Avery Solmssen ’04 and Lily Kanter collaborate to open full-service design studio
Avery Solmssen likens her first meeting with a potential client as a date, posing the question to herself: “Do we match?” Apparently, during her initial encounter with Serena & Lily CEO, Lily Kanter, the two immediately clicked. In addition to colors and textures, they talked about interior design and Solmssen’s approach to her own work, all the while developing a burgeoning close personal relationship.
“I really like to get to know my clients before I fully commit to a job,” says Solmssen, who graduated with her BFA in Interior Design from Chaminade in 2004. “Every project takes on a different life; no two projects are ever alike.”
Interior design has a timeless appeal as a profession, drawing talented individuals who possess a passion for creativity, aesthetics and transforming spaces into functional works of art. That appeal, in part, is the reason Solmssen pivoted from her first career in education. After earning her bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Colorado in 1998, Solmssen changed her mind about getting her degree in Special Education, choosing instead to pursue her BFA in Interior Design at Chaminade University.
“At the time, I was a teacher with Assets School, and I really enjoyed working with the kids,” Solmssen says. “But I’ve always had an interest in interior design so I chose to change careers.”
When the term “interior design” comes up, it often evokes images of HGTV, room-makeover challenges or DIY decor projects on Pinterest. However, what they’re actually envisioning is interior decorating. Although decorating contributes to crafting functional and aesthetically pleasing living spaces, the role of an interior designer stands apart from interior decorating in significant ways.
Though there are areas of common ground between interior design and interior decorating, they are inherently distinct. Interior design involves the fusion of art and science to comprehend human behavior, thereby crafting functional spaces within a structure. Conversely, interior decorating focuses on furnishing or embellishing a space with decorative elements to achieve a specific aesthetic. In essence, interior designers may engage in decorating, whereas decorators do not engage in design.
During the pandemic, Kanter purchased a home on Hawaii Island that was move-in ready, replete with reclaimed wood and a natural palette of colors and varying patterns. After asking her realtor for the designer’s name, Kanter connected with Solmssen, who was then a senior designer at the Honolulu-based firm Philpotts Interiors.
“Meli James (co-founder of Mana Up and president of the Hawaii Venture Capital Association) introduced me to Lilly at an event,” Solmssen recalls. “We met in 2018 in Mauna Kea, and she has been a mentor to me ever since.”
She is now also a business partner, with the two collaborating to open their portmanteau Averylily Design Studio in 2022 and Averylily Home Collection this past January.
“It was all Lily’s idea,” Solmssen says. “She encouraged me to work on my own, which I knew would be different after always having worked for someone else for the past 22 years.”
One of the greatest motives for Solmssen’s willingness to open a design studio was to be able to keep jobs in Hawaii, and hire local talent. She believes that it’s important to support Hawaii’s future designers and to mentor them, like Kanter has mentored her.
“We do a lot of team bonding,” says Gerlie “Gigi” Valiente ’17, a fellow Chaminade alumnus, who Solmssen brought on to be a designer with Averylily Design Studio. “I’ve learned a lot from Avery who taught me that we need to learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations, and it’s not always about being right.”
Since opening their design studio and now a home collection that carries such household basics as linens, home décor, tabletop accessories and beach towels—all inspired by Hawaii’s natural beauty and designed in Hawaii—Solmssen and Kanter are able to offer a comprehensive interior-design service for both renovations and new construction.
“One of our main goals is to keep jobs in Hawaii,” Solmssen emphasizes. “We want our local high school and college students to be able to come to our studio, and to develop their skills and apply them in real life.”