How Linda Lane finesses fabric

By Cynthia Adams     Photographs by Amy Freeman

Textiles designer Linda Lane, deeply absorbed as Puccini plays softly in her Fisher Park home studio and workspace, is thinking about purple. It is, far and away, her favorite color. Lane’s eyes widen as she says this, lest she be misunderstood. Purple has been trending for years, she says.

Purple is intense. Lane is intense. She laughs to indicate she knows this, but make no mistake:  Color is the main stock in trade for Linda Lane Design. “I think I’m good at color,” she says.  “I dream in color.  Just last night I had a dream about my old periwinkle Volvo from 1980!”  Although her studio is a creative place for imagining and creation, this is Lane’s work: manipulating color in infinite design variations and patterns for her own and others’ textile designs.

But back to purple. If Lane could speak in color, why, she might be speaking in Purpleese. 

Purpleese would be a magnificent sound.

Color is all, she explains. Colors come. Colors go. Gray has stayed, displacing beige for some years as the neutral favorite of designers. These are trends, Lane says, with a wry smile. Trends change. Lavender, a cool gray-lavender, “not mauve — nobody says mauve anymore,” is still a huge hit. Shades of pink (Lane produces swatches) and mercurial shades of gray play well together.   

“So you will see a sofa that’s gray with a violet tinge,” she says. “Gray is still taking a stronghold over beige,” she adds.

Lavender-not mauve plays into many of the swatches Lane has “edited” and curated for a client.   Whenever she isn’t noodling and doodling to create her own fabric designs, she is rethinking and refreshing the popular classic fabric designs her client already owns. Lane sends the redesigns in new colors to her client, who approves and forwards them to India for execution. 

Lane also creates an array of paisleys, chrysanthemum, crane and tree-of-life–inspired patterns.  Many become new classics that will be reiterated and reimagined in new colors but they originated right here, in Lane’s studio. “Every house of fabric has in-house or outside designers,” she explains. “And there are hundreds of companies who make fabrics. I’m in the background.” In M.B.A parlance, she’s B2B, business-to-business.

The fabrics chosen will be produced then shown at the semiannual fabric market in High Point, Showtime, the only one of its kind, which takes place June 4–7 and December 3–6.

Some of the fabrics will be chosen by the flood of buyers (more than 800) who represent the biggest names in furnishings: Ralph Lauren, Pottery Barn, West Elm, Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware, to name a few. Their buyers will go through hundreds of fabrics, anoint the winners, and those (and only those) will be issued and used as upholstery fabrics for the following High Point Market. There, she will see the fabric as imagined: gracing sofas, armchairs, ottomans, curtains, bedding or tabletops.

Many of Lane’s favorites never enter production. But happily, many do. It is a gamble, a toss-up, a complete unknown. 

And Lane loves doing it, in the same way she loves going alone to museums. “I want to spend my days just losing myself in it.”

However, deadlines are waiting, and there is work to be done. Lane is in her work uniform, dressed, head-to-toe in varying intensities of gunmetal gray. She swivels in an office chair and glances outside the window. Because she does not render her fabric designs via computer but by hand, Lane’s computer is more a tool for communication than design. “I’m old school,” she says.  “I hand draw and paint everything.”

There are watercolors on Lane’s drafting table where a bohemian paisley fabric sketch is in process. 

Everywhere the eye lands there are fabrics of Lane’s own design, sketches, inspiration books, and Lane’s paintings and paints.  And color! Color everywhere. The home office, which is more studio than office, is temporary. Lane is gearing up for a home redo at the house she and her husband acquired nearby in the Fisher Park historic district, and they’re living in the rental for the short-term. 

A love of exuberantly colorful and tactile fabrics is generational for Lane. This passion, she explains, reaches back to her mother and grandmother. A fondness for a riot of color in designs also speaks to her exposure to different cultures.

Born in Beirut, Lane grew up in New London, Connecticut. Lane says she was inspired early on by the French influences in postwar Beirut (following World War II).  Also, the women in her family moved her. She reaches into a box and produces intricate pieces featuring her mother’s painstaking French knots, cutwork, needlework, even twee children’s clothing that she sewed, or knitted, many fully lined.

“What do I do with these?” she asks softly. “They’re so wonderful.  I couldn’t get rid of them.”  She still keeps her mother’s sewing machine. Growing up, Lane accompanied her mother to the fabric store where she chose her own fabrics and notions. Her mother would create any outfit Lane wanted. 

While in her 80s, her mother took up painting.   

The room is a light-shot one with a drafting table and inspiration boards and fabrics everywhere, draped, pinned to boards, or folded on shelves. There is a spotlight that Lane can direct onto a sketch or painting of a new fabric under development in order to dissect how the color changes. She must, Lane explains, have good light in order to properly work with color.   Lane worked for Baker Furniture after attending art school where she majored in interior design at the Paier College of Art. Her mentor there was married to painter Henry Gorsky. “It was sort of Bauhaus school,” Lane says.  Fashion was her first wish. “That was my heart,” she says. Her parents moved to D.C., and Lane eventually moved there, too. In retirement, she will return to the home the couple keep there and become a “museum rat.” 

“That is where I get inspiration,” Lane says. And a good place to be lost, in a rapture of color.  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor for O. Henry and a contributing writer for Seasons. Linda Lane serves with her on the Greensboro Historic Preservation Commission. Lane is also chair of Preservation Greensboro’s Hillside Designer Showhouse May 20–21.

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