Required Reading

The Best Design Books to While away the Lush Last Days of Summer

At the end of August, our daily rhythms slow down to their most languid summer pace. This is the time to feed our brains with the best of the recent crop of design books — which are not only good reads, but they look great on the coffee table stacked next to a vase of freshly cut hydrangeas.

Phaidon‘s The Red Thread: Nordic Design celebrates the best of Scandinavian design, from the shining, sculptural silver objects of Georg Jensen to the glass and bent-plywood curves of Alvar Aalto to the democratizing, wallet-friendly creations of Ikea. Photo courtesy of Phaidon

The new Phaidon book The Red Thread: Nordic Design has loose threads — literal ones hanging from the cover. But the title is actually metaphorical. In Scandinavian parlance, the phrase refers to the core of a story, the heart of the matter.

And indeed, as the book amply illustrates, Nordic design is beloved for boiling down objects to their essentials — to their core or heart. Just look at the work of Alvar Aalto and Arne Jacobsen, both of whose pieces are featured in the book.

The book — part of a Phaidon series on regional design — is almost as much a beautiful catalogue as a primer. Although some pieces are shown in the setting of a room, most are starkly silhouetted against white backgrounds, so that you can drink in their practical genius and spare lines.

Divided into three sections — focusing on design for home, life and “relations” with other people — the tome has an admirable range. Few books would dare to present a 1951 Georg Jensen ice bucket one page away from a glass decanter sold at Ikea, but a down-to-earth lack of snobbery is another thing we love about Nordic culture.



The section of the book called “Design to Improve Spaces” includes two versions of Hans Wegner‘s Ox chairs and a footstool from the same 1960s series, plus an Ernst & Jensen Insula table, 2009, and an Arne Jacobsen AJ table lamp, 1960. Photo by Erik Jørgensen

Left: Jacob Jensen designed this audio equipment for Bang & Olufsen over three decades, from 1964 to 1991. Photo © Jacob Jensen Design A/S. Right: Ole Jensen’s Washing-Up bowl and brush, designed for Normann Copenhagen in 1996, finds beauty in simplicity, with a bit of whimsy thrown in. Photo by Normann Copenhagen

Even more whimsically, the section “Design to Improve Relations” features a series of wooden toys designed by Kay Bojesen from 1930 to 1957. Photo by Kay Bojesen Denmark/Rosendahl Design Group A/S

Left: Among the myriad Jacobsen pieces in the book is his 1958 Swan chair, designed for Fritz Hansen. Photo by Fritz Hansen A/S. Right: Andreas Engesvik’s Corky collection of glassware, 2011, takes its name from the carafe’s stopper. Photo by Muuto

One particularly colorful spread in the book shows off the delightful fabric prints that Josef Frank created for Svenskt Tenn. Photo courtesy of Phaidon

Clockwise from left are a Tapio Wirkkala for Iittala Chanterelle vase, 1946 (Photo © Iittala/Fiskars Group); Finn Juhl for Torben Ørskov Turning trays, 1956 (Photo by Architectmade); a Sven Palmqvist for Orrefors Kraka vase, 1944 (Photo courtesy 1stdibs); and a Peter Opsvik for Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair, 1972 (Photo © Peter Opsvik AS).

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In The Garden of Peter Marino (Rizzoli), contemporary architect Marino writes that the color-coordinated landscapes of his Southampton estate offer “a sense of order blended with the chaos of nature.” Photo courtesy of Rizzoli

Compartmentalization is much debated as a psychological approach. In gardens, however, keeping things separate can be quite charming, as evidenced in The Garden of Peter Marino (Rizzoli). Marino, a celebrated contemporary architect, has arranged the lush but well-ordered and highly rational landscaping of his Southampton estate by color: pink, red, purple and so on (no, there’s no black-leather section).

They are built on an architect-friendly set of axes, and in his introduction, Marino notes that the appeal is “a sense of order blended with the chaos of nature,” and that each area is essentially its own outdoor room.

Many hands contributed to burnish this beautiful oversize tome. The forward is by artist Claude Lalanne, whose sculptures, along with ones by her late husband, François-Xavier Lalanne, dot the Marino estate. The bulk of the hydrangea-filled photos are by the talented Jason Schmidt, and at the end is a photo essay by Manolo Yllera titled “After the Storm.” The pictures, which appear to be shot through the world’s rosiest Instagram filter, are a pleasant distillation of the entire project.



“The purple garden is the most formally laid out of all the gardens,” writes Marino, who bought its French 18th-century limestone fountain in Bordeaux. Water lilies fill the fountain’s basin, while the lavender-lined brick path leads to the front door. All photos by Jason Schmidt

The red garden — which includes herbs — extends from the kitchen to Marino’s motorcycle garage. At the back right can be seen livestock sculptures by François-Xavier Lalanne.

A Lalanne owl looks out over a long brick walkway in a quiet corner of the vast hydrangea garden.

“An early-20th-century Barnard, Bishop & Barnard rustic summerhouse on the northern edge of the rose garden is where my daughter’s English nanny, Winifred Sloam, taught her how to serve and enjoy tea parties as a child,” Marino informs readers.

Marino took inspiration for his azalea crescent from Long Island’s Old Westbury Gardens, the former estate of U.S. Steel heir John Shaffer Phipps, and from Henry Francis du Pont’s Winterthur, in Delaware. “I always enjoyed seeing the extraordinary May blossoming of pinks, corals, and reds,” writes Marino, who goes on to note that it has taken him almost 20 years to create the effect at his home.

“As all the other gardens are chock-full of color, I decided this would be the only all-green space,” Marino writes of the area he calls the Great Lawn. He placed a 19th-century French bronze sculpture of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, in a reflecting pool.

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Borrowing its title from a famed 1910 lecture given by Austrian modernist Adolph LoosOrnament Is Crime: Modernist Architecture (Phaidon) makes a convincing argument that less is more. Photo courtesy of Phaidon

Certainly, the title Ornament Is Crime: Modernist Architecture (Phaidon) is a head-turning one for a book on architecture. Authors Matt Gibberd and Albert Hill, who run a real estate business in the U.K. called The Modern House, borrowed and modified it slightly from the great Austrian architect Adolf Loos (no relation to yours truly, sadly), who delivered a 1908 lecture called “Ornament and Crime.”

The book mixes black-and-white photographs of sleek, spare and masterful homes from the 1920s onward with provocative quotes by a wide range of creative stars, from Mies van der Rohe to Maya Lin.

Gibberd’s introduction reveals that the topic is personal for him: His grandfather was Sir Frederick Gibberd, a talented modernist architect known for his design of the crown-topped Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, completed in 1967. As the grandson puts it, the modern movement today looks “as exhilarating as ever” — a thesis borne out by the book’s images of architectural icons, from modern classics to the recent work of David Adjaye.



Arne Jacobsen designed the sleek Rothenborg House in Klampenborg, Denmark, just outside of Copenhagen, in 1931. Photo by Richard Powers

Philip Johnson‘s Glass House, 1949, all but disappears into the wooded acreage of its site in New Canaan, Connecticut. Photo by Paul Warchol

The contemporary architects represented in the book include Fran Silvestre Arquitectos. The firm finished Madrid’s Aluminium House only last year. Photo courtesy of Fran Silvestre Arquitectos

A 2011 house in Monterrey, Mexico, displays Tadao Ando’s signature concrete idiom. Photo by Toshiyuki Yano

Although unornamented, the buildings included in the book are anything but unimaginative. Photo by Hiroyuki Hirai. Aesthetic creativity is on full display in Shigeru Ban‘s 1995 Curtain Wall House (left) and Sou Fujimoto Architects’ 2010 House NA, both in Tokyo. Photo by Iwan Baan Studio

Pierre Koenig’s Bailey House, built in Los Angeles in 1958, was the second in the series of Case Study Houses sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine. Photo by Darren Bradley

Working outside of his more typical Brutalist style, Paul Rudolph designed the Fort Worth, Texas, Bass Residence in the mid-1970s. Photo by Grant Mudford

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With Highlands Retreats (Rizzoli), journalist and historian Mary Miers has created an ode to the grand estates of northern Scotland. Photo courtesy of Rizzoli

Far from considering it a crime, many think that Ornament Is Just Fine, Thank You Very Much.

For these folks, the intricately carved wooden balustrades and ornate hanging tapestries of Highland Retreats: The Architecture and Interiors of Scotland’s Romantic North (Rizzoli) will be an absolute pleasure. If ever a book could be said to be redolent of peat, wood smoke and dank castle, it’s this one. And August, one of the peak months for vacationing in the Scottish Highlands, is the right time to read it.

Yes, readers are given an inside look at some great residences — the royal outpost Balmoral, beloved by Queen Victoria; Kinloch Castle; Mar Lodge — but this isn’t primarily a picture book, despite its lovely images by Paul Barker and Simon Jauncey. Written by journalist and historian Mary Miers, the books editor of the British magazine Country Life, this volume is a serious attempt to distill the spirit of the Highlands as a place for relaxation, hunting and experiencing raw, blustery nature. More than just a repository for antlers and tartans, the area was, and is, balm for the soul.



Topped by a series of turrets, the granite-walled Ardverikie sits on the southern shores of Loch Laggan. “With its asymmetrical massing and fantastical central tower,” Miers writes, “it presents the iconic image of the Scotch Baronial shooting lodge.” Photo by Country Life

From the grounds of the historic Highlands estate of Kinrara, the view extends over the River Spey to the Cairngorms mountain range. Photo courtesy of Rizzoli

The Teutonic-style Ardtornish House, built in the late 1880s and early 1890s, rises from the forest at the head of Loch Aline. The wide tower on the building’s right contains the home’s main dining room, with a master suite and guest rooms (intended for single male guests) on the floors above. Photo by Paul Barker

“A heady array of hunting trophies, plush upholsteries and Oriental spoils,” Miers writes, adorns the living hall of Kinloch Castle on the Isle of Rum. She describes the estate as “a monument to Edwardian excess.” Photo by Country Life

Combining baronial and Scots Renaissance details, Kinlochmoidart is “a showcase of Aesthetic Movement taste,” Miers writes. Architect William Leiper built the shooting lodge for Glasgow businessman and distiller Robert Stewart in the mid-1880s. Photo by Ianthe Ruthven

Miers describes Corrour Lodge — designed by Moshe Safdie and built from 1999 to 2004 on the edge of Rannoch Moor — as “a modern reincarnation of an Edwardian estate.” In the home’s sitting room, Finn Juhl’s 1949 Chieftain sofa looks out to Loch Ossian, keeping company with an Arne Jacobsen Egg chair. Photo by Simon Jauncey

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Taschen recently released a smaller — but no less comprehensive — version of Tree Houses, the 2014 volume written by Philip Jodidio and devoted to contemporary arboreal accommodations. Photo courtesy of Taschen

The tree house — with its connotations of summer, back-to-nature living and childhood — is so appealing that Taschen recently re-released author Philip Jodidio’s 2014 compendium of some 50 examples from around the world, in a smaller format (just 5.5 by 7.7 inches, versus the original’s 10.2 by 13.4). This petite Tree Houses is perfect for tucking under your arm and taking up the ladder to your arboreal aerie.

The structures in this book — which includes several photos for each and text in English, German and French — show that the idea of the tree house can be spun in infinite ways. In Sweden alone, there are multiple tree-house hotel rooms at various properties, ranging in style from a stick-woven bird’s nest to a red-painted shingled shed. They can evoke a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome (designer Dustin Feider’s San Diego version) or a silvery Airstream trailer (Andreas Wenning’s tree house on the banks of the Spree in Berlin). The concept of a tree house dates back to early man, and the book demonstrates that it will continue to be around for quite some time. Its contemporary iterations clearly have staying power.



Designer Andreas Wenning built this tree house — which he called Between Alder and Oak — in Osnabrück, Germany, in 2006. The rounded structure, accessed by a ladder, offers views through window walls on three sides and has a sleeping platform inside. All photos courtesy of TASCHEN

Wenning’s as-yet-unrealized waterfront Jungle House, a rendering of which is seen here, will sit on stilts and has a rather futuristic appearance.

Some of the best examples exhibit impressive camouflage: For his Lake-Nest Tree House (left), in New York State, Roderick Wolgamott Romero wove together driftwood collected from the shores of Long Island with antique and vintage salvaged boards. At dusk, Tham & Videgard Arkitekter’s Mirrorcube (right), at the Tree Hotel in Harads, Sweden, disappears almost completely, save for its glowing windows.

In Kaikoura, New Zealand, the luxe tree houses of the Hapuku Lodge have the sophisticated fit and finish of more conventional accommodations. The views from their elevated windows, however, are anything but conventional.

Left: The author illustrates the book’s introduction with tree houses built by the Korowai people of Irian Jaya, Indonesia, photographed by Harald Melcher. Right: A rope spiral staircase and suspension cables give designer Tom Chudleigh’s Free Spirit Spheres the appearance of nautical buoys. This one hangs out in the town of Qualicum Bay, British Columbia.

Reached by a vertiginous staircase, the Canopy Tree House at the Inkaterra Reserva Amazónica lodge, near Puerto Maldonado, Peru, perches nearly 90 feet off the ground.

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Jodidio’s 100 Contemporary Brick Buildings (Taschen) asks readers to reconsider their preconceptions about the traditional red-clay building material. As demonstrated in these pages, brick is anything but staid. Photo courtesy of Taschen

As a building material, brick sounds stolid and old-fashioned. But in 100 Contemporary Brick Buildings (Taschen), author Philip Jodidio — solidly back on terra firma after his elevated explorations in Tree Houses — makes it seem cutting-edge and highly relevant to today. There’s an appealing high-low quality to starchitect-designed contemporary structures rendered in humble, classic red brick.

The book’s pages showcase projects by the likes of Renzo Piano, Herzog + de Meuron and John Pawson, including such high-profile commissions as Piano’s 1990 addition to his and Richard Rogers’s Centre Pompidou, in Paris. But Jodidio also highlights a small brick storage shed (with a lovely pierced pattern) in Affinghausen, Germany, by Bremen-based designers Jan and Benjamin Wirth.

Taschen has gotten very good at this kind of book: simple, clear multi-page layouts for the structures, plus a profile of the architect or architects who designed each one. By including projects in Paraguay and Iran that might not show up in other architecture books, it seems scientific and judicious — serving as much more than ballast on the bookshelf.



The three young partners of iStudio Architecture met in college in Mumbai and established their firm a short distance outside the city. They built the curving forms and flowing interiors spaces of their Brick House, 2010–2014, among the rural settlements of Wadi, India, using materials from a local kiln. Photo © Ami Somdatta Nhawkar/TASCHEN

Spanish architect Fernando Menis used crushed brick to cover the unexpectedly angular interior walls of the concert hall of the CKK Jordanki congress and cultural center, in Torun, Poland, which was constructed from 2013 to 2015. Photo by Malgorzata Replinska/TASCHEN

Left: Italy-based Werner Tscholl’s Puni Distillery, 2010–12, in Glorenza, Italy, features a soaring brick-clad barrel vault (photo © Right: Argentine designer Diego Arraigada deployed a somewhat similar perforated aesthetic for this 2013–15 house in Rosario, Argentina, where local regulations required the use of brick load-bearing walls (photo © Sergio Pirrone/TASCHEN).

Left: Dutch firm Monadnock created this green- and red brick-clad building, 2014–15, to serve as a landmark in the town of Nieuw-Bergen, Holland, which otherwise lacked a prominent tower or steeple. (photo © Stijn Bollaert/TASCHEN). Right: Iranians Farshad Mehdizadeh and Ahmad Bathaei’s Termeh Office Building, in Hamadan, Iran, 2013–15, features an ingenious curved wall that becomes a staircase (photo © Parham Taghiof/TASCHEN).

Working pro bono, New York–based Toshiko Mori collaborated with local artisans and deployed regional materials like bamboo, mud brick and thatch to create THREAD artists’ residency and cultural center, 2014–15, in Sinthian, Senegal. “The project offers an iconic shape in a landscape that is a vast, flat, bush land,” says Mori. Photo © Iwan Baan/TASCHEN

Portugal’s Álvaro Siza designed this theater and auditorium in Barcelona from 2012–2015, cladding the exterior of the reinforced-concrete structure with ceramic klinker bricks and granite. “The architect,” Jodidio writes, “uses essentially blank brick walls to form a geometric composition that stands out strongly against its green background.” Photo © Joao Morgado/TASCHEN

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