We were beyond excited to chat with home-design guru Niki Serras, who's half of the two-sister team behind the successful Scavolini by Cucina Moda — a full-service remodeling firm that assists its stylish clients in creating the kitchen or bathroom of their dreams. Founded in 2010 with stores in Detroit and Chicago, the company is well-loved for its emphasis on contemporary concepts and sleek, Italian-inspired designs. We picked Niki's brain to get the inside scoop on her personal story, business journey, design inspiration and tips — and of course, her favorite fashion and lifestyle picks!

{SS}: Can you tell us a bit about your personal background, and what inspired you and your sister to start Scavolini by Cucina Moda?

{Niki}: I grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and completed my bachelor’s at the University of Michigan. After graduating, I lived, worked and studied abroad in Athens, Greece. It was the most exciting and challenging two years of my life. When I moved back home, I graduated with a master’s inNiki and her sister, Alisha Serras. PR/communication from LaSalle University and started working at the University of Michigan Health System in project administration. While it was really interesting work, I wasn’t completely satisfied with my day-to-day responsibilities and ability to grow. 

In early 2010, my sister had an epiphany to start a business selling Scavolini kitchens. She dropped out of her PhD program in clinical psychology, and I quit my job at the University of Michigan to work with her. Her husband, Brian Gamache, completes the trifecta and does all of our construction. The store, Scavolini by Cucina Moda, opened in downtown Birmingham, Mich., in September 2010.

At that time, it was the worst economic depression of our generation, and everyone was upside-down on their mortgages. The fact that we opened a business in the residential housing industry was pretty risky. Everyone told us we were insane! We bulldozed our way through the first couple of years, and we stayed open out of sheer will-power and determination. In hindsight, it was the best time to start a new business because everything started improving in 2011. Our naiveté of the situation was definitely a benefit; we didn’t know enough to be too scared to try. In January 2014, we opened our second location in the Merchandise Mart of downtown Chicago. We are growing steadily, adding staff and learning how to manage multiple stores. It’s been almost five years, and every day is exciting and challenging.

{SS}: What type of customer is shopping at your stores?

{Niki}: Demographically, our clients don’t have a lot in common in terms of age or gender. The one thing they all share is a love of good design and an interest in self-expression through their homes. It’s not that unlike fashion, except instead of Vogue or InStyle, they’re reading Dwell and Architectural Digest.

{SS}: Do you have any advice for those trying to remodel their kitchens or bathrooms?

{Niki}: My best advice is to do your research! There’s a lot out there that may be outside of the norm. Secondly, find a good team of people that you trust and do good work. We pride ourselves certainly on great design, but also on maintaining great relationships with all of our clients. Every home we work on is treated as if it’s our own.  

{SS}: What’s the best part of your job?

{Niki}: Not having a boss telling me what to do!

{SS}: What’s your secret to work/life balance?

{Niki}: I work with my sister, so that definitely helps, and I have a very supportive husband.

{SS}: Where do you turn for design inspiration?

{Niki}: I find inspiration everywhere! Honestly, I really love Instagram. I follow fashion and design accounts of both major brands as well as bloggers. My favorites are @designsponge, @bebitalia, @designmilk, @modernica and @remodelista.

Now, on to your personal style…

{SS}: Do you have a signature accessory?

{Niki}: I have a gold necklace that belonged to my grandmother. She passed away a few years ago, and I put it on and pretty much never took it off.

{SS}: What are a few items in your Styleshack (aka closet) that you simply can't live without?

{Niki}: These big, silver stud earrings that I wore so much they’re currently broken; it’s awful! Also, a Shinola watch because it’s retro and functional, and high-waisted jeans. I wear jeans every day, and the high waist fits my body type best. It adds a little style to an otherwise very casual outfit.

{SS}: What’s your style archetype?

{SS:}: Can you share a few of your favorite items currently available on Styleshack.com?

{Niki}: Right now, I'm loving the Circe necklace from POUND Jewelry, the Letarte Long-Sleeve Beach Top from SHE and the Mid-Rise Crop Skinny Fray Jeans from Zieben-Mare.                  

{SS}: What are your favorite local boutiques?

{Niki}: Cusp by Neiman Marcus at Somerset Collection, Rococo in Birmingham and Zara in Chicago.

{SS}: What are your favorite local restaurants?

{Niki}: Pizzeria Biga, Bacco, Mitchell’s Fish Market, Imperial, Royal Oak Brewery, Bistro 82, Commonwealth and Greek Isles.

{SS}: When it comes to music, what's your jam?

{Niki}: Anything and everything on Pandora that’s chill and eclectic (we play it at the stores). Ellie Goulding, Phoenix and Vampire Weekend are some of my personal favorites. I grew up with rap/R&B, so I also constantly listen to 97.9 FM.

{SS}: What are you currently reading?

{Niki}: I typically trade between fiction and business books. Right now, I’m reading How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, and I just finished the Divergent Trilogy.

{SS}: What are your words to live by?

“Everybody look at you strange, say you changed. Like you work that hard to stay the same.” -JayZ