Frivolous pragmatists, rejoice! This season’s design books are all about utility and style, and it turns out the two are not mutually exclusive. Take a gander at our holiday picks to see how design takes cues from simplicity and durability to make for classic and enduring looks.
Green house effect
Terence Conran has been on the home design scene for more than 40 years, and his previous books have all been markers of his revolutionary and modern style. His latest, The Eco Housebook, brings this same aesthetic and utilitarian sensibility to the subject of eco-friendly home design and living—and the good news is that, quite often, it’s simply a matter of working with what you’ve already got. In this exquisite, full-color coffee table book, Conran shows ways to improve energy efficiency, save water and reduce waste—most of them easy on the wallet, all of them easy on the eyes. From better insulating your home to enhancing natural light to using natural plasters and paints, The Eco Housebook provides real solutions for people concerned with both beauty and sustainability.
DIY with an eye
For aspiring decorators sick of all the pricey, oversized design tomes boasting glossy pics of way-too-perfect homes, Elaine Griffin’s Design Rules: The Insider’s Guide to Becoming Your Own Decorator will prove a welcome respite.
Ranked as one of House Beautiful’s Top 100 American Designers, Griffin has always brought a sensible, budget-friendly and chic approach to her work, and now she shows readers how to do the same. Design Rules provides practical tips for do-it-yourself endeavors. For instance, did you know that the top of your coffee table should always be an inch or two lower than the height of the sofa’s seat cushion? Or that any powder room should have two light sources in order for a lady to properly check her makeup? With Griffin as your guide, you’ll learn all this and a whole lot more.
Looking back on a century
The transient and à la mode nature of design often makes it difficult to distinguish fad from classic. Fortunately, antique expert Judith Miller’s 20th Century Design: The Definitive Illustrated Sourcebook helps distinguish the major from the minor players, the lasting looks from the passing fancies.
Organized by period (Modernism, The Craft Movement, Art Deco, etc.), this full-color handbook featuring over 1,000 specially commissioned photographs shows what to look for across categories, from furniture and silverware to sculpture and industrial design. Each entry—say, Mid-Century Modern Murano Glass—includes a detailed account of the movement’s identifying features, history and important designers, as well as photos of sample and iconic pieces. This is a must-have for collectors and 20th-century art enthusiasts alike.
Restoring a House in the City, by Ingrid Abramovitch, is as much for real-estate dreamers and voyeurs as it is for those looking to renovate. After all, just a peek at the pages of exposed brick and coffered ceilings will have any lover of interior design drooling with jealousy.
Taking readers inside some of America’s most exquisite antique townhouses, Abramovitch teaches the ABCs of restoration, from hiring a contractor to properly preserving a brownstone. The homeowners here include fashion designers, artists, conservationists and even a famous actress (Julianne Moore, whose luxurious Manhattan apartment will make jaws drop), and their approaches to restoration diverge: some prefer to keep design authentic to the building’s time period, while others add daring dashes of modern flair. But one thing they can all agree on is the importance of restoring these often failing or dilapidated homes to their former glory.
Full of tips for working within a budget and timeframe, Restoring a House in the City is a lush, practical guide for the urban dweller—celebrity or otherwise.
Jillian Quint is a stylish assistant editor at the Random House Publishing Group.