Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Have You Met Mrs. Roles?

I love using table linens. I like the way they look, I like the way they feel, and I like the way they soften the experience of sitting at a table, eating a meal. A table that is dressed and covered with a white cloth, be it plain cotton or damask linen, is one of the pleasures of civilized living. Using handsome table linens, be they tablecloths, placemats or napkins, transforms what can be a mundane experience--eating a meal--into something special, an event.

Boy and I have assembled a fairly sizeable collection of table linens over the years. We've bought new ones from places like Williams Sonoma, and we've bought antique and vintage ones from dealers and at antiques shows. And we use our table linens. Not just when we entertain, but also when we don't, when it is just the two of us. We have "every day" table linens, which can stand up to repeated and regular launderings, and we have "occasion" linens, usually vintage, which are more delicate and usually reserved for when we entertain.

There's one thing about table linens that I don't particularly care for, though, and that is laundering them. While our housekeeper does a passable job of washing and ironing clothes and linens, she isn't all that adept at the more nuanced requirements of stain removal, starching, or meticulous folding that maintaining linens well involves. Her level of care is fine for the cotton napkins we use during meals at home (no paper napkins allowed in our house) but falls short when it comes to laundering and finishing table cloths or sets of linen napkins. For one thing, our laundry room isn't really all that well-equipped (that's waiting for the next round of renovations), and the other thing is--she's just not that in to it.

But there is someone out there who is in to it, and I'd like to introduce her to you. Her name is Mrs. Roles, and she is a privately-owned business based in New York that specializes in French hand laundering and finishing of linens and garments. Her full name is Mrs. Roles Private Hand Launderers and she can be found at http://www.mrs-roles.com/.  There really was a Mrs. Roles at one point, but that was over 100 years ago and today the firm is owned by the Lutzky family, which has operated the business since 1949. Mrs. Roles is what was once referred to as a "carriage trade" business, and caters to the needs of customers whose laundering requirements aren't sufficiently met by their household help or local dry cleaners. Mrs. Roles picks up and delivers in New York City, and also does a brisk shipping business for customers beyond her delivery area. She provides charming cherry-red nylon bags emblazoned with her company's logo to her regular customers for pickup, and then delivers the beautifully-finished goods in cardboard cartons with acid-free tissue paper separating the layers of perfectly ironed and finished linens. It's a treat to open a box from Mrs. Roles, almost like a present.

I send all of our tablecloths and better linens to Mrs. Roles for laundering, and have been doing so for years. The personnel are a pleasure to deal with, and the level of service and quality of finishing is exceptional. While not inexpensive (this is, after all hand-finished work), you truly "get what you pay for" from Mrs. Roles, and I whole-heartedly recommend her to you for the laundering and finishing of your table linens. She also does a superb job with bedding linens as well.

Please note, this recommendation is being made solely as a courtesy to my readers. I have not received anything from Mrs. Roles in return, nor do I expect to.

Photos by Boy Fenwick


  1. I agree. My parents have used them for years without one cause for complaint.

  2. How wonderful. Suppose Mrs. Roles would pick up and deliver to Maine??? I could have used this service during the past holiday gatherings.

  3. Reggie -- real cloth napkins are a must at Linderhof! Our everyday ones are those white hotel napkins which can take a beating -- we get 12 at a time. And, of course, we iron them! And, like you, we use tablecloths -- some new and some vintage. And I love the way damask gets as it ages. There is nothing like an older damask cloth or napkin -- especially those hugely oversized dinner ones!

    Mrs. Roles is interesting -- there is nothing like that on the prairie -- but she does ship!

  4. Thank you so very much, Reggie, for your timely post! I feeling less than satisfied with my own expertise in caring for my linens. I also have a few family heirlooms of embroidery that I treasure. They need to be cleaned and I have been terrified of handing them over to a local dry cleaner. From the Mrs. Roles website and with your recommendation, it looks like the place to go!
    This is very much appreciated.
    Happy New Year!

  5. Nice post, i use also the real stuff no paper at my place.

    Happy New Year


  6. You are my kind of guy...table linens indeed. I inherited a ton and bought more at antique markets throughout the years. I have a set of my grandmother's bed linens hand embroidered and they are a work of art. And what is nicer than freshly pressed linen sheets to sleep on...Hate to say it but it's what I miss the most since leaving my "other" life and arriving at retirement, ugh!

    I had a housekeeper who was the opposite of yours, so so at cleaning but great ironing...that's why I kept her! Now I do the ironing myself and I'm lousy but I refuse to give my linens up!

  7. FD: Why am I not surprised to read your comment?

    Debra: They do ship outside of NYC area. Give them a call and I am sure they will be more than happy to explain how it works.

    Lindaraxa: I am the fourth of four children so by the time it came for me to choose amongst my mother's linens the cupboard was rather picked clean. I was able to grab a set of linen napkins, though, that my great-grandmother monogrammed while awaiting the birth of my grandmother, but that's about it.

  8. As the eldest girl, I think I ended up with the lion's share. Most of them were pretty threadbare since our parents never purchased new ones. You might check with Frecky. I recall giving him a set of napkins as a gift for wedding #1.

    Sister Darling

  9. Fascinating, that is the difficult part of using a beautiful accessory, silver linen, etc. It does take much care!

  10. I'm so fed up with our offerings in our little burg, this just might be the ticket. Upkeep on the good stuff justifies the shipping charges.

  11. Vintage table linens are my favorite, usually arranged in two layers. It is a more casual look, but still elegant.

  12. Sky Princess: We, too, usually lay two cloths on our tables. So much quieter and more luxurious . . .

  13. In San Francisco, it's Peninou, on Sacramento Street in Presidio Heights and now (I discover) elsewhere in town. You don't remark here, but probably do elsewhere, on the comfort of a well-laundered shirt. For me Peninou was the analogue of a furo bath at Kabuki Hot Spring, nearby, not in temperature but in conscious epidermal solace.

  14. Im not sure who Reggie is.....? Possibly someone working for the company. My experience has been terrible they picked up my clothes on Tuesday, today is Sunday and I havent gotten it back yet, called them 3 times also email them no reply no answer. Every time I call no one picks up the phone I always get a voicemail. Im about to call the police and report them. Because this is just unprofessional and unacceptable.

    1. Hello Ed, thank you for your comment. I am not employed by Mrs. Roles nor, as I noted when I wrote this piece, have I received anything in return from the company for my review. I have never had a situation where my telephone call goes unanswered during normal business hours (I phone in my orders). As you note, they are not always a quick turnaround. However, this is a carriage-trade business of hand launderers, and is not you typical corner dry cleaner. In my experience, you get what you pay for with Mrs. Roles. Reggie


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