two days. It was a ton of fun. I still talk to and keep in touch with the other designers. It was kind of like boot camp.”

As for the Apple Festival title, Cindy Cato is still telling people, for now.

“It’s a big deal,” Cindy Cato said, laughing.

Contact Christina Jolliffe at 329-7155 or ctnews@chroniclet.com.