THE HOMESPUN BEAUTY AND HISTORY OF ANTIQUE FRENCH LINENS CHARMED THIS VERMONT HOMEOWNER, WHO USED THEM TO CRAFT HER HOME’S UNIQUE DECOR—AND HER HER LIVELIHOOD.
WHEN WENDY LEWIS HAD HER SON, ETHAN, AND 18 months later her daughter, Innogen, she was overcome with such a profound feeling of love that she vowed to surround them with beauty and history. But the photographer and amateur genealogist didn’t know precisely how she would express her love tangibly until she pulled a piece of 18th-century printed cotton from a pile of textiles at an antiques store in the French countryside. “It was as if the heavens opened up with an answer,” Wendy says. “It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen other than my children. I thought, This is it. What do I have to do to be involved in this?” Today, as the owner of Textile Trunk, Wendy works from her home in Charlotte, Vermont, and imports thousands of vintage French textiles every year then sells them online or at the Brimfield (Massachusetts) Antique Show. Ethan is 17 and Innogen is 15, and they eat breakfast on chairs covered in antique grain sacks marked with the logos of poppy and millet farmers. They wipe their hands on 18th-century napkins. “It’s normal for them,” Wendy says. “They take for granted that they are surrounded by some of the most beautiful art in the world. And I love that I can give them that.” She found the historic structure that would showcase her livelihood and her passion in a Federal-style house that dates to 1790. The house’s tall windows and high ceilings felt like the French interiors she was familiar with while living in Europe for 12 years, although it hardly looked like a showcase of anything except 1980s wallpaper. “The bathroom had blue metallic ducks on the walls, and every room was so dark,” she says. “But I knew I could bring it back to neutral.” Once Wendy stripped the wallpaper and painted the walls chalky white, ecru, and gray—shades picked from the backgrounds of her favorite textiles—the light poured in. She also painstakingly brightened some of the floors during a week when the kids went to camp. “I got my kneepads out, took a bucket of water and added linen-colored paint to it, swished it around, and then went for it,” she says.
It took about two years for Wendy to get the house to be what she wanted because she’s deliberate and methodical—and very hands-on. She scraped the orange paint off the glass of a salvaged door she found in Philadelphia then installed it in her dining room. A single light bulb hung from the ceiling of her bathroom for five years until she found the exact antique milkglass fixture she envisioned. “If it’s not right, it’s not going in my house,” she says. “I would rather have nothing than something that I think doesn’t belong.” The thrill of the hunt is also a strong motivator. “It’s easy to order something new from a catalog, but knowing I’ve found something imbued with history that may be one in a million gives me a tremendous amount of joy,” she says. The house is essentially a canvas for her rotating, expanding collection. “I wanted my textiles to be the show,” she says. “Whatever I want—blue this month or linen next month— they drop onto this stage.” An old ladder propped against the bathroom wall is an obvious easel, but she also changes up the linens that drape her sofa, bed, and dining table. Although she sometimes sews pillow covers from pieces, most textiles are kept in their original condition and hung or draped in a temporary fashion. Her curtains are antique linen bed sheets that she simply clips to the rods. Wendy curates her private collection, pieces of which fill the weathered cupboards tucked around the house. “They are the pieces that fascinate me,” she says. “Maybe I want to know more about their origin. Or maybe they’re ones I want to use on the changing stage of my house.” Most of the antique linens she imports are offered to customers. Whether it’s through online interactions or in person at antiques shows, Wendy delights in seeing the look of wonder that once crossed her face in France decades ago. “All of the stories of my customers now become part of the history of these textiles,” she says.
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