Books Every Interior Designer Should Read
All my life, I’ve been “into” interior design in one way or another. It began with looking at the so-called shelter magazines, moved on to watching my mother make decorative choices for our home, to deciding in college that this was an area that went beyond “pretty” and revealed unsuspected facets about my world. To discover, explore, and try to understand the cultural meanings of what would become to be known as material culture would become the governing intellectual passion of my adult life.
From the beginning, I read everything I could discover or that people recommended about what then was simply called interior design. I quickly realized that most people thought of the field as an intellectual sideline at best, a froufrou pursuit of pretty things as a relaxation from more serious pursuits.
That was one of the primary reasons I started the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture. A mouthful of a name, perhaps, but genuinely representative of the new thinking about interior design as a field broadly representative of culture in any given country or area at a specific moment but—even more—the most significant repository of what people thought and felt about their culture at that time. To me, this is endlessly fascinating and endlessly illuminating and one of the most important areas in understanding any given time or culture.
It is with this background in mind that I have recommended the list of books that follow. All are brilliant, all are illuminating, but I would like to bring attention to some particular favorites and point out an example of what is on the horizon.
The Finest Rooms in America is an especially well-balanced survey of interiors of the past 200 years in this country because it has no bias toward any one period or style and gives the reader a clear and detailed view of this country’s development. On a broader scale, who cannot appreciate, value, and continually refer back to Mario Praz’s An Illustrated History of Interior Design? Another favorite of mine (I’m prejudiced, it’s true) is Women Designers in the USA, 1900–2000, which was published by the Bard Graduate Center in conjunction with an exhibition in 2000–2001.
But there’s so much that is intriguing just over the horizon. For example, a new journal, Interiors: Design, Architecture and Culture, a three-times-per year publication, edited by Anne Massey and John Turpin, whose first issue appeared in July, 2010, is devoted to the analysis of the spaces we occupy, and promises to enliven the field with stimulating and conversation-provoking essays on the world of interiors.
In short, for me, interior design is the newest and certainly among the most exciting of current research in fields in what we call “the arts.” Most excitingly it’s a field open to anyone interested in the broadest sense in civilization, what it is and how it developed – and continues to develop. I am so pleased to be able to introduce you to some of what I consider the best and most thoughtful thinking in the field to date.