Friday, August 1, 2014

The French Way with Design

A mingling of a Franco-American aesthetic.
          When one sees a room designed by Betty Lou Phillips or picks up one of her gorgeous coffee table books featuring not only her own work, but places, spaces and things she admires, it is instantly clear that she intuitively and intimately understands la joie de vive in its most perfect definition: "an exultation of the spirit."

          An award-winning interior designer and bestselling author, Phillips is revered for her impeccable taste and flair. She translates her passion for all things French into her work for clients from New York to California.

          Her latest book, The French Way with Design* is a bijou. What I particularly love about her books is that they are not only beautiful display worthy objects but also they sparkle with her stunning writing. All read as if she is telling us a marvellous story. She shares historical anecdotes among the sumptuous photographs and at the same time she slips in pertinent decorating tips we can all use.

          Over the next few days, I shall do a mini-series of her design secrets, but today let me share my interview with the extraordinary Betty Lou Phillips:

Chocolate walls in an American bedroom accented with a pillow that speaks French, "chocolat."
Why do you have this passion for all things French? Where did it come from?  

          Like millions of other Americans, I’m struck by the flair of the French. With their self-assured approach to design and mesmerizing way of projecting a rich cultural heritage with matchless sophistication and lack of showiness, they quite rightly have captured our respect. 

What inspires you?  

          I happen upon inspiration in my travels, during excursions to museums and the theater, on the fashion runways, and, of course, in the design industry itself.  This is not to suggest that the everyday world fails to inspire new ideas, or that all ideas are attainable.  Some thoughts demand compromises, and, certainly others are out of reach, but any change of scenery readies the mind for creativity, sociologists say.  

Pale blue seems to be one of your "neutrals" -- the way you use it is so fresh, restful and beautiful. Tell me about it please.  

          Blue is so versatile, whether it is the sapphire blue that bathes France’s sweeping coastline or the picture perfect blue in a Stateside sky.  Blue is so peaceful, and it is not shy.  It works with so many colors—and is easily controlled (unlike some colors).  What’s more,  A large percentage of people favor blue.  These very same people might have used it decades ago, and now are once again elevating it to modern design. 

What is different about the American approach to incorporating French design elements into their homes as compared to the way the French decorate chez eux?  

          In France, family heirlooms are worthy of pride of place. No matter that these legacies might appear to need some cosmetic help.  Signs of time, not painstaking restorations bent on stripping away years, add to their old-world panache.  And though more than a few may be somewhat overwhelming for their less roomy, new settings, most are thrust into prominent spots where they garner a certain deference by virtue of their age.   In the U.S. hand-me-downs are apt to be used only until we can afford to usher them out the door.  Also, we are clearly into instant glamour whereas in France rooms come together over time.

Is it true most Americans want the chic without the shabby that the French tend to appreciate? 

          Definitely.  In France 18th century furniture with carved ornamentation, posh textiles, distinctive porcelains and oil paintings in original carved wood frames are instantly identifiable indicators of style and station.  Much like the fine linens and heirloom silver passed down from one generation to the next, all are celebrated badges of the fortunate having bearing on how one is perceived.  But then, so are less than perfect antiques that look as if they have overstayed their welcome.  

          An area rug that is threadbare in places, a chair with fraying fabric, porcelain with chips and cracks all telegraph privilege, to say nothing about keeping glitz in check or serving as a reminder that perhaps those of living an ocean away shouldn’t try so hard.  To be sure, in our image-obsessed culture, it is a challenge to avoid taking decorating too seriously.  Perhaps the need to fix everything—as well have surroundings look their best--is in our DNA. 

It's always all about the details, it's the junction where la joie de vivre meets l'art de vivre.
What elements of French design do you find yourself repeating?  

          This is an easy one.  Quality matters most.  The past must be ever present.  Interiors merit furnishings with presence.  And there’s more:  Harmony matters more than conformity.  Elegance must mingle with ease.  Collections make settings more interesting.  And, of course, balance is key to creating a feeling of well-being

What do your clients tend to ask for when they want a French look or "the French touch" in their homes, or, is it more a question of choosing you as their designer because they like your interpretation of a French/American aesthetic?  

          It is rather a given that I enjoy working with French furnishings.  Hopefully, they believe I have the ability to create warm, welcoming settings that are not only beautiful, but interesting and comfortable.  Most do know that I like to add value.   

* Published by Gibbs Smith, 240 Pages, $50.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

French Design: A Little Teaser


         Betty Lou Phillips, award winning interior designer and author has just penned her latest book. It's exquisite. It is not only an object of desire, filled with decorating ideas and specific tips, but also a wonderful read.

          Please return tomorrow for my interview with her. I promise you, you won't want to miss it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Beauty of Multi-Tasking


         It's impossible for me to emphasize enough the fact that I want my beauty and maintenance products to be multi-taskers.

         Read the labels on many and it's clear that the manufacturers have honed in on a specific few inches of our body and have created a slew or solutions to "problems" we didn't even know we had. Never mind the claims on the packaging let them wax on about how perfect they are for one and only one purpose; I can assure you many can be used in at least two or more equally effective beauty routines with the slightest tweak to the application.

         One can imagine marketers sitting in one of those meetings trying to figure out how to sell us, for example a cream for our feet, another for our legs, a third for cellulite on the thighs and derierre, hand cream, bleaching creams. . . well, you get the idea.  That's their job after all.

         My job is to keep my bathroom as uncluttered as possible.

        Here is one way I do that. It involves one of my all-time favorite products (which I've mentioned previously): Avène's gommage or exfoliating gel. I use it once or twice a week on my face as needed and as directed. Although studies claim Americans tend to use gommage products daily, that's a very bad idea.

        Now, you take this very same product and use it on your hands in the same way you would on your face. Next slip on exfoliating gloves, moisten and squirt on the gommage, now gently rub legs -- no more dry skin or bumps. Again now, with more pressure on your gloved hands briskly rub elbows and feet. Results: amazing.

      After rinsing and drying apply your favorite cream wherever you've cleaned the canvas.

      You feel sparkly clean after one and/or all of these workouts.  Guaranteed.      

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Light & Airy -- Literally

A lacy "shell" from Rebecca Taylor for a mere 230 Euros.
          My friend Babette who owns the irresistible boutique in the town near our village maintains that if we could snag but one item in the waining days of the soldes  (markdowns), it would be a lace or eyelet blouse.

          All the French fashion magazines I've seen recently agree. It's unlikely that there are any eyelet bijoux lying on the bottom of a sale box at the end of July, but the good news is that these sweet blouses are still available, albeit at regular price points. Still, imagine the ways you could wear them -- from jeans and trousers of all types to skirts of every imaginable confection.

Eyelet blouse from Stella Forest.
         Because I like sleeves on everything, I prefer the Stella Forest model I bought chez Babette when Drea and Ella were here in May.

        French Elle prefers the sleeveless Rebecca Taylor version which btw costs about double the Stella Forest. I can see the advantage of no sleeves for jackets, but I still vote for arm camouflage.      

Monday, July 28, 2014

Life In France: Home Delivery

Two horses giving each other massages. . .
         As I've mentioned, not only does our internist make house calls, but also Charlotte's veterinarian.  But, I've never told you that physical therapists also come to the house.

         Today was my first seance with my "out patient" therapist. I've known him for years and he has an extraordinary reputation in our corner of the world. Everyone at rehab raves about him. One of the main reasons I am one of his biggest fans, apart from the obvious, is that he is also an equine massage therapist.

         He says that sometimes he wishes he lived in the United States or England where his horse metier would be appreciated and respected unlike in France where it is not universally considered  worthwhile. Still, he has many clients because we live in horse country.

If the subject of equine massage therapy interests you, click here.
         He'll be back tomorrow. Charlotte loves him which gave me the opportunity to discuss her rheumatoid arthritis. He treats many two-legged patients with serious arthritis problems and he, like several of you, suggested taking her off her current food, which after reading the ingredients I discovered does have cereal in the mix, and giving her "food that logically makes sense for a dog." He has five dogs including a 17-year-old Labrador mix. All eat cereal free food.

         It's a gorgeous day for a walk which is what he told me to do so I'm off. . .

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Diet Directive


Are these packages of beurre exciting or what?  Each little rectangle holds 10 grams of butter and if you notice there are three choices of one of France's most delectable products: doux (sweet), demi-sel (some salt) and my all time favorite, sel de Guérande (that lovely, crunchy sea salt).

         Home at last. As I write, Charlotte* is lying next to my feet at the side of my desk.  I missed her almost as much as MRFLIF -- at least he could visit me in rehab. Dogs and children under 13 years of age were not allowed. (The dog part was not specified, but tacitly understood. . .)

         I am desperately trying to keep up the regime I was on while in my "medi-spa". Trust me when I tell you, not yet two days out and it's not as easy as one might imagine. Every day my trays arrived with exactly what I was supposed to eat, in precisely the acceptable portion sizes. After several weeks the eye does become accustomed to portions. That part is not a problem. Yet.

        To accomplish one of my goals, which may seem ridiculous to some, but not to a butter slatherer like moi meme, I bought boxes of individual portions of butter so I could stay on message. According to the dietician I am allowed 20 grams of butter per day. Each of the little rectangles of individually wrapped buerres, is 10 grams. You would be surprised at how much mileage I can get out of those two little packages. My new motto is: scrape, scrape, scrape.

       Before, when confronted with a slab of butter (in a lovely dish or butter whatsit of course) I was incapable of judging quantity. I'm trying to transfer the notion of quality over quantity from my wardrobe to my meals. One is easier than the other.

Delicious donut or Saturn peaches.
      After buying three boxes of butter, I then headed to my favorite market to buy the "donut" peaches I discovered in rehab. When MRFLIF saw them he said, "I'm not eating those things." Fine with me.

      Then I visited my friend Mr. Google to see how many calories there are in a donut peach. He told me 60.

     Oh yes, just for the record, I don't count calories.

* When I told you a couple of months ago how sick Charlotte was, she was put through a battery of gruesome tests. As near as I can translate from the French she has rheumatoid arthritis and she's a sick girl. Our veterinarian, whom we love as I've said, told us it's not fatal, but it's not curable. She was on massive doses of cortizone and now progressively less. The cortizone makes her ravenously hungry and yet she has lost a great deal of weight. Maybe some of you have some thoughts on the subject.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fromage: The Final Chapter

Pretend this Lipault suitcase is navy blue, like mine. It's almost completely packed for my departure.
         Early tomorrow morning, I'm heading out. No more rehab. It's over. It was wonderful while it lasted and I fully realize how lucky I am to have been able to be here.

One of my absolute favorite cheeses.
         Before I leave I thought I would tell you about a few of the other cheeses I've eaten while in my medi-spa. I was also thinking, I hope this isn't boring for you. I can't think of a controversy that involves a conversation around fromage. Connoisseurs might argue about some in the same way some would about wine, but that is beyond my purview. I do like Beaufort better than any of the hard cheeses like tomme, Gruyere, Emmenthal and others of that genre. It has more character. Unfortunately there was no Beaufort on offer during my stay.

          Proving that the French are not necessarily chauvinistic about their fromages,  Gouda and Edam were included on the menus.

          More cheese:

Bleu d'Auvergne.
Saint Paulin
Saint Nectaire
Tomme de Savoie
Bûche de chèvre -- can anyone ever get enough of this?
          The entire time in my rehab spa, my menus were hyper-protein.  The dietician worked out a regime for me and luckily cheese is protein.  As you know from the entrées there were always lots of vegetables and usually desserts were yogurt and fruit.  I'll let you know if the diet worked.
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