New Hat wallpapers can be found on the walls at local businesses — places like the restrooms at Noelle Hotel, Henrietta Red, Dozen Bakery and Germantown Inn as well as the walls of Lemon Laine and Dress Theory. And now, thanks to their debut collection, they can be found in your home. Founders Kelly Diehl and Elizabeth Williams brought their creative minds together to create a vision that is today known as New Hat. An art and design studio, New Hat specializes in custom wallpaper and interior installations. Their work wraps around rooms to create aesthetically pleasing and interesting spaces. Read what inspires the unconventional designs, how the duo works together and the role these women are playing in Nashville’s creative community. Welcome Kelly Diehl and Elizabeth Williams as today’s FACES of Nashville!
Tell us about your background.
Kelly: My background is in fine art. I have a BA in sculpture, but I also love drawing, collage and bookbinding. After college, I worked as an artist assistant and a baker.
Elizabeth: I went to school for graphic design (design communications) at Belmont University. After that, my first gig was as an email marketing designer turned brand art director at local — now sold and rebranded — tech company Emma. Finally, my real life MFA happened over the course of four years at Isle of Printing.
How did you make your creative passion into a job?
K: Elizabeth and I were close friends and respected each other’s artwork so we decided to try collaborating on a wallpaper commission Elizabeth had from Claire Meneely at Dozen Bakery, where I was working. The process was so fun and successful that we decided to take the leap and start our own business two years later. We were both at a point in our lives where we craved independence, creatively and professionally.
Why does it work for you to do business together?
K: Our partnership works because we have different strengths and tasks within New Hat — we let the other thrive doing what she does best and give her the mental space to do that. My fine art background paired with Elizabeth’s design background makes for a richer, more complex result than we could achieve separately. Luckily, we have very similar business instincts, which makes conversations about growth, management and production easy and fast.
E: Yep. What she said. I will add that we both were raised to be hard workers. Half of the battle is showing up and pushing through the blocks, and we are both motivated to be there for each other to do just that.
What trait do you most admire about your partner?
K: I admire Elizabeth’s openness to new materials and technology. Thankfully, she is also fearless with power tools! Elizabeth is a brilliant designer who always finds nuanced ways to make our artwork attractive and contemporary, no matter what tools she is working with. I also admire her social grace — she always inspires me to feel comfortable in my skin during the many public outings required by our job.
E: Where to begin?! In the best way, Kelly and I are opposites, so I generally feel that all her traits make me a whole functioning being. Kelly is thorough and organized, incredibly smart and discerning, very observant and therefore a great predictor of human behavior, a clear and thoughtful communicator, her taste is impeccable, her aesthetics are always timeless and her tenets of art are my North Star. Lastly, she evens out my goofiness with her cosmic gracefulness, and I am very thankful for that. Sometimes I think we are sort of a singular superpower with our forces combined.
Can you tell us about your approach?
E: I think we approach custom projects purely as visual problem solving. Our product line approach was based on how we could add to the conversation, not echo it.
One word to describe Collection One:
Do you have a favorite in the collection?
K: I don’t, truthfully. We spent so much time with each pattern going through different colorways or compositional tweaks that we feel related to all of them. The differences between them show the range of our influences and interests, but they share a level of intensity.
E: I agree with Kelly, obviously. Additionally, I think Above Below is a special design because the process to create it references our first collaboration at Dozen where we employed interesting techniques out of complete ignorance of how the process actually worked. I think people unknowingly respond to that sort of accidental honesty. It feels good to pay homage to that in product form.
What emotion do you hope to evoke with your designs?
K: Elizabeth and I know that something is working when the design is familiar, yet foreign. Our brains are a soup of historical motifs, arty marks and fashion palettes, which we end up irreverently mashing all together to hopefully create something fresh.
E: Tough question. I don’t think I ever have an emotional goal in mind. I think I always hope that our work adds beauty to the world and that people will feel that or notice it in whatever way they need to.
You’ve done a handful of custom projects for local businesses. Is there one collaboration that has been the most memorable?
K: The most memorable commercial project we’ve done is probably the women’s restroom vestibule at Makeready in Noelle. The interior design team we worked with gave us carte blanche with the artwork. Based on the age and style of the original Noel Place and the subterranean location of the vestibule, we came up with a design for the walls and ceiling that rings “neo-Egyptian crypt fabulous,” if you know what I mean.
Locally, who is inspiring you?
K: We’ve had the opportunity to work with the team that is bringing the Design Week concept to Nashville this November. The team is led by four women who are working tirelessly outside of their day jobs to organize a week of programming and events. Their aim is to unite Nashville’s design community and inspire thoughtful discussion with the public on civic and aesthetic issues affecting our growing, changing city.
E: This is hard because there are so many people doing great things, but I’ll just focus on one category. We’re always inspired by people who have successful businesses fueled by their art. Karin Eaton is the owner and designer of Ironware International and has been in business in Nashville for 30 years. That fact alone blows our minds, but we are also inspired by the tradition-rich standards of craftsmanship she maintains throughout her collections and the local micro-industry she has created because of that. Additionally, we really admire the work and work ethic of local photographer Andrea Behrends. The force is strong with that one. Lastly, our studio mate Rachel Briggs, a local illustrator and designer. It honestly seems like the wellspring of creativity is a natural and renewable resource for her in a way you don’t often see. We are proud to share space and energy with her.
What makes Nashville a place in which small businesses can thrive?
E: I hate that this answer will feel a bit obvious or platitudinal, but the local community of people doing business right now is very supportive. We want to hire each other to make great work. We are all benefiting from Nashville’s rise in popularity. New Hat could not have existed in Nashville 10 years ago. It’s a double-edged sword to see the town you grew up in change in as many good ways as bad, but we are here trying to steer the conversation in whatever positive way we can.
What’s next for New Hat?
K: We have some ambitious custom projects coming to fruition this fall that have us working on a larger scale and with materials beyond wallpaper, which is exciting. We’ve also started work on some offerings for the holidays, and we recently purchased an old cargo van. We’re taking New Hat to the streets! Look out!
E: Our next strategic planning session happens at the end of July (with our incredible business manager Cara Jackson) so we’ll get back to you about the next couple of years. :)
When you aren’t working, where can we find you?
E: Sitting at my kitchen table staring at a really long to-do list whilst listening to an A.I.-related podcast and glancing every so often at all the recycling I need to get rid of. That or biking the mean, bike-laned streets of Nashville.
What books are on your bedside table?
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
K: It’s hard to isolate just one. My friend since high school, Lizzie Napier, is an emotional lighthouse for me when life feels difficult. She reminds me that we either choose to live with fear or live with love. Love lets us function, fear never does. If something isn’t working out for me, I can always trace it back to this principle.
E: I think I’m going to nominate my mom for this one. I was going through a hard time last year, and she kind of uncharacteristically grabbed me and looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Elizabeth, don’t lose your sense of humor. Life can take that from you, don’t let it.”
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends.
K: Iced coffee, home and garden coffee table books, flowers
E: Playlists and podcasts, lip balm, secret heart plans for future art projects, sunlight
We sat down with Dr. Sareda Nur, who works in one of the fastest growing specialties in medicine. A hospitalist at TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center, Dr. Nur shares a look inside this crucial work that makes a patient’s hospital stay as smooth as possible. CLICK HERE and get to know our newest FACE of TriStar.