A Beautiful Life

Inside the Organized Mind of Ex-Lawyer and Mom Kathleen Jennings

Francine Davis Ballard. Photography Jack Thompson. Styled by Megan Pruitt Winder. Hair Bryan Nguyen for Ceron Salon. Makeup Jules Wagener for lovetomakeup.com.
November 18, 2013

Sometimes an identity crisis is a good thing. The door to Kathleen Jennings’ River Oaks home opens, and before me stands a fresh-faced, soft-spoken beauty. Adorable toddler in tow, she looks more like an actress (January Jones? Reese Witherspoon?) than a former corporate litigator. And, she’s beaming with the kind of optimism and excitement customarily reserved for the very young — which she is. That aside, she has much to be fervent about. She is giving birth to a new identity — that of entrepreneur — and a new online business. She has aptly named this many-months labor of love BeautyNow (bookbeautynow.com), launching this month. The site and its namesake application will give users the ability to search and book same-day spa and salon appointments online, thus alleviating the maddening process of calling or visiting multiple locations to find a last-minute slot for manicures, massages and the like. Jennings says the idea was conceived while she was pregnant with her second child. Suffering from a migraine, she called 13 different nail salons to no avail. Inevitably, the self-proclaimed problem-solving perfectionist went to work. Couch potato-ing with husband James one evening, she asked, “Why don’t they have Open Table for manicures and blowouts?” Et Voilà! Her new career was born.

Do you think there are other women who wish they had an entrepreneurial outlet like this? I hear it all the time. But I think there’s a big difference between a person who says it and the person who’s actually going to do it — devote all this time and energy. I don’t know what actually made me do it myself, because I had such a great life. But there must be something inside me that feels like I have certain qualities that will make this business a success. I knew it was going to be intense. And I’m always really hard on myself. I get stressed because I’m afraid to fail, or that I will look stupid to other people who might say, ‘That’s so silly. She’s just a stay-at-home mom in Houston. Why does she think she can do this?’

Business gets done at play dates. It’s funny, because my friends get together for a play group, and, all these women are so educated and so accomplished. Probably 60 percent of them are attorneys who were top of their class at UT law and went to work for one of the big law firms, and now they don’t work at all. There are architects, women who used to be a big deal in PR; it’s all across the board. But it’s been great for me, because on a consulting basis, I have pulled together such a diverse group of extremely educated, well-trained women. They don’t have an outlet anymore, so they are happy to be supportive of a friend and to lend whatever expertise they have.

What’s your husband’s take on your new role? I was content being a stay-at-home mom and wife. But he’s all about it. He’s my biggest supporter and behind this all the way. He sees how frustrating parts of it have been, but still he says, “I think it really makes you happy.”

There’s something to be said for takeout. I feel like I have to be a lot better at time management and really set limits for myself. I don’t want to feel like I’m a full-time working mom again — like I’m slaving away at the law firm downtown. I used to have a lot more time to think about projects around the house or shopping online or planning my kids’ birthday parties. You know, I used to spend a lot more time pondering what we were going to have for dinner.

Thoughts on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In? I read it. It was inspirational. What I liked about her book was that it was very practical. Like when you’re sitting in a boardroom meeting, you need to do this — or ask your husband to do these things. It’s real-life advice from her own experience. I’m sort of feeling rah-rah about women entrepreneurs right now, and she really bore into my mind the idea that you can partner with other women to cross-market and promote ideas.

Favorite beauty salon? Treatment? I go to an inexpensive place to get my nails done: River Oaks Nails & Spa next to Chuy’s. It’s so funny. I notice when I go that the fanciest socialites in town are all there at a strip center. I realize that I need something that is a full-service solution. With BeautyNow, not only do we have the fancy salons and spas, we also want the strip-mall nail place on the corner — but only the good ones. I want it to be curated, so it’s like “This is where I go, and where my friends go.”

What does “balance” mean to you? Of course, I think of work/life balance. But I read somewhere how it’s offensive that female CEOs/entrepreneurs always get asked this question, but men never do. I think there are certain things that we can’t get away from as women. We will always be the ones who bear children. We will always have that special connection. An example of this is whenever the baby is screaming in the middle of the night, I dart up out of bed immediately. But if we agree that James is the one getting up, he’ll take his time, put his robe on and brush his teeth. As a mom, you just can’t do anything until their needs are met. Whatever you call that mom-instinct thing, that’s always going to be there.

It can be difficult living and working in the same space, but your home is beautiful. We bought our 1933 Tudor-style home in ’09. I actually found out I was pregnant with my first child on the day we closed! We loved the location, but the home was dark and pretty dated — a lot of brass, hunter green and plantation shutters. Luckily, it had already been updated in terms of the floor plan, appliances and electrical, so we just made changes to the finishes and fixtures to transform the house into a young, airy space. We worked with interior designer Eleanor Cummings, whose work I discovered while touring another home for sale. She is so talented and creative, and it was a fun collaboration. She designed the downstairs rooms and master bedroom, then I designed the kids’ bedrooms and playroom.

Fun facts about you. Growing up, I was a pianist. I started playing when I was five, and I competed throughout high school and college. I was ranked third in the state when I graduated from high school. Even though I hated practicing, I always defined myself by being good at it.

Current beauty obsessions. I’m a beauty product junkie — I cover all my staples and new discoveries on the BeautyNow blog. But if I had to pick a few faves, I’d say Laura Mercier Repair Eye Serum, Chanel Vitalumiere Aqua foundation and Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer for under-eye circles. And I must have Clean & Clear Oil Absorbing Sheets with me at all times. I seriously start to feel panicky if I can’t find one in my bag. 

Preferred thank-you gesture. A handwritten note, always, and a photo in an engraved frame is a nice touch. Or anything monogrammed.