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Home is where the heart is—but what makes that heart want to live in that home forever? As someone who’s moved 10 times in his adult life and is “fascinated by the kind of people whose grandchildren visit the home that they raised their children in,” interior designer Jeremiah Brent found himself wondering what makes people stay put. As he explains in his heartfelt introduction to The Space That Keeps You: When Home Becomes a Love Story, Brent “wanted to understand what it takes to fall in love with a space, because my fantasy was to truly come home.” The fruits of his exploration are contained in this sumptuous “emotional design” book filled with photos of, yes, beautifully decorated homes, but also carefully curated mementos, as Brent relays stories shared with him by nine families in the U.S. and abroad. From a Venetian palazzo to Oprah Winfrey’s home in Montecito, California, Brent thoughtfully distills what makes spaces special to those who reside in them, offering inspiration and aspiration to readers who appreciate “the beauty of intention and connection, perception and memory, ceremony and ritual—and most importantly, of life and love.”

Jeremiah Brent’s sumptuous The Space That Keeps You offers “inspiration and aspiration” to help you fall in love with your home.
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Imagine, if you will, the ultimate swanky home tour—but with cats on display in every abode. Such are the joys of House Cat: Inspirational Interiors and the Elegant Felines Who Call Them Home, a worthy follow-up to Where They Purr, Paul Barbera’s first fur-ray into the territory of interiors featuring felines. Whereas the former title focused on the lifestyles of kitties across Europe and Australia, the new book features stateside dwellings. We meet Lady Penelope, who “runs a tight ship” in a New York City penthouse full of playful artwork, and who, having developed arthritis, relies on her “obedient human elevators.” Or how about the nine cat buddies shacked up in a Beverly Hills hacienda? The homes here incredibly diverse in style—everything from a Connecticut saltbox to a modern Miami apartment to a glass palace in the Santa Monica hills—but it’s the cats, and the care shown to capturing their distinctive selves and backstories, that really tugs my heart: “Even in her golden age, Evita Gaton has yet to relinquish her hunting habits. The 12-year-old lynx point Siamese is an independent and sometimes demanding presence in her 18th-century home.” There’s even a Q&A for each cat. (Diva or devoted friend? Lap cat or not? And so on.) 

In House Cat, Paul Barbera makes his second fur-ay into sumptuous interiors and the distinctive felines who dominate them.
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Elizabeth and Ethan Finkelstein launched the @cheapoldhouses Instagram account in 2016, delighting followers with the boundless possibilities of starting over with a fresh—albeit dusty—slate. Even if you don’t dream of rescuing a fixer-upper, the notion is endlessly enchanting and story-rich, which is why “Cheap Old Houses” is yet another successful HGTV series. For those of us who’d rather read than stream or scroll, enter its book form: Cheap Old Houses: An Unconventional Guide to Loving and Restoring a Forgotten Home, in which architecturally sound buildings priced beneath $150K are restored to livability. The Finkelsteins note that the buyers have “discovered astonishing purpose by devoting attention to a home that needs love,” a path to fulfillment I can totally get behind, despite my total lack of carpentry skills. There are how-tos sprinkled within (“Painted Woodwork: To Strip or Not to Strip?”) but the focus is on the amazing stories and images of a wide range of old buildings—from mansions to farmhouses to cabins, and even a hydropower station—and the people who gave them new life. The details and features that have survived in highly dilapidated structures are awe-inspiring but also educational: If you’ve wondered just what plaster-and-lath is, now you’ll know.

Cheap Old Houses takes the titular Instagram account and HGTV show to the page, showcasing former fixer-uppers transformed into enchanting, livable homes.
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HGTV’s “Home Town” creator Erin Napier’s Heirloom Rooms: Soulful Stories of Home, in which she tells stories of her own home renovations alongside anecdotes and home images from a bevy of friends. The book proceeds room by room, from front porch to back porch, with refreshingly unstaged shots of interiors, like an image of vintage cabinetry in which stacks of La Croix boxes are visible in a mirror. (Don’t get me wrong, though; there’s no shortage of enviable interiors that seem, well, at least a little bit staged.) In total, the book prompts readers to reflect on how memories and emotions are embedded in every nook of our domestic spaces. Napier wants us to think of our homes as living, breathing documents of our lives, and to treasure them as such, which is always a good idea.

In Heirloom Rooms, interior designer Erin Napier encourages us to think of our homes as living, breathing documents of our lives.
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Put the kettle on, wrap yourself in a blanket and peep interior designer Nina Freudenberger’s Mountain House: Studies in Elevated Design, where a 17th-century farmhouse in a Swiss valley rubs shoulders with a cozy cabin in California’s San Gabriel mountains; where a granite-and-concrete home tucked into a Portuguese hillside nestles up against a tiny, townhouse-like cabin in the Catskills of upstate New York; where snowy scenes of an Alpine chalet meet the verdant surroundings of Sonoma County. The structures here, found in 12 countries, are wildly different (though many are on the small side and evidence smart uses of space). What they hold in common is a visible sense of retreat; all seem to be in conversation with their surrounding landscapes. I don’t think there’s a spread within that doesn’t make me tremble a bit with sheer want. But to imagine occupying these spaces leads us to challenge ourselves to rise above such human impulses. After all, mountains “remind us of how small we really are, which makes them practically divine,” writes Freudenberger.

Nina Freudenberger’s Mountain House illustrates sumptuous interior designs that may make you tremble with sheer want.
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Despite the fact that I adore each of the Fab Five, when I watch “Queer Eye,” I’m most dazzled by the transformations masterminded by Bobby Berk. What a delight, then, to have his effervescent designer’s mind channeled into beautiful book form. In Right at Home: How Good Design Is Good for the Mind, he leads us by the hand on a quest to make our homes work for, not against, our lives. “Your home needs to be a safe space for your mind,” he says, going on to banish all lofty talk of “design aesthetic” in favor of focusing on specific things you love, letting form follow function and honing our instincts. “We’ve all got instincts! Which means: We can all be designers,” he promises. I have my doubts, but . . . might I know myself and my instincts a bit better, having spent time with this book? Yes. Might I discover ways to improve my space without buying a bunch of new stuff? Also yes. Might I continue to wish Berk & co. would upend my life for the better? That’s a given.

Bobby Berk of Netflix's "Queer Eye" channels his designer’s mind into a beautiful new book that urges us to follow our instincts to create homes that bring us joy.
December 14, 2023

Four books to make you feel at home

Design books by Bobby Berk, Erin Napier and others are sure to inspire, instruct and make you tremble with sheer want.

By Susannah Felts
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Right at Home

Bobby Berk of Netflix's "Queer Eye" channels his designer’s mind into a beautiful new book that urges us to follow our instincts to create homes ...
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Book jacket image for Mountain House by Nina Freudenberger

Mountain House

Nina Freudenberger’s Mountain House illustrates sumptuous interior designs that may make you tremble with sheer want.
Read more
Book jacket image for Heirloom Rooms by Erin Napier

Heirloom Rooms

In Heirloom Rooms, interior designer Erin Napier encourages us to think of our homes as living, breathing documents of our lives.
Read more
Book jacket image for Cheap Old Houses by Elizabeth Finkelstein

Cheap Old Houses

Cheap Old Houses takes the titular Instagram account and HGTV show to the page, showcasing former fixer-uppers transformed into enchanting, livable homes.
Read more

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These four design books are sure to inspire, instruct and make you tremble with sheer want.
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If you are a fan of jaw-droppingly beautiful things, you have to check out Patchwork: A World Tour by textile designer and collector Catherine Legrand. I had never before thought about the similarities between, say, sampler quilts in the U.S. and kantha in India (cloth created out of stitched-together old garments); now I wonder how I could have missed it. From French courtepointe (patchworks of varying sizes, often used as bedspreads) to Korean bojagi (used to wrap gifts and other objects), this study crisscrosses the continents, “composed from fragments of human lives laid side by side in order to illustrate this global artform.”

Many of these fabrics’ and textile arts’ creators have humble origins; as Legrand notes, “patchwork is a practice that brings women together in a context of social exchange and community.” Taken as a whole, the fascinating works presented here celebrate human creativity, ingenuity and determination to use and preserve what we’ve got. You can’t possibly feel unmoved by the connections this book reveals and assembles, stitch by visible stitch.

The fascinating textile arts presented in Catherine Legrand’s Patchwork celebrate human creativity, ingenuity and determination to use and preserve what we’ve got.
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Recently, I wore a silk midi skirt from the Gap that I’ve kept buried in my closet for more than 20 years. I racked up a surprising number of compliments, which felt good. (I just knew that skirt was worth saving.) But much of the time, my clothes are more a source of consternation than contentment. Enter Allison Bornstein, whose approach to personal styling connects the dots between self-knowledge and getting dressed. She notes that many of her clients are going through periods of personal transformation, and a thoughtful wardrobe revision just makes sense as part of the process. In Wear It Well, she explains a process to make culling one’s closet less overwhelming, as well as her “Three-Word Method” to pinpoint a unique sense of style. There are celebrity examples, like Harry Styles—’70s, textured, tailored—and tried-and-true tidbits surface throughout: “Wherever possible, optimize for accessibility and visibility,” she says of organizing one’s closet, adding, “There are ways to do this no matter what kind of space you are working with.” And psst: Turn all your hangers the same direction. Tiny change, big satisfaction.

Allison Bornstein’s approach to personal styling in Wear It Well connects the dots between self-knowledge and getting dressed.
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★ Refuse to Be Done

I’ve been following writer and professor Matt Bell on social media for years, eagerly tuning in for the wisdom he shares from the many (many) books and author interviews he has read, and frankly awed by his fierce, upbeat dedication to his writing practice. Bell’s new guide for aspiring novelists, Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts, gathers his wealth of knowledge and motivational zeal into a volume that deserves a spot on every writer’s desk. He advocates for a three-draft approach, while recognizing that “draft” can mean many different things. His chief goal is to keep you from giving up—to provide the fuel and structure to get you through the inevitable slog of novel-writing. As I embark upon another revision of a novel I’ve been working on for years, I’m thankful to have this book riding shotgun. 

Anna Spiro

It’s been a minute since we’ve featured the work of an interior designer. Anna Spiro: A Life in Pattern turned my head with its springy, floral-print linen cover, just the thing to spiff up a side table. Inside, the fun continues: The photographs are spirit-lifters one and all, awash in bold colors, textures and, as is Spiro’s trademark, pattern on pattern on pattern, with glorious examples of how to avoid being matchy and yet make everything harmonize. Fans of the ebullient mix-and-matching of Justina Blakeley will also delight in Spiro’s maximalist, vibrant style. If you’ve had a hankering to try a pop of wallpaper, this book will take your face between its hands and say, “Go for it, friend!” Do you love being surrounded by your precious things? Spiro understands, and she encourages shaping your personal style around those beloved objects. “Above all, your goal should be to create an environment that is reflective of you, your life and taste,” she writes. “Collect art, furniture and other items that have meaning to you.” 

Love and Justice

Model, actor and activist Laetitia Ky has amassed a significant Instagram following over the past several years, posting images of her incredible hair sculptures. She twists, bends and shapes her own hair into faces, animals, bodies, trees, breasts and other body parts, and much more. This hair art is striking at face value, but in Love and Justice: A Journey of Empowerment, Activism, and Embracing Black Beauty, Ky frames her sculptural work within personal narratives that dig into issues of mental health, internalized misogyny, African heritage, sexism, self-care, Black beauty and other themes close to her heart. As a member of a new global guard of young creatives who refuse to separate their work from their beliefs and values, Ky is poised to become a strong role model for young people finding their way in the world. 

Let your artistic side run wild with three inspirational books about novel writing, interior design and activism.

Debbie Millman couldn’t have predicted that when she debuted her “Design Matters” podcast in 2005, it would so deeply satisfy her soul. Podcasts were brand-new in the early 2000s, so the show was a let’s-try-this-and-see endeavor, a creative experiment that she felt primed to conduct. “I had achieved a great deal,” she writes in the introduction to Why Design Matters: Conversations With the World’s Most Creative People, “but there was an echoing vacuum of meaning and purpose in my life.”

Certainly, Millman has an impressive resume as a design leader, serving clients like 7UP, Burger King and Star Wars during her 20 years at the helm of Sterling Brands; co-founding the graduate program in branding at the School of Visual Arts in New York City; writing six previous books; placing her art in museums as well as in the New York Times and Fast Company; and much more.

In its early years, the podcast was “very much a show about graphic design, graphic designers talking to graphic designers, very inside baseball,” Millman says during a phone call to the Manhattan brownstone she shares with her wife, author Roxane Gay. But as Millman shifted her focus from looking at human behavior through the lens of branding to instead connecting with individuals, people responded. They wanted in, both as listeners and interviewees, and her interviews quickly became a central element of her life and a pursuit that has been endlessly fascinating and rewarding.

“The show evolved in two ways,” she reflects. “First, my courage in reaching out to people increased. And then I also started getting publicists reaching out to me about their clients being on the show, or fans I didn’t know were fans wanting to be on the show.”

These interviewee-fans, more than 450 of them (and counting) over the course of 16 years (and counting), run the creative gamut. They’re standouts in the fields of design, writing, fine art, street art, acting, music, marketing, cooking—and the list goes on. Each guest is smart, thoughtful and, most importantly, game to join Millman on a conversational journey from childhood to adulthood, from past to present. They’re open to plumbing the sometimes painful events, decisions and emotions that have shaped what they do and who they’ve become.

“They’ve lived their lives so differently, and the ways they’ve coped with obstacles have been so varied.”

For Why Design Matters, characterized in its introduction as “a love letter to creativity, a testament to the power of curiosity,” Millman distills that library of interviews into 50-plus Q&A conversations in five categories: Legends, Truth Tellers, Culture Makers, Trendsetters and Visionaries. 

Choosing 50 interviews from more than 450 was a challenge for Millman. “I ended up going through all of them in one way or another, whether it be listening or transcribing and reading,” she says. “I wanted there to be a timelessness to what they were talking about . . . [and] an evergreen quality to the interviews, so they could be relevant whenever they were being read and experienced.”

The book’s veritable parade of fascinating, accomplished people begins with late design legend Milton Glaser (best known for his “I Heart NY” logo) and ends with Eve Ensler (who now goes by “V”) of The Vagina Monologues fame, with the likes of Alison Bechdel, Chanel Miller, Malcolm Gladwell, Amanda Palmer, Saeed Jones, Marina Abramović and David Byrne occupying the pages in between. Millman points to how each interviewee has shaped their career, life and body of work with fierce individuality. “They’ve lived their lives so differently,” she says, “and the ways they’ve coped with obstacles have been so varied.”

Why Design Matters

For example, James Beard Award-winning chef and author Gabrielle Hamilton (Blood, Bones & Butter) reveals that in opening her restaurant, Prune, she set aside her long-held dream of writing fiction. Shepard Fairey, known for his OBEY street art, talks politics and explains why he won’t call himself an artist. And in discussing her short stories, Carmen Maria Machado quips that “a novel is like being beat up over the course of a day, and a short story is like one punch to the nose.” 

There are full-page portraits and illustrations, playful type treatments and blocks of text that don’t always go in a straight line, just like in any good conversation. Millman has previously compared a successful interview to a game of pool, but through the design of this book, a new metaphor comes forward: the scribble. Striking hand-drawn scribbles scrawled by Millman herself appear on the cover and throughout the book, hinting toward the notion of interplay, of thoughts and conversational paths that ricochet off and tumble toward one another. “For me, [the scribble] really portrays conceptually the arc of a conversation,” she says. “You know it could go anywhere; it could be an infinite loop. It is an infinite loop!” 

Another infinite pursuit, of course, is creativity itself. But where does creative success come from? What pushes a person into the stratosphere of, per the book’s subtitle, the “World’s Most Creative People”? Millman believes it’s “faith in their own work, self-awareness of what they’re capable of and a relentless sort of restlessness, a real restlessness about constantly evolving and growing and uncovering new ground.” 

That restlessness is something Millman also possesses, whether she’s learning from her compassionate exploration of the human condition in her “Design Matters” interviews, working with students at the School of Visual Arts or pursuing her ever-percolating new projects.

“There are so many things I want to do,” Millman says, “including two more books I have in mind. Stirrings of a lot of different new things I want to try.” But she demurs at the thought of including herself on a “Most Creative” list: “I think I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn that title.”

Photo of Debbie Millman by John Madere

In Why Design Matters, Debbie Millman dives deep into revelatory conversations from her groundbreaking podcast.
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★ Grist

James Beard Award-winning chef Abra Berens and her collaborators have created a most magical combination of aesthetics, soul and practical guidance in Grist, a cookbook focused on humble stuff: beans, legumes, grains and seeds. Let it be said that I love beans, and I really love the way Berens provides, along with specific recipes, a number of templates to follow for any combination of ingredients you crave or happen to have on hand. For example, a bean + vegetable + flavor + texture chart starts with beans (any kind), then lists four suggested ingredients for each step: add veg, add flavor, add extra texture and serve. Elsewhere, she walks us through a week’s worth of lentils without boredom, and her recipes regularly include three or more variations. Topping it all off are Lucy Engelman’s beautiful illustrations, which make this a true work of cookbook art. 

Where They Purr

A bedroom decked out in lush linens and pillows—and a cat, luxuriating on the bespoke duvet. A kitchen with floor-to-ceiling windows—and a cat, nonchalantly surveying the room from atop the dining table. This is the fabulous world of Where They Purr: Inspirational Interiors and the Cats Who Call Them Home, in which images of sleek interiors foreground the homes’ feline overlords. Photographer Paul Barbera got the idea for a cat-centric home design book while working on a previous project, Where They Create, and the result takes those “how they styled it” shots we’ve all seen while shopping online—a sofa, say, captured with the owner’s pet proudly lounging—to the next-next level. The homes featured here are mostly high-end and very modern, full of sharp angles and long lines. You might be inclined to call some of them cold, except how could you when fluffy Pud or Pippi or Gustov is lurking or perched or sprawled in their midst? As a cat lover, my only quibble with this purrfectly delightful book is that there are too few orange tabbies in the mix. I suppose we all, like our cats, have our own prefurences.


As I prepare for a solo journey to the Southwest, I’m happy to have in my pocket Wanderess: The Unearth Women Guide to Traveling Smart, Safe, and Solo, a guide for women, by women, and geared toward solo travelers. Whether you’re going it alone for the first time or planning a girls’ trip, the editors from Unearth Women have assembled in this colorful book all the resources, hacks and advice you could ask for, including tips for traveling while pregnant and specific recommendations for women of color and travelers who are trans, lesbian or queer. The writers also offer an outline for creating your own Feminist City Guide, which centers women-owned businesses; if you like, you can pitch your guide(s) to Unearth Women for possible publication.

From the humble bean to the high and mighty feline, the books in this month’s lifestyles column colorfully celebrate the joys of food, art and travel.
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★ The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern and Ornament

I like to imagine the process of assembling the exquisite compendium that is The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern and Ornament. What a dizzying and delightful task! London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is home to one of the world’s largest collections of decorative and designed objects in the world, and in this tome, one can peruse thousands upon thousands of images adapted from the museum’s holdings. Spanning pottery, textiles, paintings, wallpaper, sculpture and pretty much any other patterned thing you can imagine, the contents are arranged into four categories—plants; animals; earth and the universe; and abstract patterns—with most pages featuring a grid of three or more images and a succinct set of captions identifying the source objects and their makers. As you page through swiftly or slowly, the effect is kaleidoscopic. It’s a veritable feast of patterns for the eyes and mind, full of color, intricate details and beautiful repetition. You’ll wish for two copies: one to keep and savor; one to cut up for collage art. Frankly, I’m besotted.

Sketch by Sketch

I recently purchased my first iPad and began exploring Procreate, a digital tool that, when paired with the Apple Pencil, opens one up to a new realm of two-dimensional artmaking. I’m finding a daily drawing practice to be a profoundly joyful and meditative pursuit. Sheila Darcey, founder of the SketchPoetic community on Instagram (@sketchpoetic), knows all about the therapeutic potential of low-stakes sketching, and in Sketch by Sketch, she encourages readers to try 21 exercises designed to help them dig deep internally and work through difficult emotions. Darcey doesn’t care how well you draw, and her exercises are not meant to build artistic skill. If you create something that makes you smile, all the better, but self-discovery, not technical mastery, is the goal. “This is not art,” she writes. “It is a visual learner’s version of freewriting.” Testimonials throughout from SketchPoetic acolytes demonstrate how the process has worked for others.

Snails & Monkey Tails

Speaking of details . . . it’s an interesting time for punctuation, isn’t it? Texting has completely upended the rules, such that a period now suggests a hostile vibe to some (my teenager confirms this), and even the meaning of certain emoticons seems to be shifting with the generations. But these symbols persist in print matter, and they are lovingly and fetchingly celebrated in Snails & Monkey Tails, graphic designer Michael Arndt’s spiffy salute to the “tiny designs that run interference among the letterforms.” If you don’t know what a grawlix is, you sure as $@%!* will if you read this book. Afterward, you may never call @ an “at” symbol again. Rather, try “little duck” as they do in Finland, or “cinnamon bun” like the Swedes. From silcrows to pilcrows to guillemets and the dinkus, Arndt’s book will up your word-nerd quotient, and it will do so with impeccable style.

Design takes center stage in this month’s lifestyles column, from intricate filigrees found in museums to the elegant curve of a silcrow.

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