Bar Soap

Why Interior Designers Prefer Bar Soap Over Liquid

Hard-milled cakes are making a comeback, and many decorators cheer the choice. Plus: five stylish little trays to set them in

by: Rebecca Malinsky

Originally published April 2, 2019 in The Wall Street Journal

CAKE PLATES Clockwise from top-left: Horn Soap Dish, $15, cb2.com; Kitchen Soap Bar, $8, thelaundress.com; Terrazzo Bath Soap Dish, $28, anthropologie.com; Swedish Dream Sea Aster Soap, $7.50, kalastyle.com; Gold Plate Soap Dish, $90, smnovella.com; Nomad Soap Dish, $17, kassatex.com; Swedish Dream Sea Aster Soap, $7.50, kalaystyle.com; Rebekah Miles Small Nopal Soap Dish, $110, Nickey Kehoe, 323-954-9300. PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, STYLING BY ANNE CARDENAS

CAKE PLATES Clockwise from top-left: Horn Soap Dish, $15, cb2.com; Kitchen Soap Bar, $8, thelaundress.com; Terrazzo Bath Soap Dish, $28, anthropologie.com; Swedish Dream Sea Aster Soap, $7.50, kalastyle.com; Gold Plate Soap Dish, $90, smnovella.com; Nomad Soap Dish, $17, kassatex.com; Swedish Dream Sea Aster Soap, $7.50, kalaystyle.com; Rebekah Miles Small Nopal Soap Dish, $110, Nickey Kehoe, 323-954-9300. PHOTO: F. MARTIN RAMIN/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, STYLING BY ANNE CARDENAS

NOT VERY LONG AGO, many of us gave up solid soap for the liquid version, happy to bid adieu to the gelatinous mess that inevitably accrued underneath a bar of soap and to the anxiety (fallacious, it turns out) that it could pass along germs. 

Recently, however, some consumers horrified by the trillions of tons of plastic making its way to the oceans are feeling obliged to return to paper-wrapped milled soap, not least because it’s an excuse to buy a handsome holder for it. 

“I’ve always hated pump soaps,” said Todd Nickey, interior designer and co-owner of home goods store Nickey Kehoe in Los Angeles. “Bar soap in a dish adds a layer of decoration and personality to a powder room.” The kitchen sink, too, can be made less utilitarian with a cake of soap in a thoughtfully selected tray. Gwen Whiting, who co-founded The Laundress, a producer of home-cleaning products that includes a Kitchen Soap Bar for hands and wooden utensils, elevates bricks of soap with silver and porcelain pieces that once held different jobs. “I think it’s nice to use a saucer or small dish from a special hotel or restaurant—not stolen, of course,” said Ms. Whiting, who also looks for simple white chemistry ceramics and small silver hotel trays in vintage shops.

Kate Smith, who produces Swedish Dream skin care in Cranston, R.I., employs simple dishes from Crate & Barrel and Anthropologie to cradle the many soaps she and her business partners test. To battle the pools of goo they form, she stands flat-edged bars on their side. “It’s a trick I learned while sourcing soaps in Genoa, Italy, in the 1990s,” she said. “It will dry much faster this way.” 

As for the germaphobes: A study underwritten by Dial actually inoculated bars of soap with E. coli, and the germs were not transmitted to subjects who washed their hands with them. As “Friends” character Chandler Bing announced in a 1996 episode, “Soap is soap. It’s self cleaning!”

While there’s no way around the wiping down your beautiful soap dish will regularly require, your guests will thank you. “It might require a little more maintenance,” said Mr. Nickey, “but often pretty things do.”