Book List of the Week

Interiors as Main Characters and Houses as Important Players: Books Every Interior Designer Should Read—Dominique Browning

By Steve Kroeter April 26, 2011
Dominique Browning

Interior design editor and writer Dominique Browning (New York and Rhode Island)

book list

Visitors entering Dominique Browning’s home for the first time frequently have the same reaction: “I’ve never seen so many books!” Her love of books, plus her many years of experience at the forefront of the journalistic side of the style and interior design worlds, made us eager to invite her to submit a book list—and happy when she agreed.

Browning notes that her interests in college gravitated toward philosophy, literature, and history, and these early intellectual orientations remain evident now in the titles on her list. She mentions novels by Edith Wharton, Henry James, and Charles Dickens, where “the interiors are as sharply defined as the main characters—indeed, the houses themselves are important players.” And among her selections is The Decoration of Houses (co-authored by Wharton), one of the classics of the history of interior design, written as “a reaction to the fussy, ornate Victorian style.”

On the philosophical side, she suggests books from authors who have chosen to discourse on the wisdom of the ages through volumes ostensibly directed to children (Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales and Charles de La Fontaine’s Fables, for example). These books are indispensible, she advises, for understanding how to navigate “the dense psychological thicket of a client’s disoriented mind.” At the same time, she suggests The House in My Head (Dorothy Rodgers) as “a rare glimpse into the way an engaged client enters into the design process.”

During her tenure at House & Garden, Browning was a thoughtful advocate of the idea of homes being intimately connected with the lives of their human occupants—which to us seems something of a foreshadowing of the concepts she has written about more intensely in her most recent book, Slow Love. You see this sensitivity to emotional intelligence, in particular, in what she writes about Jacqueline Kennedy after Dallas in the comment on Billy Baldwin Remembers, another book on Browning’s list.

Recommendations also include books on the 20th-century interior design icons Elsie de Wolfe and Syrie Maugham (“credited with designing the first all-white room”), plus books devoted to contemporary masters—about Axel Vervoordt and John Saladino, and by David Hicks.

When we asked Browning what she was currently reading, she responded: “I am lost in a FABULOUS novel by Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance, about India in the ‘state emergency’ under Indira Gandhi. Gorgeous, riveting, stunning. If you haven't read it. . . . 19th century novel meets 21st century.” We note that Eric Owen Moss must agree with Browning’s assessment, as A Fine Balance is on the book list he sent us.

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