Required Reading

Our Annual Holiday Roundup of Sumptuous Design Books

When it comes to holiday gifts, it’s hard to go wrong with a beautiful and smart book — especially compared with a chunky sweater or a dreary gift certificate. You’d have to be pretty Scrooge-like indeed to turn up your nose at the following six volumes, which take the world of design seriously, but not too soberly. All demonstrate the magic that can happen when the elements of the physical world are arranged just so. Something transcendent occurs, and isn’t that what the holidays are all about?

Rizzoli recently published Cabana magazine founder Martina Mondadori Sartogo‘s volume on 20th-century Italian maximalist and society decorator Renzo Mongiardino. The style- and jetsetter grew up in a home that Mongiardino designed for her parents.

The acclaimed Italian architect and interior designer Renzo Mongiardino (1916–98) never shied from juxtaposing a flocked wallpaper with a dozen other patterns in a dimly lit room. He’s the subject of a new book from the trendsetters at Cabana magazine and the particular project of its founder, Martina Mondadori Sartogo, who grew up in a Mongiardino-designed home. The Interiors and Architecture of Renzo Mongiardino: A Painterly Vision (Rizzoli) offers supersaturated photographs by Guido Taroni of 20 projects, most in Italy, and the mysteriousness of each image makes you want to step inside it to discover more.

Sartogo’s considerable clout in the social and design spheres (she moves largely between Milan and London and travels to various stylish points in between and beyond) has resulted in big “gets” in the book. Lee Radziwill, who commissioned Mongiardino for her London home, notes that “no one today matches his taste,” and Tiffany designer Elsa Peretti talks about how she misses him personally. There’s something improbably tasteful in all the rooms, no matter how incredibly maximalist Mongiardino made them; it’s hard to imagine someone else working as well with marquetry, marble and wildly colored ceramic tiles. You don’t necessarily have to be Italian to pull it all off but — well, actually, you do.

 

For a home facing Rome’s ruins, Mongiardino channeled the sensibilities and aesthetic of its 17th-century origins. As Mondadori Sartogo describes it, “Trompe-l’oeil landscapes of the Pontine countryside, columns, obelisks, and urns in colored marble mix with bronze busts, Piranesian consoles, and sumptuous damask curtains.” All photos in this slideshow by Guido Taron

In a Milan home Mongiardino designed in 1978, the mantel (left) “appears to have panels of marble in different colors,” Mondadori Sartogo notes. “On closer inspection, however, one discovers it is all a masterful illusion — the material is actually reverse-painted glass.” The hand-painted wallpaper in the living room (right) imitates the 17th-century Italian scagliola found in a Renaissance church in Milan.

At Mongiardino’s suggestion, the Milan home’s owners started collecting Imari plates to hang on the stenciled, Laura Ashley–fabric-covered walls of the dining room. They spent the next 25 years amassing this diverse suite of pieces, buying them at flea markets and antiques shops around the world.

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Architect and committed classicist Peter Pennoyer worked with his frequent book collaborator, writer Anne Walker, on a new Monacelli Press volume devoted to the grand country-house stylings of early-2oth-century designer Harrie T. Lindeberg.

Certainly, no one is better qualified to write about historic country houses than architect Peter Pennoyer, a prodigious designer of homes inspired by these stately residences and a master restorer of many original examples. Last year, he did a whole book about his own Millbrook, New York, home, and he has authored monographs on such Gilded Age architects as Delano & Aldrich and Grosvenor Atterbury. Now, with his frequent writing collaborator, the architectural historian Anne Walker, he has come out with Harrie T. Lindeberg and the American Country House (Monacelli Press). No less a pooh-bah than Robert A.M. Stern says in his introduction that Lindeberg (1879–1959) “brilliantly synthesized” previous architectural traditions.

Lindeberg’s clients had names like Doubleday and DuPont — and they all owned spreads that really spread. Although often compared to the British architect Sir Edward Lutyens, he had his own grand style. The ceilings and roofs are particularly noteworthy: The dramatic pitch of slate that tops a Lily Pond Lane affair in New York’s East Hampton holds your eye, as does the dining-room ceiling in a Lake Forest, Illinois, country club that somehow marries a cathedral and a barn. It’s interesting to see Lindeberg begin to engage with the Art Deco style right as the Depression snuffed out the demand for palatial escapes. Which might make you think: Build that country house now, while you still can.

 

In the 1910s, Lindeberg designed Wyldwoode, the Lake Forest, Illinois, estate of steel-industry executive Clyde M. Carr, which was completed in 1917. “The house,” Pennoyer and Walker write, “unfurled in a sequence of angled wings, bays and porches pinned down by Lindeberg’s extraordinarily steep roof and colossal chimneys.” All photos in this slideshow by Jonathan Wallen

Lindeberg created Bayberrys (1916–19), on the North Shore of New York’s Long Island, for book-publishing scion Nelson Doubleday. Left: A view from the library shows the front hall’s curving, light-filled staircase. Right: A wrought-iron gate leads into the garden.

Left: Pennoyer and Walker liken this early-1920s home Lindeberg designed in Shadyside — an exclusive planned enclave in Houston — to “a medieval Cotswolds cottage.” Right: The oval stair hall of broker Michael van Beuren’s estate in Middleton, Rhode Island, which Lindeberg worked on from 1924 through ’26, features a polychrome marble floor and a sinuous iron balustrade.

Interior designer Markham Roberts recently redecorated the Charles Thomas Church house — in Mill Neck, New York, on Long Island’s North Shore — which Lindeberg created in 1930.

 

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Contemporary French decorator extraordinaire Joseph Dirand has released his first monograph, published by Rizzoli and called, simply, Interior — a title even more minimalist than his strictly modern, clean-lined designs.

The heavy paper stock and matte finish of Joseph Dirand: Interior (Rizzoli) slightly soften the hard edges of the Paris-based designer’s work; he is, as Architectural Digest has put it, a “strict modernist.”

The book’s black-and-white images read as almost purely abstract, melting into gauzy shapes. The gorgeous photos are by his brother, Adrien Dirand, who contributes as well a touching reminiscence on their childhood. (Their father, Jacques, was also a noted photographer.)

Largely working in New York and Paris, Dirand has set a high bar for spare and luxurious spaces. The texts, too, are suggestive rather than info laden: Yann Siliec introduces each project ever so briefly, and the captions, offloaded to the back so as not to interfere with the look, are themselves minimal (a touch more info would have been welcome).

Design scribe Sarah Medford contributes an afterword that emphasizes Dirand’s storytelling abilities and the fact that clients can’t help but give him free rein. Based on this book, you would too.

 

 

Dirand designed the rooms and suites of the new Four Seasons Hotel at Miami Beach’s fabled Surf Club. These occupy a series of low glass towers, designed by architect Richard Meier, surrounding the original 1930s Mediterranean Revival clubhouse. All photos in this slideshow by Adrien Dirand

Left: At Monsieur Bleu, the brasserie within Paris’s Palais de Tokyo museum, Dirand channeled an Art Deco look and the work of Viennese architect Adolf Loos. Right: For another Paris museum restaurant, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs’ Loulou, the designer combined the aesthetics of Carlo Mollino’s Turin home, Yves Saint Laurent muse Loulou de la Falaise and the building’s original Renaissance architecture.

Described in the book as “a majestic sculptural staircase,” this installation in a residential development in Frankfurt is carved out of 50 tons of marble and rises over three floors. Dirand took inspiration for the building from Czech cubism.

Left: Dirand’s studio designed the lamps, mirror and tub in this bathroom at the Frankfurt residential building. Right: The chandeliers and wall lights at the classic, clubby Le Flandrin restaurant in Paris are also by Dirand’s studio.

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Despite the book’s title, the works collected in Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005–2016 (Phaidon) are just as focused on the design and decor of the locations where the famed photographer shoots her subjects as they are on the subjects themselves.

When Annie Leibovitz began thinking about her latest monograph, she knew what she wanted it to end with: a photo of Hillary Clinton in the White House. And as she writes in the newly released Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005–2016 (Phaidon), what she would have focused on in the picture wouldn’t have been Clinton herself but the setting. “I spent a lot of time imagining which desk Hillary would choose,” she notes in the afterword. “Was one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s desks available?”

We’ll never know which Clinton would have selected, but thanks to this tome, we do know a lot about the decoration and decor that surrounds many other powerful women (and men). A shot of Queen Elizabeth II in a brocade gown also includes an ornate side cabinet, a chandelier and a rug that reign as resolutely as the British monarch herself. Sophia Loren, meanwhile, commands a Geneva apartment whose wall tapestries, plush upholstery and silver-framed photos displayed on a pair of console tables seem to embrace the actress as tightly as her form-fitting gown. Anna Wintour’s home is as chic as her attire; the settee, the small round table, the pottery on the mantel and especially the abstract painting on the wall establish her tastemaker cred.

Clearly, this volume isn’t just about people but also about people’s relationship to their environments, and it shows that Leibovitz is as much a photographer of architecture and interiors as she is a portraitist. “Location is an integral part of a picture,” she writes. “The history of a place, its sights and sounds, influences a picture.” Indeed, the book offers one compelling backdrop after another. In 2013, Michael Bloomberg posed in his City Hall office: not a room but a bullpen, in which the high-powered New York mayor looks like just another worker ant. And in a shot of Jeff Koons — never mind that Koons is stark naked — the space he’s in, seemingly a home gym, commands attention. Why is there no art on the walls? And no shades on the windows? Are neighbors allowed to peep at Koons but not at Koons’s work? — FRED A. BERNSTEIN

 

In Rihanna, Havana, Cuba, 2015, the Caribbean-born pop star almost disappears — just another red-hot element in a crimson street scene. All photos in this slideshow © Annie Leibovitz

In President Barack Obama, the Oval Office, Washington, D.C., January 19, 2017, the photographer captured the leader of the free world on his last day in that role. The composition gives as much, if not more, weight to the trappings of the office as to the man himself.

 

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The Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is a page-for-page rerelease of a 1961 original. It opens, charmingly, with the greeting “Dear Homemaker.”

Let’s turn the clock back to 1961. As President John F. Kennedy was settling into his job, that year’s edition of The Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book was published. Now it’s been rereleased by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as a facsimile.

It might feel like a goof gift at first, since the reader will be thinking, “We were so innocent then.” “Paint changes a room” states one piece of display type. You don’t say!

But once you get past the slightly yellowed images, you realize, “Hey, that upholstered daybed is pretty kicky, and good to remember that my decorator did not invent mixing traditional and modern furniture.”

With its blend of time-capsule enjoyment and actual advice (check out the chapter on electrical wiring, something you wouldn’t see today), it might be the most thumbed-through book on your coffee table come January.

 

 

“Are you a busy clubwoman — with an active family?” the editors of Better Homes & Gardens ask on the page with this image. “Then you’ll want to decorate your home for a minimum of housework.” Paneled walls and woven blinds, they note, minimize dusting. All photos in this slideshow © Meredith Corporation

Left: The book advises readers to base a room’s palette on the colors of a favorite work of art, wallpaper print or fabric. Right: Encouraging decor that mixes eras and styles, the editors highlight the juxtaposition of a traditional carved eagle and a modern painting above the couch here.

A “white fireplace and trim emphasize the architectural details,” say the magazine’s editors sagely. “Sharply contrasting colors emphasize your furnishings.”

 

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This volume from the Vendome Press offers a rare glimpse inside some of the most impressive apartments in all of New York City, from a Fifth Avenue classic by McKim, Mead & White to the modern marvel of Rafael Viñoly’s 432 Park.

For a certain subset of people who treasure floor plans, Life at the Top: New York’s Most Exceptional Apartment Buildings (Vendome) will be like a bowl of candy. At 1 Sutton Place South — originally designed by Cross & Cross and Rosario Candela for Amy Phipps, daughter of Pittsburgh steel magnate Henry — the wingspan of the penthouse is mind-boggling, especially given that the entire perimeter is surrounded by a terrace; at the Renaissance-style 998 Fifth Avenue, designed by McKim, Mead & White for the great developer James T. Lee, the same can be said of the number of maid’s rooms (nine!). Authors Kirk Henckels, the vice chairman of the real estate agency Stribling & Associates, and the prolific Anne Walker have created a book that will fuel the ongoing conversations about which building is the best of the best — fantasy baseball, but for residential real estate.

Michel Arnaud has taken well-composed photographs of present-day apartments in each of the buildings, and there are also historical images of many. Although the 1920s represented the high-water mark of such luxury construction, this book takes us into the 21st century, featuring Robert A.M. Stern’s 15 Central Park West and Rafael Viñoly’s 432 Park, the tallest residential structure in the Western Hemisphere. Comparing the ornate woodwork of the first entry in the book — the Upper West Side’s Dakota, designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh in 1884 — to the massive floor-to-ceiling-windows at 432 Park may seem like mixing gilded apples and gilded oranges. But as our authors remind us, “In matters of taste, there can be no dispute.”

 

The rooftop terrace of the penthouse at 778 Park Avenue sports a charming teahouse that the book’s authors describe as “the urban incarnation of a Palladian garden folly” and “the pièce de résistance of the apartment.” Rosario Candela designed the neo-Georgian building, which was constructed in the early 1930s. All photos in this slideshow © Michel Arnaud

In a floor-through apartment at 998 Fifth Avenue, a building designed by McKim, Mead & White in the early 1900s, an enfilade of entertaining rooms unfolds along one side of a square courtyard. French boiserie surrounds an arched doorway in the living room, while a marble mantel adorns the dining room beyond.

The current owners of the duplex maisonette at 998 Fifth removed more than 30 coats of red paint from the front hall, replacing them with articulated plaster. They finished the space with an 18th-century marble-topped, gilded-wood French table, an 18th-century mirror and a Greek cuirass.

In the dining room of collector Beth Rudin DeWoody’s apartment at 10 Gracie Square — another Upper East Side edifice built in the 1930s, this one designed by the firms of Van Wart & Wein and Pennington & Lewis — a 1960s Italian chandelier hangs over a table, and blue-hued artworks by Sylvester Damianos and Robert Wilson flank the windows and French doors on the back wall.

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