My Business Journey With… Serena Fresson

My Business Journey With… Serena Fresson

Serena Fresson trained as a designer and, while raising her four children, helped create the interiors of the Chelsea hotel owned by her husband. But it wasn’t until her late 50s that she got her first 'official job' as director of design of Mrs Alice, her daughter’s tableware and tablescaping company. Serena’s unique way of putting together high-street finds with luxe buys to create work-of-art table settings has seen the company become the go-to destination for beautiful tableware and accessories. Here, Serena tells us about getting to grips with the business world later in life, how it feels to be busier than ever, and why working with her family has only strengthened their relationship.
Photography: @SERENA_FRESSON

After going to design school, my first job was designing dresses for Sarah Spencer. In my early 20s, I moved to New York with my first husband and spent the following years as a full-time mother. When I married my second husband, who owned the hotel 11 Cadogan Gardens in Chelsea, I helped him run it and became involved in the interiors. It had 66 rooms which we ran like a private house, and I helped keep the interiors up to date, as well as working very closely with the housekeepers to ensure all the everyday details were perfect. We redecorated the hotel room by room, which was a continual task, and totally transformed it. The design process usually started with finding a hero fabric and finding inspiration from that. We sold the hotel just over ten years ago, but I loved working there, and it taught me so many things which I’ve been able to use in my current role at Mrs Alice.
As well as running the hotel, we also owned a nearby gym in Chelsea called Synergy. It was a huge amount of work, but it was incredibly interesting to have another side project to work on. Running a business was more old-school in those days and we didn’t have the luxury of the internet to help us source products – catalogues really were the go-to.
Up until now, most of my adult life has been spent raising my four children. I had my first daughter Alice when I was 26, and my other children shortly afterwards. I’ve always found motherhood to be very fulfilling – it’s definitely my greatest achievement. We all admire, respect and love each other, and we all have a great relationship with one another.
I’ve always been interested in design and colour, and have loved tablescaping for many years. For me, it’s a form of therapy, like painting a picture. Back in the 90s, I’d always lay a beautiful table for dinner, even if it was just for me and my husband. There’s been lots of research to suggest that there are myriad benefits for people who lay a table – the food tastes better, guests stay longer and the senses are lifted. If I don’t set a table now, I feel quite low during mealtimes – it definitely makes a big difference to my mood.
I didn’t consciously choose tablescaping as a career, rather, it chose me. Around three years ago, I was gifted a tablecloth by a lovely American girl, and it all started from there. I started posting pictures of my designs on Instagram and was overwhelmed with the positive response I got – more and more people seemed interested in my creations. Then, I became director of design at my daughter’s tablescaping company, Mrs Alice in September 2020. It’s the first ‘official’ job I’ve ever had and I adore it. At the age of 60, I’ve never been busier.

For me, Instagram is a source of inspiration as well as an incredible tool for connecting with likeminded people and other designers.
For me, Instagram is a source of inspiration as well as an incredible tool for connecting with likeminded people and other designers.

Mrs Alice was born in September 2019 after Alice had the idea of putting Christmas ‘in a box’. Each one was filled with a festive tablescape, including linens and accessories to make a beautifully festive table. No one knew whether it was going to work or not, but Alice was determined to bring her idea to light. Alice and her brother-in-law went to Paris to source the products and the rest is history. Mrs Alice is very much a family business and there are several of us involved, alongside our wider team.
Instagram has been a great platform for the business, and I’ve managed to organically gain a bit of a following on my own page. I’ve never had a social media strategy so I’m glad people have managed to find me and engage with my posts. When Alice reposts a picture of one of my designs, my followers seem to shoot up. During the pandemic, people have become increasingly interested with their home and right now tablescaping is huge. For me, Instagram is a source of inspiration as well as an incredible tool for connecting with likeminded people and other designers. My children say I’m too wordy with my posts, but I think people like to know the story behind my designs. People message me with such kind words and lovely feedback, which makes everything worthwhile. I’m incredibly luckily that I haven’t had to deal with the nasty side of social media.

I’m quite good with technology so working in the digital age has been relatively easy. At the age of 60, I’m learning more and more – especially during lockdown where we’re all working remotely. From using Google docs to having Zoom meetings, I’ve learnt so much in the last couple of years. I’ve still got more to learn and I’m not nearly as tech savvy as I’d like to be. As a design business, it’s much easier of course to work alongside a team who are in the same room as you, but we’ve found new ways of working. Zoom is a lifesaver!
I wouldn’t say I’m totally up to speed within the industry. The company is very much led by Alice and we have a great team behind us. As the director of design, my role is wonderfully creative, so I’m grateful to focus on something I know and love. It’s a very collaborative effort – I don’t mind if people don’t take my advice or agree will all of my designs. I’m very open-minded about other people’s ideas.
It feels amazing to be busier than ever before. I’m incredibly lucky to be doing what I’m doing at this stage in my life, and to have responsibility within the company. Alongside the business, I’m also working on a range of fabric and wallpaper for our new house. I love working on anything creative, and I feel so fortunate to have lots of things to occupy my time, especially during lockdown. Before the pandemic, I was asked to create my own coffee table book which was a huge honour. At the moment, it’s on the backburner but it’ll hopefully be published in the future.

It’s the first ‘official’ job I’ve ever had and I adore it. At the age of 60, I’ve never been busier.

I’m not a very confident person within myself, but I am confident about design. I know what I like and I have a clear creative vision. My followers on Instagram have boosted my confidence and it’s helped me visualise what other people like too. At Mrs Alice, we have to cater to lots of people with different tastes – you can’t just create what you love. Being part of such a positive online community has been hugely beneficial.
I love working with my family and our relationship has only got stronger. I adore working with Alice – we’ve never disagreed or thrown our toys out of the pram. I’m not a confrontational person at all and Alice is very laidback, so there are never any problems which is incredibly lucky. Alice has amazing drive and I’m so proud of what she’s achieved. We’ve always been very close but working together has only strengthened our relationship. As a business, of course there are stressful times and challenges along the way – Brexit and the pandemic has made it difficult – but we’ve found ways of working through these challenges together.
One of my greatest achievements is raising my four children with my husband. They’re incredibly kind and thoughtful of others. Each one is generous and spirited – that’s what one wants in life, to raise good people you can be proud of. We’re all very supportive of each other and I speak to my children every day, usually on their way to work. I have huge admiration for women who have had careers and brought up children simultaneously, but the opportunity never arose for me. Looking back, the career I have now would have been my dream job when I was younger, so it’s all worked out.
For those who might be thinking about starting a business or trying something new later in life, my advice is to follow your instinct. Find something you love, and then find a niche within that. It doesn’t have to be glamorous – my grandfather made rubber washers for pipes! It’s important to be true to yourself, and work on something you really believe in. In this digital age, anything is possible for women in their 50s and beyond. Whether it’s starting your own website or creating a brand, it’s easier than ever to try things for yourself. Technology only makes it easier for us, so we have to take advantage of that. You don’t have to be a technical genius; you simply need an idea and a small gap in the market to get started.

When we started the business, we didn’t realise how quickly it would grow. Right now, we want to keep innovating and creating things that people love. At the moment, we’re working on our Christmas collection which is very exciting. We want to carry on evolving, continue with the momentum we’ve built and keep sourcing fantastic products. We listen to our customers and we want to see what gaps we can fill – what colours do people want right now? What are they searching for? We’ve all been surprised by how the business has evolved, though we’re under constant pressure to come up with new ideas and keep innovating. It’s exciting, and I can’t wait to see where the business goes in the future.

To be successful, you should do something you’re afraid of. You’ve got to push yourself and do things outside of your comfort zone. For me, filming the SheerLuxe show a couple of years ago was incredibly nerve-wracking but I’m so glad I did it. I also have to film content for the Mrs Alice website and Instagram, but I can never bring myself to watch anything back. It might feel terrifying at the time, but the end result will always be worth it.
My mother has always given me great advice that’s stayed with me, both personally and professionally. “What goes around comes around” and “Chickens come home to roost” are good words to live by. You have to be true to yourself and be honest.
I find my creative inspiration in nature, books and films. When it comes to tablescaping, I think some of my designs can be quite limited – I use lots of blue and green which is my go-to colour palette – but I’m glad I have a signature style. Today, there’s inspiration everywhere, especially on platforms like Instagram and Pinterest.
Tablescaping is all about layering. I’m a great believer in a tablecloth. Not only is it a great base layer, but it also helps protect the table. After choosing the right cloth, I begin layering on top of that. Often, I go backwards and forwards, taking off a plate, then putting it back and deciding what works best with the design I have in mind. Tablescaping is like a painting which must have balance. In my previous house, we had a beautiful garden and I’d often start with some flowers or herbs. Big bowls of rosemary make a wonderful centrepiece, though I don’t like to use too many flowers.

Want to get the look? Here are some of the names Serena relies on time and again...

Daylesford – One of my favourite table accessories is a Daylesford bowl which I usually turn into a centrepiece. I also love to use resin artichokes which look beautiful with blue and white china bowls. A really fantastic centrepiece is key, once you’ve got one in place, you can then work outwards. 

Fiona Finds – Fiona is a great friend of mine, and she also creates beautiful high-end pieces which I like to mix in with high-street accessories from H&M and Zara. 

eBay – It's such a good way to find unique accessories ­– remember, not everything has to be expensive. Mix and match your pieces for a more natural, curated display. 

Setting Pretty – You'll find a wonderful selection of table accessories here.
Bernard Thorp & Co – Based in Chelsea, this is one of my favourite interiors brands. You can create or bespoke make any fabric and their designs are remarkable. 

Paolo Moschino – Talented beyond belief, his styling is exquisite. 

Rapture & Wright – They make some of the best hand-painted fabrics and wallpapers on the market. 

Empel Collections – Based in the Netherlands, this is where to find some of the most unique antique-style lighting fixtures. 

Rosanna Lonsdale – She probably needs no introduction, but if you're not familiar, she creates wonderful lamps. 

Meg Braff – My go-to place for wallpaper. She made me a bespoke wallpaper for my dining room called Upper Tree which is now permanently part of her collection.

Visit and follow @Serena_Fresson

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