It happens every January. Once the glitz, glam, glitter and gluttony of the holidays are over, I crave simplicity. I long for austerity and to surround myself with natural neutrals. No frills, no excess. I want food no fancier than plain water and a tuna sandwich, and a home no fussier than a monastery.
So last week when a sea tide of photos featuring undyed natural linens in a beautifully simple home flowed into my inbox, it was an oasis for my overstimulated eyes.
I had forgotten how much I loved linen, but Richard Ostell, a respected fashion and home designer, reminded me. The shots were from his home in Westchester, N.Y. Rough woven linens graced his tables, windows and bed like a pure sigh of relief.
I wanted to crawl through my computer screen and into his home, make a cup of tea, sit by his window and decompress. Instead I got him on the phone.
“I'm calling to talk about our mutual love of linen,” I said, breaking Rule No. 1 in journalism: Be objective. Never show your bias.
“I'm not a fan of superfluous detail,” he said, in a British accent that oozed refinement. “I'd much rather have something plain. Linen is honest, simple, humble, durable and has an element of having been touched by human hands.”
“I know!” I blurt. “And, I don't know about you, but after all the sequins of the holidays, I am so ready for linen. I mean, if I never see another mirrored ball!” Then I smack myself. This reserved taste-leader, the former creative director for Liz Claiborne who now has his own furniture and product design company, would never have anything so gaudy as sequins in his home, let alone a mirrored ball.
Ostell's work, whether in fashion or furnishings, reflects style that doesn't scream. His home whispers, “I am here to comfort not impress.” It's a mantra more homes should adopt.
“Linen is this great-looking fabric, so why don't we use it more?” I continue.
“I'm puzzled by that, as well,” he said. “Possibly because it's naturally rumpled look gave it a reputation for being too casual. It got pigeonholed, but it can be very sophisticated. I think a lot of people don't understand what they can do with it.”
“I think it's the ironing,” I said. “All that pressing and starching. Who has time?”
“I never iron linen,” he said.
“It defeats the point of it. The rumpled look is part of its beauty. I love it right when it comes out of the dryer fluffy. I don't think people should think it looks messy. It should be left as it is.”
“Maybe that rough and tumble look is OK for beds, but what about linen clothes?”