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Sarah Stavrou - vintage pillow designer

interview by Douglas Eby 

 "Nature is inspirational. A flower can have unusual 
colors I didn't think of putting together."

Having grown out of a hobby of sewing custom pillows for friends and family, her company Sarafine' has evolved over the last few years into an active business for Sarah Stavrou. She often works with interior designers to create custom pillows, throws and wall hangings, and also sells ring pillows through some bridal boutiques. 

Many of her pillows are very practical, but there are also ones using 17th Century fabrics that are too fragile for use. "Some of them are tattered, or ripped. A fabric that is 400 years old is not as practical as one from the 1920s," she explains. "I also mix antique fabrics with contemporary ones, and some clients want only contemporary fabrics.

One of her favorite periods is early 20th Century, and Stavrou likes to use carriage blanket fabrics. With the growing success of the company, she is concentrating on the design work, hiring seamstresses for production, though she still does some restoration sewing on antique fabrics.

For design inspiration, Stavrou says she finds museums "very helpful. I can look at a painting and see the colors that an artist used, and sometimes the texture of a painting can help me think of something, like putting a mohair with a silk, where before I thought I couldn't do that. 

"Also, nature is inspirational," she adds. "Sometimes I'll look at a flower and it will have unusual colors that I didn't think of putting together."

Stavrou admires the work of quilt artist Faith Ringgold. "I market my pillows as art, and you get a chance to learn about history, and you're buying a part of history. What she does is actually taking the quilt, which is part of American history, what our grandmothers and their grandmothers used to sew for their families, and she has made it an art form. And she can get twenty five, thirty thousand dollars for a quilt, so I find that to be inspirational."

She is also expanding her designs to wall hangings. "They allow me to use older textiles," she notes. "If used in a pillow, it couldn't be functional, but as a wall hanging, it can be very functional, and there's no wear and tear. So I get to use fabrics that I would otherwise have to discard."

One of the considerations in designing decorative pillows is the weather where the home is located, she notes. "If it's a place that's cold a lot, I can use a deeper, richer, heavier textile."

Pillows are "the very last thing" someone is likely to buy, she points out. "It's what you want to buy after you already have your rugs done, your walls selected, and your sofas together. Pillows tie everything in the room together, to make the rug work with the painting and so on, so the designer will give me photographs, and I'll measure the sofa and take dimensions. And they'll tell me what colors they want. 

"People will tell me their budget, and we'll discuss what kind of feeling they're looking for, and I'll give them swatches of different textiles I think would be good." 

A design she is finding to be very popular with her customers is "really big, oversize pillows for putting on day beds or whatever. It becomes a piece of functional furniture. You can use it on the bed, and take it off and use it on the floor for two or three people to sit on."

Still working as an actor and going on auditions, Stavrou says people are starting to call her "The Pillow Girl" and points out she has even had set designers rent some of her pieces for use in movies. "It's flattering to see a set where they've used my throws or pillows or textiles," she says. 

She is also marketing more actively to people in entertainment, contacting certain celebrities and agents and studios, to promote buying pillows as presents, especially for celebrities or people who have everything.

Another creation of hers are ring pillows for weddings which, her website notes, "provides the bride and groom with a memorable keepsake they can pass down from generation to generation."

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website:  Sarafine'

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