The Other Half: Chelsea Green

by Grace Bonney

Now that we know what he’s been up to professionally, I thought we could get a little more personal and try to get the real deal from Nathan’s other half Chelsea!

>> Who: Chelsea Green BFF: Nathan Thomas of Nathan Thomas Studios

When I met Nathan… 10 years ago as transfer students at Pratt in Brooklyn. We lived across the hall from each other in an ex-housing project dorm that we nick-named “hell-o-bee” (a play on Willoughby Avenue where it was located). We were the only ones on the entire floor the first week. Total destiny.

I introduced myself when I heard the Depeche Mode and smelled the cigarette smoke burning across the way. I was a little scared at first. He was wearing a cowboy hat and had no light bulbs in any of his fixtures. Smoke and candles only. Very apocalyptic chic. My sweet dorm room was decked out in inflatable furniture and multi-colored paper lanterns. I had pots and pans too. Total prepared chic. We became fast friends. I made the grilled cheese and he brought the smokes.

I should note that I was 17 and he was like 20 when we first met. A HUGE age gap at that stage in our lives. I really looked up to him. Still do.

I was named after the neighborhood in London where my parents met in the 1970’s.

I live on an island off the coast of Seattle with my boyfriend. We met at RISD and have a small consultancy called Grain specializing in environmentally and socially minded design.

I made the necklace that Nathan wore as a good luck charm the night he won Top Design.

I love throwing dinner parties.

I just started writing a blog about Northwest art and design that I haven’t really shared much yet called Village Mews.

1. What would you say are the three most important things that you do
to support Nathan in his creative endeavors?

1. Keep it real. With Nathan’s new celebrity status (people literally
walk up to him all over the city to congratulate and ask him about Top
Design) he needs good friends that he can trust to be his sounding
board and give him their honesty.

2. Celebrate the successes and keep it moving. Along with his success
on the show came criticism regarding his win. Everyone has the right
to their opinion (even when they are wrong) but he doesn’t need to be
a part of anything that isn’t helping his work and business grow in a
positive way.

3. Be a good example by working as hard as I can in my own design work
and in keeping myself surrounded by inspired people also pursuing
their own best work.

2. Supporting somebody in their
passion can be both exciting, exhausting and time consuming? How do
you squeeze everything in?

When you are with someone for the long haul the way we are, there are
always things that come in the way – new jobs, boyfriends, winning a
national design show – you just make time for your friends and the
people you love. Nathan taught me a lot about this. He is a very
generous friend. When you spend time with him he always makes you the
center. I think that is one of the things that make him a good
designer. He is very devoted to his projects and clients.

After living and working in NYC for seven years, I went back to
graduate school at RISD in Providence and am now living in Seattle.
All this makes it especially hard to stay connected to my dearest
friend. With Nathan in the exciting and hectic haze of starting his
company, Nathan Thomas Studios, I really wish I was physically there
to give my support.

That said, we text and send broken English emails that only he and I
could decipher. We get hooked on certain words and use them to excess
like teenage girls. Right now it is “chic” (if you haven’t noticed
already). I picked it up when watching Nathan on Top Design. The
judges and other designers were constantly using it in ridiculous ways
to describe interiors, like “expensive chic”. It just cracked me up.
Nathan also has this song, Chic Cheer that we dance-party to by a
1970’s group called Chic. The lyrics are something like, “Chic! Chic!
Dunnah-Dun-Dunnah Chic! Chic!” It’s a classic in our repertoire.

I’m getting off track now… I guess theme songs and making phone
dates help. Sometimes he texts me to blast a song like Paul Simon’s
Graceland and we dance-party simultaneously across the country.

Recently, I started a meal sharing project with friends near and far
called 12 months.12 friends.1 meal.. Nathan shared all his dinners
with me (via photos) for the month of February. It was just another
way for us to stay connected. I can always count on him to participate
in my newest schemes.

3. What was the strangest thing
you’ve done to support Nathan in what he does?

My lips are sealed on this one.

4. What is the easiest and hardest
thing about being Nathan’s BFF?

Nathan is just too much fun. He has so many amazing qualities, but his
sense of humor just kills me. He can do it with a look. He’s so quick
that if you’re not paying close attention you might miss it. We have
been in some intense scenarios over our years of friendship and I
can’t think back to any of it without cracking a smile.

He takes good care of me too. He was the first one to tell me the
truth about my eyebrows when I arrived in NYC with over-plucked high
school “sperm brows”. It took a few years for him to re-work them for
me. Not many people know that he was a professional make-up artist for
a stint before finishing design school at FIT. He was serious. He
worked Fashion Week in New York and flew to London to do stage make-up
for Fischerspooner. Needless to say, he taught me how to put on eye
liner among many many other tricks…

The hardest part is sharing him with all of you.

5. Lastly, what’s your favorite
project that Nathan has been involved in and why?

I have loved seeing Nathan’s own apartment’s morph over time. He has
probably had like 10 (or more) over the past ten years. We have shared
a few of those. We had this great place in Fort Greene that we
couldn’t really afford. We both worked two jobs to pay rent and had $0
left over. We had some amazing parties though. Nathan’s make-up
friends would come to Brooklyn in limos. Ridiculous.

Recently, he painted his bedroom walls light gray and then poured
white paint down them. It looks incredible. He always takes risks with
his work – especially in his own home. In some way the drips resemble
a traditional plaster crown and just add this conceptual moment to the
space. Total brilliant chic.

One of my favorite things about Nathan’s spaces (including his
original NYC bachelor pad – the Pratt dorm) is that he knows how to
craft any space into an experience. The finishing touches that make
space dynamic and narrative – dramatic flowers, music that makes you
move, provocative art, and intimate lighting – are his specialty. It’s
kind of magic really. He has an amazing career ahead of him. I am so
proud to be his other half.

Suggested For You


  • This is great! They sounds like wonderful , wonderful friends and that is the best thing in the world! Thank you for this :)

  • Thanks Marichelle + Grace!! It is so great to have the opportunity to celebrate our friendship here on Design*Sponge!!
    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx CG

  • LOVE the article!
    LOVE the Nathan!
    Nathan deserves all of his successes and much more. Chelsea really captured the essence of Nathan.
    Nathan, the salon… one word, …no, two!!! Fantabulous Chic!!

  • Sweet and charming, but did they meet at Pratt (where I lived in that very project-turned-dorm) or at RISD? What, is she trying to trade up their academic/hipster credentials? Is RISD cooler than Pratt?

  • dana

    i could be wrong, but from my reading of the interview, it looks like they met at pratt and then she attended grad school at RISD later. anyone know differently?

    so i don’t think she’s trying to trade up her “credentials”, merely explain where they met, and what she’s been doing since their meeting


  • Thanks Grace!

    Sorry for the confusion Dana. Yes, we met at Pratt. Nathan transferred to F.I.T. to finish his degree. I finished at Pratt then went back to grad school at RISD in 2005. Hope that helps!

    As for which school is cooler… Your guess is as good as mine.

  • Dear Chelsea—

    A warm hello! It has been several years since our last contact. You took my thesis writing class while you were a graduate student at RISD. I am still teaching the thesis mapping classes and have documented this process in book form. The book is soon to be published by Moth Press of Maine College of Art. Chelsea, I am writing to you now because I wish to ask your permission to quote you in the book within one of the writing vignettes. The passage speaks to a graphic inspiration that you referenced when creating your thesis document. Are you comfortable with this? If so, I will send a permission form in another email.

    I hope all is very well with you. I see that you are doing very well post-RISD.

    Warmest and best wishes, Anne