Archive for November, 2011

Linens & Entertaining – Getting Ready for the Holidays

Holidays often encourage us to bring out the fine linens for our table. I announced at Thanksgiving dinner that I was going to do a blog post on Linens, and one of our guests said, “. . .and what is your position?” My answer was “I’m definitely in favor. When the sides are drawn up, I fall on the side with the linens.”

Holday table settings

The Damask Napkins I Chose To Use This Thanksgiving

I confess that I am a linen junkie. I guess when you are an interior designer, fabric is one of your “things”. Linen is after all, just one of the wonderful types of fabric that I handle on a daily, or weekly, basis. And, further, I  would like to speak in favor of using your fine linens. I am, of course, in favor of using all fine things, as a way to enhance your life. Beauty enhances your inner soul, and many of us were put here on this earth in order to create beauty.

Simple pure linen napkin

An elegant, but simple, linen napkin - I like to use this when we're informal.

When I was younger, and had a much smaller collection of linens, I used to buy antique linens at interesting flea markets. Once I acquired a set of Large damask napkins from the old days, quantity: 11, where 3 of them had never been used! You could tell because the calendering, (the shine and stiffness) had never been washed out.

Antique Damask Napkin

Antique Damask Napkin with Calendering Intact

Look at it, above. It still had that lovely, beautiful sheen that linen has when it is new.

Not all linens are treated with the calendering process, but some are. Just fyi, Chintz , or polished cotton,  was usually calendered, giving it that wonderful sheen.

antique damask napking

One of my early purchases of antique napkins

What I love about this pattern: the dots in the middle, forming a sort of modern pattern on pattern, and the larger scale dots along the edge, just inside the hemstitching. And the SIZE, and the SHEEN, and the overall pattern in the damask. Funny that I have used and washed 8 of them, but the 3 originals are still here with their calendering. I must have had dinner parties for 8, but not for, ummm, hummm, 11.

I later inherited some antique linens that I treasure. I have a set of damask hand towels! Here I need help from our European blogging friends. I think they are towels.

Antique linen hand towels

Fine Damask Hand Towel with Embroidered "F" - Is there an "E" under the "F"?

What can you tell me about damask hand towels? It seems so formal and elegant. Were they for the guest bath? Or were they for the butler’s pantry/kitchen?  This set came from an old family in Memphis, obviously with the family name beginning in “F”. Not only are these damask, and they are beautifully embroidered., but they are about 4 feet long! Very long indeed for a hand towel. Are they a super refined dish drying towel for the ultra luxe?

antique linen hand towels

damask towel with tab

They also have a tab of fabric on the back which makes it seem like they could have been hung by that tab. Can you, friends, shed any light on this? Or was this sewn on so that they could be marked by the laundress, and still not mar the appearance on the front? Don’t you love a mystery?

In keeping with the idea of using your linens, if the above was not intended for kitchen use, then this one was.

linen kitchen towel

My Aunt's Kitchen Towel

I inherited several all linen kitchen towels from one of my aunts. I believe she casually embroidered them, too. In those days (the 1950’s?) occupying oneself with embroidery was still possible for a fine homemaker. This one I have not yet used, but I like to bring them out for parties when they can enthrall the guests! (Once, one of our guests at a large party asked me, “Sally WHERE do you get your towels?!)

Embroidery on kitchen towel

Simple teapot embroidery by my aunt

Isn’t this a cute teapot, done in a quick stitch style of embroidery. Cross stitch, I think it is called. My mother, too, was great at embroidery and fine linens. Lots of hers got used, and were a part of my growing up. I have many of her linen card table cloths, and napkins, reminding me of the days of their playing Bridge.

In the “old days” fine households used linens everyday, and one of the antiques that I inherited was obviously a daily tablecloth. You can just see this on a breakfast table. The monogramming makes it special, but the stitching is simple, and the cloth is more like a light weight cotton.

monogrammed linens

Everyday tablecloth made special with monogramming

Look at the very simple stitching design at the 4 corners.

antique linens

Corner detail of everyday tablecloth

Now our washing and ironing schedule (if there is one) is so different, and our lives so different, it is hard to remember that cloths were used at every meal! Long before the paper throw away generation (me), and when there might be several women about the house, making the home into a fine home, well ordered.

I have soooo many more photos of linens and different topics about linens, that I am going to save them for another day. Stay tuned for the posts to come. Best wishes,

Villa Rose – A beautiful boutique bed and breakfast in Southern France

I have a hard time letting go of the design magazines in our library. I take a great deal of pleasure in picking out a dozen or so from time to time, sitting down in a comfortable chair with a cup of hot tea (or chocolate) and thumbing through them. These long Holiday weekends are a perfect time for such leisure activity.

 Yesterday, I came across a story about Villa Rose, a small hotel in southern France, in a copy of Cote Ouest magazine. I was enchanted and set the magazine aside. My woefully inadequate 4 years of high school French have been long lost to Father Time, so I could not read 95% of the article. But the pictures were enough.

I’ve seen beadboard in the Great Camps in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State and New England beach houses, but nothing compares to the elegance conveyed in this photo. And have you ever seen a door jamb like that? The toile fabric on the chairs is a pefect foil for the soft casual charm of the layered linen table cloths. What do you think of the deep egg plant paint and the natural aged honey brown of the wood? To me, it’s perfect!


I’ve looked at this picture for a very long time – several times. Each time I see more and more smaller details.  There’s a ripple of quirkiness that calls out to me. The mirrors above the  long narrow hunt board (What would you call this piece of furniture in French?) and the  coarsely textured runner on its top.  There’s an honesty in how the chandelier is hung. The reflection of light in the wine glasses remind me of a Dutch Master’s painting.


This picture is so very romantic – on many levels.  It is sweet, soft and inviting. I keep asking myself, did someone pick the mirror knowing that it would reflect the curve of the stair hand rail just so? And that an oval mirror was perfect as opposed to a round or square mirror? To use beveled glass instead of flat glass? At some point I noticed the painted wood paneling behind the mirror. It is beautiful. I’ve never seen small corner blocks used in such a manner before!


Even the china is beautiful! How about the French doors and their hardware leading in to the bathroom?


The painted beadboard is absolutely brilliant, right down to the small pieces of decorative on-lay at the corners of the “panels”. I’m guessing that those are two little illuminated portrait scones. I never would have thought of white cushions with turquoise fringe. (Sally said, “But of course!”)  I’m charmed by their invitation to sit and savor a cup of tea after a day of exploring the countryside around town.


I love the colors of the bedroom. Serene, restful and condusive to long naps in the afternoon. (Afternoon naps are most restorative you know…) I finally decided this room ins not square – that maybe the wall to the right of the fireplace is curved or angled where the bed sits. The corona and antique picture add such elegance to an otherwise simple headboard. I just noticed that the headboard is larger that the box spring and mattress. It feels like a picture frame for the soft linen bed spread and cotton sheets on the bed. 

 Wouldn’t it be fun to escape to a little place like this for a long weekend?


Sneak peak of our North Shore installation.

Sally and I want to share a sneak peak of our latest installation. It is in a 1670 antique colonial on the North Shore of Boston and is a delightful mix of old family heirlooms and new. Most all the new area rugs and furniture arrived yesterday. Drapery still needs to go up and artwork needs to be hung and/or reframed, etc., but you can already feel the energy of the house.



This morning, when Sally checked her email, there was one of those emails designers dream about sent to her by her client waiting to be opened. Here’s a portion of it…

 “Just wanted you to know how happy we are and how much we appreciate all you’ve done. Everything looks great. Some of it will take a little getting used to… but in a good way, as in, ”Is this really our house?” Again, your art hanging recommendations are perfect (It’s clearly an art, and you have the gift). Thank you. Thank you!”

Now it’s time to help Sally get the house ready for tomorrow. Hope you all have a wonderful laughter filled Thanksgiving Holiday with family and friends!



 If you’d like us to help you design the home of your dreams, or simply reframe and hang artwork, please contact us here.

John Kelsey and Sally Wilson

Wilson Kelsey Design is an award-winning luxury architectural interior design firm serving discerning clients in Greater Boston and beyond.

With over 50 years’ combined experience, husband-and-wife team John Kelsey and Sally Wilson expertly manage the details while collaborating with you on every aspect of your design project, to create a beautiful home that reflects who you are and how you live. Our warm and approachable sensibility makes the design process an enjoyable and memorable experience, from initial design discussions through project completion.

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