The day's porcelain pattern is "Sparte," with minimalist gold bands--and there are a dozen other sets in the house to choose from. This delights Betsy, who confides that when she met her husband, Michel, in Chicago 10 years ago (she was managing a bistro, he was in town on business with Marshall Field's), she thought porcelain was only for special occasions. Michel proposed after five weeks of shared culinary adventures: he took her to the finest restaurants in the Chicago area, she dazzled him with such shows of expertise as ordering potato-vodka martinis to go with her sushi.
These days, they're more likely to stay in than go out (there's another set of twins, two-year-old Lucy and Pierre, napping through lunch upstairs). In the antique-filled town house, inherited from Michel's parents, they give small, slightly formal parties. Their country gatherings are funkier, Betsy says; she and Michel bought the farmhouse from an aunt and renovated it, adding an all-glass kitchen wall that lets them admire the garden while cooking. In both houses, the couple's taste in dish patterns ranges from "Métropoles" (cityscapes around milky-white centers) to "Louvre" (all-white reliefs based on the museum's architectural details) to "Roses" (18th-century rose motifs). The menus favor what's locally available; when F&W visited the farmhouse, Betsy served leeks in a truffle-rich vinaigrette and roasted bass from the nearby Atlantic.
The Bernardauds and I settle down to discuss the family business over coffee (served in "Ithaque" cups, with raised colored dots rimmed in gold). That morning I'd toured a Bernardaud plant and I'm still marveling at the rhythmic artistry I saw there. Machines handle the muscle tasks, pressing clay disks into embossed plates, pumping liquid clay into teacup-handle molds; kilns the size of trailer homes bake the clay at 2960 degrees Fahrenheit until the material turns hard and translucent. Humans handle the subtleties. Women smooth the insides of spouts with mini-sponges on dowels that look like lollipops; men sink bowls into glaze troughs after the clay's first firing, then swoop each piece through the air to even out the coating.