When I was little, my mother would always say to me, "Never judge a book by its cover." She meant, of course, don't write someone or something off just because of how it looks—it's what's inside that counts. So I've always found it ironic that when it comes to actual books—filling our libraries or buying coffee table tomes worthy of display—we turn that token bit of timeless advice on it's head: it seems we judge a book only by its cover. And who can really blame us? These days, the hardcovers, jackets, and slipcases that bind these coffee table tomes are so exquisitely produced and so gorgeous to look at (the black, quilted leather slipcase of those Chanel books, anyone?) that it's no wonder the same books keep showing up in house after house, and magazine after magazine. Just as there are "It" bags in fashion and "It" girls in Hollywood, there are "It" books in decorating. But there's my mother's voice again, gently telling me that no matter how pretty or popular something is, it's what's inside that counts. And she's right. Why bother with books that don't interest or inspire you, especially when there are so many wonderful books out there? Why not choose titles that resonate with you personally—those that bring both beauty to your coffee table and meaning to your library? And so with that, these are a few of my favorite books and why I love them.
As soon as you pick up Home Is Where The Heart Is by Ilse Crawford, with its smooth, satin-y cover, you know you're in for a treat.
Unlike many decor books that are chock-full of pictures, I love that this one takes more of a philosophical, yet totally accessible, approach. Rather than droning on about color combos or swatch samples, Crawford talks about how to bring "the human element" into our homes. How do we create a physical space that responds to our most basic emotional needs—that makes our heart feel at home? And before you write this one off as being too stuffy, let me tell you that she supplements her thought-provoking essays with gorgeous pictures of her interiors and the life that inhabits them. And speaking of inhabiting a new life of sorts, regular readers of this blog won't think twice about why The Farmhouse Book by David Larkin made my list.
This has been a favorite of mine and Jaithan's for some time, as it's kind of a love letter to the North American farmhouse. It gives a history of the farmhouse, and how it has developed and operated over the last century, including a fictional account of what a day would be like way back in the 1860s. Best of all, especially for us, it talks about living in farmhouses today and how they can be adapted to meet our modern needs, while preserving their great history, proportions, and character. Oh, and if the cover photograph didn't already tip you off—this one is full of inspirational photos and illustrations. And for inspiration of a more glamorous kind, I always reach for Class Act: William Haines, Legendary Hollywood Decorator by Peter Schifando.
This one tells the story of Billy Haines, a silent movie matinee idol who was forced to choose between his MGM movie contract and his longtime partner, Jimmy Shields. He chose his partner and, having lost his livelihood as an actor, began a successful forty-year career as a self-taught interior decorator. Filled with entertaining anecdotes, famous quotes, and beautiful photographs, the book charts his illustrious career and classic design work. And if that isn't enough, there is enough Old Hollywood glamour to keep you occupied for days. His friendships and collaborations with Joan Crawford (a personal favorite of mine!), Marion Davies, and others were, like his all-too-brief film career, the stuff of legend. Speaking of, Axel Vervoordt: Timeless Interiors by Armelle Baron I absolutely love for its breathtaking collection of photographs documenting almost thirty of legendary designer Axel Vervoordt's projects.
Vervoordt uses his love (and extensive knowledge) of artifacts and antiques to make new spaces feel old, to make cold places feel warm, and to create history where there is none. So many of us, I know, want to do all that in our homes; we just need a little help along the way. And best of all, the photography so aptly captures the essence of each space—the mood, beauty, and sophistication—that you can't help but feel comforted and at home, just as he intended. And what, might you ask, do all these books have in common, other than being my favorites? Well, not only are they beautiful just to look at, they're inspiring to look through. But enough about me and the books I love, what are some of your favorites and why?