Serena Dugan on how to use color and pattern to refresh your space | Home Front

Serena Dugan
Nov 05, 2015

Serena Dugan, co-founder and chief creative officer of Serena & Lily, is an established designer and painter. Under her lead, Serena & Lily has grown from a nursery bedding line to a leading lifestyle company. Based in California, Serena & Lily is known for its signature use of pattern and color.

Serena was named a 2014 Design Trendsetter by Coastal Living. She lives in Sausalito, Calif. with her two children.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

Good morning everyone. Serena Dugan, co-founder and chief creative officer of Serena & Lily, is here with us today. She is a designer and painter. Under her lead, Serena & Lily has grown from a nursery bedding line to a leading lifestyle company. Based in California, Serena & Lily is known for its signature use of pattern and color. She's here to answer your decorating questions. Meanwhile, the prize today is Barbara Barry's beautiful book "Around Beauty" (Rizzoli $65). The winner will be announced at the end of the chat. To win the prize, please tell us about a room in your house where you have successfully married color and pattern in a harmonious way and tell us how you did that. If your response is selected as the winner at the end, please email me your mailing address and we will send you the book. Let's chat.

Good morning, and thank you for the lovely intro, Jura. I’m looking forward to a great discussion about design!

Just bought a house with a bathroom which has red plaid wallpaper with a golf course themed border. The floor and bottom half of the walls are white tile with hunter green accents, so the plaid kinda works. I still want to take down the paper and paint the walls, though! What color? I think more white would be too stark with all the white tile, but what goes with the hunter green accent tiles?

Without knowing the style of the rest of your home, I'll make a few suggestions. The good news is, hunter green goes with a lot. If you are looking for more of an impact, hunter green looks great with black, especially if there is bronze or brass in the room. You can also try camel tones as well as a deep navy blue. Good luck!


Do you think having a sofa in a print vs. a solid is a bad idea?

Print is never a bad idea! However, it is worth considering the investment. You may love a print today and be tired of it tomorrow. For this reason, I generally recommend smaller accent pieces as your fashion statement. You can easily trade them out or reupholster. But I really love the go-for-it feeling that a large piece of patterned upholstery offers.

Is it okay to mix a plaid with a print if there are lots of solids in the room too?

I love pattern on pattern, particularly plaids or stripes with other prints. The key to success is whether or not the other print in complimentary to the plaid. This determination is entirely subjective. If you feel the two patterns are harmonious to your eye, that's all that matters. 

My spouse and I just bought our first home (Yay!). While we have some furniture already, most of the house will be empty when we first move in. It is a great time to paint, but how do we go about finding the right colors when we don't know what kind of furniture we want yet, particularly for our new nursery?

Congratulations on your new home! While walls are an important ingredient in design, I recommend waiting on paint colors for the majority of the house until you've made some decisions about furnishings. You don't want to paint twice. 

That said, color can be a great starting point for a nursery, so in that room, you might as well start with paint. To pick a color, consider gender, come up with a list of favorites (or least favorites). Nail down the ideal color and that can serve as an inspiration point for the rest of the room.

Recently, I moved into an 1890 Gothic Revival townhouse (think church windows). I love it! My living room was already painted a lovely aqua that works great with my yellow floral chintz sofas, my raspberry and turquoise Persian rug, and my grandmother's chair that I received when she moved into a retirement home at 99 (BTW, she's almost 103 now and doing fine!). I recovered the chair in a raspberry/white/pink Ikat fabric from Mitchell Gold and had an ottoman made for it. Also in the room are a turquoise carved Chinese bar cabinet, an antique Chinese money chest as a coffee table, and a teak silver chest my mother got in Guam. As for art, I have a Mayan depiction of a chieftain. It all goes together really well and it came together when I moved from items that were previously in other rooms. Love this room - very comfortable.

Sounds amazing! That ikat fabric must be gorgeous. And what a wonderful townhouse it must be with all those Gothic details. Thanks for sharing this.

Love your catalog. How does living in the Bay area affect your style? It seems to be very refreshing for us on the East Coast to look at but sometimes I struggle with how to integrate it into my home.

Thank you for the kind words. That's a great question. The Bay Area is relatively season-less. That means sometimes we wear sandals in the winter and boots in the summer. My style is rather rule-free because everything goes out here. 

California style is based on lifestyle, and lifestyle is based on weather. I grew up on the East Coast and understand the challenge of integrating our approach into your four seasons. With four seasons, I'm a big believer in layering. A layered approach helps you build warmth and take it away as needed. When I was growing up, four seasons meant four looks in the house. Today, I think fewer rules apply whether you're West or East Coast. Fall does not necessarily mean burgundy. It can mean grass green, regardless of weather temperatures. I recommend you cast off the notion of seasonal aesthetics, think about what's practical for you and your family, and try living as though there are no seasons. 


What is a really fresh color combination for a bedroom?

There's an endless array of great color combinations for a bedroom. The first question I would ask is what effect are you going for - calm and serene, vibrant and cheerful, or cocooning and moody. Examples of serene would be aqua, gray and ivory. Cheerful could be grass green and coral. Moody could be deep navy paired with camel.

I have stairs on my second floor going to a small third floor room (was an attic, converted to guest room). I want to replace the stair treds some day (something nicer than pine), but as an interim step, thinking about painting them to make it more interesting. Any suggestions on painting stairs? Dark color? Light color? One color on the tred (where your foot goes), another on the vertical piece (at the back of the tred, no idea what that's called). Thanks!

Painting over wood in a stairwell is a very inexpensive way to create big impact. I'm a big fan of contrast on stairs. I love black treds with contrast on the riser - which could be white or could be a color, or several different colors for that matter. That's your place to play. 

I love bold color and texture. My living room has a nobbly sage green sofa from Room and Board. Hanging above it is a Pendleton 'Corn Maidens' saddle blanket - a wonderful wedding present. On the sofa are two cushions made by a friend/designer - she appliqued and oversowed material she cut out from fantastic colorful green birds in Nineteen Fifties curtains/tea towels/material that she collects. The back has an excellent olive green African print. The whole effect really worked out and I did a short video for my graphic design company blog post on using color and texture. In addition, the saddle blanket is also meaningful as the friend who gave it to us at that time worked for an American Indian education non-profit and one of their recipients designed this blanket.

It sounds very cool. Lots of personal statements. Thanks.

I'm not a risk-taker when it comes to design. That being said, I've found that tone on tone patterns go with just about everything, especially if there is a neutral undertone (like gray, or tan). I used a patterned fabric with ivory and tan in my bedroom that goes really well with my lime green accent pieces (vases, a bowl, and artwork).

Love the lime.

Wanted to offer my perspective on the question in the paper today as I painted the cabinets in our beach condo several years ago. I did it myself with 1 and 2 inch angled brushes, one coat of primer and 2 coats of semigloss paint. It took several weekends, mostly because I had to do it in the living room (no garage or outdoor space) and there was only room for a few doors/drawers at a time. The result is totally worth it--they went from a tired brown to a happy apple green, and even made the beige countertops and flooring and ivory appliances look fresher. I replaced the brass hinges and pulls with white and painted the walls cream. The monetary investment was minimal. I say go for it!

That is so nice of you to share your experience. So glad it worked out for you. Here is the article about painting kitchen cabinets.

I love neutrals,such as brown and taupe and greige. I need,however,some type of color accents. What do you suggest?

There are so many great contrasts to neutrals that allow you to create just about any effect. The effect you want to create is personal, but some of my favorites are greige with brownish pinks, which is calm and feminine. I love camels mixed with hot coral for something more lively. I think greys and taupes pair beautifully with pale aqua. And for sharper effect I love that range with black and white for a surprise crispy effect.

My husband & I finally bought a winter home in Florida, as we have two daughters and their families in the area, we are keeping our Maryland home and living there most of the year. We have hired a Home Watch company in Florida to watch over our house, and I'd like to find one here in Maryland to take care of this one while we are away. Surely with all the snowbirds here there must be a company. Our daughters are not an option because they will be spending time down there with us. And Home Watch people are trained in taking care of homes while people are away.

Does anyone have a recommendation?

I'm going to be painting a room with an exposed brick wall on one side and wood floors. The brick is red with some dark navy-blue bricks mixed in. I would like to decorate the room to evoke some natural settings, such as the redwood forests on the west coast. I am thinking a light gray-green color on the walls would be great for complimenting the brick, and maybe a light cream-colored area rug and light yellow accents. Do you have any suggestions? I'm a big fan of using color, and it's been so frustrating to look at home design websites and see nothing but white and neutrals!

The most important part of decorating is that it pleases your eye when you walk into the room. If you love the brick unpainted, allow it to be a focal point and choose colors that contrast it. A light grey-green could definitely do this. However, adding yellows to a scheme of brick, navy and green might get a bit overwhelming. I would recommend sticking with this range of color and working within that palette. 

They are a great alarm company, with mobile response units and will provide some services while you're away like plant watering.

Wow. That was fast. Thanks so much for your suggestion!

I was hoping to make sofa pillows in the same bright blue tweed Knoll wool fabric left over from recovering a vintage Womb chair. They would go on the black sofa across the room from the chair, to balance the color in the room (and add to the two gray print pillows already there). My husband thinks that will be too match-matchy." What do you think? (The furniture in the room is all black and walnut pieces.)

This sounds like a great idea. If there's a pop color in a room, adding more of that color will help you balance the room, within reason (a chair and two pillows is just enough).

It was great having you on the chat. Now we know a bit about the person behind the brand, your design philosophy and some of your tips.

The winner of the Barbara Barry book is the person with the sage green sofa and CornMaiden's saddle blanket. Please email me your mailing address at See you all next week. Thanks again Serena.

Settling into my first owned property. If you were building a design/decorating library of books that were both useful and beautiful, what books would make the foundation?

This is such a good question. It all depends on your style and interest. However, there are certain books that are coffee table mainstays in decorating like The Cabinet of Natural Curiosities. It's one of the most beautiful books ever made and is fascinating to look through. It's the centerpiece of any library or coffee table. My second favorite design/art book to look at and read is Pucci's retrospective, titled Pucci. If you can still find it, each one is wrapped in an original, vintage Pucci scarf. I would highly recommend for rare and out of print books. The most delightful part of building a design library is exploring your visual interests, so make it personal, poke around and see what books speak to you.

Thank you, Jura, and thanks so much to everyone who participated in today’s discussion. It was such a pleasure. -SD

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archiveFind Jura on Pinterest
Serena Dugan
Serena Dugan, co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Serena & Lily, is an established designer and painter.
Recent Chats
  • Next: