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Kathleen Jennison: “Every day I’m reminded how precious life is.”

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When you are introduced to a person’s life story, you often can’t help but believe certain things happen by design. In some instances, this can be applied both literally and figuratively. For Kathleen Jennison, an unexpected and traumatic circumstance gave her two options: live her life by design or live it by default. She chose the former and has never looked back.

Fifteen years ago, Kathleen, owner and lead interior designer of KTJ Design Co. in Stockton, was a hard-charging, successful certified public accountant. However, her career hit a detour when a 2006 car accident suddenly changed the trajectory of her ambitions. After experiencing a traumatic brain injury as a result of the accident, her analytical mindset pivoted in a new direction. While her analytical processing did not necessarily diminish, it took somewhat of a back seat to this new, creative and innovative mindset that surprised even Kathleen. 

Directional Difference
She hasn’t taken this for granted and, as a result, discovered a new purpose for her life that has opened more doors than she could have imagined. “Before the accident, I was completely engrained in being an accountant,” she reflected. “After the accident, I struggled for a couple of years. I had been on medical leave for about six months and went back to my CPA job too early.”

After the car wreck, Kathleen was in the hospital for 17 days and subsequently went back and forth for additional surgeries and treatments. In all, she suffered short-term memory issues, lost the vision in her right eye and sustained multiple fractures, including her skull, eye orbit, hand, thigh and all of her toes. She found it extremely challenging for a while to cope with her disabilities. She endured extensive rehabilitation and attended driving school to learn how to drive with just one eye, an issue to which she has had to bravely adapt. “Because I have no depth perception, I tend to trip a lot,” she said. “I cannot see changes in elevation.”

Before her accident, being in the accounting profession translated to a very competitive and fast-paced environment for Kathleen. She traveled the country meeting with CEOs of large companies, specializing in auditing work. It was a high-pressure position but she thrived in it. However, the brain damage she sustained from the accident made it challenging to navigate within her profession as easily as she once did. “I managed to work for a year at my job, and my employer was super great about it,” Kathleen noted. 

New Vision
Recurring headaches and issues with cognitive rehabilitation measures, along with loss of vision in her eye, forced her to re-evaluate her professional goals. At the urging of her ophthalmologist, who advised her that putting pen to paper helps retrain the brain and aids in depth perception, she enrolled in an art class. This paved the way to an uncharted, yet equally exciting, territory for her.

“I had this desire to draw and paint, which I thought was rather strange for me,” she recalled. She enrolled in the Art Institute of California, Sacramento, and took a basic drafting and color theory class. This provided the first stepping stone on her new journey. Moving slowly but deliberately, Kathleen eventually quit her CPA job and began to acquire enough course credits over a period of a few years to ultimately earn a bachelor’s degree in interior design, which was a great complement to her previous bachelor’s degree in business. 

By 2011, Kathleen was eager to find a new job, sending out myriad resumes to potential employers. Her efforts, though, appeared to be futile. As a result, she looked within herself to discover her next plan of action. “I realized I knew all about business and figured I could just start my own,” she recalled. 

During her rehabilitation, Kathleen began a personal project that created an initial customer base for her. While she was in school, she started a blog about her injury and subsequent recovery. Several of her former CPA clients and colleagues followed her in that space. When she announced her new business through the platform, many of them hired her to do interior design work. 

Starting Anew
Initially, Kathleen opened a furniture boutique eight years ago called The Shop at KTJ Design Co, located in an old candy factory in midtown Stockton in the Freemont Corridor. From there, her business began to grow, and today she has found herself in demand and continually inspired to flex her creative muscles. “I am still very analytical and good at math and haven’t lost any intelligence in that regard,” Kathleen emphasized. “It is just that my brain synapses work differently now.”

Through interior design, Kathleen has happily discovered her analytical abilities transition seamlessly and are highly applicable to the work she now does. “With interior design, we draft plans and rely on geometry and dimensioning, along with laying out and organizing projects,” she noted. “My experience as an accountant plays into that. I can visualize spaces easily. However, I still stumble on my words sometimes.”

Along with the assistance and talent of her lead designer, Sandra Van Slack, Kathleen continues to expand her portfolio and is affiliated with the American Society of Interior Designers, or ASID. She has also served as past president of the ASID Central California/Nevada chapter, of which she is a current member. She is also a member of the National Association of Remodeling Industry and the National Kitchen and Bath Association Sacramento chapters.

Sharing Life
When not tending to her business, Kathleen enjoys practicing yoga and experiencing adventures in travel. Granted, the recent pandemic has put a wrinkle in some of those pursuits, but she looks forward to continuing with them when the time is right. She also enjoys spending time with her husband, Bob, their two sons and their two granddaughters. A native Californian, Kathleen has moved about the state during her life but has found strong roots in the Central Valley.

In addition to operating her business, which also includes a general contracting company, Kathleen delights readers regularly with her Ask the Expert column for HERLIFE Magazine. Her expertise, insight and creative genius inspire, entertain and educate readers about all things interior design. She is definitely in her element in this arena and shows no signs of slowing down.

“I intend to keep on doing what I am doing for as long as I can,” she noted. “I love what I do and believe we have a pretty good system in place. I am happy with where I am today,” she smiled. “I have good people around me. I like to think the universe was correcting itself for me. I probably would’ve burnt out otherwise. I truly believe things happen for a reason.”