Best Decorating Books

I have already introduced you to the fabulous David Jimenez in a previous post about his beautiful home in Kansas City. The interior designer is the Vice President of Visual Merchandising at Hallmark, and has lent his creative styling genius to such companies as Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware over the years.

When someone wrote to David after reading the interview with him here, asking him to recommend a decorating book, David wasn’t sure which one to suggest and asked my opinion. I was flattered, of course, and started brainstorming: Why not make a compilation of our favourite decorating books and discuss them here? So, that’s what we did. We limited ourselves to five books each – the ones we truly love and continuously turn to for design ideas and inspiration. Below, you can read about our recommendations.
David, overwhelmed by his library of design books.

To preface the list, I think it’s important to convey a few tips about looking for good decorating books, especially ones that fit your particular requirements and budget. Most books on interior design or decorating are quite lavish, printed in large, hardcover format on glossy pages that are filled with photographs of the rooms in question. This is not simply pandering to luxurious presentation nor is it an accident...nor does it make these books inexpensive!

The photography of the interiors and the presentation of the photography in these books are essential to an effective book on the subject, in my opinion. If the color is off or the photos are too small, the book will fail to fully convey its ideas or succeed in inspiring the reader.

I always think a good decorating book should take your breath away a little as you turn the pages. It should set off sparks of creativity and make you feel as though you are inside the rooms, that you want to explore the rooms and potentially achieve that same effect in your own home.
Photography and presentation, of course, are just half the story. I would get bored of a book filled only with photographs of lovely but random homes. I like to read about the rooms and the houses and the designer, and the owners in many cases. A good interior design book will focus on all of these things, and the best ones will tell you how to either achieve the look yourself, or at least provide a guideline for coming up with your own
ideas to realize.

Shopping for interior design books should be a thoughtful process and can be done from a few different perspectives. Always start by asking yourself what you’re looking for: Do I want a book to simply enjoy looking at in my leisure time, or do I want a practical, how-to book about the art of interior designing? That question alone will dictate your choices. (Books about the homes of Hollywood stars, for instance, are not terribly practical, but they can be entertaining to read.)

There are also numerous categories and sub-categories to explore. Many interior design books follow the collected works of one renowned designer (Axel Vervoordt, Kelly Wearstler, Bunny Williams) and examine their theories and principles. Others focus on particular styles based on region or style: English Country, French Provencal, Caribbean, Modern or Traditional. Others will examine one specific decorating element or room; books only about kitchens, for example, or books on painting technique and color harmony, books on furniture style or window treatment.

Assess your interests, needs and wants and then spend time browsing at the bookstore. If you shop online, pay particular attention to the reviews of customers who have read or purchased the book you’re interested in. I’ve been steered away from books I thought would be excellent but turned out to be duds after reading 20 negative reviews. So, without further adieu, here are the lists compiled by David Jimenez and myself. Enjoy!

Domino, The Book of Decorating: The "how to" for young, fresh and on-trend decorating. It's like having all of my favorite tear sheets from Domino magazine in one place.

House Beautiful, The Home Book: Chock full of inspiring rooms that are not overly staged or trendy, this book covers all design basics with little editorial and beautiful photos.

In The Pink by Dorothy Draper: The Grand Dame of Hollywood Regency style, from the 1930's to the 1960's Dorothy Draper was one of the most popular American designers in history. Years later her designs still look as fresh and exciting and as they did then.

Living with Design by David Hicks: A true classic and arbiter of impeccable taste, David Hicks has inspired everyone from Jonathan Adler to Kelly Wearstler. His rooms are full of layers, bold graphic designs and rich color.

Vogue Living: Houses,Gardens, People: Gorgeous photographs of chic people in their inspirational surroundings. It will leave you feeling like you want to put everything on the curb and start over!


Bunny Williams' Point of View by Bunny Williams: Part memoir and part how-to manual, the book showcases many of the drop-dead chic but always cozily comfortable residences whose interiors Williams has designed during her astounding career: “Knowing what you value is essential.” Her conviction is that every person’s home should manifest their personality. Stunning photographs of incredible rooms with informative text.

Apartment Therapy: A book of rooms, clever design ideas and eclectic spaces based on the popular website of the same name. The beautiful thing about this book is that it showcases the spaces of everyday, creative people and their design solutions for small or temporary spaces, written and photographed by the owners/renters themselves. It comes with an extensive list of design sources.

Monochrome: Edited by Paula Rice Jackson of Interiors magazine, the book is an astonishing look at the effectiveness of monochromatic spaces, from the ultra-modern to the classically traditional. From muted neutrals to bold greens and blues, the rooms here are inspirational for anyone who adores color harmony. I highly recommend this book.

Interiors with a Soul by Walda Pairon: Belgian designer Walda Pairon plays with styles and periods, allowing centuries old objects and works of art to tell new and meaningful stories. Her interiors have one thing in common: Walda offers people the ideal environment in which they can feel at ease at home. Deep, rich tones, rustic wood and delicate glass – it’s an experience of casual European elegance.

Timeless Interiors by Axel Vervoordt: Dutch designer Axel Vervoort has over 30 years experience as an interior designer. His lesson is that less is more and that the ‘decorated room’ should never look decorated at all. The book features simple and classic designs in places all over Europe and America.

Other books you may want to consider:
Greenwich Style by Cindy Rinfret, So Chic by Elle Decor Editors, Interior Design by John F. Pile. (Pile’s book in particular comes highly recommended, now in its third edition.)
Color, Space, Style (All the details interior designers need to know but can never find) by Mimi Love and Chris Grimley, Designers Guide to Furniture Styles by Judith Miller and David Linley, Interior Design Course by Tomris Tangaz (which is the most basic of all.)
And, of course, these companion books on decorating by the editors of Martha Stewart Living magazine, which showcase the best decorating ideas from the magazine prior to 1998. I love both books very much. The books include many “how-to” DIY decorating projects and provide numerous photographs of comfortable but elegant rooms – including many of Martha’s own homes in Connecticut and Long Island. The text draws the eye to the various details and provides sources and guides.


Richard Havers said...

Interesting post with lots of good tips. As you mention her you might like to check out Judith Miller's blog and website which has a mass of great information on antiques, collectables, furniture and much else.



Thanks, Richard! Judith Miller is wonderful, yes.

hanna said...

A helpful selection of books.