Made in Sarasota

By staff March 1, 2004

Some adults can remember exactly when they glimpsed their future-the song that inspired a music career or the book that lured them to write. For 16-year-old Reginna Zhidov, it was aVogue photograph of a model draped in a dress of burlap and silk.

"That's when I realized that with fabric, anything is possible," Zhidov says. "You can take a little bit of fabric and change a room. You take a piece of fabric and make it a piece of art."

That's exactly what Zhidov, now 36, does in her year-old downtown Palmetto business, Gunnysack and Silk Designs. From the bay windows jutting out onto the sidewalk, Zhidov's shop exudes a charm that is very much like its proprietor-welcoming, interesting and unexpected. Here, Zhidov custom-designs heirloom pillows made of handwoven fabrics she imports from Italy and France. Each features contrasting sides-one for casual everyday use, and the other for more elegant entertaining.

She's named each one, too: "The Day," for example, features Irish setters on the front and plaid on the back. "Distinction" has a flowery front and a solid gold back with a black stripe. Zhidov loves to play with surprising color combinations and patterns; one pillow has traditional French designs in celery, gold and red on one side, and contemporary bold stripes on the other. She's excited by deep chocolates, buttery yellows and shimmering reds, about combed cottons and fine silks, and about the endless possibilities of fabric-from framing a piece to hang on a wall to putting it on wallpaper backing to actually cover the wall.

"When you think about the individual threads coming together to make harmony, it's unbelievable," says Zhidov. "Seamstresses amaze me. You take a piece of fabric and anything is possible."

Growing up in Chickasha, Okla. (population: 17,000), Zhidov was fascinated by her two aunts, who sewed all their own clothes. She took art classes and studied computer graphics in college, and worked in Nashville as a Web designer. But Seattle-born Zhidov was soon restless-"I'm a water person," she says-and moved to St. Croix, where she accumulated golden memories with friends and worked at an upscale women's clothing shop called Java Wraps. Though she moved back to Nashville for three years, the lure of the water was too strong. So when she visited friends in Punta Gorda and felt instantly at home, all she had to do was convince hubby, Ivan, a software engineer and owner of Hungry Bear Consulting, to make the move.

She opened up Gunnysack and Silk Designs a year ago, and has been in the downtown Palmetto location since September 2003. As well as her fabrics and pillows, Zhidov has imported furniture, paintings by Florida artists and Russian hand- painted bone china, inspired by her husband's birthplace. She runs this operation solo, and when she's not home, furiously designing, she's here, chatting with customers or consulting with decorators for custom orders. People come to her with swatches from their couch or photographs of their home so Zhidov can help select fabric and trimmings based on their tastes and lifestyles. Men are especially drawn to the pillows as personalized gifts for their wives, she says.

"They tell me she likes florals or stripes, and her favorite colors are blue and green, and I take it from there," says Zhidov.

Pillows range from $85 to $125. Gunnysack and Silk Design is located at 419 10th Ave. W. in Palmetto. You can reach Zhidov at (941) 447-1299. 

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