A Room With A Loo

The World of Interiors May 2011

The May issue of the World of Interiors has a wonderful article on a lavish suite of rooms known as the King’s and Queen’s bathrooms.

The rooms are located in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the Quais d’ Orsay and referred to as the Quai d’ Orsay (used as a metonym- a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its name but by the name of something associated with that thing.)

The article is very interesting and describes the amazing efforts put into restoring the Quai d’ Orsay in 1938 for the visiting King of England, George VI and his wife Elizabeth.  Between March and July a thousand craftsman and 37 companies worked on the restoration.


The World of Interiors May 2011 Left, The Kings Bath with its bathtub of gilded Venetian Tesserde. Right, The Queens Bath with its wash-basin of silver-leafed Venetian Tesserde that rests atop a faceted glass pedestal.

Seeing images of this stunning suite of rooms and reading the well written article reminded me of a suite of rooms that I designed for a home in New York City. The famous King and Queens bathrooms had contributed at least a pinch of inspiration for the New York suite.  Although the Ocean liner Art Deco Style was not the direction I took.


The bathroom that I designed for a residence in New York City. Photograph by Durston Saylor

I have decided to share some of the other rooms that contributed to my design concepts.  The first room that I must mention is in Paris, France. Le Hotel de Bourienne has a jewel box of a bathroom that is actually a very rare survival from the Directoire Period, (my favorite French style but not my favorite period…).


The World of Interiors December 2000, Left, The Bathroom that was designed for the brother of Josephine Bonaparte. The tub enclosure has been converted into a seating area. Right, One can see similar features in the New York bathroom. The ceiling mimics the concave ceiling of the directoire bathroom. I chose square pilasters and painted them to resemble ochre scagliolia marble. Photograph by Durston Saylor.

The next room that offered a great deal of inspiration was the library designed by Percier and Fontaine for the Emperor Napoleon at Malmaison.


Left, Compendium of Interior Styles, Francois Baudot. Right, Inspiration for the dressing areas came directly from Napoleon’s library. Photograph by Durston Saylor.

Then I added a teaspoon of restraint and found further inspiration from the master bath a Winfield House.  Formerly the London home of Barbara Hutton, Winfield House was sold to the United States government for $1 in 1945.  The estate then became the official home of the American Ambassador to the court of St. James.


Left, The World of Interiors May 2008, The Master Bedroom at Winfield House. Right, In the New York Bathroom we installed two sets of doors. One that leads to the water closet and one that leads to this spacious shower. Photo by Durston Saylor.

I was living in New York City at the time and I would often dart around the city looking for inspiration in places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  But, one day I decided to go down to the Strand bookstore as a means of diversion and perhaps for inspiration.  That day I rediscovered Mario Praz’s book “An Illustrated History of Furnishing.”  My grandmother had owned a copy that I used to pour over as a child when I would visit her during summers.  That book, had long since disappeared but its rediscovery was most exciting.  As I leafed thru the book I came across a small painting of a Russian room.  I just happened to be going through my “I love all things Russian” period, and I spotted the description of the room being Russian, circa 1858.  A particularly interesting period for me as that was about the eve of my dearest friend’s grand ancestor’s arrival to Russia as the wife of the newly appointed ambassador to the court of St. Petersburg.  I glanced up imagining my friend’s ancestor, Lucy Pickens, moving through such a room when I noticed the large coupe like piece of furniture in the painting…I had found my sink!


Painting by K. A. Zelentsov, Tretjakov Nationa Gallery, Moscow from An Illustrated History of Furnishings by Mario Praz

I went home and did a quick sketch to show the architect and presented it the next day.  The architect, who I admired and enjoyed immensely, raised an eyebrow…

The sink had evolved into a grand centrally located feature.  Its mirror had inspiration from an exquisite Russian tula steel dressing table from Pavolosk (my favorite Russian Palace).  I had recently acquired the books Pavlovsk the Palace and the Park/the Collections by Alain de Gourcuff and Russian Furniture the Golden Age1780-1840 by Antoine Cheneviere and the dressing tables were lingering in my mind.


Pavlosk the Palace and the Park/The Collection by Alain GourcuffRussian Furniture the Golden Age 1780-1840 by Antoine Cheneviere

Like dominoes, the instant I think of one thing my mind travels to yet another memory, so up popped a mirror designed by Armand Rateau for Jeanne Lanvin.

Of course, It’s not the correct design direction  for the New York bathroom but it did help me connect the dots on the support concept.


The World of Interiors November 2006

Although the basin initially came from the Mario Praz book, the design was simplified to appear more like the marble basin located at Swan Grove, a hunting lodge located on the Badminton estate of the Duke of Beaufort.


The World of Interiors 2003

Eventually I came up with a design after collaborating with the architect and many months later a very grand, very well researched sink made its entrance into the bathroom and became the star feature in one of my favorite rooms.

Helping to design such a wonderful space and working with such  devoted and talented artisans is a never ending treat.  A treat that reminds me why I love what I do. 

John B. Murray, the architect that helped with creating this bathroom, is currently helping me with another wonderful project in New York City.  I hope to soon have interesting photos of that project, along with a few tidbits about how the various design elements evolved.


Watercolor from The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.