The Color of Linen

Cape Cod Home  /  Spring 2020 / ,

Writer: Chris White / Photographer: Joyelle West 

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.” 

The Cotuit home of Beth and Philip Odence is a 200 year-old ship captain’s house on the bluff above the harbor, and it’s a showcase for the power of color, a study in the ways that paint can transform a house, and a gallery in which the fabrics of Design No. Five are on display everywhere. For many years, the house was decorated in a colonial style, and as such it was nice enough, but the “before” pictures quite literally pale in comparison to those of its transformed state. Where white, natural wood, faded brick, and pea-green dominated the palette in the “colonial” phase, the true colors of the home’s original nature now shine. In fact, color is a feature of the ship captain style home because these world travelers sailed back with design ideas from the islands, from African nations, from India, and from the far East. They decorated their walls with “exotic” art and furnished their rooms with pieces that could appear in museums. 

The “anchor” in the Odences’ home is their cocktail room, which is painted white and situated between the kitchen and Beth’s studio. Its low ceiling and walls are both finished in horizontal v-groove shiplap, which alludes to sailing vessels. It’s a smaller space, but Odence says, “White makes rooms look bigger than they are.” White also creates a canvas upon which other colors can pop, so the almost surreal painting of a fisherman holding an oversized catch, by Rhode Island painter David Witbeck, really shines. “Every time you add color, you accent,” says Odence. “You want to consider ‘what am I emphasizing?’ and only highlight the good.”

Moving east through the home, the dining room offers another lesson in color. Odence explains, “It was a dark room to begin with; I like to choose dark colors to go with it.” It’s important to consider when one will use a room. Since people tend to eat dinner in the evening, Odence selected dark gray walls with a silver wash, “which is still in keeping with coastal style.” Black and white rope knot prints on handmade paper adorn the wall and provide further emphasis, while also toning down the formality of the space. On the eastern wall, the colors of the Cotuit Skiff fleet shine in Charles Lowell’s original four-panel photo from the CMYC’s centennial celebration, “The Biggest Skiff Race Ever,” where 66 boats crossed the starting line. 

Where the dining room captures a stormy coastal feeling, the living room evokes the deep red sky of night, of “sailor’s delight.” Odence chose Benjamin Moore’s “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” essentially a Nantucket red, but finished it with a pumpkin glaze. “Philip and I have always had a red room,” she says. “One of its benefits are the sight lines, which complement the room you’re coming through.” In contrast to the expansive effects of white, red brings the walls in. Odence’s choice of red for the window trim was also conscious. “If I had painted it white, that would have taken away from its impact. But the trim is without the glaze, so it enhances the color.”

A common design mistake is to treat each room as a separate entity; houses are more like pieces of art. “The color should tell a story,” says Odence. Themes can also resonate throughout spaces and from one room to the next. A banister leading upstairs from the kitchen is fashioned from an old Cotuit skiff mast and gaff, and the manila rope “railing” alludes to the prints of knots in the next room. Odence also notes that, “We have mixed metals — silver, brass — throughout the house.” Thus, the silver wash of the dining room echoes in the stainless JIELDE lamps in the living room. Throughout every space, the fabrics of Design No. Five provide accents and enhance the mood. Roman shades with a horseshoe crab print in a hue of orange called “sunny” complement the deep red walls of the living room; the dancing mermaid purse design in Nantucket red covers armchairs in the cocktail room, and pillows in a variety of prints and colors dapple the sofas and chairs throughout the home.

Design No. Five is the fifth business that Beth Odence has started over her career, and it’s part of a natural progression. Her home staging business for the real estate industry led to her starting an interior design company, which then led her to fabric. This evolution also mirrors the way designers usually approach projects; they usual begin with larger pieces like furniture, and  “Fabric is usually the last piece,” she says. The company has been going strong for the past year, and Odence is looking forward to expanding in a variety of ways. Because Design No. Five is a “virtual company,” Beth has been able to run everything herself thus far, but she will likely hire a sales manager in the near future. She plans to sell to New England designers, but foresees the most growth coming from places such as Seattle, the Carolinas and Florida. The company is taking advantage of the resurgence of color in both the fashion and design industries, and will launch lines of wallpaper soon. Odence has plans for new patterns within the coastal milieu as well. “I’m looking forward to creating clusters of seagulls. This would keep the Cape Cod influence, but it won’t be too Cape Cod,” she says. “People in France or California should be able to use it, too.”

As her second year in this new company gears up, Odence is really having fun, hitting her stride, and satisfying a need within the market. Even when she worked in the tech industry, Odence worked with manufacturing, and ran a sweater business for awhile. “In my heart of hearts, I like making things. Coming back to fabric design seemed natural, like coming home for me.”

Visit Beth online at designnofive.com even more inspiration!

Chris White

Chris White is a frequent writer for Cape Cod Life Publications and has written on topics ranging from the history of Smith’s Tavern on Wellfleet Island to the sinking of the SS Andrea Doria off Nantucket. Chris also teaches English at Tabor Academy in Marion.