Diana James Offers Advice on Living Swell

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Text by Kaitlin Madden

If you walked into Living Swell, the Marblehead boutique owned by veteran designer Diana James, and didn’t want to leave, no one would blame you. The store is full of finds that epitomize James’s enviable, casual-yet-sophisticated style: one-of-a-kind artisan-made candles, hand-picked accents chosen for their originality, and works from local artists along with curated pieces from heritage brands like Duralee and Kravet.

The good news, should you indeed not want to leave? In a way, you don’t have to.

In addition to her role as shopkeeper, James runs a full-scale interior design business, East Coast Design, and works on a wide range of projects, from helping customers choose the perfect fabric for reupholstering a sofa, to spearheading large-scale renovations and new builds.

James created Living Swell in order to build a visual, tactile representation of her design aesthetic through the things she personally loves, with the goal of inspiring both casual customers and clientele looking for a more in-depth design direction.

“The store allows me to connect with and work with people on all different levels,” says James. “Instead of looking at photos of my work on Instagram or in ads, this is the way I inspire and connect with people, whether it’s someone coming in looking for a light fixture, or someone who’s planning to reupholster a sofa or renovate a bathroom.”

Are you inspired? James offers the following advice for mirroring the Living Swell aesthetic.


1. That Kelly Green Fireplace

“The first thing that elicits a reaction when someone walks into the shop is the Kelly green fireplace with the Phillip Jeffries grass cloth behind it. That color combo is the driving force behind Living Swell: We are bold, beachy, and a little preppy. Painting the McIntrye mantel high-gloss Kelly green took some risk, but the impact it makes is powerful. My advice is to take a design risk, make it big, and own it. The unexpected is much more interesting and genuine.”


2. Fall for Fabric
“Our fabric samples and large array of fabric books entice customers to browse and find a fabric that speaks to them. We offer the entire collection of Clarke and Clarke, Kravet Couture, Ralph Lauren, James Hare and others that are kid, pet, and outdoor friendly. Textiles can be a big investment, and an economical way to incorporate more expensive fabrics is to use them in smaller quantities. Think custom pillows or as trim to window treatments and furniture.”


3. Develop an Interest in Art
“Living Swell is a lifestyle that embodies an easy elegance, and the art we exhibit always has a lighthearted, graceful vibe. Original art is special, and there is always a story behind it. Allow yourself to become emotionally attached to art. It’s good to understand an artist and the value of the work, but most of all, you want to fall in love with your art.”


4. It’s Possible to Decorate Sustainably
“Sustainable living is making an impact on our selections for furnishings and finishes. Clients are asking for products that are responsibly manufactured, handcrafted, sustainable, and as Earth friendly as possible. I recommend one of the several innovative decor and furniture lines we have partnered with that have captured the balance between beautiful and inspired designs through sustainability.”


5. You Can Update Your Space Without Redesigning it
“When clients have the itch to change something in their spaces, but aren’t ready to buy a new sofa, unique side chairs are a great way to change the look of a room. I believe that every room should have an element of the unexpected, and chairs are a great way to get that impact without redecorating the whole room.”


There’s another thing you should know about James. If she can’t find something special enough for her store or a project, she creates it herself. James has partnerships with local workrooms to create custom furnishings and window treatments, and she designs everything from kitchen cabinetry to space plans for her larger jobs. “Living Swell is like a little design center,” she says with a laugh. “I really want to be a local resource for high-quality products and services, whether it’s a really cool handmade candle, or custom window treatments, or a re-upholstery, or a complete renovation project.”

That sounds pretty swell, doesn’t it?

Living Swell, Marblehead, Mass., 781-990-5150

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