Tak­ing hum­ble linen from rus­tic chic to a layer of lux­ury

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

It makes a re­ally good tea towel, but you can also sprin­kle its seeds on your break­fast ce­real, or use its oil to re­vive your dull wooden fur­ni­ture. Flax may be one of the old­est (and most use­ful) cul­ti­vated plants in his­tory, but linen – the wo­ven fab­ric made from the fi­bres within its stem – doesn’t stand still.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers are still find­ing ways to rein­vent the ma­te­rial, us­ing weav­ing and fin­ish­ing tech­niques that haven’t been seen be­fore. But it’s time­less, too: good-qual­ity plain linen never goes out of fash­ion, and oc­cu­pies a spe­cial space in the heart of many in­te­rior de­sign­ers.

“Linen is com­pletely ver­sa­tile, and we con­tinue to de­velop dif­fer­ent fab­rics,” says Bernie de Le Cuona, whose tex­tile com­pany de Le Cuona is known for both qual­ity and breadth of choice when it comes to linen. “We’ve just pro­duced a sim­ple-look­ing cloth called Origami; it’s made from a crepe linen yarn that is spun in Ja­pan, which gives it a very pa­pery ef­fect. It’s just so pretty.

“But other linens are heavy and gutsy, more ‘in­dus­trial’, and then there’s the clas­sic fab­ric that peo­ple as­so­ciate with Ir­ish linen, which is very el­e­gant.”

De Le Cuona says that, when she started out 25 years ago, no one thought that linen was a fab­ric worth cel­e­brat­ing on its own. “It was al­ways the type of fab­ric that you might find at San­der­son, [Eng­land’s old­est soft fur­nish­ing brand], with big flow­ers printed on it. I felt sure that I could turn it into some­thing that could be ap­pre­ci­ated for it­self. I was lucky, be­cause at the time it was just be­com­ing ac­cepted that you could wear crum­pled linen, so it started with fash­ion and then it moved to in­te­ri­ors as well.”

The ver­sa­til­ity of it is the re­sult of the mag­i­cal prop­er­ties of flax. The tall plants, their wind-ruf­fled blue flow­ers a quin­tes­sen­tial sight of early sum­mer in the coun­try­side, con­tain long, very strong fi­bres. It’s this strength that means the fab­ric can with­stand all sorts of treat­ment that al­ters its look and feel, such as be­ing pum­melled by an in­dus­trial wash­ing ma­chine full of pu­mice stones to make it soft and sup­ple, in a way that cot­ton couldn’t.

The long­est fi­bres make the bestqual­ity linen, smooth and flat, while the shorter ones cre­ate the slubby, raw-look­ing fab­rics that are just as ap­peal­ing for their pleas­ingly un­even feel. Linen is also stronger when wet than when dry, hence its ap­ti­tude as a ma­te­rial for tea tow­els.

“The best linen is grown, nur­tured, pro­cessed and wo­ven in one small area of Europe,” says Mark Butcher, the brand direc­tor of tex­tile com­pany Mark Alexan­der. France grows the best – that is, the tallest – plants thanks to its cli­mate, but it’s Bel­gium that is known for its skill in weav­ing the ma­te­rial.

Linen’s nub­bly sur­face and crum­pled ap­pear­ance of­fer two ways to add tex­ture and vis­ual in­ter­est to an in­te­rior de­sign scheme within a fab­ric, which is one rea­son why in­te­rior de­sign­ers love it. “I like tex­tiles to have a ‘found’ or lived-in qual­ity, and us­ing linen is the per­fect way to achieve that,” says Butcher.

He says that Mark Alexan­der’s aes­thetic is for “tex­tiles that look like they be­long, which are an es­sen­tial part of an un­der­stated in­te­rior that ap­pears to have evolved”.

Linen takes dye beau­ti­fully, mean­ing that bright colours are pos­si­ble, but in­trigu­ingly, many man­u­fac­tur­ers stick to neu­tral shades and colours in­spired by na­ture, see­ing them as a good fit for the nat­u­ral­ness of the ma­te­rial it­self. Mark Alexan­der’s lat­est linen col­lec­tion, Loom, in­cludes colours such as Car­nelian, a brown­ish red in­spired by the min­eral of the same name, and At­lantic, a blue-grey. These aren’t “fash­ion­able” colours as such but they all go to­gether very well, cre­at­ing schemes that are easy on the eye and have that lived-in look that Butcher men­tions.

Crum­pled, washed linen is also a good com­ple­ment to a more re­laxed, less tai­lored style of sofa. Fur­ni­ture com­pany Arlo & Ja­cob has just in­tro­duced a loosec­ov­ered cor­ner model, Harriet, that looks ca­sual cov­ered in den­im­blue linen, while Barker and Stone­house’s Pablo sofa and chair have a Princess and the Pea- style de­sign of stacked cush­ions, where dif­fer­ent colours of linen fab­ric can be se­lected for each layer.

As a fab­ric for sleep­ing with, linen is per­fect, cool in sum­mer and warm in win­ter; now that we’re seek­ing out a more in­for­mal, re­laxed look for our homes, crum­pled, no-need-to­iron prod­ucts in 100 per cent linen have re­ally taken off.

It gets softer with ev­ery wash, and those strong flax fi­bres mean that it lasts, so it’s worth any ex­tra in­vest­ment above a cot­ton set. Colours such as blush pink or warm grey are the norm, as well as clas­sic white. For some­thing brighter, try on­line re­tailer Linen Me, which sells sets in zingy cit­rine yel­low and hot pink, among others.

“Noth­ing beats the feel­ing of a fresh linen nap­kin on the ta­ble, or linen sheets on a sum­mer’s night,” says Ari­anna Brissi, co-founder of on­line re­tailer Brissi. “Our stonewashed ta­ble linen col­lec­tion has been ex­tremely pop­u­lar; cus­tomers of­ten come back to get more once they have dis­cov­ered how easy to care for it is.”

It may have nat­u­ral, “hon­est” qual­i­ties, but linen can also work in more out-there dec­o­ra­tive schemes. It can be a great foil for more op­u­lent ma­te­ri­als – Gra­ham & Green sells jewel-coloured vel­vet cush­ions that are backed with nat­u­ral linen, and ir­rev­er­ent gilded wall lamps in the shape of an­i­mal heads, topped by

Tache Toile fab­ric on sofa, £107 per me­tre (rubelli.com)

me­tre (jimthomp­son fab­rics.com); wall lights with linen shade, be­low, £95 each (gra­hamand green.co.uk)

Grey linen du­vet cover, above, from £138, (piglet­inbed. com); Mai­son Bro­cante bench cush­ion, left, £80, (hand-picked bykate.com)

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