By Meaghan Casey
Entering Diana James’ Living Swell boutique, customers are transported into another world — a world in which they can almost imagine being whisked out to sea, likely on one of the beautifully captured sailboats or yachts staring back at them from photographer Cory Silken’s work.
James masterfully creates a balance between tranquil, coastal hues and bright accents, bold patterns and unique designs. It’s an environment that was made for Swampscott and Marblehead shoppers.
The Marblehead retail shop is James’ newest venture, complementing her already successful interior design business. She brings with her more than 16 years of design experience, specializing in luxurious and functional spaces for the home and office. She describes her personal aesthetic as “seaside luxe,” which is elegant, cheerful and inspired by the sea.
“I love how being by the ocean creates its own culture,” she said. “Not everyone loves coastal, but I feel like that style seeps its way into certain elements. I use a lot of textured wallpaper and I go back and forth between neutrals and bright colors. California styles tend to be brighter, but for a Hamptons look I’d go more neutral.”
Most recently, James created a Palm Beach-inspired oasis for Swampscott residents Donna and Dr. Barry Moran. The Morans had just moved into a two-bedroom, 2.5-bath waterfront condo at the Concordia. They bought the condo furnished, but wanted something “happier,” so they turned to James. For fabrics, James mixed neutral colors with bright green in geometric and botanical prints.
“We used different patterns but the constant is the green and off-white,” she said. “That brings everything together.”
Because the Morans have grandchildren (and off-white isn’t always child-proof), James used indoor/outdoor fabrics from Kravet and Duralee, which she says is an option that’s becoming more and more popular.
“I think that’s where we’re going with fabrics, especially for those who like to entertain,” she said.
In the sitting area, she also added accent pieces such as gold bamboo stacking tables.
“Gold is really in right now, and little tables are a great way to inexpensively brighten up a space,” said James. “I love a little bling.”
James, who has a business background, worked in telecommunications for a decade before she transitioned to marketing in the restaurant industry. She always loved the décor and design aspect of the job, and Peter Niemitz, who specializes in restaurant design, encouraged her to pursue that line of work.
“I remember him telling me ‘This is what you should be doing’ and that was the push I needed,” James said.
She started out with window treatments, and soon made connections with local contractors. Her first big job was a renovation project for homeowners near the Beach Club in Swampscott. James served as the liaison between the clients and the contractor, ensuring their aesthetic was reflected in the finished home.
As her business has continued to grow, James, who has lived in Marblehead for 30 years, was on the lookout for retail space for some time. When the storefront at 34 Atlantic Ave. became available, she seized the opportunity. Living Swell, which opened in February, is stocked with an ever-changing array of original art, photography, new and refurbished furniture, wall coverings and textiles sold by the yard, original leather handbags, jewelry, upcycled whale-shaped pillows, European linens, fragrances, lighting and giftware. The distinctive products are hand-chosen, most of which are created by local artisans. James herself has had the opportunity to design the handbags, custom selecting the leather, fabrics and hardware before they’re manufactured in Lynn.
“The most exciting part of having the space is that it’s enabled me to design my own product lines,” said James, who is also working on her own wallpaper line.
Down the road, she would love to open another outpost of Living Swell, ideally in Nantucket, but until then, she’s busy balancing the demands of the business, expanding her product lines and preparing to appear on HGTV for an episode of “House Hunters Renovation,” which will be filmed in the next couple of months.
Meaghan Casey is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.