She is based in Los Angeles, where she began creating custom linens two decades ago, but at heart Deborah Sharpe of Deborah Sharpe Linens is a world traveler, crisscrossing the globe to discover the finest looms in Italy, the softest cashmere in Nepal, and the most elaborate tabletop embroideries in India. Here, she talks about how bedroom design has evolved—and how commissioning custom linens is the ultimate luxury for modern bedrooms.
Q: You started out working in Italy, but now you travel around the world for your collections. Where do you find the best craftsmanship?
A: I still find the best craftsmanship for linens is in Italy. I work with factories that are very small and individual. The women who make the linens have been doing this specialized work their entire lives. Their mothers taught them the art. Last year when the Pratesi linens factory closed, many of the sewers came to be employed at my factory. We now do many of the same stitching ideas for our custom work.
Q: And where do you travel for inspiration?
A: The world is my inspiration, and I travel all over—Java, Myanmar, Egypt, Nepal, and Peru are countries I’ve gone to in the past few years. I am constantly searching for the best cottons and cashmeres, and looking for artisans who can produce unique pieces for my clients. This year I found the best cashmere factory that can produce one-of-a-kind blankets and throws in any Pantone color. My clients love that they can call me to produce products that cannot be found anywhere else in America.
Q: You offer more than 100 embroidery patterns in dozens of colors, for bedding, table linens, even beach towels. Do you think clients are more open to innovation and bold colors these days?
A: My clients' tastes are so diverse, and I have found in my twenty years of business, both designers and clients have always been open to trying new ideas and colors. Each client tends to have a different idea for each bedroom.
Q: Do you think the popularity of pared-down and mid-century rooms has led to a rethinking of how the bed should look?
A: White sheets have always been the go-to look for modern and mid-century rooms. I would say the majority of my clients choose white sheets with simple embroidery.
Q: What do you think is the biggest change in bedroom design and comforts since you began your career twenty years ago?
A: One big change in bedroom design is the use of duvet covers. When I first started out, many designers wanted us to make duvet covers out of the same materials they used for the headboards, bedskirts, or drapes. That usually made the duvet very heavy. Clients didn't like that heaviness on their bodies while they were sleeping. As of ten years ago, designers stopped that and switched, usually to a white duvet cover. Alas, that made the bed look, to me, like a marshmallow. For the past five years, I have been making beds incorporating a blanket or quilt, with the duvet folded in thirds at the end of the bed.
Q: Your collection goes beyond sheets to include quilts, blankets, robes, and accessories. What items or layers do you think are essential for a cosseting bedroom?
A: I love the idea of starting from the bottom up, beginning with our cotton mattress pads and working our way up. The quality of our Italian woven cottons makes them feel very different from cottons woven in China and India. We recommend pillows and a duvet to suit each client's personal preferences — soft, medium, firm, summer or winter weight. We let them feel our fabrics and choose which kind of cotton they may prefer, either percale or sateen. Most of my clients stick to whites, greys, and blues for their sheeting color. Embroidery threads are available in myriad colors from brights to muted. For the last few years, various shades of grey embroideries have been most popular.
Q: How do you think your background in art, and your years as an art dealer in New York, have shaped your work? Do you think you are more open to colors and patterns? More willing to experiment?
A: My background in art history and experience as an art dealer have everything to do with my work. Looking at art is an almost everyday activity for me, whether it is visiting a gallery, a museum, looking at art books, traveling the world and being inspired by the colors inside a tomb in the Valley of the Kings or the Magao cave paintings on the Silk Road.
Q: You have created linens for hotels, yachts, and even private planes. What are some of the more unusual requests you have received?
A: Nothing surprises me when it comes to what clients want. I have been asked to label every sheet with the name of the room where it is to be used, the name of a child, even a plane’s tail number. We have embroidered a yacht's name on every napkin and towel, made pool towels in custom colored stripes, and woven cashmere blankets in Pantone colors for a screening room. We have created bath mats and towels in custom sizes and made linen bedside mats embroidered with "Good Morning" and "Good Night" in virtually every language.
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