Stanley Abercrombie

Critic; Curator; Writer; Editor; Lecturer / Architecture; Interior Design / United States / Books Editor, Interior Design magazine

Books Every Interior Designer Should Read

As for so many other things, I blame my parents: they planted the seed of my hunger for books—especially art and design books—with a Christmas present. When I was eight or nine, growing up in a small town in Georgia, a big box under the tree held nothing but a small card welcoming me as a member of The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. In those days MoMA assumed that members who lived more than a couple of hundred miles from Manhattan would seldom get to the museum, so in compensation those remote members were sent a clothbound catalogue of each exhibition. I read each one over and over, thinking all of them wonderful. . . . View the complete text
14 books
Francis de N. Schroeder

Compiled by a former editor-in-chief of Interiors, this book offers data that can be a key tool in making interior elements fit the people who use them. We may be a bit taller and a lot wider than we were in 1948, but this is still a useful reference.

Bernard Rudofsky

This may seem a strange choice, but this catalogue for an exhibition of the same name at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, shows us dramatically and humorously how design decisions based on fashion can affect us in ways that are awkward, painful, and even disfiguring.

Bernard Rudofsky

An entertaining and sometimes withering critique of the mid-century American house, with keen observations on our habits of dining, sleeping, and bathing.

Mario Praz

An art historian’s autobiography written in the form of a tour through his own house on Rome’s Via Giulia, seeing its furnishings, art, and objects, remembering their sources and significance for him. As a result we review his whole life. Of more importance, we are poignantly reminded of how meaningful and communicative are the inanimate objects we choose to live with.

George Nelson

Although in his preface Nelson admitted the book’s title might have been “How I See,” this is clearly a plea for all of us—particularly designers—to be more consciously aware of our surroundings.

Gyorgy Kepes

The original aim of this book was re-education to new visual phenomena (more abstract, less literal) and new spatial conceptions (more flowing, less static). Even though we are now fully attuned to abstraction and flow, this book still has interesting things to tell us about perceiving and expressing structure, relationships, and rapidly evolving reality.

Penny Sparke

Taking a cue from Walter Benjamin’s observation that “The advent of modernity coincided with the emergence of the private individual,” this is a scholarly but sprightly history of interior design from the Victorian era to today.

Gyorgy Kepes

Part of the six-volume Vision + Value series edited by Kepes, Professor of Visual Design at MIT, this volume never specifically mentions interior design, but its 13 essays (by artists, architects, a geneticist, and a mathematician) are repeatedly relevant to it. One example, the essay by art psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, begins: “One of the basic visual experiences is that of right or wrong. . . . The shape of a house, a shelf, or a picture frame may repose contentedly or show a need to improve by stretching or shrinking.”

D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson

Although it was first published almost a century ago and offers finer details than most of us need, this is a fundamental and poetically written book about the material world for which we must design—about how things grow and why they take the shapes they do, about weakness and strength, speed and size, symmetry and asymmetry, and the partitioning of space. I recommend the 1961 Cambridge University Press abridged edition.

Nikolaus Pevsner

First published in 1936 as Pioneers of the Modern Movement and given its new title in a Museum of Modern Art edition of 1949, this book teaches the importance to modernism of such transitional figures as William Morris, H. H. Richardson, Victor Horta, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Louis Sullivan. As Pevsner states, it shows that “the new style, the genuine and legitimate style of our [20th] century, was achieved by 1914.” The 2005 edition adds color illustrations and brings the story forward to Wright’s Guggenheim Museum and Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp chapel.

Gaston Bachelard

Four years before his death, French philosopher Bachelard wrote of the character of such spaces as cellars, attics, forests, nests, shells, huts, and drawers and considered what roles they play in our imaginations. He asked designers to envision the experiences their designs will generate, not to work with abstractions that may not affect their inhabitants. He opposed Cartesian logic and celebrated poetry, play, and daydreams. He was against the square and for the round. A dense book, best to be read slowly, glancing up occasionally for a daydream.

George Nelson

Nelson is, of course, best known for his furniture design, but he should be at least as much appreciated for his often iconoclastic writings about design. The design problems he observed in the adolescence of modern design are with us still, though rarely as wittily considered.

John Ruskin

Written by Ruskin as a polemic favoring Venetian Gothic style over the “pestilent” design of the Renaissance, this passionate book can now be read as a marvel of close observation and imaginative description of buildings and their interiors. Many modern readers, however, may prefer the 1960 one-volume abridged edition to the original three-volume version of 1851–53.

Henry David Thoreau

E. B. White once wrote that Walden was “a good argument for traveling light.” Surely such an argument for communing with nature, economy, liberty, and—above all—simplicity is a text from which a great many interior designers could benefit.

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