Ambatalia and Bloomingayles Come Full Circle at Mill Valley Lumber Yard

Years after opening (and closing) their respective stores in Mill Valley, a sustainable fabric maker and a floral designer set up shop on historic downtown property.

Gayle Nicoletti and Molly de Vries have found a home for their unique businesses at the Mill Valley Lumber Yard at 129 Miller Ave. Courtesy photo.
Gayle Nicoletti and Molly de Vries have found a home for their unique businesses at the Mill Valley Lumber Yard at 129 Miller Ave. Courtesy photo.

In mid-2012, the then-120-year-old Mill Valley Lumber Yard was on the ropes, its owners putting the property up for sale and sending the rumor mill into a frenzy about what would become of it.

Barely 18 months later, the historic property is the subject of a gleaming building restoration project and the home of a trio of unique businesses, two of which have been in Mill Valley in various forms for more than a decade.

Just two months after Restoration Hardware founder Stephen Gordon opened his Guideboat shop at the lumber yard, hosting a Chamber ribbon-cutting and a star-studded Mill Valley Film Festival party in the process, Gordon’s Guideboat got a pair of neighbors who are well known throughout the 94941.

Both Mollie de Vries’ Ambatalia, a maker of sustainable fabrics and retailer of a host of related products, and Gayle Nicoletti’s Bloomingayles floral design shop opened in late 2013. Adjacent to one another in a converted shipping container at the Lumber Yard at 129 Miller Ave., each shop exudes the creativity, passion and charm of its creator. 

Lumber Yard owners Matt and Jan Mathews are in the early stages of working with City Hall on a planned use development plan that would allow them to add more types of businesses to the property as more buildings are retrofitted and refurbished. As they continue to do so, they say they’re excited at the trio of businesses they already have.

“We’re just thrilled to have Guideboat, Ambatalia and Bloomingayles,” Jan Mathews says.

Here’s a look at the respective journeys of de Vries and Nicoletti, both new Mill Valley Chamber members, to one of Mill Valley’s most famous properties:

Gayle Nicoletti and Bloomingayles

Intrepid travel drew Nicoletti to both Mill Valley and her love of floral design. The New York native traveled to the Bay Area with a girlfriend when she was 17 years old, falling in love with the Northern California coast and moving to the Bay Area six years later. She’s lived in the area for 35 years, starting in places like Los Gatos and Saratoga before a 12-year stint in San Francisco. Nicoletti lives in Homestead Valley with her husband Clark Chelsey, who owns an eponymous painting company, and son Julian, a sophomore at Tam High.

Nicoletti travelled to Europe about 20 years ago and was inspired by the flower shops in cities like Paris and Amsterdam, infusing her with a passion for the creativity of floral design. She made the leap and opened her own shop in the Alto Plaza shopping center, making a very similar arc to de Vries in developing a robust list of clients and becoming less dependent on having a retail shop. She closed the shop a few years later, working out of her Tam Valley studio.

The crash of the economy in 2008 spurred a change in the floral industry towards ecology and sustainability, a move that Nicoletti spotted early. With times tighter, people wanted floral designs that would last longer, so Nicoletti began incorporating less perishable features like succulents, orchids and air plants into her designs. The shift connected with Bloomingayles tagline of “inspired botanicals.”

“I’ve developed some designs that are made with natural elements, features that are dry and permanent but don’t look like a big fake artificial thing,” she says.

Nicoletti says she loves creating custom designs for clients, often taking someone’s not fully formed inspiration and turning it into something real. Her work has served as the visual backdrop for weddings and major events at venues like Ralston White Retreat, the Outdoor Art Club and the Cavallo Point Lodge.

When Nicoletti learned about the space at the Lumber Yard, she realized that it was the right time to come full circle.

“I missed my contact with my clients and people,” she says. “I couldn’t really display my ideas because nobody was walking past my home or studio and looking at them. I wanted a space where I could be here and show off my ideas.”

Nicoletti also wants to pass her love and talent for floral design onto others, and hopes to begin hosting a series of workshops at her new space later this year.

“I’ve loved being a part of this – it really is like a family here,” Nicoletti says.

The 411: Bloomingayles is at 129 Miller Ave., Suite B. Click here for more info.

Molly de Vries and Ambatalia

It all started with a 40th birthday party.

Mill Valley native De Vries, who grew up in an old hiking lodge in town, had been a hairdresser here for 20 years. She had a great reputation and owned her own hair salon at 13 Bernard. But after having her three children, de Vries began to re-evaluate her career choice.

“I always knew that hairdressing just kind of happened to me in high school and I wanted to do something that I really cared about,” she says. “I knew that hair wasn’t my passion, it was just my work, and it was more, for me, about the people.”

As De Vries planned her 40th birthday party, she dedicated herself to identifying a new passion. But it was the party itself, at which she sang in front of family and friends a selection of sentimental songs that her late father loved like “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “Those Were the Days,” that convinced de Vries that she could do whatever she wanted.

She’d always considered herself an environmentalist, and found herself drawn to sustainable fabrics. She opened her shop in the El Paseo alley in 2004, building a unique business that presaged the current ubiquity of reusable bags and products and local municipalities like Mill Valley banning the distribution of plastic bags.

Four years later, de Vries closed the shop, convinced that because of the novelty of the types of products she was making and selling, she should’ve opened it in a larger city to build the business. She also was less dependent on having a physical location, having gotten her products into the inventory of the likes of Williams-Sonoma and Heidi Swanson’s Quitokeeto.com. She continued to make her wares in a shared greenhouse space in Tam Valley.

The closure of Ambatalia’s retail shop coincided with the opening of the Tyler Florence Shop down the street, and Florence reached out to de Vries to have her create some textiles for his shops.

“He felt that I had a creative eye and he liked my philosophy, and he really helped me develop what my niche was,” de Vries says. “It was a slow grow – these aren’t your standard products. It’s not a standard kitchen towel, for instance, as it's also for carrying food without packaging.”

Fast-forward five years, and Gordon, whose daughter Megan sells her Marge’s Granola at the farmers market at Marin Country Mart and often was located near Ambatalia’s booth there, reached out to her about the Lumber Yard. De Vries wasn’t looking for a retail location, but jumped at what she saw as a very unique opportunity to be part of something special.

“They wanted me to be there, and it was special enough because of the owners – they’re just great people,” she says.

Excited to have her own showroom again, de Vries is using the occasion to sell products from like-minded companies at her shop, from locally made jam and pure beeswax candles to laundry drying racks and handmade ceramics.

“I want to feature the lifestyle by bringing in other goods that complement my products,” she says.

The 411: Ambatalia is at 129 Miller Ave., Suite A. Click here for more info.

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kbf February 16, 2014 at 12:03 PM
What's the over/under on how long they stay in business? 15 months.
Molly de Vries February 18, 2014 at 03:24 PM
Hi friends, Molly here, owner of Ambatalia. I appreciate most of the comments. I was born and raised in Mill Valley and now raising my own children here which happens to be very hard to do unless you make a lot of money. I feel very blessed to be able to stay here. I have been working extremely hard to make a living at what I love to do. I design and manufacture textile products that support our environment and hire people right here in the bay area to manufacture.There is something to be said for actually bringing something to the market that is useful, thought provoking and has a purpose that hopefully inspires people to think about what they buy and how much waste they create. There was a time when merchants of this town and many towns made a real living to support their families. It's tough with the high rents to do that any more. My business is not only authentic but also its my passion and its my living, not a hobby. I'm not sure why some people have to be negative in their comments, I wonder if their doing what they love or if there the ones also honking yelling at people? It takes a lot or sacrifice and courage to do what you love and what you think is important. I Invite you to come in and talk with me in person to really see what I'm up to and what I have to offer. Hope to see you at the lumber yard. Molly de Vries
Reginald "Rex" Henderson February 21, 2014 at 05:31 PM
Thanks for the support, everyone. No disrespect intended for Molly or anyone. Let's just all agree that the only thing Mill Valley need LESS than another boutique store is another Dog-Walking biz... I think I will run for mayor on that platform.,.
mayesoleil February 25, 2014 at 01:06 AM
I agree with Selma and think that both Rex and 'citizen' may want to think about the lack of comradery they display with their way of thinking. As someone who, like Molly, was born and raised and now raising my own in Marin, it is sad to read such lack of support and kindness about people who are passionate about what they are doing, especially when its to better the world we live in. Instead of telling us what you don't want to see in Mill Valley, speak positively about what you WOULD like to see here..remembering that "what you resist persists". Have you seen how lovely the lumber yard looks now that they've moved in?? Hats off to both Molly and Gayle for adding to the beauty that surrounds.
Reginald "Rex" Henderson February 25, 2014 at 09:18 PM
I'm not trying to argue, but I was born in Frisco and raised in Marin. Raised my kids here too. I promise you that back in my day, things were different. And yes, I did take a ride down to the Lumber Yard and you're right - it looks pretty spiffy. So, maybe I was wrong. Glad to admit it.


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