Monday, December 10, 2012

A World of Creativity: Top Reads for Inspiration

My Picks of the Essential New Design and Style Books to Savor, Devour, Lust for, Study and Enjoy Forever
December already. It’s the season to offer my dear readers my annual personal selection of new fall/winter 2012 books that demonstrate originality, insight, curious minds, ravishing beauty, lifetimes of learning, a personal point of view, and exacting ideas that move us all forward.

My favorite books are all design and style related with a brisk range of ideas, graphic approach and content. They are remarkably varied. I admire many styles and approaches, and love to see a highly individual concept created with consistency, authority, intent, and bravura.

You’ll discover a graphic and vibrant survey of palaces of the great Maharajas (I’m always studying India) that contrasts with a book on the delicate and enchanting fabrics of Fortuny.

A scholarly new volume on refined classical Chinese furniture (so erudite) is in counterpoint to the eccentricity of Luggala, one of the most curious and gossipy Irish mansions (we'll cover this one in Part 2, next week).

The ultra-cool, Axel Vervoordt-fuelled interiors presented by California designers Alexandra and Michael Misczynski in a handsome new monograph are in juxtaposition with a sexy and sensual compilation of swimming pools around the world, collected by Kelly Klein (her second book on the topic). Here you’ll find Charlotte Moss, Barbara Barry, Diane Keaton, Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, as well as insider ideas and personal reflections.

I’m gazing out my window at magnolias in bloom and palm trees flickering in the sunshine. On my desk are toppling stacks of my favorite books of the season.

In random order they are:
Interiors Atelier AM 


Pools: Reflections

Mighty Maharajas

Charlotte Moss A Visual Life

Classical Chinese Furniture

Barbara Barry: Around Beauty

The Life of the House

House: Diane Keaton

Below you’ll discover more about these books, and why I chose them. I’ve gathered my favorite images from the books as well. 

1. Interiors | Atelier AM by Alexandra & Michael Misczynski, Photographs by Francois Halard, with an essay by Mayer Rus (Rizzoli). 

The Los Angeles interior designer/ architecture firm of Alexandra and Michael Misczynski has compiled a superbly edited and rigorously designed book that displays their approach to décor, art, collections and no doubt a new way of life for their ardent clients. There’s a strong point of view here. The atelier and interiors present unexpected rare pieces—Chinese jade, Giacometti chairs, Bactrian objects, Royere, rococo, gilded baroque frames, and Paris thirties chairs—against pared-down mostly (all, perhaps) ivory-infused walls and architecture. 

Alexandra and Michael Misczynski

The couple (Alexandra worked for Michael Smith in Los Angeles and his influence is clear) also fell under the spell of Axel Vervoordt (who wrote an introduction), and Vervoordt’s eye mind, and poetic and distilled vision is evident in the contrasts of rustic and refined pieces, and the artful placements of time-worn pottery and roughed-up leather chairs, many from his collections. It’s a seductive vision, and one that will be highly influential, I hope. Captions are full of information. This is intelligent, fearless, didactic design and I admire it very much. 

2. Fortuny Interiors by Brian D. Coleman with photography by Erik Kvalsvik and with a preface by Mickey Riad (Gibbs Smith). 

For Fortuny lovers (I am an ardent fan) this lovely and informative and very insider book is the holy grail, the book that spells out the codes, the history, the arcane crafting and lore of Fortuny. It’s an ode to Fortuny, and a lilting and captivating one.

Seattle-based author, Brian Coleman (a practicing psychiatrist), working closely with the photographer, Erik Kvalsvik, and sought out the best Fortuny interiors. Lots of information, and Fortuny styles are all named. Among twenty-nine residences and the Fortuny Venice headquarters, decorators include Pamela Babey, Paul Wiseman and Patti Skouras, and the divinely talented and wonderfully named Odile de Shieter-Longchampt. The colorful pages present close-ups of fabrics, upholstered details and romantic rooms, and a million ideas for designers. I’d love to have known a bit more on the who, what, where and why of the interiors—but this is a beautiful homage to the wonders of Fortuny, and a beautiful book to feast on. A keeper. 

3. Mighty Maharajahs: Forts & Palaces of India by Amita Baig, with photographs by Joginder Singh (The Vendome Press). 

I travel to India often, and have been roaming and studying there since I was a student. I’m an Indiaphile; I love Indian people, and love everything in India. Utterly stimulating. I'm at home there. This book is a treasure because my obsessions include Mughal palaces and Sultanate forts, from Jaipur and Jaisalmer to Kapurthala and Kangra and Golconda to Gwalior and beyond. It presents and outlines treasures like Ahilya Fort in Maheshwar (under the superb guidance of Richard Holkar) and centuries-old family palaces where noble princes and their family retainers keep up all traditions.

The glorious arts, architecture, decoration, as well as the maharajahs and maharanis and sultans who lived there and ruled the surrounding landscapes and kingdoms are presented in this richly illustrated and highly informed book.

Singh’s photographs of interiors, landscapes and escarpments are bold, intelligent.

Author Amita Baig is a consultant to the World Monuments Fund for its India program, and I’m very grateful for her commitment to protecting and preserving the heritage and beauty and treasures of India for us all to visit. The embellishments and ornamentation are dazzling.

These pages and the detailed histories and bibliography make me want to jump on the next flight to Delhi…and will inspire designers and architects to plan a tour, I have no doubt.

If you have never been to India, let this book be your guide. Some of the palaces and forts (Ahilya, notably) are now hotels or museums to be visited. Catch them now.

4. Pools: Reflections by Kelly Klein (Rizzoli) 

I adored Kelly Klein’s first book, Pools, and this worldly collation is even more bold and fascinating. It’s for dreaming—and for inspiration.

Klein says, “A pool is an oasis, a place of repose, an invitation to drift, to think of better times, or not to think at all.” 

Kelly Klein

Photographs, some of them quite abstract and others rather detailed, are by masters like Bruce Weber and Helmut Newton (no surprise there), as well as Robert Mapplethorpe, Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, Tierney Gearon, David Hockney, Slim Aarons. It’s Kelly Klein’s team, all authoritative and technically astute.

Among my favorites are the landscape/pool of Amangiri resort in the wilds of Utah (I’ve written about my visit there), and the Icebergs pool at Bondi Beach, my weekend haunt in Sydney. Flip the pages to find lush pictures of and by Julian Schnabel, Big Sur, Copacabana, Fire Island, Guy Bourdin, James Turrell, Legoretta, Douglas Friedman, Luis Barragan, Paris, Malibu, and all points coastal and watery. Love it. 

5. Classical Chinese Furniture by Marcus Flacks (The Vendome Press, New York). 

Author, dealer and collector Marcus Flacks said, “I set off on a journey in search of treasure and was rewarded by these masterpieces.”

He begins the story during the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) and takes the history of Chinese forward, from nomadic influences, the Ming dynasty, and leads up to the turbulent 20th century.

Flacks is serious about his pure focus—so this is a scholarly and deliciously pedantic book. I admire his obsession with dating Chinese furniture, and his information on the intricacies of design, materials and craftsmanship. Readers will thrill to his fearless use of Chinese expressions, his enthrallment with woods, his pure love of this topic. The detailed text presents a remarkable insider view of the evolving market for Chinese furniture, and the exceptional pieces of great rarity, as well as overlooked and surely collectible austere stone furniture.

Photography clearly illustrates lacquer details, chairs, cabinets, construction, restoration, and carved marble stools, along with joinery and surfaces. Flacks is a passionate instructor—opinionated, earnest and beguiling. 

6. Barbara Barry: Around Beauty with photographs by David Meredith. Introduction by Dominique Browning. (Rizzoli). 

I’ve known Barbara Barry since she first founded her studio in Los Angeles, and I’ve always admired her singular point of view, her adherence to exquisite fabrics and textures, her consistent love of celadon and pale blue, and her increasingly insistent voice.

“Beauty is a powerful force,” writes Barry. “When I think about what moves me most in my life, it is beauty.” 

Barbara Barry
On these pages (there’s no table of contents at the beginning, so a reader wades right in) are double-page images of the best of Barry’s interiors. Making the pace, are thoughtful detail shots, the kind that suggest the photographer fell in love with her furniture designs, half-eaten macaroons, fallen blossoms, after-party jubilations, and collections.

But wait, where are the captions? I have such great respect for Barbara and wanted to know everything about her décor, her carpets and fabrics and Baccarat crystal and looked in vain. Yes, there are lists of credits at the back—but who could know where the Donald Kaufman paints or Blackman Cruz or Mansour carpets are on the page.

This is a biography, a memoir, and idea book, and it is provocative and beautiful. A jewel box, indeed, and I’d love to know so much more. Barbara—please include rich captions in your next book. 

7. Charlotte Moss A Visual Life: Scrapbooks, Collages, and Inspirations (Rizzoli) 

Charlotte Moss is a New York based interior designer, fabric designer, photographer, philanthropist, social butterfly, and now we discover an accomplished collector and collagiste.

Moss’s forte is beautifully illustrated scrapbooks that are tributes and visual memoirs of her travels, her work, her favorite gardens and interiors. 

Charlotte Moss

To enrich this vibrant and joyful book, she has included notes, words, ideas and scrapbooks of her talented friends, Deeda Blair, Alexa Hampton, the photography of Pieter Estersohn, and insights of Pamela Fiori, the great and influential editor Deborah Needleman, and additional insights from Candy Pratts Price. Oh, my, the top of the top. Brilliant.

Moss’s book (she thought of everything) includes a fantastic resource list of scrapbooking suppliers, digital sources, favorite gardens, hotels Charlotte loves, shops, products. Moss’s notes are there-- on interiors, inspirations and memories. Her superb information on garden design, construction, planting, color schemes make it so much more than a scrapbook collection, really.

This generous book includes travels and gardens, people. Lots of very insider stuff, so pay attention. 

8. House by Diane Keaton with text by D.J. Waldie and principal photography by Lisa Hardaway and Paul Hester, and Paul Warchol (Rizzoli). 

Diane Keaton said, “These dwellings, lofts, structures, residences, and ‘work studio lofts’ are compelling. Inspired by the function of farms and factories they’ve enhanced the power of simplicity while playing in the lively expanse between intention and outcome.”

Keaton, a noted photographer and author of many highly successful books, here sets out on her most ambitious journey. With an unwavering eye a singular point of view, she sought new and dramatic farm buildings and factory-like buildings, criss-crossing the country, and encountering some of today’s most daring, intellectual, and spirited architects. She looked to the best and found them.

Bold images of walls and windows and arpeggios of stairways, woodstacks, Seldorf Architects’ hallways and walls, and reflections and shimmering metal will thrill and delight many readers. Modern architecture here is bold and images often face white pages. I loved seeing the work of my friends Erin Martin and Howard Backen and many architects I admire. But, no captions. Oh, goodness. Diane, details please. Yes, there are credits in the back of the book but I’m hungry for knowledge. Handsome book, full of delight. 

9. The Life of the House by Henrietta Spencer-Churchill (Rizzoli). 

London and New York-based interior designer/prolific author, Henrietta Spencer-Churchill said, “I wanted to give an overview of the main architectural features and layouts of rooms from mediaeval times to present day and to pinpoint some of the social and industrial advances that led to these changes.”

But this is not a scholarly book, exactly, but rather a celebration of English architecture and design, with well-chosen images of notable houses displaying craftsmanship, classicism, and richly embellished interiors.

It’s almost a ‘sister’ of my number 10 choice (Georgian Style, above) and follows a similar table of contents. But here there are lavish libraries, great halls, byways of media rooms, ‘working’ kitchens, as well as a tour of some of the greatest stately homes of England and Wales. Captions and text are informative, and she offers floor plans, a rarity in any design book. Henrietta’s great-grandmother was Consuelo Vanderbilt (shades of Downton Abbey here)…and her interiors are lovingly presented. Newly refurbished rooms at Blenheim are full of ideas and tips. A study course, indeed. 

Stay tuned for Part Two, coming next week!

Images supplied by the publishers of each book, and used with express permission.
With thanks to each author, photographer and publisher.


*Chic Provence* said...

Wonderful, delicious listing, Diane... but missing one other spectacular offering this fall...Ann Getty Interior Style.. by Diane Dorrans Saeks.. not to be missed by any means :)

Really I would love the Fortuny book and the Interiors Atelier AM, also Charlotte Moss... too many great choices!

Happy Decembering... and nice layout Brian!


Kit ps hope to see you in Sonoma

Francine Gardner said...

Wonderful list!! i am off to order a few books.I have not been to India in so long, i cannot wait to peruse through the pages of the book.

peggy braswell said...

So helpful for gift giving. Thanks Diane

Nicola said...

Thank you, Diane, for insightful and honest reviews of these wonderful titles of 2012. They present such a tempting list, to give and to have, for curling up by the Winter fire and setting the armchair traveler wandering or the ever curious designer into heights of inspiration. Henrietta Churchill Spencer's lovely read is the first must-have for me!

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


Georgeous and glamorous women, all of you!
Thank you so much for your witty and frisky messages.
Everyone found books to love here--and I'm so glad you found your niche, your voice and your inspiration on this blog post.
More to come: I have a second list next week, and it is quite fresh and different again.
You know how much I love books--and my next favorite is telling my friends about them. love DIANE

kristin said...

Diane, These are delicious! ... plus we can indulge all we want in this edited selection without gaining an ounce this holiday season?! ~ KJ

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Hi Kristin-

Yes...these are books to taste and nibble and crunch and bite and enjoy for many years.

You are them up and no regrets at all. can take them to bed with you--although POOLS REFLECTIONS is rather large.

So happy you liked my book list...and look for PART TWO next week, best DIANE

Maryam in Marrakesh said...

Great round up! Thank you! I so want to redo our pool surround at Peacock Pavilions and think that maybe I need the pools book immediately!!!;-)

David Eichler said...

Terrific stuff, just from looking at the images you selected. Can't wait to see some more of some of these.

By the way, kudos for obtaining permission to post the images on your blog. So many people think you can just copy and paste any image anywhere you like on the Internet, which is not so.