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How Designer Diana James Launched Her Own Line

You don't have to be an HGTV star to launch your own product line. See how this Massachusetts-based interior designer used local talents to open her store - Living Swell - and launch her product line.

Alison Martin
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Diana James cuts the ribbon at the grand opening party of Living Swell on Feb. 16, 2017.
Diana James cuts the ribbon at the grand opening party of Living Swell on Feb. 16, 2017.

Last Thursday night, interior designer Diana James cut the ribbon in her brand new store, Living Swell. Located in Marblehead, MA, Living Swell offers “refurbished mid-century furniture, handmade artisan decor, wall and floor coverings, custom window treatments, textiles, art, decor and design.” It's also home to James' new line of leather handbags and the center of her interior design business, East Coast Design.

As an interior designer with almost 16 years of experience, James primarily worked with clients to develop their own aesthetic, but now she's the one calling the design shots. Here's how she did it.

Tapping Local Talent

When James first considered opening her own store, she planned to sell pieces from local artists that fit into her own aesthetic — a clean, modern, ocean-style design — but as she poured over products, she caught the design bug herself. So far, she's designed two leather handbags and is working on an evening bags collection, a wall covering line and a lighting line. 

Big-name designers like Joanna Gaines have extensive networks of fabricators, manufacturers and marketers to work with, but for new designers, finding talent to jumpstart the brand can be a challenge. James turned to her community and reached out to local artists and fabricators through Business Network International, which is where she met the leather fabricator for her handbags. The two may not have the same design styles, but the leather fabricator's work spoke for itself.

"Her style was not my style," James admits, "but I really liked her work and the quality of her work.”

For help designing her space, James turned to the tradespeople she'd built relationships with through her interior design work. She worked with the same few electricians and carpenters on her other interior design projects over the years, so she felt comfortable pursuing her design ambitions.

"In doing my own store," she said, "I was really committed to showing my own aesthetic.”

Setting Up

James first had a space that she shared with another company on Boylston Street in Boston, but commuting and sharing the space just didn't work for her. She later went back to her own home office and waited patiently for the perfect space to open in Marblehead.

"I had my eye open for some retail spaces, and I saw that this space became available and it just worked out,” she explains.

Once James had the storefront, the real work began. The space needed to be redesigned to fit James' needs and aesthetic, and though she had experience designing commercial experiences, she still had to meet building codes and city ordinances. That meant working closely with electricians and carpenters as well as member of the local chamber of commerce. 

By far the biggest challenge for Living Swell was getting everything set up before opening day. James wanted to open the store in November 2016, just in time for the holiday season, but there were a few setbacks. For one thing, the previous owners had left a massive hole in the cement floor that needed to be repaired. Though the store opened on time, James felt she wasn't as prepared as she could've been. 

For all her hard work, James can already see the fruits of her labor. Northshore magazine nominated Living Swell for its Best of Northshore 2017 award, a significant honor considering the store's been open since November. In the meantime though, James hopes her store will attract clients who share her aesthetic.

"In having your own retail store," she says, "I think that it really shows potential design clients what you can do. Putting things together by being able to walk into an actual space is really important and has a huge impact.”

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