“We literally met over a comment on Pinterest.” That’s how Tami Ramsay explains her professional equivalent of a meet cute with partner Krista Nye Nicholas and the origin of their design firm, Cloth & Kind. As a social-media platform, Pinterest is a go-to for people seeking design inspiration, not business partners. Nonetheless, having discovered they shared “an obsession with patterns” and a love of vintage furniture and one-of-a-kind pieces, the pair became fast friends, although Ramsay was based in Athens, Georgia, and Nicholas lived and worked in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It’s a “social-media romance,” Ramsay jokes.
They began emailing and talking on the phone regularly and decided to go to a design conference together, where they found that they liked each other just as much in person. “We left that weekend knowing we’d go into business together,” Ramsay says. That was in 2013, and the duo continues to maintain offices in both Athens and Ann Arbor.
If their approach to forging a partnership was unconventional, so too were their individual forays into design. Nicholas’s “first career,” as she calls it, was in advertising, serving at Condé Nast in Chicago as the Midwest advertising director for magazines like Glamour and Vanity Fair. Ramsay, meanwhile, worked as a nurse for two decades, adding an interior design side hustle in the last several years (she quips that she can “decorate and resuscitate”), before finally pursuing her passion full-time.
“I’m more of a dreamer in terms of thinking that everything is possible, and Tami is more grounded and practical,” Nicholas says. Ramsay concurs, noting that her health-care experience honed her skills as a project manager: “Nursing is about managing details, and you’re managing the details of someone’s life, so you become exceedingly detail oriented.” With their complementary backgrounds, it’s easy to imagine how they balance each other out. “We joke that we couldn’t have planned it better,” Nicholas says. “Our skill sets magically coincided and converged.”
Their design styles have also merged over the years. “I’ve probably brought Krista into color, and she’s helped me be restrained,” Ramsay says. Adds Nicholas, “Now, it’s almost like we have a blended aesthetic, and it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. ”It’s their confident use of color and patterns that attracts clients, although the partners don’t discriminate against those who aren’t interested in going bold. “We aren’t trying to push anyone,” Ramsay says.
Indeed, their aesthetic translates just as well to projects with more neutral palettes. In a renovated saltbox in Athens, Georgia, for example, the designers punctuated the mostly black-and-white color scheme with vibrant Persian rugs, re-covering a set of chairs in the living room in mud cloth the homeowners brought back from a trip. And in Michigan, the firm transformed a gut-renovated Tudor into an airy, inviting family home, retaining its architectural charm while updating it with light walls and their signature confident mix of patterned textiles, plus a few quirky touches, like gold-lobster-print wallpaper behind glass-front cabinetry. Still, Ramsay notes that they encourage clients to be open-minded. And when it comes to partnering with clients, she adds, “we are very selective in our process. We want them to feel that we’re the best fit for them. If they don’t trust us, they won’t get anything good from us.”
Cloth & Kind was contracted to design a home near West Palm Beach, Florida, belonging to an art-collecting couple in their mid-30s with a toddler son and a baby on the way after the wife discovered the firm’s work on Instagram. The clients, whom Ramsay describes as “exceedingly game,” already had excellent pieces of vintage and antique furniture, so the designers worked with these while also creating custom items — among them, an ingenious metal installation in the entryway.
The piece was a collaboration between Cloth & Kind and two Athens-based makers: artist Lou Kregel and the St. Udio metalworking company. “I went to [Kregel] with this concept for art that would be super colorful but also moveable,” Ramsay says, explaining that the two of them cut out cardboard pieces, which Kregel then painted and took to St. Udio to be fabricated in metal. The result is a colorful mélange of shapes, reminiscent of Matisse’s cut-outs, which are set on magnets so they can be rearranged. Mounted above a vintage canary-yellow console from Acorn, the work sets the tone for the house, which Ramsay describes as having “a very flirty, playful and youthful Florida vibe.”
In the living room, another bold custom piece by Cloth & Kind — a teal double-sided serpentine sofa — is paired with a burlwood coffee table from 1stdibs on one side and a bespoke ottoman on the other. The audacious use of color continues throughout the home, including a guest room where Andy Warhol’s Life Savers (FS II.353) hangs over a bed with groovy patterned linens and a nightstand from Traslucido. The clients were so pleased with the outcome that Cloth & Kind is now updating several rooms for their growing family in their Connecticut home.
Despite the offbeat nature of their meeting, the two partners are buttoned-up when it comes to the business. They crafted a mission statement (to “create spaces with history and heart, with story and substance”), hired a consultant to set up their project-management and accounting software and worked with a business coach to learn how to manage the firm effectively. With an all-female team of 13 employees, offices in two states and projects nationwide, their commitment to staying organized is not just helpful but necessary.
This is especially true now that the firm has expanded beyond interior design client work. In Ann Arbor, the duo launched a showroom for the trade, which serves designers throughout a nine-state midwestern territory, and a home goods shop that’s open to the public. “We always liked the idea of doing something that allowed us to have a storefront,” Ramsay says. Nicholas took a step back from design work to get their new brick-and-mortar ventures up and running, but now, she says, she’s “dipping back in.”
“It really has to be sort of like a marriage,” Nicholas says of their business relationship. “It’s hard, and there are challenges, but it can be rewarding beyond measure.” Which raises the question: If they hadn’t met each other, would they have sought out partnerships in their individual design businesses? “Absolutely not,” Ramsay says emphatically. “It’s so unlike us.”