Reprise 419 Prinsengracht, Amsterdam; 31-20/625-9903. For more than 30 years, Joop Rosenberg trawled Amsterdam's flea markets looking for near-perfect vintage tablecloths and bed linens. Then, last year, he retired from his job as a clothing buyer and set up shop on two floors of an Art Deco building with stained glass windows. Antique tablecloths with matching napkins are neatly tied in silk ribbons and stacked floor-to-ceiling on shelves. For the bedroom, he specializes in pre-World War II white damask duvet covers, and carries more than 2,000 pillowcases. "In this country we are all Protestants, very sober and not allowed to enjoy things, so I went the other way," says Rosenberg. "I love decadence." Nor does he stop at linens: he also stocks Baroque candleholders, magnificent 26-piece dinner services, and 18th-century vases.
Loretta Caponi 4R Piazza Antinori, Florence; 39-055/213-668. Where better to see hand embroidery than at Loretta Caponi's frescoed showrooms, where a team of 15 craftspeople turn out bed linens and towels, silk lingerie and smocked dresses. With its courteous, old-fashioned service and blue-and-gold tracery on the high walls, the whole place evokes another era. Caponi, who started the business 60 years ago, was later joined by daughter Lucia, who believes that the key to Italian linen's popularity is its touch and durability. Kings, queens, and international film and music stars make up the store's very private clientele.
Jesurum Via San Marco, Venice, 39-041/520-6177; and Piazza San Marco, Venice; 39-041/522-9864. Since 1868, Jesurum has turned out lovely hand-loomed linens in the traditional Venetian style, which involves a lavish use of color and elaborate designs. The company's two Venice stores are an architectural treat—one is in the Piazza San Marco; the other, near the Rialto in a 13th-century Gothic palazzo. Clients include the English royal family and Saudi Arabian princes. Jesurum will also repair, restore, and launder your antique linens.
L'Utile e il Dilettevole 46 Via della Spiga, Milan; 39-02/7600-8420. "Useful and delightful" is the translated name of Enrica Saibene's store on Via Spiga, Milan's equivalent of Madison Avenue. For 20 years, Saibene has been scouring the south of France and England for new and antique fabrics to make "patchwork," her sophisticated series of one-of-a-kind table linens. The backdrop is just as chic: furnishings in the 19th-century apartment-style space are rearranged every two weeks for an up-to-the-minute look. A few months ago, a basement level opened to showcase daughter Carla Saibene's high-style clothing designs.
Lavandaria 11-13 Rua Augusto Rosa, Lisbon; 351-1/887-5691. The Portuguese boast that the way to tell whether linen is made locally is if it's perfect. Two years ago, Adelia Almeida opened Lavandaria ("laundry" in English) in the city's old Alfama district. Many of the treasures are from Guimarães, in northern Portugal, where hand weavers still work at home. In its factory, Lavandaria produces modern copies of 18th-century tablecloths and bed linens (yellow and green embroidery of mimosa flowers and birds is typical of that era). The shop is an excellent source for traditional openwork embroidery and those lace tray cloths that your grandma spread out under the perfume bottles on her dressing table.
Lucie Young writes on architecture and design for the New York Times and contributes to In Style, Metropolitan Home, British Vogue, and British Elle.
Stay-at-home shoppers can buy European linens over the Internet. Some of the best sites: Jackie Kennedy and Wallis Simpson adored Paris's exclusive Porthault (www.porthault.fr). It's known for its colorful floral embroideries, which look very Seventies—and are consequently the height of fashion once again.
The minimal designs of Catherine Memmi (www.catherinememmi.fr) are hugely popular in Paris, London, and Japan. Her austere line of linen sheets, dressing gowns, towels, tablecloths, and woolen blankets is available in cool shades—anthracite, gray, white, brown, cream. She also sells furniture, light fixtures, and tabletop accessories.
Run by Englishwoman Thérèse Tollemache, Volga (www.i-i.net/volgalinen) takes designs from Russia—one of the world's biggest and oldest producers of linen—and simplifies them for today. Hand-drawn threadwork is the house specialty.