Blue and White
My very first grown-up decorating decision happened in the tiny triangular bathroom of my Paris apartment in the early nineties. This seventh floor (!) walk-up in Belleville - the 20th arrondissement - was originally part of a much grander residence. Over time, it had been subdivided and chopped up into several smaller apartments, resulting in weirdly shaped rooms and an incongruous floor plan. Happily, the heavy oak doors, herringbone parquet floors and at least some of the original plaster molding details survived. Its previous tenants were less than stellar housekeepers (I don't judge, neither am I), so after a thorough scrubbing, I painted all the walls and ceilings white. The bathroom needed some extra love though. This strange and claustrophobic nook the size of a small elevator had no daylight, wonky mosaic floor tiles, and very little charm. I could hardly imagine starting and ending every single day here. It needed a serious dose of color. Flipping through a 20th century art book, I discovered the work of Yves Klein and his famous cobalt blue. I sourced a vibrant blue paint from Le Bon Marché, and purchased additional boxes of pure bleu royale pigment from my favorite French art supply store Sennelier to mix my very own “Yves Klein blue”. I painted both walls and ceiling in this glorious shade, and accessorized the teak toiletries shelf with an affordable assortment of blue-and-white bowls, trays and apothecary jars from nearby Chinatown. I have such fond memories of this little blue-and-white apartment. To this day, this simple and fresh color combination evokes the thrilling sense of excitement and joy at starting a new life and a new career in an glamorous new city.
It's only years later I learned that blue-and-white is a classic – yet extremely versatile – decorating scheme that can work within a wide variety of environments and styles.
Mixing and matching patterns is a key element to pulling off this look. Don't shy away from combining patterns with different scales, styles and subject matters. Layer the room as if you were dressing a bed, leaving no surface unexplored: walls, curtains, upholstery, pillows...
Take a cue from traditional French bedrooms immersed - floor to ceiling, bed hangings and covers - in a cocoon of Toile de Jouy. Update this look by throwing blue ticking stripes, ginghams and checks into the mix as well.
This technique works equally well for creating chic tablescapes, as you can use an assortment of dishes, cups and platters: Chinese ceramics, blue Delft, transferware, splatter enamelware, fine china by Wedgewood or Royal Copenhagen... mixed with a random assortment of vintage flea market finds. It will all work together as long as you remain in the same color palette.
For extra fun, add a pop of color to the blue-and-white combo: think a well-placed vase of hot pink peonies, a bowl filled with bright green Granny Smith apples, or an acid yellow throw.
In the words of the incomparable Yves Klein:
"For me, each nuance of a color is in some way an individual, a being who is not only from the same race as the base color, but who definitely possesses a distinct character and personal soul."