|A mingling of a Franco-American aesthetic.|
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.