Mind the fluff: Alexandria-based textile artist Bonny McMahon talks custom-design pillows

We chatted with Bonny McMahon about what it’s like designing pillows in NoVA for the summer season and beyond.

Photo courtesy of Bonny McMahon

Designing the inside of a house is challenging, as there are many minor details involved to truly make the site a home. You have to find the right color scheme, the most comfortable furniture and, of course, pillows to tie the given room together. 

Bonny McMahon, a furnishings and textile artist whose work is sold in Alexandria’s Boxwood, has been designing, sewing and painting for years. Here, she shares what people in NoVA should know about incorporating the right pillows into your home. 

What initially inspired you to start designing pillows?
My parents are both very detail-oriented, and my mom was a maker of textiles and my father was a wood maker. That translated to me. I definitely have that curiosity of, ‘How can I make that?’ when I see something. Sometimes it’s very successful and other times it’s a disaster, but it’s so fun, I love doing that. That’s why custom work is so fun; you’re figuring someone out. You’re trying to translate their style into a textile by bringing elements together. It’s fascinating and all about discovery. 

I also think I segued into textiles from, initially, design work that I had done in furniture and different types of housewares. I have a preoccupation with patterns or the nuance of color, or depth and transparency of color. I see it in buildings or stone or glass. So, to be able to translate that into something like a pillow that can be utilized in any room, in any season, change as your mood changes, it’s wonderful.

What home trends have you noticed here in Northern Virginia that are prevalent in the summer season?
There’s always the nautical vibe in our area, which is traditional this time of year. I think people are very interested in local makers because they want a reflection of where they live in their homes. For example, I get empty coffee sacks from Micha’s and make those into an ottoman or pillow, and that kind of becomes full-circle, in that we are collaborating with another local place for it to be used locally.

With colors, right now burnt orange is very hot, as well as mustard yellows. Bright tones like pinks and brighter blues. It’s kind of like the temperature: when it’s hot, it’s reflected in the fabrics people ask for. Then I bring that back to Earth with classic navy or ivory, to ground everything, so nothing looks too bold. 

Photo courtesy of Bonny McMahon

What’s it like transpiring someone else’s ideas into a final product for their home?
People definitely have a specific color in mind or patterns that they’ve used before, so a pillow could echo a theme they already have in their home. Or sometimes they have a color story and they don’t know what theme they want. So in that instance, it’s important to get to know clients and find what idea they’re going for. That’s the strength of Boxwood, when people come in we have conversations with them so I can understand what people like and what they are looking for… You have to understand what people want. It helps me to know exactly what they want, too, because then I can expand my own personal taste. 

How do you recommend people incorporate pillows throughout their homes, especially in the summer?
It has to go along with how they live. Part of what’s important in our area is good design that’s practical. That may be because you have a house that has kids and dogs, so you want it to always look put together but the fabric has to reflect your ability to wash them or wipe them down. Many people here have boats, and they want a pillow that is comfortable and beautiful, which can be a navy-and-white theme but it’s in canvas, so they can throw it in the washing machine. The combination of luxury fabrics and colors has to go along with being practical. You can definitely have both. In terms of putting that into your home, what you can put in a living room, you can also put in another room as seasons or needs change. As you have children or change careers, you’re able to change around your look. I think the most important thing is that it reflects who each person is.

The staff at Boxwood leads various workshops on a regular basis, in crafts including floral arranging, as well as tassel and pillow making. This month, McMahon will be leading a bead workshop on July 18, at 6 p.m. and a junior pillow workshop on July 25, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. // Boxwood: 128 S. Royal St., Alexandria, prices vary

Want more home and design content? Subscribe to our newsletter here.

Loading cart ...