Decorating with Fabric

At a tender young age I remember taking comfort in the times that my mom or dad would sigh the words, “Ah, home sweet home,” as we pulled into the drive. It often meant a mood of relaxation and a light-hearted evening lined with a sense of gratitude. A crafted meal, however simple, and small chat lying on the living room floor is how the evening would likely unfold. I’d look for a good pillow to toss from the couch to the floor and enjoyed watching it hurl to the ground. Wherever it landed is right where I’d plop myself down.

The same tradition continues today in my own home, and I take special care picking out the right pillows for my cherished ritual that might be genetic (because now the kids do the same thing). Red velvet, cotton prints and a beaded floral design cover a few of my favorite pillows that define my style and make my house a home today.

Recently, I visited what I would consider pillow paradise. I had no idea it existed, but tucked away in downtown Geyserville dwells a showroom of artisan textiles put together by art director, artist and businesswoman Dallas Saunders. Although pillows are just a small percentage of what is displayed at the Geyserville showroom, they captured my heart and attention big time.

Pillow Talk
“I sleuth out cashmere,” said Saunders with a smile as she enthusiastically unwrapped a small thin roll of a slightly buckskin-colored fabric with a mustard hue. “Feel this,” she said, and I ran my hands along the edge. It was like petting a lion’s coat, or what I imagine this might be like, since I’ve never done it—so soft, smooth and alive in a way that is difficult to describe. Saunders anticipated making only an armful of one-of-a-kind pillows with the prized fabric.

Stocking a range of fabrics, Saunders offers 140 different designs of patterned pillows, and individual customers can also special-order pillows. Some of my favorite designs were large vintage linen-style squares and a Harris Tweed in plaid.

“These pillows will last you, and they are sewn locally and double-lined so the feathers don’t come flying out,” explained Saunders.

“I like to make things,” she added. Her history clearly demonstrates that fact. She has a Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of Art of Chicago, and she represents Hearst Castle for licensing and works with manufacturers who create reproductions and interpretations of furniture that raises funds for restoration projects at Hearst Castle. She has also displayed her own pillow creations in the showrooms of famed designer Barclay Butera.

Looking at the pillows in Saunders’ showroom, it was often the edges (double-flanged edge) that I found most attractive. The approximate one-inch borders where the two pieces of material separated gave them an added element of craftsmanship and coziness. Like a window trimmed in wood, the pillows possessed a unique character.

“A couple of pillows can change a whole room,” said Kate Flanagan, an interior designer residing in Healdsburg, and one of Saunders’ frequent visitors/patrons.

Flanagan suggests using pillows to express a change of season in your home, like using red throw pillows around the holidays. Originally from Scotland, Flanagan found Saunders while on a quest for premium European linen. “The color, the quality and the weave is just superior,” said Flanagan about the linen at the Geyserville showroom.

Beyond Pillows – A Fabric Showroom
In addition to pillows, throws, bed covers and window treatments all sewn in Sonoma County are also available for purchase or custom design at the fabric showroom. Fabric can change a room dramatically, acoustically and otherwise, and it’s an efficient insulator, explained Flanagan. “I end up doing a lot of custom roman shades using fabric.”

Saunders is a direct importer of fine natural fiber fabrics for the home, specializing in artisan woven linen and wool. Her showroom is open to both the public and those in the interior design trade. Saunders carries Harris Tweed fabrics that are handwoven in the Outer Hebrides islands of Scotland and true Irish Donegal tweed woven by fifth generation father and son weavers on the rugged north coast of Ireland. This is exciting news for local interior designers who found it necessary to travel for this kind of unique quality and range of color.

Flanagan was taking clients to the San Francisco Design Center where millions of fabrics are housed. “It can be a little overwhelming,” she said. Having a local option for supreme fabric is a blessing for interior designers but Saunders also has other perks in mind for those in the trade.

Equipped with an ample workspace in an inspiring setting, later this fall she plans to offer continuing education units (CEU) for members of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and members of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Saunders also keeps an active resource list of local interior designers for customers seeking references.

Super fabric
Like super food, there is also super fabric. I must warn you that this is my own term and therefore my own definition as well. Super fabric is fabric unsurpassed in its ability to meet our needs, similar to the way broccoli or kale might perform nutritionally in the body.

It may come as no surprise that linen and wool fall into the super fabric category. Although they are completely different natural fibers, linen and wool do share some important qualities that are quite ‘heroic.’ Both fabrics are known to be hypoallergenic (not likely to cause an allergic reaction), antibacterial, biodegradable, hygroscopic (absorbing and releasing water vapor with humidity), thermo-regulating (helping to keep the body at a constant temperature), and offer substantial protection from ultraviolet rays.

“I choose to work with natural fabrics for a lot of health and safety reasons,” said Saunders, who is eager to share her wealth of knowledge about fabric with the novice and the professional.

Lightweight and comfortable, linen is often compared to cotton, but linen is actually made from flax—and the good news is that flax is environmentally friendly, requiring less irrigation, pesticide and energy to produce than most other fibers. Due to its antibacterial properties, linen has a long history of being used for bandages. It’s also a favorite summer fabric, not only because it provides strong protection against solar radiation but also because it’s breathable in that it absorbs and releases moisture. The better the linen, the better the feel, and linen will soften over the years.

Real Belgian linen is considered to be of the best quality by industry professionals. Saunders offers linen bedding in a full range of colors. Last but not least, linen is also durable and long-lasting and can therefore be passed from generation to generation.

Not all wool is rough, causing itchiness; in fact, irritation often has much to do with the type of wool and the methods of production. For example, Cashmere is a type of wool that comes from the Kashmir goat, whose wool resembles that of human hair. No wonder it’s so soft.

Since wool is a natural insulator, having a wool throw around on those Sonoma County evenings when the coastal fog rolls in is not a bad idea. Renewable and biodegradable, wool breaks down fast into the soil. It’s breathable and odor-resistant with millions of tiny air pockets that can capture dust and pollen on the top layers until it is vacuumed away or removed with a good old-fashioned “shake.” Like a true super hero, wool has the ability to stretch out and spring back into shape.

Adding a little romance to the bed
Both linen and wool have a way of adorning a bed unlike other fabrics—and let’s face it, there are some beautiful beds out there, antique and otherwise. Growing up, my sister and I had matching twin beds that belonged to my grandmother and her sister, and my parents shared a remarkable heirloom bed embellished with brass rails. Although the pieces were amazing, that antique look could take over or create a striking contrast with simple things like a digital alarm clock.

Looking back, many of those antiques could’ve benefitted from the design and fabric help of Saunders and/or Flanagan, who recognize that no two beds are the same size or design these days. There are wood platform beds, the pillow top mattress, upholstered beds, four-post beds and other designs and configurations that can make finding just the right bedding and accessories a challenge.

Flanagan considers her specialty to be successfully incorporating modern and classics in a room, and fabric is often a way of bridging the gap. For example, she may use an old-style chair but reupholster it with a pop-up modern fabric. She calls her remodeled farmhouse in Healdsburg “a work of art.” Sounds like ‘home sweet home’ to me.   SD