Fashioning pillows with a Middle East flavor

It took Marjorie Lawrence, owner of The Pillowry, at 177 East 87th Street in Manhattan, to discover the charm of decorative pillows made from the fragments of old Oriental carpets.

Her shop features pillows of every possible shape and size. They are covered with antique kilims and Caucasian tribal gems whose tones are soft and muted by time, but whose designs are as vibrantly alive today as they were in the 19th and late 18th centuries, when they were conceived at the looms.

Ten years ago, Mrs. Lawrence, a graduate in art from Smith College, became restless with her role as wife and mother of grown children and decided she needed a new interest and a new career. She had grown up hating Oriental rugs, and couldn't wait to wall-to-wall her own first home with good, plain broadloom carpeting.

When the idea began to look pretty dull to her, she discovered the "whole great wonderful world of Oriental rugs with all their endless array of skills and patterns and colors." Because it took her five years to find just the right rug for her own living room, she inspected, and felt, and learned a lot about a lot of rugs.

the decision she made, with a friend, to open The Pillowry meant annual trips with her husband, Robert, to Iran, Turkey, Tunisia, Afghanistan, and Russia to search out both tribal and village rugs in the villages and local bazaars. One summer they visited seven countries in five weeks, including Morocco and Pakistan.

"I learned to bargain," Mrs. Lawrence said in her shop recently, "and I also formed a deep attachment for the Middle East, and am sorry not to be going back this year." Travel has become too difficult, she says, so now she buys her rugs here in the United States from auctions, estate sales, private people, and travelers and who have brought back good examples.

The Oriental rug-covered pillows that Mrs. Lawrence introduced were the first of their kind, and the decorating world applauded her ingenuity. Since then her enterprising idea has been copied by others, but she remains the stable bellwether of the lot, selling to customers off the street, to interior designers, and sometimes to other shops.

Decorators out around the country send color schemes to her for homes they are working on, then trust her judgment to choose the pillow. Today she deals in the rugs themselves as well as in furniture and pillows covered with the still-good fragments of otherwise damaged rugs. "But I am careful about what I cut up," she says, "and I spend a lot of time fitting each rug fragment exactly to the right-sized pillow."

Mrs. lawrence contends that her pillows are small works of art in themselves and will become heirlooms to be passed down from generation to generation. To her, the romance of her pillows clad in Oriental rugs is that they represent so many different countries and cultures.

"I like to play one pattern against another," she explains, "which one can do because the colors and designs are so subtle and mellow now."

Pillows from The Pillowry complement almost any interior, but they do the most, Mrs. Lawrence believes, for cool, modern rooms that could look sterile without the warmth of Oriental rug-covered pillows. Her pillows retail from $17 .50 for a small neck pillow to $350 for a big floor pillow.

She often rents her pillows for use in Broadway shows and movie and television sets.

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