When I write about interior design firms I normally try to include photos of several of their projects, to give an idea of the range they have, but this time round I came across the bathroom to end all bathrooms, and rather than include other pictures I prefer just going with what they call the “French Elegance” bathroom. Ken Kelly, who founded his Kitchen Designs in 1982, has been at this business much too long for this to be considered a Guild Piece, but it is to me, a Guild Piece in the sense of introducing the range of his skills to our readers.
For those who don’t know, for well over a thousand years, up to about the end of the eighteenth century or so, the fine crafts were controlled by Guilds. If you wanted to be, say, a cabinetmaker, you signed on as an apprentice and did scutwork as your main job while learning as much as you could about the ins and outs of cabinetmaking. Nowadays, we use electric planers to make smooth boards from the rough planks that come from a sawmill. In times past, the apprentice planed it smooth with a hand plane, did it for years before he was trusted with more complex work. Later you became a journeyman, and eventually, if all went well, you were permitted to enter the Guild.
In order to enter the Guild, you had to prepare a piece that would demonstrate all of the skills you had gained to that point, the Guild Piece. If it were deemed worthy of the Cabinetmakers’ Guild, you were then a member in good standing, a master craftsman. Really, this bathroom design would serve in the capacity of a Guild Piece, because from the originality with which he has approached his many innovative touches, combined with so sure a grasp on that which makes for good design, Ken has give us a full demonstration of the range of his talents.
I can say unequivocally that this is exactly what I have in mind when I talk about the bathroom as a retreat. What my wife and I currently have is what most of us have, I suspect, just a bathroom. It’s is necessary to the daily cleanup and so forth, but it is just a bathroom. You do what you need do in that room and then go on about your day. You don’t really linger in a “plain Jane” room like that, because, well c’mon now, you know why not, because why in the world would you?
Looking at this bathroom, though, my first response was, this is just very graceful. There is a logic to the composition to this room, with everything so neatly arranged, but much more than that, this is a room that is both elegant and fantasyland. It’s the sort of place one can come to and quickly get cleaned up in the morning, with its shower and all. But one can also envision oneself simply relaxing for a period of time. What Ken Kelly has done is nothing less than transforming what could have been a simple utilitarian bathroom into a veritable retreat, a place to go whenever the world is doing you a nasty, a place to do so much more than simply clean the body, a place to go to refresh one’s soul.
There are so many wonderful touches in this bathroom that it’s really hard to know where to begin. When Ken Kelly was commissioned to design the bath for a French Normandy home in Oyster Bay, New York, he considered the home and its setting, and its general architecture, eventually evoking his own memories of the serenity of George V Hotel’s spa in Paris, a romantic sense of luxury he now set out to recreate. The result was christened “French Elegance” because “Holy Smokes!” is more a reaction than any kind of an accurate description.
The bathroom itself rests on a foundation of Turkish marble and furniture-style cabinets that are a replication of French country cabinetry that was prevalent in the south of France during the Eighteenth Century. Speaking of cabinetry, I have to point out that the paneled wall is actually a custom wardrobe unit, complete with Hafele Wardrobe Lifts.
The whole of this design centers around the concept of constant pampering, soothing, smoothing away any rough spots that may remain after a day in the workaday world. That holds true even on the days when speed is of the essence, the days when a shower is necessary because there simply isn’t time for a luxurious bath. But the shower itself is such a indulgence one wonders how anyone ever exits in less than, oh I don’t know, an hour I guess! The shower is entered through a clear, frameless glass door and offers a 16-inch rain head, champagne showerhead, handheld shower, 10 body jets, a pulsating waterfall, steam, and Chromotherapy lighting. There is also a built-in bench, four shampoo cubbies, and two grab bars. The room also features piped-in music that this old curmudgeon fervently hopes is just about any kind of classical music, although Baroque has a shimmering serenity that especially suits what can only be called the ultimate private retreat.
Finally, there is the piece de resistance, the spa area, which features a whirlpool tub with an eighth-inch blue LED tape light under the tub overhang that is activated by a night light switch. Behind the tub is a wall of candle niches against a backdrop of Oasis Blue and Blue Lagos marble. The candles are a wonderful touch, both romantic and imminently practical. Traditional wax candles must be lit and extinguished and, while burning, laboriously monitored to make sure they neither develop a wick so long it devours the candle or one so short that it drowns in a pool of wax. Instead, Ken came up with the idea of faux candles. They’re actually formed of wax, but they are battery-operated, flickering lights, so one never worries about their burning out unexpectedly or causing any kind of fire hazard from their being forgotten. And to put the cherry on the sundae, they are operated with a remote control. They provide all the glorious ambience of a candlelit tableau with none of the liabilities.
The other thing I find myself liking about this design, taken as a whole, is that it is luxurious without being opulent, because there’s a difference. It’s the kind of design that could have easily slid into Rococo, but under Ken Kelly’s firm grasp of the concept, it has achieved what my wife considers the ultimate accolade for interior design: simple elegance.
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