[Edited version - originally posted in 2016]
When she was a little girl, Anita Jabbour's "job" at her family's linens boutique on 59th Street and 5th Avenue was to dust the zippered garment bags containing the housecoats available for sale to the ladies of Park Avenue. “The fashion at the time was to wear these dress-like robes whenever a caller came to the door,” she says.
Ms. Jabbour's father, who ran R. Jabbour & Sons, a luxury linens store founded by her grandfather in 1931, was close friends with our own George Matouk Sr., who was also running the business his own father had begun years before. "They would eat their lunch out of plastic bags together in the showroom,” Ms. Jabbour recalls. “My father would go pick up samples from George Sr. and they would eat their peanut butter and jelly together and then take the bags home. They helped each other out in the beginning—helped each other get rolling."
In 1989, the Jabbours moved the store from midtown Manhattan to Locust Valley, NY, near where Anita Jabbour’s family—including her seven children, the youngest of whom was five-years-old—lived. Learning the business took a few years, she says, but, "If it's in your blood to sell textiles and be very tactile and like those aesthetics, it comes very easily."
Over the last 30 years, Ms. Jabbour, who owns and runs the business, has earned a reputation not only as a skilled retailer, but also as an expert in linen care. She fields questions both from customers who've purchased from them directly, and from those who inherited fine linens worthy of heirloom status and want to keep them looking fresh and beautiful.
Here, Ms. Jabbour offers her advice on how to keep your own linens fit for future generations.
Before we talk about caring for our bed linens -- what should we be looking for while we’re shopping for them in the first place?
You need to learn to purchase well before you even got home to the washing machine. Look for Egyptian cotton, which is what Matouk uses. Those Egyptian cotton fibers are hearty, with a long fiber that is pounded a certain number of times. Whether you buy 200, 300, 400, 500, or 600 thread count, it's all good because the cotton they are pounding is good.
If you buy something on sale with 1000 thread count, you think you are getting a good deal, but you're not buying Egyptian cotton. Those fibers are short. You wash that cotton and it's gone through the process of washing and drying. The heat agitates the short fibers. They feel edgy on your skin.
You pound crap, you get crap. You pound good, you always get good, no matter the number.
Ok, so we've brought home a new set of linens. What's the first thing we should do?
Make sure you bought the right size, especially the fitted sheet. Most people have no idea what the depth of their mattress is. That's the first question I always ask. Matouk stocks up to 17 inches for fitted sheets, but many mattresses are only 10 inches. Look at the back of the package before opening it, so you know what you just bought.
Now it's time to wash your linens. What are the rules of thumb?
Put the sheets into the machine and be sure not to overload it. Give them a lot of space. Cotton needs to be able to swish around. Use warm water; not hot. Hot water will shrink the sheets and destroy the fibers. Use detergent without excess chemicals and with no bleach. Bleach will lighten the embroidery colors and leave spots on the bedding, whether it's white or ivory. Don't overdo it on the detergent, either. It's not necessary! When you're done, take the sheets out gently so as not to rip the hemstitch.
How about drying? What's the secret to fluffy sheets?
Once again, don't overload the machine. And only do bedding with bedding—no towels, lingerie, blankets…Nothing else of a different weight because it takes away the ability of the bedding to absorb the water.
If you like to use a dryer sheet, that's up to you. The tendency is to put everything on hot because it's faster and it somehow feels "cleaner"—but it's just the opposite. If you put the dryer on hot, the edges of your sheets will curl up over time. A monogram will curl onto itself. Put the setting on warm-plus and let it breathe. That will prevent damage and increase longevity. Your sheets will come out fluffy and fabulous.
"Put the setting on warm-plus and let it breathe. That will prevent damage and increase longevity. Your sheets will come out fluffy and fabulous."
If you put your sheets in the dryer for one cycle and they don't come out dry, what should you do?
In my family, we would take our sheets out and hang them over the bed and the arms of the chairs. They're a little damp, so you can let them air dry. Or hang them outside. If you can't do that, put them in the dryer again, loose, on warm fluff. You have to be patient. Finish the cycle and take them out of the dryer immediately so you have fewer wrinkles.
You wouldn't leave the dog in the cage. Don't leave your investments in the dryer! They will be wrinkled and it's your own fault. As soon as the dryer stops, you feel that heat on your face and it's yummy. Get it out right away and fold it up right away. Sheets should have a crisp fresh, feeling to them.
What about ironing?
If you feel it's necessary, you can iron your sheets damp or iron the edges of cases because that's the part that you see when the pillows are piled on top of one another. If your bedding is made up with the effect of your top sheet going over the duvet or blanket, then you iron the width of the sheet—the part that is folding over. Iron your foldovers and iron the edge of your cases, or your whole case if you like to.
Traditionally, what was on the bed was decorative. That's how a coverlet or blanket cover became what it is today. People in the '20s were reading the Wall Street Journal in bed, which had never been done before. A coverlet became popular for when you were reading in bed.
Never put the iron on top of an embroidered design. Flip it and do the ironing on the inside. That's how you save that beautiful, costly embroidery.
"Never put the iron on top of an embroidered design. Flip it and do the ironing on the inside. That's how you save that beautiful, costly embroidery."
Any tricks of the trade for folding, especially those pesky fitted sheets?
Take the sheet and turn it upside down so the top you would lay on is down. Pat down the corners and lay it flat. Make a little pocket with it and start folding. You have to lay it down to do it.
What should you do if you get a stain?
My recommendation is to get a white washcloth or some sort of cotton. Dab your finger into warm water and white soap and manipulate the fabric. Get out what you can on the top and the reverse side. Then stick the sheet back in the washing machine for a gentle wash and see what happens. If it doesn't come out, ask your dry cleaner what they recommend.
What's the best way to store your linens?
In the linen closet. Let it breathe. Have a plan. Put sets together and then put the rooms together. Label, label, label. We used to just put a colored magic marker on the label. Or P-touch the outside of your shelf. Everybody has systems in their life. There’s no reason not to do that in your linen closet. Once it's done, it's done. Having a good linen closet makes you feel organized and clean.
And you don't need to cover your bedding or put it in plastic. If you must, put it in a cardboard box in a cool place. Use acid-free tissue. I don't advise using a trunk; they often smell and are dark and damp.
Any last words?
Your bedding should last a lifetime. I see bedding passed down from generation to generation. That's the kind of business we have. If it's cared for right, it will last. But it's an education. It starts with knowing what you bought and taking care of it.
"Your bedding should last a lifetime. I see bedding passed down from generation to generation. That's the kind of business we have. If it's cared for right, it will last. But it's an education. It starts with knowing what you bought and taking care of it."