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Home Edit: Architect Roisin Murphy gets in a lather about a bar of soap

Sometimes it's the little things, writes architect Roisin Murphy - like a solid bar of soap designed to last

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Kaethe Burt O’Dea

Kaethe Burt O’Dea

Kaethe Burt O’Dea

Mr Bloom raised a cake to his nostrils. Sweet lemony wax. - I'll take this one, he said." Leopold Bloom was talking about soap. Not gloop from a dispenser but a good, solid bar. I like a bar of soap too, and in common with many people, it's only now that I really appreciate this everyday miracle. The simple joy of rotating that solidified liquid to make a lather, the bigger, the better.

Soap in a bar has just come out of a fallow period when it was all about liquid and dispensers with sleek, matching pump bottles in every fashionable loo. Folk were fragrant from bottles of stuff perfumed to match scent rather than the smells we associate most with cleaning like lemon or carbolic. For a while there, bars of soap were consigned to the youth market, and Lush, the soap house on every main street that attracts teens with its array of cake-like blocks and bath bombs and colours and scents.

But for those of us who love a bar of soap a big problem is the soap dish. Soaps are usually kept in a dish or in the pocket of the sink by the tap. And they need to be kept dry or they waste away, especially the moisturising variety.

But sinks have seen a lot of reinvention of late and are a hostile environment now for the humble block. The old soap 'pocket' has shrunk and grown less pronounced. Even in old-fashioned sinks the soap slides out almost immediately, rocketing down to the plug like a jolly schoolchild on a park slide.

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French School Soap with original lemon-scented variety, €25 (also available with Kaethe’s own Bí Soap, €35); biurban.ie

French School Soap with original lemon-scented variety, €25 (also available with Kaethe’s own Bí Soap, €35); biurban.ie

French School Soap with original lemon-scented variety, €25 (also available with Kaethe’s own Bí Soap, €35); biurban.ie

So when I was designing a tiny kitchen recently where every precious inch was guarded, I had a moment of inspiration. I decided it needed the ultimate and iconic soap dispenser - the 'School' Soap, as it is known in France where it originated. It's a 300g lemon-shaped (and scented) yellow soap that is threaded through a chrome bar and fixed to your wall. It was created in 1950 by husband-and-wife team Marguerite and Arnold at their Provendi Laboratoire and has been a talking point for anybody using cafe toilets in Paris ever since. It's the soap still used in the Louvre today.

The chrome wall bracket means the soap stays dry and clean and it also lasts for a 1,000 uses before it runs out. I discover it's stocked in Bi Urban, a small sustainable studio workshop in Stoneybatter in Dublin 7 and, along with the famous soap, they've developed their own range to fit on the bar.

Kaethe Burt O'Dea, founder of Bi Urban, is a bit of a legend herself. She's been making soap since she was a girl and way before Goop and Gwynnie. She would fashion a soap with her own scent to remind her friends and relatives at home in her native America of her.

Kaethe is passionate about sustainable living, sourcing local, and zero waste and makes her soaps from recycled, waste food oils, sourced from her local shop, Lilliput Trading Company. She also uses as many foraged materials from hedgerows as possible to perfume them but doesn't stint on quality because they smell divine.

You might see a fashion model popping in to pick up some of her soaps, natural oils or moisturisers, as Kaethe says many of them source from her. They are suitable for those of us with even the most sensitive skin conditions - which makes them perfect for these Covid-19 days when our hands are raw from washing.

Soap, folks, good for the soul and, when ecologically made and on a threaded chrome bar, sustainable and long lasting.

Above, Kaethe Burt O'Dea, and left, French School Soap, €22, available with Kaethe's own Elixor or the original citron French variety; biurban.com

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