Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dazzling Design: The New Paris Studio of Jean-Louis Deniot — Where the Magic Happens

Interiors of Inspiration, Integrity, Polish, and Perfection

As you all know, I recently published a 280-page book, ‘Jean-Louis Deniot Interiors’ (Rizzoli).

He’s an exceptional designer/architect. His work is emulated around the world, and he is a major influence on Pinterest style and inspiration boards.

Jean-Louis is articulate, witty, insightful, worldly, and thoughtful. He has a deep understanding of design history—and is surrounded every day by classical Paris landmarks. Each morning, within sight of the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre and the Tuileries, he walks past antique shops and art galleries to his office on the Left Bank. He is never far from inspiration and centuries of beauty.

The client sitting room offers harmonious symmetry as well as versatility for business and creative meetings. The coffee table is by Ado Chale, and the contemporary candlesticks are by Hervé Van der Straeten. Two new armchairs are in the style of Royère. The petite agate and gold side table by Hiquily with Picasso prints to the right. The mohair and silk rug is from Solstys.

Jean-Louis and I worked on the book project together for more than two years—with editor Alex Tart and art director Paul McKevitt.

We’re thrilled that our book has been so well received—and listed recently as a ‘top new design book’ by illustrious publications like Vogue, the Wall Street Journal, Elle Décor, House Beautiful, Air France magazine, PAPERCITY, C magazine, California Homes, and AD, as well as 1stDibs, and top blogs like The Peak of Chic and Little Augury and A Bloomsbury Life. We are humbled—and very honored.

This week we are visiting his newly renovated studio. It’s in the book—but I want you to take another look at the Jean-Louis Deniot headquarters in Paris.

Come with me to read about this remarkable space—and sit with us for a chat recently with Jean-Louis about his studio. Yes, we did open a bottle of chilled Ruinart. Would you care for a glass? You’re welcome.

Jean-Louis Deniot

Jean-Louis Deniot and his sister/ business partner Virginie Deniot acquired the ground floor and basement on rue de Verneuil on the Left Bank seven years ago.

With the great success of the company, and a growing staff that recently grew from eighteen to twenty, this year they expanded the office space to the second floor.

Now there’s a total interior of 300 square meters, which includes eight office spaces accommodating management, the architects, the custom design department and the decorators. There are a total of eighteen professional in the team.

It’s discreetly sited in an 18th century building. Deniot renovated the offices to retain and emphasize and update the period in which it was built. The content is quite eclectic, an mélange of various new pieces as well as eccentric and elegant and refined pieces accumulated throughout the years. 

Custom designed sofa based on a Serge Roche inspiration covered in Mark Alexander, cashmere pillows from IDO. Custom antique mirror cubic side table with 1970 brass and chrome large lamp from the Clignancourt flea market. Framed set four framed graphics are late forties Picasso prints.    

Armchairs in Royère style. Hiquily agate and gold leaf side table large coffee table in marquetry by Ado Chale. Custom mohair and silk rug by Solstys. Armchair by Dominique in high gloss lacquer brass accent covered in Nya Nordiska. Louis XVI with white patina and original black leather armchairs. Atelier Promethée neo-classical bronze glazed terracotta urn on pedestal. Sculptural wall light from Merlin, 1970 Paris Clignancourt flea market.

An Inspired Office / Studio / Atelier

I recently sat down for a chat with Jean-Louis Deniot—in between his travels for projects in Corsica, India, Kiev, Moscow, and New York, as well as essential stops in Los Angeles.

DDS: Jean-Louis, it is a great pleasure to talk to you about your new office space. It’s a magical transformation.

My office is a direct ‎extension of myself and my work, my beliefs and my ideals. My colleagues and I love to work in such a good, positive, comforting environment.

The office atmosphere now is really amazing, not only because we are a design family, and ‎we are happy to work together on so many fabulous projects, but also because it all happen within the exquisite vibes in our own territory. 

The steel-reinforced skylight pulls light into the double-height stair landing and interior offices. To the right is the conference room. The encircling brass wall lights were designed by Deniot. The new steel staircase and skylight had to be craned into place over the rooftops. This was not an easy matter in Paris. Rue de Verneuil is a narrow one-way street, so care was taken to plan infinitely, to prepare, and to make the dramatic architectural insertion happen fast and efficiently. Mission accomplished.
Deniot decided to make a dramatic sculpture of the soaring double-height stair and for emphasis, he added a collection of rather kinetic geometric abstract sculptures. The blue piece is from Denmark, 1960’s. The ivory one is from the US, a Los Angeles find from the 1970s. The dark bronze sculpture was custom-designed by Jean-Louis Deniot. 

The large painted silk frame by Petra Tlapova. A 1970 Curtis Jere wall sculpture on Donghia wall upholstery.

DDS: Rue de Verneuil is in the heart of the Left Bank. But it’s very hidden. It’s just down the block from Serge Gainsbourg’s famous house and graffiti wall—but few except locals venture to your more discreet location.

When my sister Virginie and I purchased the 1,700 square feet ground floor and basement about seven years ago, ‎we were so glad to find such a large open floor plan space in a neighborhood where galleries are usually much smaller.

Years later, the space became too small, so we started looking all around the neighborhood. We visited every single large retail space for sale in the area, including in the 6th arrondissement. We considered all kinds of settings, historic and new, but we never found the right fit. I wanted a different space, probably larger, better, grander. 

The office has evolved over time, and many samples, acquisitions and art pieces find their way here. The classical shagreen large ‘XXL’ desk is by Paris-based R&Y Augusti, in contrast to the vivid light box by Damien Hirst. Vase by Gaetano Pesce, and a sorciere mirror from Galerie Sentou. The versatile Jean-Michel Frank-style armchair is covered in Le Manach fabric.

A ceramic and Brazilian wood piece, are recent finds. A Californian lamp from Los Angeles on the palm tree-wood XXL desk from R& Y Augusti. Deniot kept his favorite Maison Jansen 1940 ebonized chair and admires the movement of the 19th century panther bust on bronze pedestal. The Directoire-period marble urn roams—from one Deniot residence to another. It’s a classical favorite.

DDS: Then you moved from your great apartment on rue de Seine and acquired a new apartment on rue de Lille, adjacent to the Musée d’Orsay. The neighborhood is hidden, rare, authentic, special. There’s a bakery nearby, of course, and an artisan chocolate shop, a vegetarian cafe, a tabac, bookshops, and discreet by-appointment-only dealers. It's pure Paris.

Yes, when I got the rue de Lille apartment nearby so it became even harder to move anywhere further than rue de Verneuil. I am only two minutes' walk from the office.

Originally, the idea of taking the upstairs unit was not even an option. I did not think about it, as I wanted a better space.

Then a very close friend said to me, ''Why would you move anywhere else? Make it work. This rue de Verneuil location did you so much good in your career for all those years. Your clients are happy to be in such a lucky spot that’s very private, and so classically Parisian.'' 

Lucite pedestal with Danish 1960 vase. Louis XVI gilded sofa (from a pair) covered in printed velvet from Lelièvre. Alabaster Pouenat wall light and Fontana Arte style bronze and glass side table.

DDS: Then you considered the upstairs unit.

Since then, I thank my friend for helping me seeing clearly that my sense of ‎office space priorities was wrong.

My sister and I got the upstairs unit, 2,000 square foot space, and renovated it, up to the day that we had to connect the two floors, removing the cement slab and including a floating staircase. 

Hidden door behind faux books to preserve client files totally confidential. Louis XVI gilded bergère covered in hand-woven cotton and wool fabric brought by JLD from Tangier. R&Y Augusti chocolate shagreen tray side table.

DDS: You were able to do it all with only two days of office interruption. That’s impressive.

Today, the space is not what I had in mind during my real estate search, but it is unbelievably ‎fabulous. Today, I would not exchange this space for any other. It is like a very tranquil but uplifting private house on three floors. The top floor is full of light.

With its storefront, it's basement packed with tons of construction material samples, it's ground floor open plan for management and architects. The central section has a glass roof, open stairs and second full story for all decoration, custom furniture department, meeting room, client seating room and giant kitchen.

It’s small but efficient, like a house with its internal courtyard, and all rooms surrounding it. And me, calling through the stair hall, trying to get someone’s attention to praise him or her for brilliant ideas and solutions.

Wall upholstery is from the Duquette collection by Jim Thompson. 1850 plaster bust. 18th century neo-classical watercolor drawing. 1950 French shell wall light and 1960 Laurel lamp with custom lampshade by Anne Sokolsky.

The Empire mahogany cylinder desk has been in Deniot’s collection for several decades and holds pride of place in the office. It’s a resting spot for small bronze figures, petite lamps, or a Cire Trudon fragrant candle (mint-scented Abd el Kader is a favorite) The Maison Jansen ebonized chair is in the style of the Directoire period The 1950 painting by Marin. The desk demonstrates dramatically Deniot’s belief that large-scale furniture make a small space appear larger, and that an imposing antique bestows a certain grandeur and sense of ‘architecture’ to a softly-spoken corner.   

DDS: Each staff member has their own space, and you are all in interaction, all connected with each other. The house feeling is surely what I like about the place. It feels like everything, but an office! 
You’ve told me that your business is a passion and you never have the impression of working, more the impression of playing with great interior toys.

JLD: Most of the clients and office meetings are on the very comfortable sofa where we go through studies and presentations right on the XXL Ado Chale coffee table. It’s elegant and efficient. At the end of the day we often crack open a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the completion of a new project. 

In the office entry, which is one of the original office rooms, wall lights are by Stilnovo. The Edwardian-style leather armchairs and circular mirror are by Collection Pierre.

It’s full of hidden tech features. Here, elegance and comfort rule.

The Jean-Louis Deniot studios have become very eclectic, a mélange of exotic and eccentric and elegant pieces accumulated throughout the years.

This international headquarters is a very congenial workplace, with rough stone walls that evoke a warm, residential feeling, but it’s equipped with the newest tech equipment so it’s also highly efficient. Everything from files and the newest tech requirements, to fabric, carpet, tile and stone samples all at hand. Client files are out of sight.

The interior is now dramatic—but to a passerby it remains discreet, hidden, suggesting its time-honored connection with the past and optimism for many more years at this place.

Where to find Jean-Louis Deniot:
Jean-Louis Deniot
Architecture, Interior Design, Furnishing

Photography by Tripod, used here with express permission. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

A World of Ideas: San Francisco interior designer Benjamin Dhong creates an inspiring new family residence in Woodside, California

With subtle color harmonies, sculptural furniture, worldly art collections — and a dash of wit and free spirit — Ben Dhong offers new and lively ways of thinking about design and décor. Look for subtle tonalities, inspiration, and ideas in every room.
I recently sat down for a chat with Benjamin Dhong about a new residence he recently completed in Woodside, the leafy and ultra-private Silicon Valley town just south of San Francisco.

His client is the CEO of a global Fortune 100 company. The Japanese family has two children.

The shingled house was built in the 1930s, a golden age of domestic residences in America. It is surrounded by gardens with white roses and hydrangea. 

“The family wanted a house that both reflected them but also was suitable for important business gatherings,” said Ben, who started his design company ten years ago, after working closely with Martha Angus.

“I knew I wanted natural materials, and a sense that everything hadn't been a purchased on the same day. I thought of bringing in the garden tonalities inside the house. Especially, I wanted to look as if it had come together over decades, with a mixture of high-low, or as Andrée Putman used to say, a combination of “rich” and ‘humble”.

Interior Designer Benjamin Dhong

Living room:
The goal in the living room was to create a calm, cloudlike feeling using textures and light to set the mood.

Natural materials like grasscloth, jute, are juxtaposed with the dazzle of gold. Hints of brass add low-key 'gilding'.

"To make large rooms feel more cozy I believe that all the corners of a room should be designed for use,” said Dhong. “This makes a more welcoming space. I created five zones (main fireplace seating, game table, corner banquette, writing desk, reading area). 

“Designing in neutrals requires layers of texture so we applied grasscloth to the walls, added seagrass to the floors, and kept all the upholstered fabrics to a linen palate,” said Dhong.

A large Saarinen table anchors the bay window. It’s a clean-lined juxtaposition to the French tub chairs and the temple spire.

He designed airy linen sheers bound with earthy jute Greek key to filter the light.

“I like mixing periods as long as they all balance,” said Dhong. In the living room he brought in Gustavian, French, Swedish Deco, mid-century, John Dickinson, Asian fragments, Italian sculpture, modern art.

“We commissioned a pair of hand-carved wooden tree of life consoles from Myra Hoefer Design, Healdsburg, and had them gilded,” he said. Simple metal mirrors from Restoration Hardware keeps the look restrained. The daybed is by Carl Malmsten, Sweden’s twentieth-century answer to Ruhlmann. He placed a daybed in order to keep the room more open.

Ben Dhong told me, “I love creating cozy corners. In the corner banquette area we crowned it with a cloud painting commissioned from Healdsburg artists Wade Hoefer. We asked Wade to paint a round canvas to give it a porthole feeling. The cloud painting balances the cloud altar fragment above the desk.”

An 18th-Century Swedish desk is paired with a vintage wiggle chair. Its curves mimic the cloud altar fragment.

“I'm especially pleased with how the Frank Gehry ‘wiggle’ chair dialogs with the Gustavian secretaire and the Italian cloud fragment. It’s a playful dance,” said Dhong.

Dining Room:
The glories of green are a favorite of Dhong’s, especially unexpected green tones. The house sits in almost an acre of old oaks, maples, cedar trees and a cloud of roses, hostas and hydrangeas.

“I wanted the dining room to be totally romantic,” said Dhong. “I found this mossy green toile that had pastoral scenes of frolicking nobles and peasants. I balanced the traditional toile with bold strokes — an overscaled mirror, a modern Italian chandelier, a strong sculptural dining table.” Dhong designed the table with Candace Barnes Antiques in San Francisco.

The modern light pendant is an unexpected combination with the toile. It's Italian from the 1950's. Each suspended lens captures the light and at night the fixture is ablaze with a fiery glow. 

The chairs are 18th-century from Lyon, France.

“The chairs are fabulously crusty with pale green and parcel gilding, and perfect for adding faded glory,” said Dhong. He upholstered the seat in faded green leather for durability but topped it with green velvet. The curtain rod is a gilded faux bamboo with an overscaled key finial, a nod to the family’s background.

“We decided to make both the dining room and library green to tie them together,” said Dhong. He backed the silk curtain with burlap to give it more body and to show a contrast rough texture, and an example of rich-poor design.

“Libraries are like powder room,” said Ben. “You can let yourself go and go a little crazy.”

This library originally was a plain white box with an old green wooden mantel.

“I wanted an exotic green velvet jewel box with gold as the accent color,” said Dhong. “Now it is slightly exotic with some decadent flourishes.”

He designed the green ottoman bench with Moorish arches. It's very architectural and stands out like an elegant temple.

“So that the family can watch television, I designed a trumeau-style mirror above the mantel,” said Dhong. “The biggest mistake people make with mirrors that ‘conceal’ a set is making them the same shape as the television. You're not fooling anyone.”

The room does not get a lot of light so he added more mirrors flanking the fireplace. Dhong upholstered the frames in green velvet to make them quieter and to recede into the architecture.

A green ikat fabric on the ram’s head chairs gives a fresh update to a classic chair.

A primitive-style side tables from Bliss keeps the room from being too precious.

A 1970s desk was repainted a soft green and is a chic base for the Giacometti-style lamp from Sirmos.

Master Bedroom:
This room ‘before’ was one of the least welcoming rooms in the house — cold, cavernous, quirky window placement, with an odd niche that made no sense.

“We took all of those elements and created an aerie or treehouse — but an elegant and romantic one,” said Dhong.

Layers of neutrals in varying textures give a sense of serenity and luxe to the room.

"I knew that we needed a canopy bed to create a little nest,” he said. “We were fortunate with the locations of the rafters. They fit exactly over our bed — allowing us to raise the height of the canopy several feet.”

He covered all the walls and sloped ceiling with a nubby silk wallpaper. 

That gorgeous tall gold mirror is from Restoration Hardware Baby & Child.

“I wanted a modern fabric for the canopy and found this cut velvet from Classic Cloth," said Dhong. “It’s almost Japanese. It’s modern without losing any sense of luxury. My favorite corner has the faux-rock console. It represents everything I love…. plaster, raw silk, shell, classical engravings, nature, with a flash of gold.”

Painted wicker chairs from Janus et Cie provide a sculptural playfulness with the table and soften the edges.

“I have a weakness for drama, of the good kind, of course,” said Dhong. The shades of bone backed with antiqued brass provide a rich finish that warms up the room. I also like a little eccentricity in a room. This faux-bois side chair from Myra Hoefer Design is certainly witty.”

Son’s Bedroom:
This room by Dhong is a modern ode to a classic boy’s room — with stripes and nautical themes. The wallcovering is cashmere from Rose Tarlow.

He took blue and white mattress ticking, paper-backed it, and covered the ceiling with it. A pair of Chesterfield headboards takes on a more gentlemanly feel with grey velvet.

A white lacquer West Elm desk provides a dash of white against all the grey/blue textures.

“I added a pair of distressed blue mirrors from Wisteria and now you're aboard Captain Nemo's Nautilus,” said Dhong. “The lamp is the son's favorite piece in the room, with it's stainless steel shade. It's the ‘sports car’ he's always wanted. The phrenology head is my nod to John Dickinson.”

Daughter’s Bedroom:
“I call this "spending summer at Grandma's house,” said Dhong. “There's something very cozy, nestlike, and summer-by-the-lake about its design.”

He cloaked the walls in a mohair-like wallpaper from Rose Tarlow.

“Everyone forgets the ceiling when selecting wallpaper,” noted Dhong. He chose a hand-blocked green striped linen from Carolina Irving to give the room a trip back into the past with it's almost ticking pattern. The hand blocking gives it an imperfect waviness.

“This room was challenging for bed placements, so I selected a pair of headboards with exaggerated wings — the effect is to give each person their own little private compartment,” said Dhong.

Guest Bedroom:
The bedroom is surrounded on three sides by the garden. For the designer, it was a challenge as the only place to put the bed was adjacent to the bay window.

“I designed a sleigh bed to make it feel more like a cozy nest,” said Dhong.

He made a wallcovering from a fabric embroidered with branches. The room is a golden glow.

The guest bedroom room is an essay in layering textures to make things interesting and cozy. Fabric walls, linens, whitewashed wood, antique brass, white plaster, velvets, natural wovens, flash of gold offer contrast and harmony.

“I'm a fan of all things Giacometti,” said Dhong. “His zig-zag lamp is a special favorite. I added a custom velvet shade. I like the combination of plastery white with a sumptuous velvet.”

Today the pool house looks as if it has great bones, but it was actually sad and forlorn. “When we found it with its plain white walls. It needed texture and character,” said Dhong.

He covered the walls with his favorite faux-bois wallpaper from Nobilis. It gives instant character.

“We added drama with this enormously tall wooden cabinet,” said Dhong. “Guests walk in and gasp. We added over scaled ginger jars to gild the lily and to anchor the dining area. I love the metal edge detail on the table.”

“The rafters of the room remind me of the barrel-vaulted ceiling of my favorite church in Venice, the sixteenth-century Chiesa Santa Maria dei Miracoli,” said Dhong. “It resembles a boat. Now, the room feels like a chapel so we anchored the far end of the room with a dreamy painting by Wade Hoefer. We ganged six inexpensive floor mirrors to create a wall of mirror that reflects the pool. The metal frames add an industrial element to the room.”


All interiors designed and styled by Benjamin Dhong, San Francisco: www.benjamindhong.com

Lisa Romerein
Santa Monica, CA

Photo shoot produced by Doretta Sperduto, Interiors Editor, House Beautiful.
This photography first appeared in House Beautiful.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Diane's Favorites: My Pick of the Best Style Books for Fall 2014 — Part Two

Come with me this week to discover the best new books on interiors, architecture, design, cuisine, fine photography, and essential topics for building a fine library.

These are my selections—based on an objective review of the depth of the contents, the authority of the writer, an array of ideas and concepts and a beautiful book.

I always take a close look at the ‘book-ness’ of each volume—to check the design of the binding and endpapers, the printing, and the rich information imparted in captions and text. I want to be transported. Check, check and check.

Last week, I presented Part One of my favorite style books for fall. That list (you can scroll down to read it) included “Loulou de la Falaise’ and “Snowdon’ (Brit photographer Tony Armstrong Jones' profile and album), as well as ‘Haute Couture Ateliers (a must for fashion designers and fashion students), and finally ‘The Best of Flair’ a handsome boxed compendium of every page of the great fifties style magazine, Flair).

When I acquire books, I’m looking for books for a lifetime of pleasure, information, inspiration, ideas and reference. I want to discover great writing. I want beautiful and intelligent photography. I want exceptional pages—put together with intelligence for lasting pleasure.

For book connoisseurs—and for those who like me collect books on a wide array of topics—these books will all give you great pleasure.

Private Houses of France: Living with History, by Christiane de Nicolai-Mazery, photographed by Francis Hammond (Flammarion).

Twelve aristocratic French families open their private Paris residences, as well as their family chateaus and country retreats for a private visit.

De Nicolai-Mazery has produced other fine books on French historic interiors—she is a longtime friend with many of the owners—and she favors showing a rather up-close, family side of these handsome residences.

There are autumnal hunts in ancient French forests, and detail shots of tables set for celebratory dinners and intime lunches. The book's photographs even seem to capture the weather and seasons in France--shooting on foggy mornings as well as bright summer afternoons. She shows embroidered uniforms, art collections, rare books, porcelains, dressing table accouterments, and candlelit suppers, gardens, wallpapers, and historic painted walls.

It’s a rich feast, delicious, and all captured in lavish, poetic photography.

Hubert de Givenchy’s Paris mansion is on the cover, divine, and I love Chateau d’Anet, and Champchevrier.

Very poignant is the final section, a series of images of the Hotel Lambert, the late great and lamented Baron de Rédé’s former residence on the Ile St.-Louis. On these pages it is resplendent and lavish. But when I recently walked over to view it, the building was a scaffold-bedecked building site, the victim of an electrical fire. Beauty can be fleeting…but it lasts forever on the pages of this book.

It’s all very personal and filled with fresh flowers, books, a sense of lives well lived.

It’s also uplifting and full of discoveries. Highly recommended.

Marella Agnelli: The Last Swan by Marella Agnelli and Marella Caracciolo Chia (Rizzoli New York).

Peel off the handsome paper dustjacket to reveal the gleaming crimson silk and gold embossed binding of this glorious book—and it is clear this is a lavish production and an intelligent and superbly produced and edited one.

This is, however, a very personal book full of private houses, private apartments, gardens, family life, family snapshots, and some of the prettiest wedding photography.

The Agnelli family (Gianni Agnelli was the Fiat industrialist and Marella was a Florentine princess) are shown here sunbathing and frolicking, at costume balls, sailing with the Kennedys, cruising the Turkish coast with Truman Capote (the viper in their midst), as well as wearing fashions of the day, couture of course.

Of course, Richard Avedon photographed Agnelli endlessly in the fifties and sixties, and she graced magazines as one of the most beautiful and haunting women of the twentieth (and 21st) century.

With interiors in over many decades—in Turin, in Milan, in Rome, in Saint Moritz, in Manhattan, and in Corsica and Marrakech, this is a heady delight.

The key is that it was produced and edited by Marella Agnelli herself, along with her adoring niece. It is their third collaboration. I hope there is a fourth.

Among photographers represented here are Horst, Irving Penn, Avedon, Henry Clarke, and Robert Doisneau. Beautiful.

A Frame for Life by Ilse Crawford. The Designs of Studioilse (Rizzoli New York).

Ilse Crawford has produced a fascinating, personal and rather contrarian book—that is rich in rewards, challenges, ideas, beliefs and concepts, and her recent work.

This is a designer and writer who owes an enormous debt to architect Christopher Alexander, the great author of ‘A Pattern Language’ and other influential books that put forth the highly influential concept that houses should support and inspire and provide comfort for the lives lived in them. It was Christopher (I’ve interviewed him several times) whose profound and illuminating ideas about residential architecture first brought ideas like making interiors a framework for lives lived within them. He spoke of ‘a comfortable chair’, ‘a place to read’, light on all sides, a ‘nook by the fire’, and creating a humanistic place for dwelling, a place for the soul.

Ilse has clearly read Professor Alexander’s books cover to cover. That’s great. And so her book is infused with comment such as “I have developed an agenda of working to create design that is frame for life; a design that stars with human experience, that prioritizes our wellbeing and enhances our humanity.” (Sound familiar?).

But closer reading of the book offers up ideas about how to create ‘design with the human being in the center’. It’s uplifting and inspiring—and the book shows examples of her international work, for offices, hotels, residences and ateliers.

Yes, it can be off-putting at times In the introduction Ilse says, “I consider myself a quiet revolutionary’. And she is a person without a trace of irony, placing herself, hair neatly combed, wearing red lipstick and reading a red book, in bed with her husband on the cover of her book). But…even so…the book has poetic, quirky, quiet, and compelling moments and should be in the library of a design firms for its point of view. And through here, readers will be re-introduced to Christopher Alexander’s concepts, simplified here. A terrific reference, a cause for vivid discussion and colloquium.

A New Napa Cuisine by Christopher Kostow (Ten Speed Press/ Penguin Random House).

This is the debut cookbook of a chef whose work I’ve admired ever since he took up residence at The Restaurant at Meadowood, my favorite hotel/resort in the Napa Valley. Christopher, notably, is one of the few chefs/restaurants in California with three Michelin stars and awards for days.

I’ve interviewed Christopher, and I’ve walked among the rows of herbs and baby carrots and radishes and flowers that he was handpicking for the evening’s menu. He’s thoughtful and focused and he speaks of a special terroir.

I was intrigued by the book the moment I picked it up. The cover is rough linen (it almost looks as if Christopher wove it himself) and it’s screen printed with silhouettes of the ancient redwoods and pines that give Meadowood its magical setting and fragrance.

Photography by Taylor Peden and Jen Munkvold are exquisitely rustic and simple, with inspired styling. Many dishes are served on pottery crafted by a friend in Pope Valley.

The book is great because Christopher presents his own Napa Valley—far from the shimmery and glitz wineries and far from the trappings of Highway 29.

The recipes: look for wonderful ideas like Okra Flower Oyster in which he fills fresh okra flowers with a slice of oyster, for a canapé. Potatoes cooked in fresh beeswax read wonderfully (complicated and fascinating). There’s Coal-roasted sturgeon with fermented quince, and favorites from the root cellar, along with Black shallot beef chanterelle dish and Silverado strawberry tableau.

Can these be made at home? If you’re clever and patient the recipes will be rewarding, especially if you improvise.

This is a cookbook to read, as his life unfurls and grows in the Napa Valley, and a brilliant young chef finds his voice and his life among artisans, craftspeople, growers, friends, winemakers, and philosophers and poets. Thrilling.

Cecil Beaton: Portraits & Profiles Edited by Hugo Vickers (Frances Lincoln) is a very worthy addition to a library with many other Beaton books.

Cecil Beaton, photographer, diarist, stage and costume designer, social butterfly, is one of those essential figures (like Jean Cocteau) who seems to have known everyone, appeared at every grand costume ball, published in every style magazine, and inhabited stylish houses and…created memorable and important and influential art.

I’m a great fan of Cecil because he was a very polished photographer and fantastic art director (images pretty rather than deep)…and he recorded every decade of his life with avid attention. Girls in gowns, yes. Film stars like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn…yes, they are on these pages, too.

The book is superbly presented so that readers view his portraits—and read profiles on Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe, Andy Warhol, Queen Elizabeth (both of them), and the war years, artists, writers, and society. Essential reference, Vickers also adds his own waspish commentary.

Time and Tide: Photographs from Praia Piquina by Christian Chaize (Chronicle Books).

On these pages readers will experience pure escape. Uplift, instant. It reminds us that happiness is a simple matter of a lovely beach, colorful beach umbrellas and dreamy blue horizons, the smell of the sea, some friends, and sunshine. This beautiful oversized book offers a breath of fresh air and evokes fantasies of Mediterranean travel. Photographer Christian Chaize returned many times over the course of eight years to shoot an intimate little rock-framed beach in the south of Portugal from the same vantage point. 

The resulting photographs provide an enchanting portrait of the tides, light, weather, and people that shape and reshape the landscape each day. A charming and thought-provoking meditation, Time and Tide will appeal to anyone who loves the beach or who appreciates the wonder of nature’s changes as revealed by close observation.

About the Author: Christian Chaize is an award-winning artist and photographer. He lives in France and New York. 

Vintage Industrial: Living with Machine Age Design by Misha de Potestad and Patrice Pascal (Rizzoli New York).

This is an essential reference for those who want to learn about Jean Prouvé, and about the seating, tables, storage, lighting, curiosities, and the lively French period from 1900 to 1950, the floushing of a raw, functional machine age aesthetic. 

With this book in hand, an avid flea market collector could have a highly successful foray into the markets at Clignancourt and Vanves. Innovations and materials and environments are portrayed with simple and compelling images. An essential reference.

Picasso’s Masterpieces: The Musée Picasso Paris Collection (Flammarion).

The Picasso Museum in Paris recently re-opened and I can’t wait to return to see favorite paintings and drawings.

In this reference book are 450 masterpieces, all arranged chronologically and by theme. It’s a magisterial volume, presented in a slipcase. 

Look here also for his personal art collection, as well as ephemera from his private archive.

Sissinghurst: Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden by Sarah Raven (St. Martin’s Press).

If you’ve ever traipsed down to Sissinghurst from London and wandered among the beauty of this garden (and tower) you must add this book to your library.

Sarah Raven is a noted English gardener who is married to Vita’s grandson, Adam Nicholson, and she currently resides in one of the historic buildings on the grounds.

Best of all, there are details of the gardens, plant lists, fuzzy family snapshots, portraits, and images of flowers in the Elizabethan rooms. Using Vita’s prose and updating it all to the present, Raven paints a very compelling story. And there are book lists and references. A great gift for a gardener—who someone who dreams of gardening, inspired by Vita.

Novel Interiors: Living in Enchanted Rooms Inspired by Literature by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti, photographs by Ivan Terestchenko (Potter Style).

Lisa is a great friend and fellow blogger. Lisa’s blog, A Bloomsbury Life, is a celebration of her avid reading and her equally avid approach to décor and design and creating a home and a place to dwell.

Her concept for the book is to tie books (she has a wonderful bibliography in the book) and reading to a way of living, a way of inhabiting a room. She speaks of beauty found in simple things, dining chairs in literature, finishing touches, art, mood, grand tour mementos, Vita Sackville-West, and books and authors and ideas.

A delightful book to dive into for inspiration—and certainly for books to collect on a night table and on a library shelves. Bravo, Lisa, for your inspiring first book. May you write many more!

Jeff Leatham: Visionary Floral Art and Design (Rizzoli USA).

Welcome to the luscious floral world of Jeff Leatham.

Jeff is the bold floral designer/genius who designs the haunting flowers that grace the lobby and rooms of the Four Seasons George V in Paris. A guest enters and swoons at the six-feet-tall glass vases throbbing with purple orchids and roses. It has been said that these flowers in this lobby are the second most popular tourist attraction in Paris after the Eiffel Tower. That simply cannot be true (millions of people are not marching into this lobby)…but they are easily the most influential floral designs of the last decade. Those stalky roses and lilies and orchids that tilt on the diagonal (often tied up in bondage) that now pop up regularly in hotels and lobbies around the world—are all inspired by Jeff’s single-minded approach to beauty. Can you have too many flowers? I swooped into the George V recently, and decided there can never be ‘too much’. The deep purple orchids I saw, hundreds of them, induced for me an ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) and the spine tingles at the sight, hair stands on end, the brain jingles and breathing stops for a moment of joy. 

Beauty is transporting. Jeff has captured these sensual moments in the book—which is a must for floral artists, event planners, wedding designers, and those who believe that too many flowers are never enough. Suzy Menkes wrote an introduction—and she agrees.

All photography is used here with express permission from the publishers.