More terrific design books are published every month — and especially around the holidays — than we ever have room to cover individually in these pages. So, we’ve gathered together 10 recently released books that we think are among the season’s best. These volumes take readers from the Spanish Mission-style homes of central Texas to a boho-hip hotel in Panama City, from the furniture of the mid-20th century to the art-filled interiors of the 21st. If a last-minute present is called for (and isn’t it always?), we’re sure you’ll find just the thing to delight someone on your gift list.
A tremendous tome about tiny houses, the 463-page Cabins travels across five continents to show how the concept of a rustic sanctuary has evolved since Thoreau’s day. The 61 contemporary versions of Walden contained herein are eco-friendly capsules with all the amenities that modern living requires. Built of local materials for relatively small sums, the featured cabins — and boathouses, cabanas, mini-villas, tree houses and at least one “loft cube” — showcase architectural innovation in spectacular wilderness settings.
There’s a cedar-clad monk’s cabin in remotest Korea; the astonishing Leaprus hostel, which accommodates 49 skiers in five lozenge-shaped fiberglass structures that were helicoptered to a peak in Russia’s Caucasus mountains; and a bamboo-and-steel A-frame in Sri Lanka modeled after traditional “watch huts.” Europe and Australia are well represented, as is the U.S., with about 15 projects, including the plywood Delta Shelter, set on stilts in a Washington State aspen forest.
The international cadre of architects whose work is shown here are pioneers of a 21st-century sort, in the vanguard of a search for a less destructive way of living. Theirs is a worthy goal, one this tri-lingual book shows can be achieved with wit and daring around the globe. —C.G.
Mid-Century Modern Complete,
by Dominic Bradbury
It’s about damned time. In the past 15-odd years, interest in mid-century modern design has matured beyond decorating trends and niche academia into a bona fide, nuanced and popular collecting field, but the domain has always lacked for a reliable, comprehensive desk reference. Now British design writer Dominic Bradbury has supplied it. The book is as well-designed as its subject matter: Smartly organized in sections on topics such as furniture, lighting, glass, ceramics and often-overlooked graphic design, it offers engaging and informative general text backed by specialist essays, as well as superb, even lavish, images. One could quibble with the level of attention Bradbury accords to some creators, such as his perhaps-prideful tendency to credit the work of Brits disproportionately, but no one could wish this book was more thorough — or, at eight-plus pounds, any heavier. Mid-Century Modern Complete is both a useful, handy compendium for the fully initiated and an enlightening, enthusiasm-stoking guide for the novice collector. —G.C.
Commune: Designed in California
“The book marks our ten-year anniversary as a company,” explains Roman Alonso, a founding member of Commune, the red-hot design collective based in Los Angeles whose other principals include Steven Johanknecht and sister and brother Pamela and Ramin Shamshiri. “It’s been a period when we did a lot of experimental work that was influenced by our relaxed, freer lifestyle here.” Indeed the inherent “freedom” of California is a theme that runs through the entire book, as it does through the firm’s work.
Commune: Designed in California is the firm’s first monograph, and it shows a wide range of projects, from innovative commercial spaces for the likes of Ace hotels, Heath Ceramics and lingerie label Kiki de Montparnasse to mid-century modern-inspired residential interiors in various bucolic-seeming pockets of L.A. and in Ojai, to the north. Preferring natural materials and local craftsmen and artisans such as Japanese-American woodworker Michael Wilson and Joshua Tree–based sculptor Alma Allen, Commune creates richly textured interiors that feel both timeless and up-to-the-minute. “We wanted this book to have a personal feel; we mostly wrote our own text and chose the projects we were proudest of,” concludes Alonso. —A.K.
Marella Agnelli: The Last Swan,
by Marella Agnelli and Marella
Of all the fascinating tastemakers of the last century, Marella Agnelli, the youngest of Truman Capote’s society “swans,” is perhaps the least known. Which explains why Marella Agnelli: The Last Swan, a lavishly illustrated book she has written with her journalist niece Marella Caracciolo Chia is this season’s must-read for any modern-day swan on your list.
Born in 1927 to an American whiskey heiress and an Italian nobleman and diplomat, Mrs. Agnelli had a cosmopolitan childhood, moving from Italian family estates to diplomatic missions in Lugano and Ankara and attending schools in Florence (she was elected “Miss Florence” in 1947) and Paris before she moved to New York in 1950 and modeled for the fashion photographer Erwin Blumenfeld. When she returned to Italy, she married Gianni Agnelli, the dashing scion of the Fiat empire who was known for his adventurous tastes in art. (He collected Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Modigliani, Balthus and Rothko, among others.) She went on to spend her adult life creating their various homes: now-legendary apartments, houses and gardens in Italy, France, Switzerland, New York and Morocco, which are showcased here, many for the first time. Illustrating the book are intimate pictures from family albums; archival portraits by Henry Clarke, Robert Doisneau, Irving Penn and Horst P. Horst; and new photography by Oberto Gili. Clearly, her gift is the ability to inspire the top talents she’s hired over the years: the decorators Renzo Mongiardino, Stephane Boudin and Ward Bennett; the architect Gae Aulenti; and the garden designers Russell Page and Madison Cox. It’s a treat to read her words and linger over the photos, a record of a breathtakingly stylish life. —W.M.
Hill Country Houses,
by Cyndy Severson
There’s inspiration aplenty in the pages of Hill Country Houses, and not just for those who live among the grassy hills and spring-fed rivers of central Texas. Here are 19 private homes that sit lightly and sensitively on the land. Local limestone, cedar and cypress come together with stylistic cues from Spanish Mission style, German immigrant craftsmanship and the WPA-era architect O’Neil Ford (a Texas icon) to create a new regional modernism.
This being Texas, the featured homes are generously proportioned, with wood-beamed ceilings, expanses of glass and adaptations like deep roof overhangs and stone-block construction to temper the harsh climate. Simple wooden porches and metal roofs harken back to prairie farmhouses; in other projects, stucco walls and red-tile roofs recall a time before the Alamo.
In the one impressive book, author Cyndy Severson, a noted Texas interior designer, spotlights a state-full of talented contemporary architects whose work merits attention on a national scale. —C.G.
Heart and Home: Rooms That Tell Stories,
by Linda O’Keeffe
“All the interiors are highly personal and stylistically, they all defy categorization,” explains Linda O’Keeffe, the seasoned design editor and author of Heart and Home: Rooms That Tell Stories. “So the book is in praise of individuality. It shows people who’ve had the courage to follow their hearts rather than any particular trend.”
Indeed, the book’s 30 homes — which belong to a wide range of designers, architects and artists — are united by their very individuality. All reflect their owner’s experiences and taste: the places in which they grew up and have traveled to, their enthusiasm for color or a particular artist, their sense of humor and priorities for living.
The result is, refreshingly, spaces that don’t look like they’ve sprung straight out of a showroom or a particular designer’s monograph — even when the homes belong to designers, who include Kate Hume, Brian McCarthy and Kelly Wearstler. The underlying theme is modernism, but with highly personal interpretations, ranging from the colorful, book-filled Los Angeles home of Robert Willson and David Serrano, partners in the La Cienega furniture gallery Downtown, to jewelry designer Frederico de Vera’s antiques-filled converted railway depot in upstate New York.
O’Keeffe sums up the book’s intended appeal: “Hopefully, it feels like a raucous cocktail party where you have people from every profession, age and nationality.” —A.K.
When Art Meets Design,
by Hunt Slonem
When Art Meets Design is a 5.5-pound immersion into the world of artist Hunt Slonem, where more is more and too much is never enough. The homes in this book — all his own — are works of art on a par with the artist’s color-saturated paintings of birds, butterflies and bunnies, which can be found in such museums as the Guggenheim in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.. While Slonem’s canvases are gestural, verging on abstraction, his decor hews to the mid-19th century in a way even the Victorians couldn’t top.
The son of a submarine captain, the 64-year-old Slonem grew up partly in Hawaii, bedazzled by tropical flora and fauna. In 1970s New York, he began collecting furnishings with a Baroque bent. Guided by mediums and spiritual advisers, Slonem then purchased several properties where he has gone on to collect, curate and create to his heart’s content. The book documents four: his 30,000-square-foot painting studio in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen; the Cordts Mansion, an 1873 Second Empire brick house in Kingston, New York, with 30 jewel-toned rooms; and two antebellum mansions in Louisiana, stuffed with a profusion of Empire sofas, paintings in gilded frames, crystal chandeliers, marble statuary and bric-a-brac.
Slonem’s homes, writes design historian and author Emily Evans Eerdmans in the book’s entertaining introduction, are his “antidote to the banal and homogenous world outdoors.” For readers, the book serves precisely the same function. —C.G.
Inner Spaces: Paul Vincent Wiseman
& the Wiseman Group,
by Brian D. Coleman
(Gibbs Smith; $75)
Evident in the spaces interior designer Paul Vincent Wiseman creates for others — which are now documented in this book, his first — are his wide range of styles and non-doctrinaire design philosophy, his appreciation for modern and historic architecture (Edward Lutyens is a favorite) and, less seen, his passion for sustainable development and cutting-edge technology (Frank Gehry wrote the foreword). Based in San Francisco but a world traveler with unbridled curiosity, Wiseman has created luxurious, tailored interiors from New York to Hawaii that are always comfortable and never flashy. He embodies a rare combination of an open mind coupled with an uncommon sophistication, and in his custom work, he is like a couture designer: Everything always looks just right. As the book makes clear, he is as comfortable working with modern architecture by Ricardo Legorreta as he is in a Victorian house on San Francisco’s Russian Hill or an Art Deco apartment in Manhattan. Throughout its pages, the charming Wiseman shares a profound enthusiasm for art and design, convincing readers that we, and his clients, are lucky to have him. —W.M.
Room: Inside Contemporary Interiors,
by Nacho Alegre, et al.
Think of Room as a hardbound catalog — a catalog, that is, for a juried exhibition of newly realized international commercial and residential interiors. The book presents 100 projects selected by a ten-man group of design nabobs that comprises five magazine editors of various degrees of hipness; three designers; a curator; and a restaurateur. Their globe-wide choices are enjoyably disparate, ranging from Spartan to super-luxe; earnest to extravagant. Some projects have star power (Ellen de Generes’s ranch); others shock (the surreal New York apartment of artists John Currin and Rachel Feinstein is a lulu). Uneven photography — supplied by the design firms whose work is presented — occasionally disappoints, particularly the Terry Richardson-esque flash-lit spreads. Still, this is a book to be read; you can’t note from pictures, for example, that the bookshelves of a library designed by the Dutch firm MVRDV are made of recycled flowerpots. Room is an ideal coffee table book for the contemporary-design aficionado, perfectly lending itself to the occasional dip-into and leaf-through. —G.C.
by Kathryn M. Ireland
(Gibbs Smith; $40)
Peeking inside the homes of 16 extraordinarily tasteful and creative people is as easy as opening Inspired By…, a new coffee table tome by British-born, L.A.-based Kathryn M. Ireland, the well-known interior and textile designer.
The book is something of an homage to Ireland’s personal friends, most of whom have no need of professional decorating help. That’s because they are themselves members of the design elite, or because they just have an innate knack. Or sometimes a combo of both, as is the case with 1stdibs founder Michael Bruno, whose immaculately curated home in Southampton, New York, is featured and who confesses in a tongue-in-cheek Q&A to being “an architect in my dreams.”
Stylistic bents range from the traditional (gentleman farmer Barry Dixon’s Virginia estate; Lady Annabel Goldsmith’s ode to chintz in Richmond, Surrey) to the bohemian (decorator Miv Watt’s home near Montpellier, France, all Provencal cheer; chef Carina Cooper’s red-accented Devon farmhouse) to the theatrically minimalist (the Venice Beach hideaway of Ray Azoulay, owner of the furniture gallery Obsolete and a 1stdibs dealer).
“A house is a biography,” Ireland writes, and, so, through the inviting, informally styled photos in this book, we get to know the biographies of 16 very intriguing people who have all inspired her — and will likely leave you feeling inspired, too. —C.G.
Looking for more beautiful reads? Check out our recent stories on new books by Elle Décor’s Michael Boodo; interior decorators Jean-Louis Deniot, Richard Mishaan and Robert Couturier; a tome on the silver of Georg Jensen; two books about the daydream-worthy destinations of the Caribbean and Monte Carlo; and one about the fabulous parties of Elsie de Wolfe.