Monday, November 14, 2011

Diane’s Favorite New Design Books: Brilliant Inspiration

My picks for the new essential design books for your library—to read, to study, and to ponder and peruse for many years.

These books are essential references—exceptional books created with passion and spirit and lasting ideas.

This fall season has been a brilliant one for design and style books.

An international roster of interior designers and photographers has put pen to paper (well, usually it is their ghost writers/collaborators who put flying fingers to computer keys) and created lively, informative, heart-felt and inspiring books.

This week I’m presenting my selection of books about interior design and architecture.

These books go beyond trends and theme design, and offer insights into the design process, the higher goals of design. They’re also generous, beautifully produced—with rich, vibrant, insightful and informative text. As a writer I expect the highest standards for text in design and style books. It must be rich in information—illuminating and enlightening, educating even. These are more than pretty pages.

Come and see why I chose these books—and dive into their pages with me.

After Thanksgiving week I’ll post My Favorite Fashion and Style books. (A juicy list.)

‘Home Sweet Home’ 
by Oberto Gili, with introduction by Suzanna Salk 
(Rizzoli, $85)
Sumptuous and Bohemian Interiors

The photographer has been the darling of all the Conde Nast fashion and design publications since the 70s. New York and Italy-based Oberto Gili has had privileged access to the most creative interiors, including luxury residences of the great and good, as well as the quirked-up and witty rooms of his demimonde artist friends.

My first reaction when I grabbed Gili’s massive 270-page book, was that it was full of pretty pictures but with no text in sight. I want text! I want to know everything about the people and the interiors. Otherwise, pictures only mean gloom. 

But when I delved further, I discovered not only highly original and cosmopolitan interiors but rich and witty text, and a roster of residences of people I was curious and/or passionate about—including Ellsworth Kelly, Jacques Garcia, Renzo Mongiardino, Anish and Susanna Kapoor, Alvaro Bravo, Soledad and Alessandro Twombly. I was hooked.

“Every image in this book is the memory of a great experience. The pictures are about seeing, learning, admiring, guessing, enjoying and digesting. Their significance is not about décor or interior decoration. Instead décor serves as an expression of personality, fantasy, personal taste, culture and history.” – Oberto Gili

Some photography, like that of Paolo Pjerone in Piedmont, and Isabella Rossellini in New York and Long Island, is accompanied by text written with fervor and zest by the owners. For others, Gili makes profound commentary—on time, place, nostalgia, life, living.

This is a book to read, feast upon, live in for some time. 

Open it at a spread—Charlotte Horton in Tuscany—and prop it on a table or a shelf so that you can gaze at it as you go about your day.

Or seek out the Marrakech house of Alvaro Bravo—and swoon over his romantic rooms.

Add this book immediately to your ‘wish’ list but don’t linger. 

‘The Invention of the Past’
Interior Design and Architecture of Studio Peregalli 
by Laura Sartori Rimini and Roberto Peregalli. With a foreword by Hamish Bowles (Rizzoli, $75)

Studio Peregalli, you ask!

Studio Peregalli, based in Milan, is an architecture and interior design firm who are vehemently opposed to fashionable and trendy design. They work in a multitude of historical styles to create rooms of great enchantment, poetry and magic.

Start at Page 10 for a visual visit to their Milan studio—with antiques, piles (ziggurats) of books, drawings, plans, models and clutter—and you’ll soon be knocking at their door, begging to see it. 

Read on these pages about their own private houses in Tangier (with interiors inspired by paintings by Delacroix) and Paris (Laura admires Madeleine Castaing), and clients historic interiors, whipped into a frenzy of metaphysical beauty. 

Chapters include living rooms, facades, stairways, libraries, bedrooms. It must be admitted that some of the cramped text takes patience to read—but dip and ponder and be patient. You will be rewarded. I could gaze for days at the library on Page 209, with its jiggery-pokery shelves, stacked volumes, its family portraits and rugs and textiles. Glorious. Or the Balzacian bedroom on Page 254, with its scented roses, tiny proportions, rich details. Divine. 

‘English Country House Interiors’ 
by Jeremy Musson with photography by Paul Barker and the archives of Country Life.
(Rizzoli, $60)

You might think the ‘English Country House look’ is over. No it is not.

English architecture historian Jeremy Musson and Sir Roy Strong, who wrote the foreword, believe that English country houses are one of the wonders of the civilized world—and they prove it with insider visits, up-close at all of the greatest of England’s influential country houses.

On these pages, Hatfield House, Chatsworth, Harewood House, Holkham Hall, Parham House, Syon House, Castle Howard (swoon), and a series of Regency houses are visited.


The photographer, Paul Barker, is clearly entranced by these houses, too. His camera lingers lustfully on the carved marble bas reliefs in the king’s bedchamber at Wilton House, and invites readers to admire state beds, and to wander, dazed, through the English Baroque interiors of Chatsworth, and study the Palladian interiors of Houghton Hall.

Barker has a selective eye—so it’s like seeing these houses for the first time. He leers at gilded table legs (there are many), glances over scrolled ironwork and has a thing for swagged state beds. 

Barker clearly had access for weeks at each house, and he takes readers inside Harewood House to see the genius of Robert Adam’s neoclassical detailing, and Goodwood House, with fires blazing.

A favorite image: the sculpture gallery at Chatsworth with the 6th Duke’s neoclassical Canova sculptures. The text is authoritative and richly detailed. Read it—and make plans to go and visit the houses next summer. I know you will. 

‘Versailles A Private Invitation’ 
by Guillaume Picon, photography by Francis Hammond 
(Flammarion, $95)

This is Versailles as you would see it if you lived there.
I have seldom seen such a beautiful, up-close, seductive and knowledgeable. Picon and Hammond had months, seasons, and years of privileged access, so they take the reader by the hand to see the apartments of the royal mistresses, the suites of the king and the queen, Marie-Antoinette’s private rooms, the royal opera, all of the private apartments, along with closeups of gilding, carving, marble statuary and enfilades of rooms. 

I’ve walked through Versailles many times, often with the great privilege of a private tour with a curator or specialist guide. Even then, I could not stop and linger, I could not capture everything.

Birdcages, beds, desks, boiseries, the painting galleries.

Hammond captured the Orangerie at its most beautiful (full of trees), and the gardens with not a visitor in sight. Sadly there is only one exterior shot of the stables. (If you ever get a chance, reserve to see the bravura equestrian performances that take place here.) 

The Petit Trianon, newly renovated, is presented in great style, and there’s the Belvedere, and the French Pavilion (which was closed for restoration when I was last there). Stunning.

This is a volume you’ll savor for a lifetime. 

‘Oliver Messel, In the Theatre of Design’ 
by Thomas Messel with an introduction by Lord Snowdon (formerly the photographer Anthony Armstrong Jones, nephew of Oliver Messel) and an afterword by Anthony Powell 
(Rizzoli $75)
The English designer multi-talented) is famous in England for his theatre design, his costumes for ballet, film, and theatre, and for his interior décor, for his romantic island houses in the Caribbean, and for distilling a classical ideal of 20th-century interiors.

On these pages, richly illustrated with sketches, plans, private family photographs, interiors, stage sets, Carolina Herrera, who met Messel in 1967, writes a charming tribute in which she recalls arriving for a weekend stay, and Messel had transformed her guest room into ‘Sleeping Beauty’s enchanted bedroom, with white broderie anglaise and point d’esprit, and the bed, tables, chairs and windows covered and curtained in white.’ 

Messel, also a talented portraitist, seems to have entranced everyone he encountered. Marlene Dietrich, Daphne du Maurier, Cecil Beaton, Penelope Tree, ‘Babe’ Paley, Vivien Leigh, even Merle Oberon.

Our dear and admired Nicky Haslam makes a star turn.

“Oliver Messel’s work as an interior designer was inventive, subtle, elegant and scholarly. Those incomparable qualities are his memorial; that added dash of iridescent lightheartedness is his unique legacy,” writes Haslam.

Iridescent lightheartedness. I wish I’d written that. 

And…wait for it…Hamish Bowles, without whom no top design book would be complete, writes two tributes, one to Messel’s Caribbean style and the other to his theatrical interiors. Bravo, Hamish.

Read this book and encounter a man joyful with creation. There’s inspiration here—and an insider encounter with a life well-lived. 

Photo credits:
Images from the books listed above were by courtesy of Rizzoli International, and are used here strictly with permission. 


The Devoted Classicist said...

While some of your readers may not be familiar with Studio Peregalli, they may recognize the influence of legendary architect/decorator Renzo Mongiardino; both Laura and Roberto worked for him.

Brillante Interiors said...

Mere coincidence, I just published a post on Oberto Gili's book and then I saw your blog thumbnail in my favorite blogs list. Great to read another point of view.

Lynne Rutter said...

oh my! i have a couple of these volumes but i need to find a way to make space for a few more. Diane, can you write a post about the how to display and store all these lovely books?

Philip Bewley said...

These are truly seductive! I have been thinking about Messel quite a bit lately, and a book on him like this is overdue, so to see it here is thrilling...not to mention one of my favorite design firms, the Milanese Studio Peregalli (currently in AD this month, with a place in Naples, italy) and who can resist a summons to Versailles?
Placing my orders now.
Warmest, P

A Gift Wrapped Life said...

Such a gorgeous group of gift books for the holidays. Especially love the English Country Interiors and I had already ordered the Versailles one. I have a strong suspicion I lived there in a former life so when I toured Versailles I got a really weird feeling (I believe I was lowly kitchen staff). Just dying to go back and dig a little deeper. My maiden name is Churchill and my other side is French so maybe I did! in my former lives. I like to think it is possible at least, makes for fun exploring. Lovely post and some great recommendations.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi John
Hi Albarosa
Hi Lynne
Hi Brian
Hi Sande-

I love your comments--and highly recommend all of these books.
I read all the new 'designer' books (American interior designers) and I read all of the 'of the moment' design books (modern or theme)--and these are the new books that will last!
Albarosa--yes, great minds think alike!
I know you will find all of these new books soulful, rich in detail, personal, richly textured and endlessly fascinating. When you finish reading them, you want to start again.
Yes...most fascinating that the Studio Peregalli partners were with Mongiardino. There is a definite process there. And...this book is a little hard to read (type is jammed onto the page) but it is worth a little patience, and so rewarding.
Let me know if there are any books I forgot.

A Super Dilettante said...

Dearest Diane, thank you so much for this most gorgeous post! Most unusual choices of books. I can't thank you enough for this. As I've been trying to think what to give to my friends for Christmas, now I realised that most of your recommendations will go into my shopping basket! That's just brilliant! Thank you so much. ASD

P.Gaye Tapp at Little Augury said...

Diane, I love your picks, of course. The Inventions of the Past is one I can not wait to get and I now must-after a few tidbits from you. Diane take a look at the Exotic Taste.
as always I am reading you too! pgt

hong kong property said...

this is something i must own! there a lot of beautiful designs here!<3

Paul Gervais de Bédée said...

I've enjoyed this roundup of new design book offerings, there isn't one of them I wouldn't buy! Thank you for your authority in style!

Paul Gervais de Bédée said...

This is a great roundup, I've met Oberto Gili when he was shooting a friend's house here in Tuscany and I've always liked his pictures. Now to decide which books to order! They all look so tempting—but so what if all my shelves are full!

vicki archer said...

Thank you Diane... I have two of these but am off to find your other recommendations... xv

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

bonjour vicki and Paul Gervais

Je suis en MAROC...

Magique ici surtout a LA Mamounia

more about that later

Merci pour votre fidelite xx D