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Past Basket mingles antiques with high-end linens for custom looks

Milwaukee - Many home textiles businesses start out in a garage. Count Linda McFadden's among them, although she might tell you the beginning of her high-end linens business is rooted in a basket.

Hence, the name of her two-unit luxury linens and antiques store, Past Basket.

"The name really has a double entendre meaning," explained store manager Ashley Evans. "When she started out, many of the things she carried were from the past, and she has always liked the appeal of a basket as a place to gather things. She likes to think of her store as a basket where she collects things from the past."

While McFadden still offers some antique pieces, Past Basket has evolved over its 30-plus year existence from "a small booth" at an antiques mall in Geneva, Ill., to her home garage and finally into a pair of linens stores carrying current lines from major suppliers.

"Linda always tells the story that her garage kept getting full of great finds and diamonds in the rough," Evans said. "But that one day her husband said it was time to get all of her stuff out of the garage, it was too full. And that's when she decided to open her store."

McFadden "has very broad knowledge of textiles, and she put that to use to start her business," Evans added.

The shop here, which she opened 11 years ago, is an official Yves Delorme corner store, "the only one in the state of Wisconsin," Evans noted. "We stock all of Yves Delorme's bedding and bath lines here."

But McFadden's Past Basket home textiles assortment also includes basic and fashion offerings from other sources, including SDH, Matouk, Peacock Alley, Traditions, Bella Notte, and Pine Cone Hill for bedding and Yves Delorme, Matouk, and Abyss & Habidecor for bath.

Table linens are also part of the mix, but more so at the company's original store in Geneva, Ill. Brands primarily include Le Jacquard Française and Garnier-Thiebaut as well as others.

The Past Basket Milwaukee unit, which is located in the city's posh North Shore neighborhood by Lake Michigan, concentrates more heavily on linens, while the Geneva store is smaller and serves more as a kitchen cabinetry and fixtures showroom also stocked with tabletop and table linens collections.

Here in Milwaukee, about half of the sales and merchandise mix consists of bedding, bath and table linens. Of that, bedding linens make up a quarter of total store sales.

In its 3,000 square feet of space, the Milwaukee store's selling floor features three display beds where McFadden, Evans and their team showcase Yves Delorme - "which represents our store's signature line and our number one seller," Evans noted. The team also gets creative, blending together lines from other brands to offer customers a new take on looks infused from multiple high-end suppliers.

"Our store is very colorful; it is not a gray look," Evans said. "Our appeal to our customers is how we mix and match different looks to give them a custom look for their home. Our knowledge base [in linens and décor] helps us pull form every brand to create a unique look for our customers."

That's not to say basic bedding is not part of the offering. Past Basket offers simpler white and ivory collections from Yves Delorme, Peacock Alley and Matouk, among others.

In general, sheet price points start at about $144 for a basic white with some light accent treatments - "a little ruffle, some hemstitching maybe" - from Pine Cone Hill and can run as high as more than $1,000 for SDH or Yves Delorme lines.

Thread counts are equally expansive, ranging from 200 to 1,000.

In bath, most everything is 100% Egyptian cotton and can range from "a really nice, lightweight pile bath towel called ‘Kaa' from Abyss for $87 to a very luxurious, Egyptian cotton and modal bath towel by Yves Delorme called ‘Etoile' for $65," said Evans.

To round out the store's look and merchandise mix, Past Basket still carries some antiques, Evans said, which is part of the store's draw among its loyal clientele.

"It is a lot about how we display," she explained. "We have a lot of color and we always put things together in really unique and beautiful way, and it's why people come to see us often. They come here to get inspired. We get so many comments about it, about how they want to come by the store to get inspiration and feel happy."

Evans added that longtime customers "sometimes stop in daily or weekly to see what's new. We know them by name, we know what they have purchased, and we are able to give them ideas on everything, from how to finish their guest bedroom for their mother-in-law's visit to prepping for a party or special event."

Like many other retailers, big and small, Past Basket is in the process of ramping up and expanding its social media presence. The company is especially keen on Pinterest as a venue to show products along with its décor styles and ideas.

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