Designing Woman -September/October 2012
by: Lindsay Pykosz
photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger
Leslie Linsley’s mother was a dress designer. One of her grandfathers was an architect. The other was an artist.
With that lineage, it’s no surprise that the woman whose name is synonymous with do--it-yourself home decor, craft projects and design chose a career path in that area.
Leslie Linsley learned découpage from her mother in order to put herself through college at the University of Connecticut where she studied journalism. She and her mother made little boxes and right off the bat sold them in New York City’s top-end stores: Tiffany, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s and Cartier. She then started working for Henri Bendel, a leading women’s fashion boutique in New York, where she met a scout from the Doubleday publishing house who asked if she would like to produce a book on découpage. It was then that her story begins.
“I can take other people’s designs, manipulate them and make them my own, so that was really the beginning of it,” she said. With a background in journalism, she published her first paperback book on a subject no one knew much about.
At the same time, Linsley, who grew up in Fairfield County, Connecticut, was writing a column for the Stamford Advocate. She later got a job as a freelancer and then contributing craft editor at Family Circle Magazine for 15 years, moved onto a partnership with St. Martin’s Press and Better Homes and Gardens writing books on crafts. But then, something unexpected happened: People stopped crafting, prompting Linsley to switch gears.
“There was this whole period where there wasn’t any crafting, so it was easy to segue into the decorating area,” she said. “The first style book I did was ‘Nantucket Style’ for Rizzoli and that was 22 years ago in 1990. It was really the first style book on Nantucket and it was my take. Since I had lived here since I was a child, I knew it cold. I knew exactly what it should be.”
“What is that style? It’s a casual elegance. I think that’s the best way to describe it,” Linsley said. “Nantucket style is designed for comfortable liv- ing, but with style, with panache. So it’s elusive. Sometimes people say it’s a feeling they get, but when they’re in a Nantucket-designed home, they feel like it’s different.”
Linsley’s inspiration comes from all that’s around her, from the colors of nature on the island to the creative people and craftspeople she encounters. It’s because of this that she’s “tuned in all the time” to her surroundings, and is always thinking of new ways to modify an idea to make it more fresh, clean and Nantucket-oriented.
“My antenna is up all the time to colors and color changes,” she said. “Because I’ve been in the business for so long, I do get all the promotion pieces from manufacturers for what’s coming out next season so I can be prepared and see how it meshes with the Nantucket style. Purple might be the next best thing in the world, but for us, I would tone it down to be more like a lavender, similar to what we see growing in the gardens here. It’s about taking what’s out there and modifying it.”
Over the past year, Linsley has been in conversation with Marine Home Center to carry part of her Leslie Linsley Nantucket branded products on an exclusive basis. The partnership can be described in two words for her, “a dream,” as it is a way for her to design new lines and expand on the ones that are her most popular. On display are her compass-rose plates, Nantucket signature pillows and original hand-screened fabrics available for people to purchase by the yard to upholster their furniture.
“It has turned out to be a partnership that has exceeded our expectations,” Linsley said. “We started with a few products, and little by little we’re introducing new products. The downtown shop is becoming more and more just handmade things. I might have a pillow in every color, they have many pillows and have them in different sizes, different weights of fabric. They sell hand-screened fabric by the yard. I couldn’t possibly do that.”
“This summer, I’ve mostly been doing custom work in my shop. People will come in and will be entertaining and want a set of dishes that represent their home. I have two nice series of découpage plates that I’m doing and then my hydrangeas. All my motifs are original. I have thousands of prints. I’ve been going to London for 40 years every year buying antique prints for my plates. You won’t see them anywhere else.”
Linsley’s downtown store, Leslie Linsley Nantucket, carries an array of plates with botanical prints, her découpage boxes, Nantucket pillows, coasters, early folk-art furniture and pieces that represent true “Nantucket style.”
She’s also released a new book called “That’s a Great Idea,” a quote she hears often from customers in her store, and is a collection of her weekly columns from the past 35 years.
Over the next three years, Linsley said she is looking forward to devoting more of her time to her writing and Marine Home Center line and possibly separating herself from her retail store.
“There are always too many things to do,” she added. “Literally, when you’re a creative person, you’ve got ideas coming at you all the time. I am looking forward to not having a retail store and segueing over into everything being here and just having the handmade things on the website. I’m looking forward to that in the near future so I can devote more time to this because if you spread yourself too thin, you don’t do anything well. But I would miss my customers and I’ve been using this year to let my customers in town know that we have this at Marine because a lot of people have not been out of the core district.”
Linsley considers herself lucky. Not only did she start out very young knowing that she wanted a certain lifestyle, but she gets to do what she loves every single day. She advises young people living on the island to be determined and pursue their passions as she did and continues to do.