Design Notes Archive

Michael S. Smith’s Kitchens and Bathrooms

Michael S. Smith’s Kitchens and Bathrooms

Michael S. Smith is a thoroughly American designer tapped by the Obamas as the official White House decorator, yet his latest book, Kitchens & Baths, shows off a decidedly European sensibility. Thanks in part to time spent studying at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, Smith’s influences are as varied as Edward Lutyens and Jean-Michel Frank to the Silk Road and Napoleonic campaign tents. It’s a look that you can’t quite put your finger on and that’s what makes it so appealing. 

But Kitchens & Baths is not your run-of-the-mill coffee table book. Yes, there are pages and pages of drool-worthy photographs but Smith and writer Christine Pittel also take us behind the scenes, dissecting each choice and offering up boatloads of useful information as they go along. Here are a few of our favorite tips:

  •  “I love the shape of…a classic French bateau, taller and therefore deeper [than a standard tub] so when you lean back, the water actually covers you shoulders. Heaven.” (Try the Empire tub from The Water Monopoly).
  • “Something interesting happens when you bring a real piece of furniture into a bathroom:  it becomes less utilitarian and more cozy.”
  • “A brushed finish [on fixtures] is more practical than a polished finish, because it is less likely to show fingerprints or water spots.”
  • “If you want to create a lovely romantic atmosphere, find a good old-fashioned English chintz.” (Try Colefax and Fowler).
  • “If you choose your plumbing carefully, it can help you create atmosphere…these fixtures are not old but they have a lovely antique look.” (Try Smith’s range for Kallista).
  • “When you make a tub the centerpiece of a room, it’s a very powerful gesture…I think you feel an immediate sense of relaxation. It quiets the room.”
  • “There’s something very romantic about hanging lights, especially when they’re made of cloudy glass.” (Try alabaster versions from Hector Finch or Vaughan).
  • “Whenever you expose the plumbing under a sink, the hardware above and below has to be beautifully finished.”
  • “You might as well go all out in a powder room. This is the place to do something over the top because you don’t have that much square footage to deal with.”

Kitchens & Baths is published by Rizzoli International and hits shelves on October 11th.

Photograph © Grey Crawford, Henry Bourne, Francois Halard