The Style Files: Serena & Lily

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{Serena & Lily Founders, Lily Kanter and Serena Dugan}

If you’ve made any purchases for your home recently, chances are you are familiar with Serena & Lily. Not only do I have several of their products in my own home, but I frequently specify their style staples such as bedding, towels, headboards, and rugs for client projects. What started out as a textiles company with a focus on children’s linens has evolved into a full-fledged lifestyle destination with bedding and bath linens for little ones and adults, furniture, rugs, accessories, lighting, an ever-expanding selection of original artwork, and they even have plans for fashion on the horizon.

Founders, Serena Dugan and Lily Kanter are as inspiring as you might imagine. Chief Creative Officer, Serena Dugan started out as a textile designer, creating a line of fabrics that was sold exclusively to the trade. Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Lily Kanter calls herself a “serial entrepreneur” and has worked as an executive at Microsoft, founded the charity, Social Venture Partners in San Francisco, owned a children’s boutique, and eventually crossed paths with Serena to establish Serena & Lily which continues to take on various philanthropic social initiatives. I was so pleased to be able to interview such an inspiring pair of female entrepreneurs and know that you will be as inspired by this talented duo as I am. Enjoy!

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Paloma Contreras: How would you describe your style:

Serena Dugan: Easy, but expressive.

Lily Kanter: Classic, eclectic, casual, timeless, and relaxed.

Halston Living Room

{A Chic Living Room Vignette filled with Serena & Lily Products}

PC: Why did you decide to form a partnership as opposed to working individually? What would you say is the biggest challenge in working with a partner? What is the greatest advantage?

SD: Lily and I shared a vision of what we wanted to create but had entirely different backgrounds and skillsets. I covered design and creative, she covered business and finance. Without both, you can’t get a great idea off the ground. Our partnership has hinged on both of us focusing on our domains, and respecting what each of us brought to the table. The biggest challenge in working with a partner is probably — just like with any partnership — the need for constant communication. A partnership needs nurturing, like any relationship. In a rapidly growing business where we are each pulled in different directions, we need to make time to reconnect and keep the lines of communication and friendship open. The advantage of a partnership is that when you know that you see eye to eye, you are more than the sum of your parts and can conquer quite a bit. Neither one of us could have started Serena & Lily without the other. Additionally, it’s SO much more fun to have a partner in crime to celebrate the successes with, and laugh through it all!

LK: There was an instant chemistry when Serena and I met. We both recognized a void in the market for sophisticated nursery designs. I knew what customers wanted from talking to them in the store I owned at the time, Mill Valley Baby & Kids, and she had something new to bring to the category. The healthy tension between business and design has been both our biggest challenge and our greatest advantage.

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 {I love the Border Frame Chambray Duvet and Shams and Flynn Wall Sconces in this bedroom!}

PC: What does your home say about you?

SD: I’m real. I’m down to earth. But I love design and express myself through my surroundings.

LK: My style is approachable and eclectic. We enjoy being the welcoming home for our community. We travel a lot. I have three young boys so it’s not too perfect. I’m always entertaining. I love entertaining with my family and their friends.

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 {A Pretty Serena & Lily Dining Vignette}

PC: Where do you turn for inspiration?

SD: I turn to people for inspiration. I find personality to be my ultimate muse. Their sway and their quirks add up to a visual story for me, and indirectly they tell me how they want to live…what they want to be surrounded by.  HOPEFULLY, I have enough eye candy stored in my visual memory bank to draw from when I interpret personality into a pattern, or an environment. My visual stores are gathered from travel, from history, from costumes, from landscapes…anything beautiful and new to me.

LK: For design inspiration, I always turn to Serena. For life inspiration, I love to go to events to hear people speak about changing the world.

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{Inspiration Abounds at the Serena & Lily Store on San Francisco’s Sacramento Street | Image via Sacramento Street}

PC: Who are your personal style icons?

SD: The iconoclasts: Diana Vreeland, Iris Apfel.

LK: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

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{Diana Vreeland, Iris Apfel and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis}

PC: What is your guilty pleasure?

SD: Art

LK: Tennis, spa treatments, and traveling the world.

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{Loads of Stylish Serena & Lily Furniture}

PC: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

SD: Do what you love and success will follow.

LK: Always do the right thing.

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{Pretty Block-printed Bedding}

PC: Who has been your greatest professional influence?

SD: Sonia Delaunay, who turned textile design into art, art into fashion, and fashion back into art. All mediums were her expression.

LK: My parents for work ethic.

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{Sonia Delaunay}

PC: What is your idea of living “la dolce vita”?

SD: The good life is all about surrounding yourself with the things and the people and the experiences that actually matter to you. It is about feeling good in your skin and celebrating the life you’ve deliberately chosen, every day.

LK: Traveling the world with my family, taking in the culture, the food, the artisanal craft and always incorporating something in our itinerary that has social purpose impact. Basically, living the lifestyle of Afar magazine. That is my idea of living “la dolce vita”.

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{The Serena & Lily collection embodies California’s effortless, indoor/outdoor sensibility.}

PC: What can we look forward to next from you?

SD: We are expanding our lifestyle offering, and applying our style perspective to women’s fashion. Serena & Lily’s capsule apparel collection launches in the spring of 2015.

LK: More Serena & Lily retail locations in 2015.

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{The first Serena & Lily retail store opened in San Francisco earlier this year. | Image via Sacramento Street}

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{Serena’s Favorite Things}

Go-To Outfit: Jeans, boots, and any top with a scarf (perfect for SF weather)

Style Mantra: Style is about feeling good in your skin. When you feel good in your skin, you wear clothes with confidence. Those are the people with an authentic sense of style.

Scent: Sandalwood mixed with Rose

Piece of Jewelry: A tiger-eye and turquoise Mayan necklace that was my grandmother’s. (Very Powerful!)

Color I Never Tire Of: Blue

Flower: Bells of Ireland

Dream Project: Our next store, in NYC

Fabric/Textile: Vintage Fortuny

Hostess Gift: Flowers in a lovely vessel

Meal: Press in St. Helena CA

Drink: Hendricks Gin & Tonic, with extra lime

Way to Unwind after a Long Day at Work: Connecting with the people who matter

3 Things I Love About My City: 1) Its natural beauty:  It’s where ocean meets city, hills, mountains and bay 2) It’s mentality: it’s a place of free-thinkers, originators and iconoclasts 3) The Golden Gate Bridge

Weekend Destination: Calistoga, CA

Hotel: Como Shambhala, Ubud, Bali

Museum: Picasso – Antibes France

Artist: Rothko

Song that Always Puts Me in a Great Mood: Dr. Dog – “How long must I wait”

Prized Possession: Painting by my Grandmother

Risk Worth Taking: leaving a corporate job to become a decorative painter

Go-To Color Palette: Black White and Naturals, with the sharpest pops of color

Rule to Break: That anything should be “matched”

Movie Set Design: A Single Man, by Tom Ford

3 Dream Dinner Party Guests: My grandparents. I’d like to know them now that I’m an adult.

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{Lily’s Favorite Things}

Go-To Outfit: Shirt dress, fun shoes

Scent: Fresh baked cookies

Piece of Jewelry: Irene Neuwirth

Color I Never Tire Of: Emerald Green

Flower: Peonies

Indispensable Design Element: Family photos

Era for Design: I love homes built at the turn of the century.

Fabric/Textile: Khanga cloth from Tanzania is so fun and happy

Hostess Gift: Serena & Lily Table Linens

Meal: A Moroccan feast in Marrakesh

Drink: Pinot Noir

Way to Unwind after a Long Day at Work: Family dinner, and a glass of wine never hurts

3 Things I Love About My City: The natural beauty of the San Francisco Bay Area, the restaurants, and very interesting change makers

Weekend Destination: Cavallo Point Spa, Sausalito, CA

Hotel: Singita Lodges in Africa

Song that Always Puts Me in a Great Mood: Hotel California

Actor/Actress: Steve Martin, he completely cracks me up

Prized Possession: Family photo albums

Risk Worth Taking: Starting a company

Greatest Extravagance: Traveling in La Dolce Vita style

Go-To Color Palette: Seaglass, Nantucket gray

Rule to Break: Never be “matchy”

Movie Set Design: Out of Africa

3 Dream Dinner Party Guests: Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, and Melinda Gates

 

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