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Judy Foreman: DIANI Living Boutique Stages a World Premiere of Its Own

Husband-wife duo of Caroline Diani and Jeffrey Doornbos brings a homey vibe to their new creation in Arlington Plaza

Caroline Diani and Jeffrey Doornbos recenty opened their collaborative DIANI Living boutique in Arlington Plaza in downtown Santa Barbara. They held a grand opening on a recent Thursday for more than 150 of their closest friends. Click to view larger
Caroline Diani and Jeffrey Doornbos recenty opened their collaborative DIANI Living boutique in Arlington Plaza in downtown Santa Barbara. They held a grand opening on a recent Thursday for more than 150 of their closest friends. (DIANI Living photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

With all the action going on across the street at the Arlington Theatre during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, another star-studded crowd was attending an opening-night soiree on a recent Thursday at DIANI Living.

The store, at 1324 State St. in the Arlington Plaza, is Caroline Diani’s latest entry in her retail trifecta. Let’s face it, this girl’s got game!

None of it has come easy for Diani, a Brit who was born in Kenya but raised in England, where she studied design at Kingston University in London. She relocated to Santa Barbara permanently in 1999.

In her 13th year in business, Diani has achieved bricks-and-mortar success in the midst of the online-buying craze that will not go away. What’s her secret? For starters, accessible locations, spot-on buying, service, community philanthropy and a loyal customer base that wants the experience of touching — in person — what they are buying.

As Diani said in a previous Noozhawk feature, e-commerce is different.

“It’s global, and it means one has to speak louder and the message has to be a lot clearer,” she said. “You have to prove yourself, pay your dues and earn cachet all over again.”

The Arlington Plaza store is Diani’s first collaboration with her husband, Jeffrey Doornbos. The couple married in 2013 in a ceremony at El Presidio Real de Santa Bárbara with an after-party at their Mission Canyon home.

Diani’s well-established brand of casual elegance blended seamlessly with Doornbos’ more masculine aesthetics.

“We search for objects for the DIANI Living store that are not only beautiful and useful but have a story to tell,” said Doornbos, an actor, writer and photographer.

“We live in such a disposable world, it’s nice to support artisans who create objects that will get handed down from generation to generation.”

The couple try to carry items they would like in their own home they share with their two dogs, Plum and Raisin. The merchandise, which will always be evolving, and does reflect their love of California, is also inspired by their travels.

The DIANI store, located next to Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro, took more than two months for the build-out. Cosmetic improvements include wall coverings, custom shelving units and a sliding barn door. The floor is exposed concrete and most of the materials used were reclaimed or repurposed.

The 600-square-foot jewel box includes a space to shoot photos for Diani’s e-commerce site, where most of what they carry in the clothing and shoe store is featured. Meanwhile, one of the plans for 2015 is to offer a curated version of DIANI Living on Diani’s blog.

Diani and Doornbos want the store to feel lived in. Some of my favorite items from their opening month are reclaimed-wood dining tables and benches designed by the couple and made locally.

There are Japanese and Dutch garden tools, sun hats and imported towels. Bed throws they discovered on their honeymoon in Morocco are luxurious. Handmade pocket knives, handmade ceramic tableware, custom floor cushions upholstered with vintage Mongolian wedding blankets, one-off vintage lamps and tableware are just some of my must-haves.

To enhance the indoor-outdoor feeling, they partnered with Dalla Vita — a local succulent company owned by the brother-and-sister team of Cali and Elliott Dunn — to create their work in the store.

According to Diani, Dalla Vita “brings a living element to the space.” They do custom arrangements but always have a great selection of items in interesting containers, from gourds, ceramic to wood, and ready to go. They have the best hostess or house warming gifts that I’ve found this season.

The vibe in the store on the unseasonably warm opening night was one of feeling welcomed to Diani and Doornbos’ home. The 150-plus guests were served light bites by Asian fusion Sama Sama and served by several Diani employees, including teen Instagram phenom Haley Carrere and teen model Haley Powell.

Sunstone Wine was being poured and 24 Blackbirds served hot chocolate spiced with bourbon in vintage teacups. Renaud’s let them use the outdoor patio, where desserts of chocolate éclairs and “to-die for” and try to eat just one French macaroons were artfully arranged on high-top tables.

“We support each and help each other out whenever we can,” Diani said of fellow tenants at Arlington Plaza, which is owned by Robert Gilson.

As we chatted during the event, Diani and Doornbos smiled and looked at each other in agreement.

“Working together as married couple, it’s not for everyone,” Diani said. “We have separate strengths, but they compliment each other very well. After starting businesses on my own, it’s nice to have a partner, and to have that partner as my husband … that’s a real blessing.”

I wonder what’s next for the couple.

“Who knows,” Doornbos laughed. “Maybe we’ll make a movie and just walk across the street to see it.”

DIANI Living is located at 1324 State St. Click here for more information, or call 805.770.7043.

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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