Todd Oldham

Architect; Graphic Designer; Fashion Designer; Interior Designer; Product/Industrial Designer; Lighting Designer / United States / Todd Oldham Studio

Todd Oldham’s Book List

It was a pleasure to make a list of my favorite books—the only challenge was stopping. I live in rooms filled with stalagmite towers of books and this is just a start.

The list consist of top-drawer efforts that are all treasures to me. I have visited them often, and my pleasure and fascination is never diminished. I hope you enjoy them, too.

In addition, some not-exactly-books have served as impeccable design resources for me: the Sears, J. C. Penney, and Montgomery Ward catalogues of 1940–85. These middle-of-the-road retailers featured hybrid designs based on authentic examples, and the end resulting catalogues are anthropological bibles. It is perhaps ill advised to seek inspiration in homogenized efforts, but I feel like Margaret Mead every time I look inside one and I always come out a little puzzled—concerned for the world, and inspired.

Finally, I should mention visionary Joe Holtzman’s award-winning magazine Nest, which ran from 1997 to 2004—one of the most singular celebrations of design ever. Free from pretention and with photography by fine artists and writings from literary luminaries, this art piece between covers shape-shifted with each issue. Each one was golden.

I hope Designers & Books asks me for another list someday.

18 books
Tina Fey

I am not in the minority with praise for this best-selling book. It is so beautifully written that I read it twice. Tina Fey’s stories are optimistic and rich, with perfectly observed detail. Her complete lack of meanness and spare, excellent language make this a real pleasure.

David Sedaris

David Sedaris edited this perfect collection of short stories that I have read at least eight times. Flawless stories from a sterling list of authors including Dorothy Parker, Tobias Wolff, Lorrie Moore, Jhumpa Lahiri, and many more. Bonus: proceeds from this collection benefit reading programs nationwide.

Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman’s retrospective at MoMA made it clear that she is a serious genius with a volume of distinctive influential work that has never waned in creativity, ingenuity, and execution. It is hard to isolate any of her extraordinary work that has not had a whopping influence on the state of the arts, but the film still series executed in the late 1970s and 1980s has now shaped generations of artists.

Pauline Johnson

This extraordinary book is in its millionth (almost) printing since the late 1940s. The covers have gotten a bit sad during the reprints, but the inside remains the same. This is as if Rod Serling had made craft books. The pictures are so beautiful and scary, and that is enough reason to enjoy this great book, but the detailed projects are all fascinating. You will never look at paper the same way again.

Diane Arbus

One of the first art books I ever owned, it still affects me today exactly the same way it did when I first saw it. Haunting, heartbreaking, and always beautifully framed, Arbus’s work remains astonishing.

Terence Conran
Dan Pearson

This book is a perfect combination of real helpful growing and design information and beautiful super-inspiring textures and details. Clearly, Conran has the same rich hand at gardening that he does at design and retailing.

Sima Eliovson

Brazilian landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx’s lush and exotic modernists are original, scrappy, and elegant. Burle Marx has a unique hand, combining graphic elements like his work on Brazilian beaches and hyper-verdant environments that feel otherworldly.

Gerald Ames
Rose Wyler
Illustrated by Charley Harper

This was my first introduction to biology when I was six. I lived in this book and memorized the drawings by the artist Charley Harper. His simplified illustrations created a lifelong love of biology for me; I can still remember what a sugar molecule looks like today, thanks to Charley.

Amy Sedaris

I love this book. I even got to work on it taking the portraits of Amy. but I would still say I loved it even if I didn’t get to work on it. This book is one of the most extravagant efforts on record with thousands of pieces of custom art and photography. Amy’s vision is perfectly realized on every page, with a singular language that is so rich you can open this book on any page and land on a jewel. Amy assembled a world-class team of artists to work on the book, including Hillary Moore, Justin Theroux, Billy Erb, Paul Dinello, Laurie Faggioni, and more; even the hand-lettering is by fine artist Ellen Berkinblit. The recipes are delicious and dead serious, but the unifying thread is Amy’s pitch-perfect writing. Whether offering up the recipe for SPA-GHETTI (really delicious!) or giving tips on how to wash your vagina (complete with drawings). this book is a must-read for us all. Her new book, Simple Times, is just as good

Note: Amy spoke at the Book Expo author breakfast when the book launched, along with fellow authors Barack Obama and John Updike, where she read the “How to Wash Your Vagina” chapter at 8:00 in the morning.

Musée des arts décoratifs, Paris

Jean Royère is a dazzling artist and designer whose drawings fill this lovely monograph. Much evidence of his clever design witchcraft is on display. His drawings are precise and bursting with charm and optimism, with the slight potential of danger in his daring takes on staircases and fireplaces. There are other great books on Royère, but I find I reach most often for this one.

Nick Waplington Photographer
Essay by Richard Avedon
Essay by John Berger

Nick Waplington’s photos had the same effect on me as Diane Arbus’s did. The work is beautifully composed, creating a perfect duality with the subject matter. Spooky and nervous-making, with essays by Richard Avedon and John Berger.

Sidney Lumet

A gift from Sidney Lumet—which he never had to give but did. Perfectly written and explained, Lumet shares set stories and film procedure with abundance and charm. Whether you are interested in making films or just watching them, this book is a game changer.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Lee Bouvier Radziwill

I received this book as a gift from a dear friend and it remains one of the best presents ever. The Bouvier sisters took a ship to Europe one summer and kept detailed drawings and diary entries of all they encountered. Well-bred and well-mannered Jacqueline and Lee had a unique version of travel involving “letters of introduction” and bygone luxury but remained unspoiled and grateful. Their doodles and sketches that appear throughout the book show the surprising talent the sisters had at drawing. This book is hard to find but worth the effort.

Philip McMillan Browse

The best book on plant propagation around. I have had great success with the techniques with its easy-to-follow beautiful, clean drawings.

A warning: this might be colossally boring to the uninterested and includes steps like: 
Step 1, cut here
Step 2, bury in soil ½ inch
Step 3, wait 2 years

Dorothy Parker

No one has the ability to string words together like Dorothy Parker. The stories remain fresh after years of reading them and I often marvel how contemporary they are. I have clearly distressed my paperback version so this was the first e-book I bought.

Very beautifully designed and realized by artist and designer Stefan Sagmeister. Offers excellent, sage, and sweetly off-kilter advice valuable to anyone entering or immersed in the world of design and the arts.

Lawrence Rinder

I am mystified by and under the spell of Tim Hawkinson. No one’s brain thinks or sees like his. Every piece is without reference and unique. The last piece by Hawkinson I saw was a bat made from Radio Shack bags that looked as if it had been plucked from the Natural History Museum.

Hutton Wilkinson
Foreword by Dominick Dunne

This smart, elegant survey of the artist-magician Tony Duquette is a testament to unbridled thinking and design derring-do. Duquette clearly could reimagine anything, with his entire oeuvre being made from something else. His own design language is informed by a classical motif and structure, which, if you squint, you can see at once in all of his designs. The second you focus you realize that everything is not what you think. His years of working in Hollywood influenced his scale and vision of possibility mixed with access to loads of stuff to rescue out of movie-set dumpsters. The world Tony Duquette created was like visiting another planet that was influenced by Earth and didn’t get it quite right but made it better.

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