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“What We’re Reading” brings you our monthly pick of new design-related books, along with comments from our editors. For May, here’s a look into the world of French cottage decor, the grand apartment homes of 5th & Park Avenues and the retro-fantasy stylings of the Steampunk movement.
HGTV Designs Happens - What We're Reading - May 2011 READ MORE

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When renowned interior designer Charlotte Moss agreed to take time out of her busy day to talk with about her new book, we were thrilled. Ms. Moss has enjoyed a celebrated career; most recently she was honored with Elle Decor’s Vision Award and named a top 20 design icon by Traditional Home. Charlotte Moss Decorates is an entertaining and insightful read. Packed with more than 200 photographs of sublime interiors, coordinating scrapbooks for each space, as well as an abundant offering of Ms. Moss’ “Why Not?” decorating maxims, it’s impossible not to feel uplifted and inspired after finishing the book. It’s a resource to turn to again and again. We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did our time talking with Ms. Moss, who exudes great warmth, humor and Southern charm. (And now we know what podcasts she downloads on her iPad to get in the zone!)

Charlotte Moss Decorates :: Photos by Pieter Estersohn

Photographer Pieter Estersohn

AM:  The gorgeous interiors featured in your new book, Charlotte Moss Decorates, are Kips Bay and other show house rooms. Why?

CM: When I sat down, I thought, “What are the messages in my head that I want to communicate? What can they learn from me?”  The only time a designer is really on equal standing to someone decorating on their own is in a show house, because it’s blank and up to you. When you have a client, they are giving opinions. A show house is all about me. I’m just like someone at home staring at four blanks walls and asking where do I start?” That is the question I get wherever I go—”where do you start?” Everyone wants to know, do I start with the rug? You don’t start with a damn thing! It’s not about things. It’s about ambiance. You want a place where you walk in and say, “I want to be there!”

Design Trade Secrets & More

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For all you Anglophiles, Francophiles and Aussiephiles out there, here’s what we’re reading this month at

• Lili Zarghami, Managing Editor: I just finished reading the Feb/March issue of the Aussie mag Adore Home. With young boy and girl twins (4th birthday tomorrow!) at home, I am constantly searching for well-designed, gender neutral ideas that I can use for their shared bedroom. Personally, I cannot abide cartoon characters or anything overly precious. So, I was thrilled to see three different rooms in Adore Home that feature bold, bright palettes for kids rooms that would work for boys or girls (or both at the same time!) as well as the parents who have to share the same house.

Adore Home magazine - The British Edition: Circus-Inspired Boys Bedroom

As this new digital shelter magazine is produced on the other side of the globe, many of the products will be hard to find in the States. But ideas and colors know no boundaries. (If you like the Catherine Martin Circus Silhouettes wallpaper shown above, you’re in luck. Sydney Harbour Paint Company in California carries it in red and blue.)

• Anna Millman, Online Programming Manager: From the haute couture dining room in a 220-foot superyacht to one of the biggest apartments in Manhattan, Alberto Pinto has been called “an interior design magician,” and his work spans practically every continent. As seen in his latest book, Alberto Pinto Today, Pinto achieves effortless perfection in every vernacular with artful vigor. After reading it, I think you’ll agree, Pinto’s talent is limitless. (No surprise, he’s a Chevalier (knight) awarded the Legion d’Honneur, the highest civilian award in France.)

Alberto Pinto Today - new book

And Third on Our Reading List…

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The first images to come out of a natural disaster never fail to leave me stunned. Well, this is what the aftermath of an economic disaster in our own country looks like. This is Detroit. Like they say in the Chrysler Eminem Super Bowl commercial, the Motor City has been to “hell and back.”

Detroit in Ruins - Lee Plaza Hotel

Ballroom, Lee Plaza Hotel

Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre’s photographs of this once magnificent city are haunting … devastating … and beautiful. They say in their book and website, “Ruins are the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies and their changes, small pieces of history in suspension.”

Detroit in Ruins - William Livingston House

William Livingstone House

Marchand and Meffre’s photos remind me of the genius of man, the glory of great of design and the fragility of even steel and stone. For those who built Detroit and those who live in Detroit, I want to see this city make a come back.

Four More Photos

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I discovered in my conversation with architect and interior designer José Solís Betancourt and interior designer Paul Sherrill that this gallery space with the Peter Fox painting (notice the “dripping” bottom) was almost the cover image of their first book, Essential Elegance.

The equally stunning and opulent living room focal point, in fact, graces the cover. Both are from their complete renovation of a grand estate in San Juan and are a tantalizing preview to the “couture” design work of their firm, Solís Betancourt. While their stunning high-end interiors featuring master works of art are a signature of their more than 20-year career, I cannot help but fall for designers on the AD 100 (the Oscars® of the design world) who also see value in framing the art works of their client’s children.

AM: José, you’re quoted as saying, “Designing a residence is like designing a set for an opera.” Elaborate on that in terms of one of the houses featured in your book.


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The holiday spirit has arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The official White House Christmas Tree, a Douglas-fir, dazzles special visitors in the Blue Room. And the National Christmas Tree, a 40-foot Colorado blue spruce, is swathed in LED lights on the Ellipse.

Photo: NPS

If you’re like me and can’t make it to D.C. this season, then be sure to catch HGTV’s White House Christmas 2010 special. It airs tonight at 8p/7c. Host Genevieve Gorder provides an insider’s look at how dozens of volunteers joined forces with White House staff to carry out this year’s decor theme, “Simple Gifts.”

The lighting of a National Christmas Tree dates back to 1923. (The Easter Egg Roll to 1878.) Annual traditions and Oval Office renovations remind us that while it may look the same on the outside, the “people’s house” is constantly evolving on the inside.

Recently I talked with Ulysses Grant Dietz and Sam Watters about their book, Dream House: The White House as an American Home. They were wildly fun to interview, and their book is a true page turner, for interior design and gardening fans alike. (This is from someone who found high school U.S. history studies to be a complete snore.)

So enjoy this excerpt from my conversation with Ulysses and Sam, pick up a copy of Dream House and don’t miss tonight’s HGTV White House Christmas 2010 special.

AM: I imagine most people assume the White House has always been gloriously decorated, with each administration doing complete renovations. But in your book you describe attempts to decorate the White House as “wrestling a leviathan into submission.” Tell me about some of the design challenges in the first 100 years of the White House.

The Answer After the Jump

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Design may not be the one true love of your friends and family. But that doesn’t mean you can’t improve their lives and look of their homes via a subtle infusion of style. So, what would be the snazziest Christmas present ever?

A coffee table made by you complete with coffee table design book. Here are instructions for the DIY coffee table pictured above. Below are our Top 20 design book picks sure to be a hit with someone on your holiday gift list.

  1. The Fashionista – Allegra Hicks: An Eye for Design by Allegra Hicks & American Fashion Designers at Home by Rima Suqi
  2. Next Up: The Classic Movie Buff and The Politico

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Have you ever visited a friend’s home and felt embraced by the spirit of the house? Designer Chris Madden explains how to create this important and often elusive design element in her latest book, the first to document her own homes.

AM: You’ve done something quite magical with your book. Not only have you illuminated how you bring forth the soul of a house, your book itself resonates with those ephemeral feelings of home. It truly is a warm and intimate journey through your New York and Vermont homes. Why did you want to write The Soul of a House?

See Chris’ Answer + More

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What do Barbra Streisand and Jonathan Adler have in common? Well…

  • Streisand is star of stage and movie screen. Adler, star of the TV screen and design scene.
  • Streisand and Adler both have adorable dogs in neutral hues (Samantha and Liberace).
  • And they both love interior design and color.

Except orange. Barbra…not so keen on orange. Her favorite color? Burgundy. Adler…he LOVES orange, along side pink, turquoise, brown and navy. Something else they have in common? New books, available in stores now.

Read On

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Amy Sedaris proved she’s a deliriously entertaining hostess with her bestselling first book, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, which included tips on everything from removing vomit stains to avoiding awkward introductions. While it was light on crafts, it was not light on side-splitting laughs.

The riotousness continues with her latest release, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People, and the handmade movement will never be the same. Amy’s book tackles such questions as “What is the quickest way to obtain feathers from a bird?” and “Why is there a half-naked man wearing a short yellow robe on page 250?” Here are her answers to our interview questions that have nothing to do with the half-naked man.

Besides the obvious difference in craft content, what makes Simple Times stand out from your first book, I like You?

Click For Amy’s Answer

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For the past several months, Vicente Wolf’s blog has featured a countdown to the release of his third book, Lifting the Curtain on Design, a wait I liken to the anticipation of attending a master class with one of the greats. The date is finally here, so head to your local bookstore, tear off the protective plastic and dive into this 223-page journey with Vicente.

Vicente Wolf took some time from his busy schedule to talk with Design Happens about his latest work, how Benjamin Moore’s Jade Garden can be a neutral color and the design world’s love/hate relationship with HGTV.


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From the traditional cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea to the modernist cabin built on a lava flow landscape, author Linda Leigh Paul’s new book, Cottage and Cabin, is both a meditative and jaw-dropping collection of 40 houses taken from five of her previous books. Each provides insight into structures that meet the specific needs of the owner, but where landscape (and the potential destructive force Mother Nature) is paramount in the design.

So take a blog-size tour of Cottage and Cabin based on our recent conversation with Linda, and enjoy stunning photographs that are sure to inspire you to start planning your idyllic refuge. First on our stop, an island getaway by a volcano.

Photographer: J.D. Peterson - Architect: Craig Steely


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“We forget how painfully dim the world was before electricity…open your refrigerator door and you summon forth more light than the total amount enjoyed by most households in the 18th century.”

– Bill Bryson

That’s something to reflect on the next time you replace a light bulb in a fixture or appliance. Or arrange a decadent candlescape for a dinner party for eight (or a bubble bath for two.)

Stockholm Iron Lantern by Bobo Intriguing Objects

All sorts of light bulbs went off for me yesterday when I turned off my morning alarm and turned on NPR to hear Renee Montagne’s interview with Bill Bryson on his new book. At Home: A Short History of Private Life represents Bryson’s challenge to himself to “write a history of the world without leaving home.”


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Colors for Your Home: 300 Designer Favorites (Hearst, 2010) is a go-to guide to help you easily select colors for your home. Based on House Beautiful’s monthly color column, this book brings the color specialists straight to you. It includes more than 300 paint formulas with fun, inspiring names like Smashing Pink, Blue Angel and Perfect Pear.


Benjamin Moore's Smashing Pink and Blue Angel; Dunn Edwards Perfect Pear


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Garden Guide: New York City Revised Edition (W.W. Norton, 2010) is a concise, well-researched pocket-sized guide for anyone wanting to explore the green spaces of New York. Visitors and New Yorkers alike will benefit from the subway and bus directions, history and detailed points of interest for over 100 gardens. Authors Nancy Berner and Susan Lowry have separated this book from other garden guides by not only including well-known public gardens like Central Park, but also focusing on community gardens and eccentric gems from all five boroughs.

design-happens_healing-garden533x280The Healing Garden on Staten Island

  More NYC Gardens

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