The Entrepreneurial Design Enthusiasts
In a world of expertly-curated Instagram accounts, the New Hat feed still stands out. You’ll get some serious pattern envy scoping out their printed wallpapers, which feature geometric designs, yellow plaid grids, cats, shuttlecocks, and more. Founded by Kelly Diehl and Elizabeth Williams, New Hat is the Nashville-based art and design studio to visit if you’re in the market for custom wall coverings and multimedia installations. Still plotting the beautification of interiors city-wide, Diehl and Williams answered a few questions about their friendship, business partnership, and projects.
Follow the company on Instagram here.
How did you two meet and begin working together?
K: We met in Nashville through a mutual friend. I admired Elizabeth’s personal style and her artwork, and thought she was intelligent and hilarious. We became close friends and in 2014 went on a sailing trip in Croatia together. By the end of the trip, we made a goal that we would start a business together someday that revolved around fine art and design. The following year, we collaborated on wallpaper for the bathrooms at Dozen Bakery, where I was working. We hand painted wallpaper sheets and then had them screen printed with a design we’d drawn together. The process was so fun and our friendship survived us hanging the wallpaper ourselves, so we knew we’d be able to work together successfully. We officially started New Hat in April of 2016.
Kelly, you’ve previously been a baker and Elizabeth, you’ve also worked in software. How have these experiences (and others!) prepared you for opening your own business, working in the Nashville community, and designing wall coverings and multimedia installations?
K: Working at Dozen Bakery was an important experience for me because I witnessed the owner Claire Meneely’s process of growing a small business. Watching her go from business plan to investors to opening a retail location was completely inspiring.
E: All of my professional experience has been in Nashville, so I’ve been fortunate to get to know lots of people in the process, and love working as a local for locals. I finished my design degree at Belmont and from there worked for 4 years at Emma as a brand art director. During my time at Emma I got the opportunity to start working nights and weekends with Bryce McCloud at Isle of Printing. The work was focused on a long form public art project called Our Town, but after a year of that I came on full time working on all sorts of art and commercial projects, which is how I cut my teeth with art installation work. The experience of getting to focus on community based art projects and overcoming the fear of large scale installation work very much prepared me for New Hat.
Describe a few current or upcoming projects you’re particularly excited about.
K: We’re currently installing a hand painted wallpaper collage in the women’s restroom of Henrietta Red, a restaurant Julia Sullivan and Allie Poindexter are opening this month in Germantown. The restaurant has a beautiful oyster bar, so we’re using imagery of 1960s Japanese pearl divers on varying colored grounds.
E: An upcoming project we’re excited about is a conceptual wallpaper installation for the restrooms at Barista Parlor Golden Sound. We like to install wallpaper in horizontal bands around a room to create a layered, cross-sectioned look. The bathrooms will have 4 different layers of paper with differing patterns and colors, creating a layered world with an outer space motif to fit the theme of Golden Sound. We like to create what we call Unrestrooms™ — our papers demand attention!
What’s your dream project?
K: I would love for us to work with a local organization that provides safe housing for victims of domestic violence, whether it’s donating wallpaper for various rooms, or collaborating with them on designs for products they can use. Elizabeth and I hope to always be in conversation with different parts of our community and contribute to the rich visual language that already exists here.
E: Where to begin!? I think that changes every year. This year my dream project would be for New Hat to work with Nashville’s immigrant and refugee communities, specifically Nashville’s Kurdish community (the largest in the US), to create new patterns that tell the story of a changing, culturally rich history. To create these patterns and produce them as textiles and papers for local business, fashion designers, hotels, my house, your house, etc would be what I consider functional art with a deeper concept and purpose. That’s the kind of work that matters most to us.