Sunday, November 7, 2010

In Praise of the Linen Closet

Karin Larsson at the Linen Closet, by Carl Larsson, 1906. The artist's wife is carefully inspecting her linens. I like the large size of this beautiful cupboard--which holds a lot, unlike the narrow linen closets built into the upstairs hallway in many American homes.

I have always been impressed by a beautiful linen closet, so you can imagine how much I enjoyed this passage in Joy Street, a novel written by Frances Parkinson Keyes in 1950:
One afternoon, Emily [a new bride of upper-crust Boston society in the 1930s], led her husband to the spacious linen closet and, throwing open its double doors, revealed pile after pile of snowy sheets and pillowcases and towels, gartered with satin-covered elastic to insure perfect regularity, and scented with small bags of lavender nestling between each pile.

At the Linen Closet by Pieter de Hooch, 1663. The Dutch, the first to value housecleaning and whose art celebrated domesticity, naturally took their linen closets seriously. Here the mistress of the home returns sparkling clean sheets to the linen closet. Note the child playing hockey on the floor on the right, reminding us that chaos is always on the horizon.

The scene reminded me of a similar description in the book, Sweeping the German Nation: Domesticity and National Identity in Germany by Nancy Ruth Reagin. A non-German in the early 20th century visits the home of a German professor, whose wife:
"threw back both doors of an immense cupboard occupying the longest wall in the home... [For] their happiness, they possessed all this linen: shelf upon shelf, pile upon pile of linen, exactly ordered, tied with lemon coloured ribbons."

A German housewife was expected to wash her white linen and spread it out on the lawn for bleaching so it was snowy white before being laid in the closet.

I've always appreciate Martha Stewart's ideas about the linen closet, too, reading them in her magazine quite a few years ago. Here is a Martha Stewart Linen Closet Picture Gallery and a Martha Stewart Organize the Linen Closet Checklist.

Below a Martha Stewart linen closet--I love the eyelet border hanging over the edge of the shelves. Note ribbons.


Barbara C. said...

I always had plenty of room in my linen closet. My philosophy, having five children was one set each, wash, than back on the bed and on the towel bar!!!
Appreciate hearing about Francis Parkenson Keys--I read her when I was in college and loved her books. I'll have to try re-reading or find what I haven't read!

Linda said...

I think your plan sounds perfect, but here I am, pathetic fabric junkie, who never parts with a towel or sheet. Even when sheets are in shreds I keep them for spreading over floors and furniture when I do house painting, stow old bedspreads for throwing on the beach, and keep old towels for mopping up big spills or leaks or the dog after a bath, so you can imagine my storage needs! LOL

Nan said...

I so wish I had one. Now that the kids are not living here, I don't really need it, but I'd like to have one anyway. And the other thing is I want to learn how to properly fold fitted sheets. :<) I'm thinking of getting some open shelves to hold the few linens I do have, which is pretty much a set of flannel winter sheets and another set for summer.