A shared love of travel, textiles and homes that tell a story united the pair of designers behind Cloth & Kind.
By Lynne Konstantin
Krista Nye Nicholas has always had an intense passion for interior design — especially textiles. So the Chicago native did some soul-searching. “What can I do with this?” she asked herself. “Do I want to sew things?” She bought herself a sewing machine and, she says, “quickly learned, ‘Hell, no.’ ”
Nicholas had spent her professional life, close to 12 years, working in marketing and advertising for magazines in Chicago, mostly Glamour and Vanity Fair.
But years spent living in India as a child with her parents uncovered a more intrinsic connections. “Color, texture, pattern — it all stems from early in my life,” Nicholas says. “And I realized early on that it’s not about how expensive an item is, but how it affects you.”
So when her husband, Mike, got a job in the Ann Arbor area, Nicholas quit what she at one time thought was her dream job in advertising and launched a blog called Cloth. “I wrote about what I loved and what inspired me, often textiles,” she says.
She continued blogging throughout a pregnancy, and soon after her daughter was born, she helped to rehab a historic home with a builder.
“He told me I should be doing this as a career,” Nicholas says. “I told him I’m not an interior designer. He said he didn’t care and started referring me to people.”
Around the same time, Nicholas, 44, met a nurse, Tami Ramsay, online. “I came across a vintage chaise lounge on Pinterest and I commented, ‘Sold — I want it!’ ” It turned out the chaise belonged to Ramsay, who was launching her own design business in in Athens, Georgia.
“We just started chatting online, then emailing, then talking on the phone,” Nicholas says. “We became fast friends. It’s like meeting your partner — it’s like magic. We would call each other for business help, we resourced each other, we went to design conferences together. She loved to travel, like I do, and found inspiration in it.”
Six years ago, the friends decided to go into business together.
“Independently, we’re idiots, together we’re genius,” Nicholas says. “Something magical happened when we partnered up. We complement each other.”
The pair named their interior design business Cloth & Kind — referring to cloth “and the like.” Although they maintain design studios in Ann Arbor and Athens, their projects are true collaborations, honing the skill set of working remotely, together — which assists them in accepting projects across the country.
“One of the first questions we always get is about how we work so well together while physically being across the country from one another,” says Ramsay, 49. “To us, it’s just second nature. Krista and I have operated this way since Cloth & Kind was in its infancy and don’t know any other way. We practically live on Google Hangouts and use all manner of cloud-based technology to seamlessly work ‘side by side,’ even from 700 miles apart.”
Projects by Cloth & Kind tend toward glorious bursts of color and reach-out-and-touch-me textures with patterns often inspired by nature and worlds beyond our own borders. But the designers are not limited in their scope.; “We are really into things that are not the Cloth & Kind style,” Nicholas says. “It’s the ultimate creative expression to do other styles. Tami and I will be like ‘Oh, my God, we love French antiques — who knew?’ If something different comes our way it’s invigorating.”
But what remains the same is the business’ philosophy: to create spaces with history and heart, with story and substance.
“Who is the family living in this home? What is meaningful to them? We always ‘shop’ the client’s home first — sometimes it’s a matter of coming in with fresh eyes and giving them permission to use what they might not have used,” Nicholas says. “Home is where you spend most of your time. It has to restore you and revive you and allow you to let your hair down. It doesn’t have to be ‘designed,’ but it has to speak to you.
“There has to be a story in every space,” she says. “Not everyone has antiques from grandma — so we can help create the story with the client that they want to pass down to their kids.”
“Cloth & Kind were simply brilliant in providing interior design services for our whole house renovation,” says Laura Rief, a client in Northville. “Their ideas are creative, sophisticated, novel and downright gorgeous. And their retail store exhibits the same aesthetic.”
In addition to the two design studios, where custom and bespoke pieces are often collaborated on, Cloth & Kind offers a boutique showroom that opened in Ann Arbor in May.
“As designers, we are very passionate about artisanal textile lines not represented in Michigan — so many talented designers don’t know about these lines,” she says. They also showcase companies they often use, including furniture, lighting, hardware, rugs, wallpaper and more. “We consider ourselves songbirds for these small companies and artisans,” Nicholas says. “It allows us to create custom colorways, patterns — whatever the client wants.”
Following the trending model of boutique showrooms popping up around the country, the Cloth & Kind showroom doubles as a store — everything is available at retail pricing, as opposed to trade pricing. Shoppers can meander among furniture vignettes with wallpaper on walls, rugs, furniture, one-of-a-kind artwork and monoprints, with vintage pieces thrown in for the Cloth & Kind vibe.
“People who are used to shopping retail, sitting in the sofa at Pottery Barn, can do that,” Nicholas says. “But they can also have the experience of working with an interior designer, but they don’t have to retain us as their designer. They can get all of the knowledge without the commitment.”
When they do work on full projects, Nicholas says, “we interview people just as much as they interview us. We have a distinct ‘no a**holes’ policy — it has to be a good fit.
“Basically, we really enjoy spending our days working with clients who are kind and cool and interested. We’re very lucky.”
Cloth & Kind
3010 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor