For Serena Dugan, creativity is about self-expression. “It’s about knowing what I have to say and translating what’s inside, or my unique point of view, into something visual,” says the Sausalito, Calif., designer and co-founder of Serena & Lily. Home business. “My mission is to constantly push my creative boundaries to create a representation of this inner landscape. It’s less about display and more about self-discovery.”

Serena DugganLori Frankel

Duggan spent most of her life thinking she would be a therapist. After earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wake Forest University in North Carolina, she decided to take a year off before applying to graduate school and began painting during her downtime. “I went back to school and focused on painting, first attending Metropolitan (University) Denver – where I could take art classes after work – and later at Lorenzo de’ Medici’s International Italian Institute in Florence, Italy.”

She spent the next several years working as a decorative painter, hand-painting original patterns in interior spaces that paid tribute to the ancient art that had adorned Italian palaces and churches for centuries. “I decided I wanted to translate these indigenous patterns to fabric, and I went back to school to study textile design at the San Francisco Art Institute and Berkeley College,” she says. “After I had learned enough, I taught myself how to block print and created my first line of fabrics sold through stores and designers all over California.”

In 2003, she launched Serena & Lily with co-founder Lily Kanter and spent the next decade and a half building the company — “brick by brick,” as she describes it — into an iconic furniture and decor brand. “It’s been a great journey and learning experience, but as it’s grown, it’s become less of a creative endeavor and more of a business endeavor,” she says.

In 2017, she left Serena & Lily and debuted her namesake studio with a collection of 13 hand-printed fabric patterns and seven wallpaper designs, including Condesa and Capretto, in multiple colors. “I wanted to capture the breezy, festive spirit of a 1950s jet set, and designed original patterns to support that vision and story,” she says of her inaugural launch.

Serena Dugan's block-printed designs are infused with art

Inside Serena Dugan’s studio in Sausalito, CaliforniaLori Frankel

The bulk of Dugan’s designs begin as sketches, which she translates into gouache decorations before converting them into a digital pattern. “A lot of my pattern work is done in Photoshop, where I’m able to play with repeating spacing, layers, and scaling,” she explains. “Sampling and experimenting is a key part of a successful pattern for me, and I give myself plenty of time to play with the elements to create the most rhythmic print.”

Once you’ve settled on a pattern, the design is either hand-printed or block-printed – where each color is sculpted within a single repetition into an individual block that is stamped onto the fabric – on linen, cotton or solution. Acrylic performance fabrics are dyed, or digitally printed on a grass cloth or woven paper substrate for wall coverings. “I think what makes each pattern unique is not the printing method or materials, but the design itself,” she says. “I see indigenous textile patterns as art, and it is one of the two art forms I practice, along with painting.”

Serena Dugan's block-printed designs are infused with art

A selection of printed textiles by Serena Dugan Studio, including Condesa woven wallpaper in indigoRobert Divers Herrick

Last winter, she released a rug collection in partnership with Erik Lindström inspired by her original artwork, and she has plans to unveil a new collaboration with Clé Tile this fall. “Collaborations are a fun and exciting way to expand and challenge my perspective,” she says.

She’s also currently hard at work on a new textile collection inspired by the home she’s remodeling on Shelter Island in New York. “I resolved to use only my own fabrics and wallpaper, along with vintage fabrics I had collected over the years, at home,” she says. “I find holes in my offerings based on what I need that aren’t represented in the line, whether in terms of color palette, style or scale.”

Looking to the future, she says she hopes to continue collaborating with other brands, while crafting new collections that reflect her artistry and worldview. “I’m careful not to set goals that are too far in the future,” she says. “As they say, it closes you (away from) the division – and I prefer to remain open to the twists and turns that are put in my way.”

If you want to learn more about Serena Duggan, visit her website or Instagram.

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