French Bathroom

Julia Lewis: Monsieur and Madame? There’s bound to be a story behind that.

Betty Lou Phillips: Oh, there is. It all started with napkin rings.

Well, that’s an icebreaker.

I was in Paris, in a random shop on the Left Bank, and I saw a pair of silver napkin rings engraved ‘Madame’ and ‘Monsieur.’ I loved the shapely lettering and the nod to French decorum, so I bought them and told myself I’d do something creative with them one day. And 15 years later, I did. They were the template for these inlaid tile ‘rugs’ in my guest bathroom.

Which take bath mats to a whole new level. And while we’re on the subject: the sumptuousness of this room takes guest baths to transcendent heights. It is seriously sybaritic!

I think all guest bathrooms should have an aura of indulgence, like a great hotel suite. Good lighting, radiant heating on the floor, heated towel rails. Guests appreciate stepping from the shower onto a warm floor and having a toasty bath sheet waiting. I certainly do.

Oh, this is way beyond that. I mean, there’s a quarry of marble here, for starters.

Carrara marble has a cool neutrality and understated elegance that appeals to me. But actually, I took my inspiration from the grand old palace hotels of Paris–the Plaza Athénée, the Ritz, George V, the Crillon. Marble floors, marble walls, separate shower and tub, 11-foot-high ceilings: they give the room the kind of Parisian grandeur I wanted.

When can I check in? I can’t help fantasizing about taking a bubble bath in that shimmery, glamorous tub. With a split of chilled Champagne.

There’s nothing like a bath to renew the spirit, especially one taken in a long, narrow, high-sloping tub like this one. It’s modeled after a 19th-century French copper tub, but with a more generous scale and feel. And in hand-burnished cast iron lined with enameled porcelain. Gorgeous! Luxury marries purpose.

You’ve written a series of books on French design. You’re really a committed Francophile.

Well, like a lot of Americans, I’m captivated by the flair of the French, the way they mix elegance with ease. They bring style and sophistication and passion to everything they do. And their attention to detail is unwavering–they leave nothing to chance. I didn’t either.

Can you point out some of the details you paid attention to?

The tub and its floor-mounted water filler, the 19th-century crystal chandelier, the freestanding nickel-leg washstands, the vintage glass pharmacy chest, and fittings that read chaud and froid. They give the room character, a period feel. They’re functional, too, of course. That’s another French trait: their flair for melding the past and the present.

Those mosaic ‘rugs’ seem to be a little wink that keeps the room from being too lofty. Is that also part of French style?

Absolutely. Their self-assured attitude toward design makes the French comfortable with the playful and the unexpected.

Are there aspects of the design that you see as strictly for guest baths, and not master baths?

A lot of people wouldn’t want an open washstand in a master bath, but it makes perfect sense for guests. Your travel accessories are readily accessible, and in plain sight, so they’re less likely to be left behind. But for items that are best left hidden, there’s also storage in the bottom part of the pharmacy chest.

Your guests must feel as pampered as a royal lapdog.

I hope so! In any event, they usually ask to extend their stay.


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