It seems most fitting that a distinctive destination — a lovingly restored Queen Anne-style mansion — houses Serena & Lily.
After all, the home and lifestyle brand is known for its unique approach.
Founded in 2003 by Serena Dugan and Lily Kanter and headquartered in Sausalito, California, Serena & Lily today continues to bring its “fresh, California point of view” to homeowners across the country through a growing force of design shops.
But it’s not all about beach houses and sunny days, as Allyson McGrath, vice president of design shops for Serena & Lily, shares with us on a recent visit to the Westport spot — on a decidedly un-California-like frigid, windy afternoon.
A strength of Serena & Lily, McGrath tells us, is “how this brand flexes.”
“You can live in a coastal bungalow. You can live in a New York City apartment — and a great white sectional is a great white sectional.”
It’s all about, she adds, “investing in these really great pieces. They really translate in everyone’s home.”
And home is the feeling you get when you visit Serena & Lily at the historic Kemper-Gunn House.
“This building is so special,” McGrath says.
You’ll walk onto the porch of the 1889 property — famously moved across the street from its longtime spot and then thoughtfully renovated — and enter the front door into a sitting room.
It’s only after a moment that you realize you’re not in someone’s home — a deliberate move to “let the customer ‘experience’ our brand,” McGrath says.
“We don’t want to have the traditional retail experience… We want people to feel at home, not that they’re necessarily shopping all the time.”
Instead of being affronted by shelf after shelf of product, here, it’s like visiting a friend — make that a friend with impressively good taste.
AT HOME WITH STYLE
There’s nothing cavernous or impersonal about what McGrath notes is some 5,100 square feet of selling space spread out over four floors, complemented by a seasonal outdoor seating vignette.
The kitchen, for example, is filled with, McGrath notes, “fun, creative” options for seating. The impression is cohesive, even though McGrath assures, “In this one space, we’re showing seven styles.”
And that’s how the rest of the tour of the sun-filled rooms proceeds.
All, McGrath notes, is designed to appeal to the varied needs of Serena & Lily’s customers. One might come in with a blank floor plan, another in search of ways to surround an antique dining table purchased in Stamford.
Then, she adds, “We have the customer who just redid their bathroom and wants new towels.”
“We could do your whole home for you or we can help you refresh for the season,” she says, with all team members consulting on design and in-home consultations also available.
“They’re all very strong in their craft, I would say,” McGrath notes of the design advisers.
A second-floor design shop is where it all comes together.
“What we would do is build you a story,” she says, with customers receiving not only swatches but prices and timetables.
“You really go home with a tool,” McGrath says.
It’s not only helpful but also necessary.
“Home purchases are very considered purchases,” McGrath says.
“I think people are really proud of where they live,” she adds.
“Because of social media, people see more, where you are all the time.”
Unlike fashion, she continues, where you can wear a different outfit every day, “You don’t get to ‘be someone else for one night’ with a sofa.”
ON VIEW, SUBTLY
As customers travel the floors, which include a lower-level bedding area and a top-floor pseudo apartment, the Serena & Lily collection comes to life.
“We do show almost all of our upholstery silhouettes throughout the store,” she says.
Options, she says, help the customers visualize how different pieces and styles can work together, with Serena & Lily celebrating textures and a mix-and-match approach.
In a second-floor sitting room, for example, a Raffia-wrapped bookcase is unexpectedly complemented by porcelain and brass room accents.
“It’s really all about the mix,” she says.
The entire interior is changed over twice a year, with interim tweaks.
“There’s always newness injected throughout the season,” McGrath says. Her goal is always to offer something fresh: “What I really try to do is not replicate the catalog.”
Instead, all the settings serve as an ongoing showcase of how one can live with the brand. This month, when the Spring/Summer 2018 collection arrives in Serena & Lily design shops — which now number six, with Summit, New Jersey, soon to join the mix — customers will be introduced to new jute rugs, the statement-making Woven Caledonia Bar Cabinet, a charmingly naturalistic Vineyard All Weather Side Table, the sleek Mercer Nightstand, textured Pescadero Pendant lighting and the inviting Palms Chair.
While the pieces are indeed introductions, all remain consistent with the brand’s overall aesthetic.
“We’re not going to be the ‘brown-and-purple’ collection,” McGrath says.
Our tour ends on the top floor, which demonstrates how you can live stylishly in a 600-square-foot “apartment.” The self-contained space encompasses a living room, dining space (complete with an 84-inch table), bedroom — and even a well-appointed powder room.
“I keep finding space in this store — and things to put in it,” McGrath says with a laugh.
The clever integration of beach-inspired décor and a few metallics, she notes, is all about “pushing it a little bit.”
At Serena & Lily, McGrath says customers are invited to explore options at a most relaxed pace.
“If you’re hungry, we’ll order you lunch,” she says. A glass of wine? “How do you take it — red, white, chilled?”
Serena & Lily is at 35 Elm St. in Westport. For more, visit serenaandlily.com.