When Eileen Alexanian and Ken Kelley left New York City to vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, they never expected it to be a life changing trip. But the husband and wife jewelry team, who’d worked in the heart of the New York Diamond District for years, found the slower pace of life and the friendliness of the people irresistible. In 1992, with 20 years of jewelry experience between them, they packed their belongings, expertise and their signature style to move down south to the small town of Manteo, North Carolina.
Manteo, located on Roanoke Island, is part of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and covers a mere 1.8 square miles. With only 1200 residents, it’s a far cry from 47th Street in the Big Apple where Ken worked for a veteran retailer and Eileen for a manufacturer. But the visionaries jumped at the chance to open their own metropolitan jewelry store serving clients’ with their version of southern hospitality and moved into a small, 800 square foot waterfront retail space.
“We wanted to create something special, a store that brought opulence to our customers in a way that made it affordable,” explains Eileen. “We wanted to create a jewelry experience that was as artistic as it was attainable. We wanted to carry something for every member of the family, like a true mom and pop store, but do it in a luxurious, artistic way.”
With an eye for design Eileen and Ken set out to make their vision come true. After establishing their customer base, they expanded their waterfront space from 800 to 2500 square feet and, in doing so, underwent a huge redesign.
Creating an interior impressive enough to match Eileen’s vision required professional designer Wes Stetson, who helped bring to life the ocean and diamond themed interior that won 3rd place in the 2003 America’s Coolest Stores contest by InStore magazine. Calling the interior “coolly opulent,” representing both “luxury [and] individuality,” the pink marble floor, snow-white baby grand piano and Italian chandeliers added the wow factor the designing couple were looking for.
Never ones to settle, they dreamed of even bigger ways to deliver their signature unique style while tapping into the rich tourist population that averages 400,000 a year. In 2007 they moved the store to the main road in Kitty Hawk and, once again, went about making interior design magic inside their four walls.
“We started our current 4000 square foot store with a large 10 x 10 vault. It was the first piece we put in and what we built the store around. From there we added a mezzanine with high vaulted ceilings where we house our Pandora, Kameleon and Angelica collections.”
Eileen and Ken kept the aquatic theme in their second store not only in the color choices of white, sand and light blue, but also in the 20 foot mermaid mural complete with a mirror that is surrounded by angels and housing the Diamonds ‘n Dunes logo.
As lovers of art the couple chose a variety of sculptures and, with the help of their designer Wes Stetson, agreed to have lines resembling waves created on the walls and then dotted with 3D metallic shells.
Eileen explains, “It’s not overdone. Its Versace meets the Outer Banks! We’ve included King Neptune, a huge sculpture of the Rolls Royce hood ornament, called ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’, and flowing rolls of satin material that hang from the ceiling. It feels elegant and gives a heavenly hue of light that reminds people of Venice.”
Attributing her eye for aesthetics to her New York roots, Eileen’s ability to put color, texture and quality together, while remaining individualistic, keeps locals and tourists coming back for more.
But make no mistake, their customers are just as enamored with the couple’s jewelry know-how as they are with their interior design talents. With Eileen certified as an AGS Certified Gemologist Appraiser and Ken’s expertise on the bench, the couple can handle any repair or customization that walks into their store.
Likewise, having experience in both the manufacturing and retail side of the business gives them the unique perspective of being the conduit through which jewelry designers share their talents with gracious, grateful consumers.
Eileen Alexanian and Ken Kelley designed Outer Banks, NC-based Diamonds ‘n Dunes with an ocean theme.
“We are fortunate to meet all the people who participate in the making of a piece of jewelry. These people pour themselves into their work and Ken and I understand how many people touch a single piece before it is given to its owner. Likewise, as jewelers, we get to meet the people who own the pieces. We get to see their excitement, something the craftsmen miss. It’s what keeps us passionate about what we do.”