We’re all curious about how other people live. That fascination explains our obsession with real estate listings and a love/hate relationship with Instagram. If you’re craving more than the parade of predictable Zoom backgrounds (no judgements), or anything beyond the four walls of your own home, design books are the answer.
Escaping into a world of stunning interiors and private gardens is not just a momentary distraction, it’s a good education. Seeing world-class design might mean you’ll focus on a few shortcomings at home, but you’ll have your dream residence planned by the time Labor Day rolls around. This latest group of book releases will inspire you and fuel your escapist fantasies.
Liaigre: Creation 2016–2020
It’s easy to be attracted to shiny things. There’s an entire industry devoted to that. Subtlety is a different kind of luxury, and it’s something French designer Christian Liaigre has mastered for more than 30 years. In 2016 he stepped away from his namesake interiors studio, inviting longtime collaborator Frauke Meyer to take the helm. In Liaigre: Creation 2016–2020 by Françoise-Claire Prodhon, a just-released tome from Rizzoli, we see what a seamless transition looks like. The book traces five private residences started by Liaigre and completed by Frauke. The spaces are gorgeous—a secluded Japanese home overlooking hot thermal springs (and featured in Robb Report), a contemporary palace in New Dehli, a gracious mountain home in St. Moritz, a Parisian art-collector’s haven and a Bavarian family dwelling.
What makes the book distinctive is the way it asks you to slow down. Each project is preceded by imagery of colors, fabrics, materials, textures and objects that set the mood for the space. They command a closer look. You begin to think about the progression of an interior; of the view to a staircase that is so stunning in its simplicity it feels revolutionary, or the way a green sofa is the perfect, unexpected counterpart to a granite wall. Liaigre’s spell has always been sophistication in restraint. So instead of the big, sweeping moves, you start to care deeply about the finish on a cabinet door. As Frauke states in the opener, “From all these years spent working alongside Liaigre, one obvious fact stands out: a designer has to learn how to see.” This book is a superb way to do that.
The Graphic Garden
Green is the color of summer. While most of our time is spent in sandy or splashy territory, almost everyone has a childhood memory of being stretched out on a freshly cut lawn. In The Graphic Garden from Pointed Leaf Press, we are reminded how beautiful life is outside, thanks to landscape architect Keith Williams.
In his first monograph, Williams, who is one half of Florida’s A-list studio Nievera Williams, shares his approach to several projects, ranging from a clean modernist temple to a historic Mediterranean-Revival-style home in Palm Beach. Williams is an easygoing, honest creative.
Reading the book, it’s obvious how little most of us know about the actual art of landscape design. Williams’s exteriors embody a range of moods: formality, ease or whimsy. He is a visionary in his understanding of the natural world, yet he also to has to account for tennis courts, guest houses and the mere existence of concrete. He admits, “I often see paving as my enemy, as it lends itself to being harsh, hot, and heavy-feeling.” At this level, the role of the landscape architect is much more involved than selecting a few hardy species and fringy palms for decoration. In the air-conditioned joy of your own place, you can appreciate Williams’s talent for everything under the sun.
Scott Mitchell Houses
While Los Angeles-based architect Scott Mitchell has created homes for well-known clients, it’s equally true that notable names often overshadow creative geniuses who remain quietly in the background perfecting their craft. Scott Mitchell Houses, published by Rizzoli, is not a romp through the private lives of celebrities. It’s a study of eight thoughtfully composed residences from LA to Amagansett that reveal Mitchell’s mastery of materials, context and modern thinking. Mitchell’s work balances hard and soft; wood with stone; glass with greenery.
A few pages in, you experience what beautiful architecture is: a seamless emotional connection to person and place. No special effects, but living rooms with volume, landscape views treated with reverence and rhythm, and a kind of stillness that inhabits every corner. It’s a kind of visual exhale, and the book’s layout contributes to that feeling, alternating between color and black and white photography. The exterior of a home in the Pacific Northwest or a private bath in LA’s Hombly Hills are seen and appreciated differently because of this creative choice. With short vignettes written by architecture critic Paul Goldberg and writer Michael Webb, the book gives just enough, unfolding and surrounding the visitor.
Interiors by Roman architect Achille Salvagni are commonly described as sumptuous. That might be because his spaces perform the ultimate seduction of making you feel like you’ve never been more attractive. To use a much-abused design term, they are chic. So chic that you can almost smell the bespoke fragrance that would pervade the room pictured on the cover of his eponymous title from Rizzoli and written by Pilar Viladas. Familiar to yacht enthusiasts and a long list of hopeful clients, Salvagni can be credited with single-handedly luring yacht interiors away from their very templated (and very neutral) former lives. Need an example? Look no further than the spiral staircase on the Endeavour II.
The book captures themes that have defined his career, like color, craftsmanship, heritage, narrative and balance. He shares his philosophy moving easily between formal tenants and emotional expressions of design. In a section on Audacity, Salvagni admits he is not interested in the expected ideas. “There is something that drives me to do things that are a little crazy, that make a space more vibrant.” The images of Salvagni’s own lighting and furniture creations are cinematic, lingering over handcrafted bronze legs, stone drawer pulls and sleek cabinets. It’s a stunning world to visit and one that Salvagni treats with style and endless curves.
Zaha Hadid: Complete Works 1979–Today
The name Zaha Hadid instantly evokes imagery of sinuous, winding, inconceivably dynamic structures that seem to be drawn freehand and remain standing with the aid of some unearthly force. She was on her way to becoming a legend when she won the Pritzker Prize in architecture in 2004, the first female to do so. The late Hadid was as prolific as she was innovative, and Taschen’s ambitious, recently updated edition gathers her impressive anthology from 1979 to the present day. Revisiting her well-known finished projects like the Vitra Fire Station, the Glasgow Riverside Museum, Eli and Edyth Broad Museum and Galaxy Soho in Beijing, we learn about the intention and programming involved on each site. We also get a glimpse into the studio’s in-process works and may be prone to wonder how this recent pandemic could alter their forms.
Supplemented by Hadid’s drawings, texts, models and renderings, the book is not only massive but fully realized. Noted author Philip Jodidio gives a profound overview of her aesthetic and intellectual pursuits, helping crystalize why she is a design icon. “The adventure of Zaha Hadid was a remarkable one,” writes Jodidio. “Her success was formed by a constancy and commitment to the belief that architecture and design need not be as they always were. Indeed, Bauhaus-inspired architecture did relate to industrial methods and the need for repetition to generate economies of scale. Hadid’s concept of architecture, born of rigorous logic and design, yet freed of its Euclidean constraints, was rendered possible by another industrial revolution driven by computer-assisted design and CNC milling. Desks sprang from walls and bridges danced in sinusoidal undulations. Zaha Hadid set architecture free, and it will never be the same again.”
The Perfect Kitchen
Cooking for ourselves has been less of a choice these days, which brings all the kitchen’s constraints into view. While square footage isn’t directly responsible for a top-notch meal, it definitely helps. As for what to do with it, author Barbara Sallick has a few ideas. The visionary who co-founded designer kitchen and bath brand Waterworks in the 1970s with her husband, Robert, Sallick has spent a career guiding the kitchen’s evolution from tucked-away workhorse to elevated entertaining space. While she speaks with authority on everything from functionality to the value of a hiring real kitchen specialist, Sallick is also concerned with how the space feels. She spends time in The Perfect Kitchen encouraging us to think about nostalgia, emotion and tactility, writing, “…though all of the senses come into play, one’s primary experience of the kitchen is tactile. Thus the elements on which you lay your hands, the surfaces and finishes and hardware, must deliver physical as well as functional reassurance, and of a sort specifically suited to you.” One entire section is named Prioritize Personal Preference.
While the generous photos of kitchens in every style—from stone floors and English countryside to lacquered cabinets and marble countertops—are inspiring, Sallick is an engaged author who also asks that we consider what matters in this essential domestic space and why. She invites personal essays from a few well-known friends in the culinary world who share their own kitchens. If a beautifully customized cutlery drawer isn’t enough to thrill you, there is also a delectable series of butler’s pantries, mudrooms, bar areas, wine tasting rooms to enjoy.
Sig Bergamin is the most famous interior designer you don’t know by name. In his native Brazil, he has the kind of following soccer stars and pop sensations enjoy. His well-heeled clients and admirers—a host of international editors, artists and collaborators—clamor for his unabashedly bold approach to decoration. Only art publisher Assouline could capture Bergamin’s extravagantly layered universe and sum it up in one satisfying word, Maximalism. For 300 pages, we are submerged into Bergamin’s fearless kaleidoscopic trip, where nothing actually matches but everything goes. Hand-painted bird figurines perch on a bathroom sink, gilded French antique dining chairs are upholstered in a cheetah print, vibrant modern art and precious Limoges plates are hung from every conceivable surface—including a few mirrored ones. While it’s easy to become transfixed by the color and audacity of each space, the real shock is how staggeringly difficult it is to pull this off. There isn’t a style, era or object Bergamin rejects, which suggests that every single moment conjured in one of his formal dining rooms or lush poolside hangouts was done with serious consideration. In short, it takes a refined eye to make the mix work. Don’t try to understand the designer’s genius, just appreciate the ride.