April 12, 2015
Introducing Design Commerce Agency’s essential reading list of influential interior design books.
One of the great pleasures of our work is the window we get into the diverse lives and careers of so many amazing interior design talents. Some of our favorite clients and friends dazzle us even more when they find the time to share their ideas and visions in a generous, meaningful way that everyone can share: A book.
As design aficionados, we love the imagery, the poetry, and the production values of a great design book. As the founders of Design Commerce Agency, working as matchmakers with designers, we admire these volumes even more. Books serve as a durable reminder of the power of clear point of view and positioning in the marketplace. Their authors have an influence that’s far greater than the sum of their individual projects. Their ability to be so eloquent and perceptive about their own interior design work is something we can’t help but admire and try to learn from.
Herewith a list (the first of many, we hope) of some of our favorite design books.
Transforming a French country house
An Invitation to Château du Grand-Lucé: Decorating a Great French Country House by Timothy Corrigan with Marc Kristal
Very few interior designers in the modern era get the chance to spend as much time and energy on a single property as Timothy Corrigan. Fueled by love and dreams, he undertook a remarkable restoration of a dilapidated château in France’s Loire Valley. His account of the house’s transformation is a rare chance to follow an entire process.
Timothy, based in Los Angeles, is known for his combinations of comfortable, even cushy, furnishings with eclectic arrays of antiques and art. So it’s fascinating to see – through the vivid photography of Eric Piasecki – how his approach plays out in a rambling 45,000 square-foot 18th-century manor that was long on perfectly-preserved interior detail but short on basic creature comforts. “The electrical system couldn’t be used, there was no heat, and about four bathrooms served the whole place,” he recalls. The forecourt was a municipal parking lot; the kitchen was in a different building.
Timothy recalls visiting a remarkable Paris house, today the Musée Nissim de Camondo near Parc Monceau, when he was 19 or 20. The original occupant, a banker, had made one room his personal domain, breaking the rigidly formal porcelain and gilt of the house with personal touches like an 18th-century swivel chair. That experience shaped Timothy’s attitude as he became a sought-after interior designer after a successful career in advertising, and clearly governed his approach to this restoration. “I understood as never before that comfort and elegance needn’t be mutually exclusive; that if a room didn’t answer to the way you wanted to use it, it didn’t matter how beautifully designed the space might be–it simply didn’t work,” he writes. Thus, the kitchen was relocated to the original boudoir of the lady of the house, retaining and carefully protecting the original wood floors and walls, while installing every needed modern convenience.
Timothy makes the house available for weekly rentals when he’s busy elsewhere. (Find out more here.) Meanwhile, the book is the next best thing to being there, with lots of practical advice and much vicarious pleasure. | See the book.
Flower power, and then some
Jeff Leathem: Visionary Floral and Art Design
The next time someone sends us 12,000 flowers, we know whom to call. Jeff’s day job is Artistic Director for the Four Seasons George V hotel in Paris. Every week, 12,000 fresh stems arrive from Amsterdam, and he and his team create at least two dozen major arrangements for the hotel’s public areas as well as 150 smaller bouquets. The updates are done throughout the day so that guests can observe and interact with the process if they wish. Private patrons, including Oprah, Givenchy, Hermès and Alexander Wang, hire his services for events around the world. “They are easily the most influential floral designs of the last decade,” says Style Saloniste.
That makes Jeff’s latest book, his third, essential reading for floral artists, event planners, wedding designers, and those who believe that too many flowers are never enough. The book is photographed by Nadja Swarovski, who has collaborated with Jeff on on Swarovski designs for the family’s crystal business and co-produced many events with him.
For design business people like us, Jeff’s work is an instructive example of how an intense focus – and a lot of hard work – can create opportunities no one ever realized were there. The Ogden, Utah, native, a former fashion model, got his only training on his first floral-arranging job at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Five years later, the hotelier recruited him to the current role in Paris.
For just about everyone, the book is a sumptuous, beautiful indulgence. | See the book.
Out of many influences, layers of wholly original style
Collected Cool by Jay Jeffers with Alissa Jeffers
If you don’t already recognize the name of Jay Jeffers, you will soon. The San Francisco interior designer is also a retailer, with a carefully-curated shop in the city’s Tenderloin district, Cavalier, and an author, with this rich volume showcasing a diverse, captivating array of work.
Jay grew up in Dallas. “Pouring over my prized cache of Architectural Digests, I knew I wanted to make houses that looked like that,” he explains in the book. As can happen, there was a side trip into advertising, and Jay ended up working for Gap Inc. in San Francisco. But the bug was still there. He enrolled in an interior design course and left Gap to work for Richard Witzel Design. He set up his own firm in 1999. Now he’s IN Architectural Digest, which found the book an “entertaining exploration of his adventurous, eclectic style.”
Jay generously cites major influences, including the work of designers Paul Wiseman, Suzanne Tucker, Gary Hutton, Leavitt Weaver, and above all, David Hicks. “Discovering his work was monumental for me,” Jay says. “I felt like we must have been related in a past life.”
But Jay’s vocabulary is distinctly his. The design book, lovingly photographed by Matthew Millman, divides his work into four groups. “Collected Cool” rooms are thoughtfully layered, revealing themselves over time through myriad details. “Bold Bespoke” projects shine a sartorial lens on custom elements essential to their unique style. “Unabashed Glamour” denotes rooms that make an instant impression with their luxe finishes, sumptuous materials, and sparkle. “Casual Chic,” as the name implies, is about comfortable but stylish spaces with a sense of ease, including his own renovated 60’s-vintage ranch house in the Napa Valley crossroads of St. Helena.
“Design is a layering process,” Jay explains. And the results, in his hands, are a delicious layer cake of flavors and colors. | See the book.
The world is his classroom
Crossing Boundaries by Vicente Wolf with Christine Pittel
This is the second of Vicente Wolf’s three books. We like the insight it provides into how he combines passions, life experiences and work. As the Cuban-born interior designer explains in the foreword, “my education didn’t come from school but from experience. Travel is my medium, the world is my classroom, and the passport–stamped in countries by the score–is my diploma.”
It helps that he is also a photographer of note, capturing images of his own design work and of his travels. In Crossing Boundaries we get to tag along on his journeys, see how he brings back ideas and puts them into clients’ homes, and even pick up some souvenir-hunting tips. (There’s a particular poignancy to the section about Syria. The inspirations of ancient Aleppo are sadly lost to us for the forseeable future.)
The tonalities of Ethiopia show up in the living room of a Long Island beach house. A Los Angeles study that is a riot of reds draws directly from the lacquer of a tray acquired on a journey to Burma. Borneo and Madagascar round out the journeys featured in the book. “I want to travel to every single place and buy every single thing in the book,” says Richard David Story, Departures magazine’s editor. We do, too. | See the book.
Advice worth heeding
Your Home, Your Sanctuary by Clodagh with Heather Ramsdell
For Clodagh, the Irish-born interior designer who now makes her home in New York City, “natural” is more than just your choice of fibers and woods. Her first tome, published just as recession was about to depress us all several years back, makes that clear.
Her book is full of exceptionally practical tips for daily living. “Your home environment should be your nanny,” Clodagh once explained to The New York Times. It should make you feel “welcomed and warm,” she said, as soon as you walk in the door.
Whether it is a sensual bedroom, soothing spa bathroom, or a lively common room that can also be transformed into a quiet lounge, she provides ways to cleanse and balance spaces. A useful feature is her “Top Nine” visual checklist of essential design elements. The photography, by her husband Daniel Aubry, illustrates her points with admirable grace. It’s clear why clients such as Six Senses turn to her to create resorts like their new property in Portugal’s Douro Valley.
For Clodagh, design and architecture are healing arts that also support the body. Details matter. Make sure your front door unlocks easily. “Cranky locks create cranky people,” she says. Organize: “You should not need a sherpa guide to find food items in your kitchen.” Clear out the bedroom: “Make sure you can’t see any paperwork from your bed.” It’s hard to top this one: “Live life as if you will some day die.”
Even if you can’t manage to fit a fireplace into your bathroom (as can some of her lucky clients) there is much to learn here. Just turning the pages calms us down. | See the book.