Our Holiday Roundup of the Year’s Most Luxurious Design Books
By Ted Loos
December 19, 2016
As we slide toward the end of 2016 amid a clutch of holiday parties and seemingly endless shopping excursions, there’s a respite on the horizon: vacation. That means we'll finally have time to sit down and read a good book — a luxury rarely afforded by the busy fall season. This part of the year is also when the most sumptuous tomes on decorating, architecture and fine living are published. So, for lovers of good design, it may be time to reinforce the coffee table: The seven monumental selections below are among the best of the bunch, but they are also just the beginning.
The end papers of Made to Measure: Meyer Davis Architecture and Interiors (Vendome) are deep-sea blue and intensely glossy — I wondered for a moment if they were coated in oil. This detail is appropriate, given the penchant of firm principals Will Meyer and Gray Davis for well-placed, but never de trop, lacquered walls and ceilings, gleaming metal fixtures and snappily tiled surfaces. With text by design writer Dan Shaw and an introduction by designer David Netto, the book is probably the year’s prettiest and richest decorating tome — it’s high calorie in the best way, right down to the paper stock and layout.
The sustenance comes from the designs, which are all in the vein of the high-style modernity the duo have practically patented since they founded their New York firm in 1999. Divided into “Private” and “Public,” the book features both Meyer’s and Davis’s own homes (predictably gorgeous and not fussy) in the first section, while the latter covers their increasingly in-demand hotel projects, including the Paramount in New York and, more recently, Miami’s 1 Hotel South Beach. The layouts and furnishings are strikingly relational: You can’t help but see how people in them would happily interact with each other. Shaw has it just right when he calls this duo “social engineers.”
The living room of Davis’s own country house, on Upstate New York’s Copake Lake — features floor-to-ceiling glass doors and a fireplace clad in painted brick. Photo by Melanie Acevedo
For a home in Tennessee, the architects created a master suite with its own wing, whose sliding glass walls give way to a terrace. Photo by Rachel Paul
Left: A cozy corner welcomes diners to Beachcraft, one of the two Tom Colicchio restaurants the designers created at 1 Hotel South Beach, in Miami (photo by Eric Laignel). Right: Davis’s previous home in Copake, New York, which was known as Knaughty Pines, included this office and drafting room hidden behind sliding barn doors (photo by Michael Mundy).
Paintings by his father-in-law, Enrique Battista, hang above a custom L-shaped zebrawood and suede sofa at Meyer’s country house, also in Copake. Photo by Paul Costello
Meyer and Davis reimagined an Amagansett beach house with the help of interior designer David Netto, who contributed the introduction to the book. Photo by Michael Arnaud
Left: Wine bottles line the back wall of the private dining room of the Dutch in Miami Beach (photo by Eric Laignel). Right: At St. Cecilia’s — a coastal Italian seafood restaurant from chef Ford Fry in Atlanta — Meyer and Davis juxtaposed rustic reclaimed-wood floors with sleek chairs and banquettes (photo by Andrew Thomas Lee).
Travelers are always bursting with ideas about how to apply their experiences in the field to everyday life. This urge has been nicely captured in Sara Bliss’s Hotel Chic at Home: Inspired Design Ideas from Glamorous Escapes (Monacelli). Bliss, who runs hotelchicblog.com and has written several style-related books, brings her expertise to bear through her contacts at hundreds of properties around the world, from Indonesia to Morocco to Manhattan. The rich color photos create their own Grand Tour.
Unsurprisingly, bedrooms and bathrooms provide the bulk of the ideas. Bliss helpfully takes the how-to approach with every text block and caption, extrapolating the lesson from the pretty picture. Try, for example, mixing fine old china with basic white plates and hanging them all on the wall, as at the Kelly Wearstler–designed Viceroy, in Santa Monica, California. Throughout the book are stand-alone sidebars in which notable design talents talk about their favorite hotels — Dwellstudio founder Christiane Lemieux, for instance, holding forth on Kasbah Tamardot, in Marrakech.
A rustic wooden bench and assorted stools flank a vintage table in the reception and lobby area of the San Giorgio hotel on the Greek island of Mykonos. Bliss sees the room as offering “accessible inspiration for a relaxed dining space,” noting that the “basket pendant lights make a statement without overpowering.” Photo by Angelos Zymaras, Stereosis, courtesy of San Giorgio Mykonos Design Hotels
Among the spaces included in the book’s “Cozy and Captivating” section, devoted to dining rooms and kitchens, is this indoor-outdoor area at the Malliouhana resort in Anguilla. It teaches us, Bliss writes, to “take advantage of a dining room with an interesting view by creating a built-in seating area piled high with pillows.” Photo courtesy of Malliouhana/Auberge Resorts
A bedroom at El Fenn — a hotel, owned by Vanessa Branson (Sir Richard’s sister), created from a series of old riads on the edge of Marrakech’s medina — demonstrates how “accentuating one unexpected element gives a room verve.” In this case, a red-quilted headboard extends from the bed to the ceiling, making the space look taller and distracting the eye from how narrow it is. Photo by David Loftus
Bliss admires the way a corner bench, like this one at the French Alps’ Chalet Pelerin, can “save space and make a dining area more interesting.” Blake Pike and Jane Hines, of No. 12 Interiors, commissioned the custom banquette to accommodate the height of the antique French Savoyard table. Photo by David Marlow, courtesy of Eleven
Designed by Ilse Crawford, this bedroom at Stockholm’s Ett Hem, says Bliss, “captures the feeling that you’re staying in the home of someone very intriguing.” The effect is the result of combining such surprising elements as gray-green walls, a sculptural rattan chair, a mirrored sideboard and an opulent chandelier. Photo courtesy Ett Hem
“Choosing a bed frame carved from a tropical wood and featuring an exotic motif will immediately lend a global note to any bedroom,” writes Bliss, citing this space at Bali’s Amankila as a case in point. Photo courtesy Aman
If you’re devoting a whole book to just one house, it had better be truly great. Acclaimed decorator Bunny Williams’s spread in the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana — the subject of A House by the Sea (Abrams) — is just that. The classically inspired residence by Cuban architect Ernesto Buch — with significant input from Williams and her antiques-dealing husband, John Rosselli — has wonderful proportions, not to mention columns, porches and porticos to spare, all of which have been comprehensively photographed for the volume, mostly by Francesco Lagnese.
Inside, of course, Williams can employ her patented traditional-but-comfortable look, which she does to perfection in a palette of many ocean-inspired blues and greens and a not-inconsiderable amount of yellow. Famous friends like architect Gil Schafer, antiques dealer Angus Wilkie and garden writer Jane Garmey contribute paeans to the home based on their personal experiences as guests. And if you like dogs, Williams’s pack appears in dozens of the images. You’ll wag your tail appreciatively at the whole package.
There’s something slightly mysterious about Inson Dubois Wood: Interiors(Rizzoli). That applies to both the man — the principal of his own design firm, who is not pictured anywhere in the book — and the rooms lavishly documented within. The projects displayed in photographs by Mark Roskams are mostly in Europe and New York, with one in Asia, but they all have a distinctly Continental feel.
Wood, whose background and upbringing span Asia, Europe and America, isn’t impelled to cover every surface he sees or to fill up every inch of the rooms he creates in locales from Lake Como to Saint-Tropez to Berlin. He often lets an interesting surface or a provocative juxtaposition just hang there to be appreciated. With a degree from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and stints working for both Juan Pablo Molyneux and David Easton, Wood certainly has a pedigree, and his intriguing schemes leave lasting impressions.
For a Manhattan penthouse, Wood installed a cast-bronze and glass conservatory he had made in France, adorning it with such unexpected finds as a Victorian iron tricycle and an Italian carved-wood lamp, which curves over Patrick Naggar’s Galileo chair. All photos by Mark Roskams
For this grand salon in New York’s Holiday House showhouse a few years back, Wood hung a Ron Ehrlich painting below a bronze Hervé Van der Straeten chandelier. Hand-embroidered and -painted silk papers cover the walls, while tasseled pelmet-style valances adorn the windows.
Back in the Manhattan penthouse, the mural-clad dining room features Louis XV rock crystal and gilded bronze candelabras, a 17th-century English hunt table and Louis XIII chairs. Wood found the 19th-century French chandeliers at Carlos de la Puente.
Pieces from Jonathan Paul’s “Designer Drugs” series decorate a wall over an acrylic table in a Manhattan carriage house. The chairs are by John Houshmand.
To create a sense of calm order in this New York pied-à-terre, which belongs to a Florida-based client, Wood removed nearly all color and hid practically everything utilitarian.
Has there ever been a more important figure in the design life of a country than Britain’s Terence Conran? Now 85, Sir Terence (knighted in 1983) has been bringing savvy modern style to the masses for 65 years. The founder of the Habitat affordable furnishings and housewares brand and the Conran Shop has now published a memoir with pictures, My Life in Design (Conran Octopus), with a forward by designer Thomas Heatherwick, a polymath of a younger generation who reveres the great master.
It’s a scrapbook of sorts, with 400 images telling the story of how the Dorset native took an interest in textiles and turned it into an empire. Over the decades, his purview has extended beyond his familiar retail wares into architecture (from housing projects to swank restaurants) and extensive philanthropic work promoting the history of design. Conran says he’s a furniture designer at heart and that one of his proudest achievements is founding London’s Design Museum (recently reconceived and reopened), but let’s face it: He’s done it all.
In this 1950s photograph taken in his Notting Hill workshop, Conran (right) observes as Eric O’Leary works on a bit of welding. “I look slightly out of place in my suit,” Conran writes of the image. “Eric was the most important man in my workshops. . . . He used to do bronze casting for the sculptor Henry Moore.” All photos courtesy of Conran Octopus
In addition to establishing the Conran Shop and the affordable housewares brand Habitat, Conran cofounded Benchmark, a now 32-year-old company devoted to making craft-focused furniture.
Conran began creating textile designs professionally in the 1940s, when he was still a student at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London.
This new book celebrates the scores of previous volumes Conran has authored on subjects ranging from cooking to gardening in addition to design.
Conran’s adventures as a restaurateur began relatively early in his career — he opened the Soup Kitchen and then the Orrery in the 1950s in London, just a few years after finishing design school. In the 1990s came Quaglino, also in London, and Alcazar, in Paris, both pictured here. In 2000, he added Guastavino’s, under New York’s City’s Queensboro Bridge adjacent to his Conran Shop there. Many more have followed.
In 2008, Conran became a hotelier, opening the Boundary in East London’s on-the-rise Shoreditch neighborhood. Its rooftop and shop quickly became popular with visitors and locals alike.
With Elemental Living: Contemporary Houses in Nature, the editors at Phaidon have attempted a dispassionate, encyclopedic approach to the titular topic, with very little text and a simple organization. The 59 houses included are divided into three categories: those constructed merely to look at nature, those built within it to an unusual degree and those truly constructed with nature. Each gets its own short write-up and well-designed spreads of multiple images.
A few of these buildings are well known: Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater and Philip Johnson’s Glass House, among them — all exemplars of embracing the outdoors. But the fun of this book is seeing the far-out, off-the-beaten-track homes that are perfectly in sync with their surroundings. The wow factor tends to come from either being high up (architect Durbach Block Jaggers’s cube-shaped Holman House, perched on a cliff over azure waters off Sydney, Australia) or deeply burrowed (Villa Vals, tucked into the ground by SeARCH and CMA in Graubünden, Switzerland). No one can design better than Mother Nature, but these architects have done very well indeed.
The terrace of a home by British architectural designer and minimalist master John Pawson offers open views of the ocean, with no ornament or furnishings to distract the eye. Photo by Gilbert McCarragher
Set within an undulating landscape, a home by Rick Joy in Arizona’s Sun Valley invites nature in with a central courtyard and massive window walls. The peaks of its roof mimic those of the mountains just beyond. Photo by Joe Fletcher Photography
Perhaps the quintessential example of “elemental living,” Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater embraces the cascades of a waterfall in rural western Pennsylvania. Photo copyright Ian G. Dagnall/Alamy Stock Photo
Built in New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1949, Philip Johnson’s Glass House welcomes the elements in by all but eliminating any visual barriers between indoors and out. Photo by Paul Warchol
Seattle-based firm Olsen Kundig built the Pierre residence into a large stone outcropping on one of Washington State’s San Juan Islands. Photo courtesy Benjamin Benschneider / Olson Kundig
For Bjellandsbu Hunting Lodge, located in southwestern Norway and accessible only by foot or on horseback, Oslo’s Snøhetta architects used local stone, wood treated with tar and a turf roof that helps the home disappear into the landscape’s green grass and heather. Photo by James Silverman
The book is a good reminder of many things — for instance, that the White House, that singular icon, is also just an example of Federal-style architecture. The volume contains the stately old residences you might expect, like Mount Vernon and Dumbarton Oaks, but is liberal-minded enough to include Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1950s exemplar of cinder-block modernism, the Marden House, in McLean, Virginia.
Cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post purchased the Georgian Revival Hillcrest estate — now a museum open to the public, whose entry hall is seen here — in 1955, conceiving it as a place to show off the collection of French and Russian decorative arts she’d amassed. (Her third husband, Joseph E. Davies, was ambassador to the U.S.S.R. and Belgium in the late 1930s, postings that served Post’s collecting.) All photos by Bruce M. White
Although most of the homes in the book are constructed in a classical vernacular, author Good also features Marden House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian residences, which the great architect built overlooking the Potomac River’s Little Falls in McLean, Virginia, in the 1950s. National Geographic Society explorer and photographer Luis Marden — who worked with Jacques Cousteau — and his wife, Ethel, commissioned the cinderblock, mahogany and cement structure.
Typical of Wright’s Usonian projects — and, indeed, of his oeuvre in general — Marden House has an open, free-flowing floor plan and mostly built-in furnishings.
Architect John J. Whelan built the Beaux Arts country house Marwood in Potomac, Marlyand, in 1931 for clients who wanted a home based on the French Renaissance architecture of the Château du Malmaison, near Paris. Its symmetrical rear elevation, which matches the facade, has acanthus leaf brackets, limestone stringcourses, large rectangular stucco quoins, nine French doors on the first floor and 18 windows above.
The Art Deco Fealy House was built in 1935 by architect Harry Sternfeld in the Hillcrest section of Southeast Washington’s Anacostia neighborhood. The concrete and mosaic-paneled building, Good writes, is “the first prefabricated house and one of the best residential examples of Art Deco in the District of Columbia.”
Built in the late 1950s in Washington’s Cleveland Park district, the split-level Slayton House — immediately recognizable by its distinctive triple-barrel-vault roof — is one of only three private residences designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei. Photo by Ken Rahraim