Holiday Gift Book Lists 2013

Seven Very Particular Design Books for Very Particular Readers

Design books for discerning readers of all kinds from Book Board member Norman Weinstein

By Norman Weinstein December 10, 2013

An introduction to design that appeals to the entire family? An interior design book that's truly useful? Or even the perfect gift for the architect interested in poetry? Designers & Books Book Board member Norman Weinstein offers his personally curated 2013 gift guide to seven design books for very particular readers.

This symbol indicates that the book is available on the Designers & Books Online Book Fair—a great place to discover and buy (with some significant discounts) design books.


ARK Ronald Johnson

For readers gratified by discovering the poetry in architecture and the architecture in poetry:

ARK, an epic poem by Ronald Johnson, offers thrills to any adventurous reader with an eye for vernacular architecture. Taking as his inspiration Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, Johnson named the three sections of ARK after the structural elements of the towers: “The Foundations,” “The Spires,” and “The Ramparts,” Even if you don’t think of yourself as a poetry fan, give this inspiring flight of imagination a try. Imagine a poet with the philosophically inclusive intellect of a Buckminster Fuller and the visionary grasp of patterns in Nature found in a Thoreau. Add to these qualities the persistence of an inventive genius constructing over twenty years a book-length poem that is a towering assemblage of unlikely yet instructive kaleidoscopic images of the universe in motion. This major literary work didn’t steal the vocabulary of design. Johnson invented a whole new language to re-frame how we think design works.

Fashion: The Whole Story Marnie Fogg
Foreword by Valerie Steele

For readers searching for a one volume fashion encyclopedia, or for anyone experiencing getting dressed in the morning as a design adventure:



Fashion: The Whole Story is naturally not remotely the entire story. But enormous credit should go to Marnie Fogg, this book’s general editor, and book designer Alison Hau, for synthesizing historic timelines, fashion photography at its finest, and nimbly written capsule summaries of styles and key designers, into an unusually accessible package that encompasses the globe, albeit with a touch of Anglophilia along with a rapacious appetite for the wardrobes of dandies. This is a reference geared to fashion as iconic design—a level on which it succeeds with panache.

From Organisation to Decoration Graeme Brooker Editor
Sally Stone Editor

For readers deep into interior design who resent fluffy and class-conscious interior design journalism:

A collection of provocative essays edited by U.K. authorities Graeme Brooker and Sally Stone. Familiar writers like Robert Venturi and Witold Rybcznski share space with obscure practitioners and theoreticians. The 44 contributors are immensely more cerebral than the best-selling authors who surface in home design magazines. So if the largely superficial treatment that interior design receives at that level wearies you, this vigorously thoughtful essay collection should work as a reminder that “interior designer” is just as noble and intellectually exacting an occupational title as “architect” or “engineer.”

Great Design Philip Wilkinson et al.

For families whose love of design runs across generations:

Rare indeed is a coffee table book celebrating exemplary designs in terms likely to satisfy readers between 8 and 80. In fact, this book may be the first. A team effort created by polymath Philip Wilkinson and Cara McCarty, Curatorial Director of Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Great Design offers highly detailed visual analysis through lavish illustration and gloriously lucid writing about 100 or so iconic examples of remarkably designed furniture, graphics, car design, and more. Wilkinson and McCarty achieve that difficult balance between a simple primer on design and a sophisticated meditation upon masterpieces. A Fender Stratocaster guitar and Helvetica typeface comfortably fit together in this lively global survey.

History of Design: Decorative Arts and Material Culture, 1400-2000 Pat Kirkham Editor
Susan Weber Editor

For readers hungry to learn about design across eras and cultures, designers with a serious yen for a sweeping historical overview:



There is something absurdly overambitious about History of Design: Decorative Arts and Material Culture, 1490–2000 edited by Pat Kirkham and Susan Weber of the Bard Graduate Center. Global in scope, richly illustrated, and weighing enough to be integrated into anyone’s exercise routine, with chapters written by over two dozen scholars, this book is ideal for readers with a Promethean appetite to learn about design history in depth. Scholarly yet generally readable, close attention is paid to the style, form, materials, and techniques associated with interiors, furniture, textiles and dress, glass, and so on. Exhaustive—not exhausting. Rather like walking through the front door of an imaginary museum of design and letting the artistic wealth of the ages overwhelm.

Introduction to Architectural Technology William McLean
Pete Silver

For readers in love with technology, or for designers who wish they understood and loved tech more:



By a pair of U.K. academics, Pete Silver and Will McLean, with contributions by Dason Whitsell, a Texas engineering professor. Sound sleep inducing? Prepare to be happily surprised. These writers have a remarkable gift for elucidating complex technologies supporting architectural design. Even a technophobe like me can appreciate the one-page explanations of tech framed by useful photographs and diagrams in abundance.

Matisse: The Chapel at Vence Marie-Thérèse Pulvenis de Seligny

For readers with a designing mind on a spiritual search:

Matisse considered the capstone of his long fertile artistic career the work he did on a small French chapel. In in totally dazzling oversized art book worthy of the subject, Marie-Thérèse Pulvenis de Seligny glowingly illuminates the creativity of Matisse who was in delicate health in his late 70s when taking on this project. Copious recent photographs of the chapel supplement the author’s finely tuned descriptions of the murals, stained glass, even vestments and altar, that Matisse lent his life-affirming vitality to in the shadow of his own dying. Biblical figures dance on chapel walls with an immediacy even die-hard atheists can find touching. De Seligny is far from the first art historian to write in detail about Matisse’s chapel, but it is hard to imagine any future writer approaching this subject with a sharper eye or more capacious heart.

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