Sure, design books make a great and easy, last-minute holiday gift. But they are also gifts that last, providing ideas and inspiration for years to come. Here are seven standout tomes of the season, perfect for the design-savvy person on your gift list—or for yourself.
Rankings and best-of lists are always controversial, so Jennifer Boles was brave to tackle her new book Inspired Design: The 100 Most Important Designers of the Past 100 Years(Vendome). Certainly you can bemoan some omissions, but what an array of talents she has assembled, from the obvious—Jean Michel Frank, Madeleine Castaing, Jacques Grange—to the overlooked and forgotten. Cleverly organized and wIth engaging portraits of each designer as well as sumptuous photographs of their major projects, this is a book to savor, learn from, and yes, argue about.
Billy Baldwin’s one-room Manhattan apartment, still one of the most influential rooms of the 20th century.
The salon of Madeleine Castaing’s Paris apartment.
San Francisco-based designer Jay Jeffers is known for his masculine, swanky interiors that mix a touch of retro Mad Men glamor with deep colors, graphic patterns, and dramatic overscaled accessories. His new book Be Bold: Bespoke Modern Interiors (Gibbs Smith) highlights more than a dozen projects that encapsulate his career over the past two decades. Among the standouts are a family home overlooking San Franciso Bay, a house in Tahoe for a young family, a Victorian house in Napa Valley, and Jeffers’ own condo apartment, which he shares with his husband and partner Michael Purdy. What they all have in common is Jeffers’s innate ability to balance drama with comfort, to make a space liveable and comfortable without ever becoming predictable.
The living room of Jay Jeffer’s San Francisco apartment, with a wall sheathed in ebonized oak.
Another view of the living room, with a sofa by Milo Baughman.
In her first book, May I Come In? Discovering the World in Other People’s Houses (Abrams), Wendy Goodman surveys her long career as a style editor at a range of magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, House & Garden, and most importantly New York Magazine, where she has chronicled the elegant, fashionable, and even crazy homes of New Yorkers for more than two decades. Filled with charming anecdotes, striking visuals, and insightful analysis of the famous and outrageous characters she encoutered—from Diana Vreeland and Richard Avedon to Susanne Bartsch and Amy Sedaris—this is not simply a design book, but a record of a vanishing world where individuality trumped money, and personal style was coin of the realm.
The Tiffany-blue living room of designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz and Steven Wine’s apartment in the Rockaways, New York.
A Louis XV chair upholstered in bubble wrap in the Manhattan kitchen of artist Janet Ruttenberg.
In his new book, Library House (Abrams), designer Thomas O’Brien details the creation of a new building that he and his husband, Dan Fink, built next to their historic home on Long Island. Conceived originally as a structure to hold all their books, this 1830s-style clapboard and brick “newly built old house” soon expanded in scope to include guest rooms, offices, and a kitchen, and most of all became an unparalleled example of O’Brien’s style—one that revels in the industrial past without ever succumbing to pastiche, and is modern and functional while remaining warm, relaxed, and imbued with the beauty of bygone eras.
One of the two front rooms in the Library, Thomas O’Brien and Dan Fink’s newly built addition to their Long Island home.
The Library’s kitchen bedroom.
William Abranowicz has long been a favorite photographer of interior designers and shelter magazines; now he selects his own favorites of the hundreds of interiors he has photographed over decades. In American Originals (Vendome), the rooms are quirky, personal, stylish, sometimes messy. Most importantly, each is reflective of the character of its owner. Among them are the homes of designers Jeffrey Bilhuber and Robert Couturier, but Abranowicz is just as taken with the efforts of a range of creatives, including jeweler Federico de Vera, John Derian, Ellen deGeneres, design journalist Mayer Rus, and rock star John Mellencamp. To each interior he applies his loving attention and supreme mastery of light, resulting in a book that is a unique compendium of artistry and personality.
John Derian’s New York City living room.
A hallway in the Silver Lake bungalow of design journalist Mayer Rus.
It would be hard to name a more influential, or imitated, Amerian designer working today than Steven Gambrel. His work manages to be both soigné and charming, colorful and understated. In his new book, Perspective(Rizzoli) he provides an in-depth look at a dozen recent projects, seperated into two categories, Town and Country, because he feels context is crucial in establishing a proper style for each project. Standouts include a full-floor apartment in Chicago’s Palmolive Building, overlooking Lake Michigan, that is a soigné composition in grays and blues with vivid shots of red, and an East Hampton guesthouse that mixes a grand, double-height living room with more intimate spaces outfitted in watery hues and humble beadboard.
A library sheathed in red leather in a Chicago apartment designed by Gambrel.
The office of the same apartment, which was inspired by vintage luggage.
Long-time design journalist Wendy Moonan, who has contributed to Architectural Digest, Town & Country, and the New York Times, gave herself a fanciful and exciting challenge—to assemble an array of New York CIty’s most wonderous, over-the-top rooms. The result, New York Splendour: The City’s Most Memorable Rooms (Rizzoli) is a veritable overload of visual riches. Many of today’s top practitioners are included, of course, including Bunny Williams, Stephen Sills, Shelton Mindel, and Brian McCarthy, but the book ranges wide with more than 100 interiors, in styles ranging from Bill Blass’s clean-lined classicism to Henri Samuel’s floral fantasy, making the book an invaluable compendium of New York cultural history and a stunning record of how the city’s dream of the good life has evolved.
A hallway in the Manhattan apartment of designer Juan Pablo Molyneux.
The living room of an Upper East Side brownstone designed by David Scott Parker.