Rebecca Vizard has made a career of selling luxurious, handcrafted pillows, which feature tapestries, ecclesiastical embellishments and textiles that date as far back as the 17th century. This month, she releases her first book, Once Upon A Pillow (Pointed Leaf Press), which offers a beautiful homage to her love affair with textiles as well as a window into her design process. It also invites readers into Locustland, the home she and her husband built on her grandfather's property in St. Joseph, Louisiana in 1989.
Vizard's writing style is conversational. Originally she planned to hire a ghostwriter, but her publisher persuaded her otherwise. "When my publishing team read my directions to drive [to Locustland], they ganged up on me the first night and said they thought my directions were so entertaining that I needed to write the book in the same voice," Vizard says.
They also convinced Vizard to scrap her original idea about textiles in flea markets around the world in favor of something closer to home: her estate at Locustland.
"They pointed out how much they thought my pillows were influenced by my surroundings, which I was actually not aware of until I saw the photography," Vizard says. "They taught me something about myself."
Vizard included autobiographical information because of what she'd observed at previous speaking engagements.
"The first time I started talking about antique textiles, I saw everyone's eyes glass over after about 10 minutes of textile talk," she says. "When I started talking about starting my business ... everyone perked up. I found if I mixed the two together and made it a little lighter, people would come away remembering the story that went with the textile. It's like tricking people into learning something they might not have been as interested in originally."
Vizard is internationally known for her work in interior design, but she got her start with children's clothing in the mid-1980s. Needing a job that let her stay home with her newborn daughter, Vizard spent $75 on plain white baby clothes and fabric paint and crafted embellished, hand-painted clothing to sell to an upscale children's store. She "accidentally" became an interior designer after decorating her own home; friends brought her their interior decorating conundrums, which turned into paid work.
Vizard had trouble finding pillow designs she liked. On most jobs, she spent more time finding the perfect pillow than on the sofas and drapery. While pillow hunting in 1994 for a Manhattan interior design job, she had an epiphany.
"I had a fairly modern chair that I wanted to [pair with] an antique textile pillow to soften the lines, and everything I found was extremely expensive with gobs of passementerie," Vizard says. "I realized after scouring the Big Apple for a year that there was a need for an antique textile pillow with clean lines. I wanted my pillows to be able to go in a modern environment or a traditional setting."
Vizard's rural home is removed from major design hubs, but even in her small community, she found the contacts she needed to launch her business.
"I knew how to sew and there are some very talented seamstresses here," Vizard says.
She attributes her success to Gerrie Bremermann, owner of Bremermann Designs, to whom she sold her pillows for the first three years. "When Gerrie used [my pillows] in all of her projects, they started showing up in national magazines," Vizard says. "She is the one who put me on the map."
In 1999, Neiman Marcus placed an order for Vizard's pillows. Soon, her designs landed on the cover of magazines including House Beautiful, Elle Decor and Architectural Digest.
Each chapter in Once Upon A Pillow is accompanied by beautiful, detailed images of Vizard's work and focuses on an aspect of Vizard's life, textiles or the design process. There's also an extensive glossary of terms Vizard wishes she'd known when she got started.
When designing, Vizard feels like the textiles speak to her. "The patina of the metallic threads often dictates what color I want to use for the ground," she says. "I always lay out the textile and decide where to cut according to the composition. I pay a lot of attention to the negative space and the proportions. Then I decide what size it will be."
After putting so much care into her pillows, Vizard says it can be difficult to part with them. While working on her book she was reunited with some of her old projects.
"I had to borrow the pillows on my sofa from a client for this photo in the book," she says. "My favorite pillows I had there before went to Abu Dhabi. They were actually a little too fancy for my house, but they were amazing."