By Ashley Whittle Tiedt
Photos by Blair Ramsey
If one has ever tried to decorate a home, she knows that finding a theme that both fits her space and falls in her price range is a tall order. The store doesn’t have the colors she needs, the fabric isn’t quite right and above all, she just don’t feel a connection with anything she sees.
If one has experienced these feelings, sisters Crawford Bumgarner and Sullins Phelan can relate.
“We were both renovating houses, and neither of us could find pillows that we loved,” Sullins says. “Our company happened because there were no unique pillows on the market, and we took it upon ourselves to buy some fabric and put them together.”
Crawford shares the same sentiment, saying, “It started as an idea, and then just all of a sudden, it blossomed.”
Soon after, their friends saw the pillows they created and asked for help for their own homes. On a whim, the two sisters decided to display at the Antiques and Garden Show, and the trajectory of this informal friends-and-family consulting business changed into an actual business.
“Too Pillows” was born, and the sisters have been curating living spaces across Mountain Brook ever since. While working at the Antiques and Garden Show, the dynamic duo met local artist Kitty White.
“She stencils things like walls, and she has done fabrics; so, we commissioned her to work on our pillows,” Sullins says.
Crawford says they cut the fabric, and Kitty paints over it, creating beautiful designs for the pillows.
After the show, business took off, and the sisters found themselves preparing pillow designs for stores in Mountain Brook and Homewood, eventually branching out into Nashville as well. Additionally, they work with various interior designers to curate unique pillows for specific projects.
“They’ll call us and say, ‘I’m working on a project. Do you have some pillows that would work with this space?’ We’ll pull some fabrics. Sometimes, we have them already made. So, it’s an easy step for designers to come to us,” Sullins says.
If one isn’t sure what she’s looking for, she can just wait until something she likes pops up on the “Too Pillow” Instagram page.
“[Clients] typically can send us a picture of the room or give us some colors, and we can put some fabrics together,” Sullins says. “We can sometimes work from pictures, but typically, it requires us to meet. This way, we can lay it out, show it to them and then they can approve it.”
The sisters will post a batch of pillows to the page and watch the frenzy begin as prospective buyers send private messages, hoping to grab one of the coveted releases. If one is lucky enough to snag a limited-edition pillow, she can meet Sullins and Crawford at their studio to pick it up.
If the pillow “doesn’t work,” one doesn’t need to worry. A client can always bring it back and trade it out, too.
“Sometimes, you just need to see the pillow in the space to know whether or not it will actually work,” Crawford says. “We allow our clientele to take a few pillows home and see what works and then bring back the ones that don’t work in their space.”
The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be good for the sisters’ small business. Sullins says while everybody was quarantining, a lot of their clients became tired of their furniture and décor and wanted to update their living spaces.
“Pillows are an easy way to update your space without buying a whole new set of furniture,” Sullins says.
Crawford adds that this newfound business gave them something to focus on in their free time.
Creating the pillows is what the sisters really love to do. They are happy to work with designers on a custom order, but they feel they do their best work when they are able to let their creative juices flow.
“We like to get in there and dream it up,” Sullins says. “We have someone that sews them, and we have Kitty who paints some. So, our job is putting it all together.”
The sisters’ studio is at Sullins’ house, so it’s not unusual to find her out there at all hours of the day or night, piecing fabrics together and dreaming of new concepts.
The studio is packed floor-to-ceiling with fabrics—every shade of white and gray that one can imagine. Those colors, along with black, make up the base, and then comes the patterns and the colors.
“We just get in there and play,” Sullins says. “You have to be in the mood. I’ll get on a roll, and then all of a sudden, my creativity has left me.”
Sullins and Crawford make a trip to Atlanta roughly every other month in search of the most unique fabrics. That’s where they get a lot of ideas for their pillows as well.
They’ll begin to brainstorm before they’ve even made a purchase. Additionally, they prefer to buy fabrics that only have a few yards left.
“We pride ourselves on creating unique pieces for our clients,” Crawford says. “We don’t want to grab the fabric that everyone else is using. We want to provide something you can’t find anywhere else.”
In addition to each fabric being a unique find, Crawford says they try to source rich colors, too.
“They end up being beautiful fabrics,” she says. “If we find a beautiful cream or a beautiful charcoal, we’ll buy a lot of it. But if it’s a pattern, we don’t buy a lot because we want them to be awesome.”
The sisters say while they have had a few opportunities to take their business to the next level, they are content with how things are going right now.
“This little business keeps us busy enough,” Crawford says. “We love what we do, and when we say we’re busy, we mean it in a fun way. We both love fabric, and we love that we get to create new and different things every day.”
Whether it’s a bedroom, guestroom, kid’s room or living room, “Too Pillows” has something for every space in one’s home. From two sisters who pride themselves on creating “too pillows” that are too cute, they say the best part of business is experiencing every day with each other, and what a wonderful business model that is.
Too Cute, Two Sisters, Too Pillows
The standard “Too Pillow” is 24 inches-long by 24 inches-wide and starts around $225. Painted pieces begin around $325. Prices vary by size and design. All of the pillows have a down insert and are packed tightly, so they sit up nicely.