I love reading books about design and architecture.
‘The Design Book’ commissioning editor Emilia Terragni (Phaidon) This gem of a book is in compact format and runs through 500 important pieces of design in chronological order from Chinese household scissors (around 1643) to the Dyson Air Multiplyer (2009). Each page is dedicated to an item with a photo, name, designer (if possible to name), date, manufacturers and an often intriguing history and description of why it was so important. Who knew that clothes pegs were designed by Shakers, that Norwegians wore paperclips in WWII, that the white star on the top of Mont Blanc pens represents the snow cap and six glacial valleys of Mont Blanc, that the Rolodex is now available in a computer format, that a sleek spoon that was given away to purchasers to get the last remaining scoops of Kraft mayonnaise out of jars became a classic, that the Post-It note was originally thought of as a hymn bookmark, that OXO Good Grips were designed to help the designer’s wife who had arthritis or that the owner of the company Stelton was Arne Jacobsen’s foster son? We learn of the US Tunnel Mailbox which has become such an icon that it is used as the symbol for email and all the designs that were created by co-incidence, the influences of world economics and technology that affected the design processes and the results. Many of these items were familiar from my days studying design and my love of design and many were completely new and equally as fascinating.
‘Marimekko; Fashion and Design’ edited by Marianne Aav and Harri Kivilinna (DesignMuseo) I bought this book at a Marimekko shop whilst on holidays with my eldest daughter. I love Marimekko designs; I think it’s the playful colours and shapes and the clean, clear lines. My favourite Marimekko design would have to be Poppy in red and in red/orange. This book celebrates the history of the Finnish company which was created in the aftermath of WWII during shortages of materials and in a time that was yearning for beauty. The combination of Finland having recently acquired a cotton fabric factory (so they were not depending on imported fabric) and employing silk-screen fabric printing processes (rather than traditional weaving methods) saw the establishment of Marimekko. At the same time, textiles in interiors were seen as a crucial element to make modern interiors more human through design, scale, textures and design of fabrics so Marimekko was specified by architects and interior designers. Designers at Marimekko with an interest in nature and Japanese design were conscious of creating something different to the florals that other manufacturers were producing at the time. We read how Marimekko embraced the benefits of screen-printing by economically overlapping two adjacent colours to make a third and by watching the size of colour prints to create a strong, visual and lasting brand. Thank you to my husband who bought me a Marimekko purse which is beautiful and a dress which I love to wear.
‘At Home with White’ by Atlanta Bartlett and Karena Callen (Ryland Peters & Small) The antithesis of colour, this book promotes the use of white in interiors. Celebrating white as classic, timeless, pure and a mechanism for maximising light, we come to appreciate the use of white as a conscious tool to create stunning interiors. As the book notes, Leonardo Da Vinci said, ‘For those colours which you wish to be beautiful, always first prepare a pure white ground’. All colours and accents sparkle when the background or base is white and we see this through the multitude of really beautiful and inspiring images which have been carefully collated in this book. We read about the history of white, the multitude of shades of white and the use of white through the ages. The joy of this large collection of beautiful photos as we visit homes around the world including timber beach houses, Danish interiors, New York apartments, French farmhouses and modern London homes which have all embraced the use of white as reflective, commanding and peaceful in various ways is very inspirational and enlightening. This really is a beautiful and illuminating book.
‘Wiener Werkstaette; 1903 – 1932’ by Gabriele Fahr-Becker, edited by Angelika Taschen (Taschen) For a long time I have loved Wiener Werkstatte. What started out as a deep interest in Austria from my wonderful high school German teacher (thank you, Frau Doc) who adored Vienna, my interest was fuelled at Uni studying the Viennese Secessionists. This is a particularly beautiful book about the wonderful architecture, interiors and product designs of this group of architects and designers based mainly in Austria from the turn of last century until just after The Great Depression. The concept of gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art where a designer is given a brief to design everything from the building to the interior to the cutlery – even to the owners’ jewellery in some cases) has always been a fascinating (if not indulgent) idea. To see what these designers created with these kinds of briefs with an emphasis on handwork, one-off designs, and incorporating beautiful and often rare materials is stunning. We read about Hoffman with his graphic chequer boards, use of line and beautiful materials, Olbrich with his gold details and Klimt with his use of pattern and gold – all supported with fantastic photos and images of beautifully rendered drawings. A wonderful list of each of the artisan’s trademarks and a biography of each member of the Wiener Werkstatte is listed at the back, making this a comprehensive and inspiring book about this style.
‘The 100 Best Children’s Rooms’ (Beta-Plus Publishing) I spied this book on the shelves behind the counter of my local bookshop and was instantly drawn to it. After debating the merits of the books in my pile at the cash register, I put some back and opted for this book. Now completing our third child’s bedroom (the electricians are installing the lights as I type), this book was refreshing and a treasure trove of ideas. Not that I used any particular idea in the book for that room, but it certainly put me in the head space. I remember one of my early editor’s reply, when I commented that I was writing and styling stories that were interesting, but how many people would actually MAKE that (the same way that we watch cooking shows and renovation shows) and she replied that it was aspirational – it’s not how many people make it, it’s what they enjoy reading about and watching. I often think about that comment. This book is a beautiful production of images of great interiors (bedrooms and living areas) ranging from humble to complex, created for children. What I like is that these spaces have all been especially thought of with the end user in mind which is what good design is all about.
‘Shaker Built; The Form and Function of Shaker Architecture’ by Paul Rocheleau, June Sprigg and David Larkin (The Montacelli Press; Thames & Hudson) Shaker aesthetics, manufacturing and products have long held me spellbound. For our wedding gift, my sister Kate gave my husband and I a cherished Shaker box; classic Shaker in its oval timber shape and join techniques. A few years ago my parents gave my husband and I a beautifully made Shaker tray from Canterbury Shaker Village in USA. We love these pieces. Living in America from the late 1700s onwards, Shakers built truly beautiful timber and sometimes stone or brick buildings to house their communities. As well as the history and present situation of the Shakers, we are read about the buildings, interiors and furniture they created which had an emphasis on workmanship, practicality, proportion and clean lines. A gallery of wonderful photos throughout, we are made aware that efficiency and cleanliness were high priorities and we see this with the classic Shaker timber pegs along walls to help light-weight chairs and clothing be stored whilst floors were regularly cleaned, beds that were raised off the floor to allow easy cleaning underneath, beautifully designed and innovative joinery for storage which kept all items out of the way and that attics were carefully designed complete rooms with windows and where you could stand up and retrieve or store alternative season’s clothes. We learn how different Shaker communities developed different elements in their designs such as arches, higher ceilings, different colours or external chimney profiles. This is a beautiful read and a great reference book. Thank you to my friend, Anna, for introducing me to this wonderful book.
‘Eileen Gray; Designer’ by J.Stewart Johnson (Debrett’s Peerage; The Museum of Modern Art, New York) My husband first introduced me to Gray in the first few years that I was studying design at Uni and I have been a devout admirer of Gray’s work ever since. Originally from Ireland, Gray (1879 – 1976) practised most of her professional life in France, establishing herself between WWI and WWII. She studied the fine art of lacquer and made exquisitely handmade screens (such as the one on the cover of this book) and rugs before creating rigorously functional architecture and furniture. The two houses she designed for herself which were built on the Mediterranean coast of France and an apartment she designed for a client in Paris are particularly amazing in terms of innovative ideas for small or intricate spaces, storage ideas, flexible living spaces and her use of materials. This book documents her life and projects with photos, quotes and plans which really bring her ideas to life and leave an indelible legacy.
‘Magic Moments in Florence’ by Adriana Silvestri (Mandragora) Florence is a beautiful place. I studied it for many years of art history, design and architecture before arriving there with wide eyes on my honeymoon and then twice since. The home of genius Michelangelo, the Tuscan landscape, terracotta roof tiles, laneways paved with stone, the leather and paper products and Italian food combine to make it a very special place. My husband bought this book on our last trip to Florence from a small English bookshop tucked down a lane. The book is like a scrapbook or sketchbook of many of the wonderful things we love so much about Florence. Silvestri’s clear watercolour and ink drawings and handwritten text illuminate the history, the arches, domes, paving patterns, coins, fountains, colours, artwork, mosaics, fashions, leather goods industry, plazas, typical dishes, transport, landscape and textiles that we swooned over. Enhanced with images of stamps, train tickets and artwork, the images are truly beautiful. Silvestri’s witty artwork muses about what happens at night in the art galleries; angels leaving the paintings and flying about and portraits arguing who is the most important. This is a great collection of elements that make this city so spectacular.
Read my interview with Adriana Silvestri here.
‘Pale & Interesting; Decorating With Whites, Pastels and Neutrals for a Warm and Welcoming Home’ by Atlanta Bartlett and Dave Coote (Ryland Peters & Small) A great collection of interior images and details is combined with interesting and helpful text in this book. In working with a muted palette, Bartlett and Coote start with the philosophy; Keep It Simple, Keep It Relaxed and Keep It Real. We are treated to a range of really beautiful photos of interiors using muted colour palettes. To me, it’s the joy of making an interior work for you; having it organised so you know where things are and it can be kept tidy and having things that are special in it to personalise it. Of course, I have a style and items that I tend to oscillate towards, but after years of listening to briefs and designing interiors, styling interiors, interviewing people and writing their stories, I really love to see what appeals to other people and to hear their stories and find out what is important to them. Interestingly this husband and wife team have a mail order business in UK with the same name as this book.
‘Monet’s House; An Impressionist Interior’ by Heide Michels (Frances Lincoln) Visiting Monet’s house on my honeymoon was pure joy. I thought it would be interesting, but I had no idea it would be so gorgeous. A master of colour, Monet transformed his house in Giverny, outside Paris and created an exterior of ochre-pink walls and brilliant green shutters and interiors of blues and yellows. This book documents, room by room, the contents, use and colour scheme of each of the rooms in his house. Monet’s love of Japanese prints was incorporated into his home and we see how important food and entertaining was to his family life. We are treated to images of the sublime blue and yellow dinnerware china that Monet had designed and had manufactured to his specifications. This book was a great reference of the interiors of this colourful, vibrant and creative home.