Her work is known for its casual refinement, a style that is at once breezy and yet elegant. From her days as a student of Psychology and Fine Art to the sought-after artist and designer she has become, Serena Dugan has managed to stay true to her roots while simultaneously evolving creatively. Hers became a household name with the rise in popularity of the mega popular lifestyle brand Serena & Lily which she launched over 15 years ago, a company that remains incredibly successful today.
While her days as Chief Creative Officer for the brand are behind her (she left in 2017 to engage more fully in her passion for painting as a medium) she still has her finger on the pulse of designs that bring beauty and joy into the home, her focus being “in the power of art to transform an environment into an experience.” In 2019, after several years focused solely on painting, she made her return to the world of textiles with her namesake company: Serena Dugan Studio. From her (gorgeous) sun-filled studio in Sausalito California, she made the time to share with us her love of vintage, what drives her passion for design and what styles she is currently swooning over.
While her world today is filled with art and design, it is interesting to note that while she has always loved art, she did not always plan on a creative career. “I did not always know I wanted to work in Design! Through college I thought I would become a clinical psychologist. I was pulled in a more creative direction shortly after college and I went back to school to study Fine Art — specifically painting. I was exploring an entirely new world while working full time; I decided to take a leave of absence from my job and study over in Florence Italy for a semester. The night before returning home, back to my job, I knew I needed to make the shift to committing my life to art and design. I returned, quit my job and built a business initially as a decorative painter working through interior designers.”
Though she did not go on to practice psychology in a literal sense, her studies have shaped her perspective, nonetheless. “I believe that my work has always been a blend of art and psychology. Design, I feel, is solution-based creativity. Understanding people, their motivation and desires, and how to impact their mood through their environment, underpins everything that I create.”
The impact of environment is something she has had personal experience with, in fact, one early experience in particular was responsible for altering the course of her life. “If I hadn’t done a semester abroad in France in college and backpacked the summer after, I may not have known that I would want to be in Florence for Art School. Florence allowed me to access an entirely new side of my brain — it opened me up to the world. Each place I have lived has expanded and fed some piece of my curiosity and creativity, whether through the outdoors, proximity to culture, or beauty. I’ve chosen to live in and visit locations that stimulate my inner artist, each in their own unique way.” Her love of travel continues to this day and is something she can always count on when in need of inspiration. “When I feel a creativity drought, I know it’s time to travel and change my horizon line. Feeling an infusion of new energy is usually all I need to get unblocked. Museums, street art and culture, a great exhibit, some favorite runway shows (watchable online), varied lnstagram feeds, all keep the inspiration flowing.”
In her own home, her style is vintage, layered and individual. “My style and aesthetic are varied depending on the locale of the house, but my personal aesthetic probably mirrors my home aesthetic. My homes are relaxed, but mix styles. There’s always something on my body and in my room that is old and treasured and has a story. (Could be a necklace, a belt, a leather chair, a rug.). Art takes center stage at home, but never in a precious or austere way. My spaces are inviting and aren’t successful until I’ve created a “feeling” — a resonance — in them. Vintage and antiques have a place in every house I’ve ever lived in. Regardless of the style of my house, I always layer in pieces that have story, patina and soul. Interiors are more interesting and more personal when they include vintage pieces.
My grandmother was a professional painter and sculptor. Her work fills my house and carries her into my life today, although she passed 20 years ago. It reminds me of the power of artwork to live beyond our lifetime and powerfully transmit spirit.”
Serena’s own paintings work magic in the homes that they inhabit as well. “My art is an exercise in balance and harmony. I use form, color and layering to create compositions that have resonance.
My influences on my art are impossible to pinpoint. My art is just my art. It’s what I want to explore and express. That comes from life and joy and my history just as much as it comes from other art, design and inspiration. My art is the sum of all of what makes me me. It’s what I find beautiful. There are countless artists I look up to, from both the past and the present. But truly, I look up to and respect all artists who have found/are finding their own statement. This inspires me to find mine.
…with one exception: I’ve been told that elements of my paintings resemble my grandmother’s paintings. This wouldn’t surprise me, as they have surrounded me my whole life. But her influence is more subliminal than conscious for me.”
A sense of beauty, when passed down the generations, whether in the form of artistic talent or as a much-loved vintage piece, continues to blossom and evolve, with deepening significance as time goes on. We love the work of Serena Dugan for the effortless charm that her pieces bring into the home today and for years come.
5 Quick Questions with Artist and Textile Designer Serena Dugan
TLV: Do you have a go to color combination? Or most beloved pattern?
SD: That depends on the day. My preferences are always shifting, but there are many that have always just worked to my eye, and they continue to find their way into what I create. I don’t have a favorite pattern either — there’s so much I love about each one for different reasons. And recoloring old patterns gives them new life and refreshes my appreciation for the pattern.
TLV: Is there an era or a design style that you are particularly inspired by?
SD: I’m finding some late 60s/early 70s modern pieces right now that I’m crazy about. I love modern, but not so much mid-century.
TLV: Favorite travel destination for design inspiration?
SD: Paris is an easy go-to. I also love Copenhagen and Stockholm. Marrakech is great too. So many spots!
TLV: What are you currently reading / watching?
SD: My guilty pleasure is currently Succession. And I’m rereading Irving Stone’s “Lust for Life” but have stopped 50 pages from the end because I don’t want it to end. It’s a magnificent telling of Van Gogh’s story.
TLV: What is coming up next at Serena Dugan Studio?
SD: I have a new range of wallpapers about to launch. Later this Spring I’ll be introducing a fabric collection that I’m extremely excited about as well — 26 blockprinted fabrics, printed in India. Lots to be excited about!
Photos by Laurie Frankel Photography / Text by Liana Hayles Newton