Interior designer, Betty Lou Phillips long ago mastered the fine art of creating luxuriously welcoming interiors that are at the same time family friendly and elegant. She is as comfortable with opulence as she is with the practical — kitchens to swoon for, dreamy bedrooms, living rooms to live in, children’s rooms to play in. . .
Though precious objects, rare finds, artistic details, intricate finishes, old-world craftsmanship, signature flourishes and magnificent materials make her designs beautifully distinctive, one never feels her rooms are pretentious. She proves time and time again that the noble and the humble can coexist in perfect harmony — sisal and silk, pottery and crystal, cashmere and cotton.
|A breakfast room features a Louis Philippe bibliothèque, refitted and rejuvenated with fabric that matches the cushion on the chairs|
In her latest book, The Allure of French and Italian Décor (Gibbs Smith), she shows us how it’s possible, as she says: to layer “the conventional with the glamorous [which] makes stylish living look effortless.” Betty Lou Phillips does indeed make stylish living appear eminently easy and exceedingly desirable.
|In a California home, unassuming sisal, sumptuous fabrics and a mantel from Reims, France|
As one would expect, her book is stunning — inside and out. It is most definitely an object of desire, one that deserves to sit upon a table along side other distinguished accessories.
|In Italy, a wrought-iron bed with inset tapestries.|
Of course one is seduced by the gorgeous cover, the photographs of the rooms and the outdoor spaces within, but I must admit, I love reading Betty Lou’s books (this is her 11th). Not only do we come away with simple and/or sophisticated ideas we can incorporate into our homes, but also she gives us serious conversation material we can use at our next dinner party.
|Here France and Italy live happily together. The walnut table is Italian (circa 1820) while the chandelier from the same period is French. The rock crystal candlesticks were discovered at Paris’s famous Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen.|
She is an extremely talented writer and she tells us stories, gives us history lessons the likes of which we wish we had in high school, and then she slides in cultural references so that the next time one travels to France or Italy we’ll know what to do, or more importantly what not do.
|Betty Lou’s Fortuny napkin rings. How chic is that?|
I can imagine sitting at table with her having the most fascinating conversation against a backdrop of sparkling crystal; flattering candlelight; crisp, embroidered linens (perhaps presented in her Fortuny napkin “rings”); gleaming heavy silver flatware; precious porcelain; exquisite floral arrangements — at the proper height of course; all with a menu and wine that escapes my imagination.
|It’s always all about the details isn’t it? Here a delicate layer of lace gives this pillow personality and presence.|
Let me give you a few cadeaux from Betty Lou’s book:
- Supposedly, Roman Emperor Nero (A.D. 54-68) sent men trekking into the Alps for the expressed purpose of collecting snow for making flavored ice.
- Catherine de Medici (1519-89) is credited with defining acceptable table manners at the French court. She also arrived from Italy with silver dinner forks in her luggage.
- While we’re on the subject of good manners at table: In Italy one does not twirl spaghetti on a tablespoonand in France one fills only one-third of a wine glass. (From my experience, an attentive host keeps the glass filled at that level most of the evening.)
- The word “boudoir” comes from the French verb bouder, to sulk. Thus a boudoir is a room for sulking.
- Louis XIV adored strawberries.
- Louis XV’s bathroom, legend has it, housed two copper soaking tubs. In one he would soap himself; in the other he would rinse off.
|Another thing I love about perusing Betty Lou’s books, there is always something we can “take away.”Aren’t these sunflowers divine and the cluster of vases placed on a tray, in a tray a great idea? Details, details, details. . .|