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The Color of Linen

Leveraging old world sensibilities and a solid understanding of design, interior designer/textile artist Beth Odence creates a cozy home in Cotuit.

Flax plants flower in pentamerous petals, delicate as silk, soft as water. From a distance, one might be forgiven for mistaking a flax field for one of lavender, but flax is a purer blue, a lighter shade of pastel. Close up, there could be no confusion, for flax flowers are about the size of a quarter, while dozens of lavender blossoms could fit on the face of a dime. Intermingled with the greens of their stems and leaves, the blue flowers create azure waves rolling across acres of land. Under a clear morning sky, with sunlight shimmering on dewdrops, the fields can resemble great lakes, or even boundless seas.

It seems especially fitting that fields of flax in their bounty of blue should form the basis for a Cotuit-based company that places the importance of color at its very core. Flax plants are used for their seeds, which have a number of health benefits, and for making linseed oil, but their stalks, or straw, are used to create linen. These oceanic fields roll across landscapes in northern climates, in the Dakotas, Canada, Russia, and France, but Belgium has long cultivated the honor of producing the finest linen in the world. Design No. Five is the brainchild of owner and CEO Beth Odence, who chose Belgian linen for her fabric lines because of its eco-friendly qualities and for its structure, which lends itself to her creations. “Flax has long, sturdy fibers,” says Odence. “And it wears like iron.” The flax that Design No. Five uses is organic and sustainable, as well. Says Odence, “People are really starting to care that fabric is ‘Belgian Linen certified.’” Design No. Five contracts with Libeco, a company based in Meulebeke, Belgium, a town near the city of Ghent. Libeco is one of only six companies in the world that carries the Belgian Linen quality label, and Design No. Five ensures that the products remain environmentally-friendly throughout their manufacturing process. Fabric is made to order, which minimizes waste, and Odence works with a mill in Pennsylvania “that takes great pains to use eco-friendly methods to clean its machines.” She explains that many other fabric manufacturers use poisonous chemicals which pollute waterways. “This is one reason why much of the U.S. textile industry moved overseas,” she says. The inks that Design No. Five uses are also safe and all low viscous. 

Design No. Five uses coastal inspired patterns and colors to “make the ordinary extraordinary,” and the concept for the company arose during an industry conference in Thailand. At the time, Odence ran an interior design company, and recalls, “One of the other designers asked where to go to find really good coastal prints. Not Key West style, not Provence. And nautical has been overdone. So I thought, why not start making fabric?” When she returned to the Cape, she and a colleague went down to the beaches of Barnstable and Cotuit and gathered items from the beach. “We had a box full of stuff that looked almost like trash,” she says, “seaweed, skate pods, horseshoe crabs and other shells.” Rockweed, the brown plant that vaguely resembles kelp, but with forked branches and air bladders, became the inspiration for the first pattern. “It was less obvious than the horseshoe crab,” says Odence. The shape and texture of the plant lent itself both to inverse prints in white with a colored background, and to prints in color on natural linen. One of Design No. Five’s signature moves is to take the initial design and offer it in different colors, so a skate pod, or mermaid’s purse, could appear in Nantucket red rather than its native matte black. “I was drawn to the ‘legs’ of the mermaid’s purses,” says Odence, “so I lined them up in a pattern like chorus girls. Our navy blue version of this pattern has been one of our most popular.” 

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