Books Every Interior Designer Should Read
Good decorators must constantly feed their heads. They never stop hitting the refresh button. It doesn’t matter whether they’re looking for inspiration or sources, or looking with admiration or disgust. The point is they never stop looking. For that reason, there isn’t a bad design book out there, because every picture has something to teach the discerning eye; every project conveys lessons to be teased out. There aren’t terribly many books that actually try to teach the reader something useful about the profession. That’s why this list takes a historical turn. It helps to put today’s work into a context of the evolution of style. But I’ve also kept in mind that we don’t want to read books that put us to sleep.
Every student of interior decoration also ought to be familiar with the novelists who so beautifully capture the power of design—whether to good or ill effect. I heartily recommend the decadent Joris-Karl Huysmans’s Against Nature; Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence; Charles Dickens’s Bleak House; Henry James’s The Golden Bowl; and Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks. In all these novels, the interiors are as sharply defined as the main characters—indeed, the houses themselves are important players.
Inevitably, and sooner rather than later, every interior designer will wander innocently into the dense psychological thicket of a client’s disoriented mind. Rather than stay and fight, I suggest a retreat to moral high ground. For recovering the mind, and the spirit, I frequently turn to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys, or his Tanglewood Tales. These are retellings of Greek myths, and everyone knows that the Greek gods and goddesses are the only divinities wily enough to match today’s pantheon of decorators and clients. Even more fun for a designer is to pick up a copy of Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables, and sort out for himself who is the fox, who the crow, and what will become of all the characters when the door is finally shut on the finished project—and the designer can retreat to the quiet of his own home. Everything falls neatly into perspective. An illustrated edition is a great gift for the client who has it all—and a nifty way to signal that the spirit could use a little refurbishment, along with the living room.