ALL POSTS IN Book Reviews

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Have you ever wondered who created the very first sofa? Or what Victorians brought home from vacations as souvenirs?  Design*Sponge managing editor and self-described bibliophile Amy Azzarito tackles the history behind household objects (everything from curtains to chandeliers to cast iron) and how those stories intersect with modern life in her Past and Present column.

Amy’s new book by the same name is full of dinner party-worthy facts — things you might not know now, but will be glad you learned. For example, sofas and armchairs just didn’t exist until the early 18th century,  when Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour began to popularize private spaces made for comfort, not just display. Watching a movie just wouldn’t be the same curled up on a straight-backed wooden chair, right?

Past and Present Book Review on HGTV's Design Happens

Part history lesson and part DIY manual, she pairs 24 essays about interesting moments in decorative arts history with thoroughly modern projects developed alongside design trendsetters like Todd Oldham, David Stark and ConfettiSystem.

I especially love this black-and-white headboard project designed by Eddie Ross: It’s inspired by the iconic jasperware pottery created by Josiah Wedgwood, which features white relief designs on a matte black surface. This modern version is made from a hollow-core door, white PVC trim and decorative moldings.

Black and White DIY Headboard - HGTV's Design Happens

I chatted with Amy about the collaborations and her personal style. Plus, try one of the book’s DIY projects!

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How does a luxurious interior design sensation like Miles Redd create a brand of “cozy glamour” and step into the world of design? It all started at age five.

“When I was a boy growing up in Atlanta, Ga., my mother had a copy of Cecil Beaton‘s book The Royal Portraits that I used to flip through for hours on end. The photographs are heavy stuff: Princess Elizabeth in ermine coronation robes, holding scepters; Princess Margaret in an immense tulle ball gown splayed across a red damask banquette. After that, there wasn’t a prayer for me; my five-year-old eyes had seen what appeared to be the height of chic, and there was no turning back, at least not until I had my own tufted red madness. It was my first glimpse of the great big glittering world to which I wanted to belong.” — Miles Redd, The Big Book of Chic

The Big Book of Chic

Miles was inspired by chic, elegant decor at a young age and remains drawn to the same style of living to this day. I truly believe you can learn the most about a person by looking at their photographs, and interior designers often convey their personality through their designs. Miles’ newest book, The Big Book of Chic (Assouline, 2012), does just that. It’s 300 pages long with 150 full-page illustrations, giving readers a glimpse into what inspires Miles and provides intimate portraits of a beautiful, sophisticated life. You know, a group gathered around a well-dressed table enjoying hors d’oeuvres and cocktails; an elegant man stepping off a private jet with his dog; and a photo of Princess Margaret in a luxurious tulle ball gown. Quotes from Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Pablo Picasso, Henry James and Alexander Pope (just to name a few) are truly the icing on the cake of this beautifully-illustrated book.

Plus, readers can peek into several of Miles’ own townhouse and beach house projects in Houston, Atlanta, Millbrook and Locust Valley. What I love most about this book is that I can be staring at the details of an antique crystal chandelier on one page and turn to a picture of Miles in a tuxedo standing on a chair in a mirrored room.

Miles ReddCourtesy of Cameron Krone

Step inside the colorful, whimsical, inspirational, spirited and eclectic world that is Miles Redd.

The Big of Chic Interiors© Francesco Lagnese

“There are chemists who spend their whole lives trying to find out what’s in a lump of sugar. I want to know one thing. What is color?” — Pablo Picasso, featured in The Big Book of Chic

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If you’ve read the blog Young House Love at all, you know Sherry and John Petersik are real can-do people. They’ve completely made over a house and a half and chronicled their successes (and failures) for millions of readers in their signature fun-loving, no-nonsense voice.

But less than 5 years ago, they were remodeling novices too, muddling through their first project as homeowners. In short: If you’re new to home improvement, they’ve been in your shoes and want to help. That’s the idea behind their new book, Young House Love: 243 Ways to Paint, Craft, Update & Show Your Home Some Love.

Young House Love Book

To the Petersiks, home design isn’t about the big reveals, it’s about the small victories. That’s why they worked to come up with  more than 200 home improvement ideas (most of which you can accomplish in less than a day) that range from easy DIY projects like recovering a dresser with wallpaper to shopping and storage tips to no-nonsense remodeling advice. A favorite: ‘A home-decorating decision is not going to save the world…or end it…it’s all going to be okay.’

RELATED: See Sherry’s Best and Worst Room Picks

As a new-ish homeowner who only recently began experiencing the angst (It’s been a month…why haven’t I accomplished more?) and satisfaction (I actually completed something!) that is DIY remodeling, I appreciate that the Petersiks have been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale. Their project ideas are pretty darn inspiring, too:  Why yes, I think I will paint a pattern on my stair risers and frame a collage of favorite ticket stubs this weekend.

I chatted with co-author Sherry to learn more about the book and get her been there, done that remodeling tips. Plus: Get two sample step-by-step projects.
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HGTV’s Carter Oosterhouse (host of Carter Can, Million Dollar Rooms and Red, Hot & Green) has a new book out for homeowners who want to tackle their home design challenges (with practicality, style and a bit of environmental responsibility). Carter’s Way hit bookshelves just yesterday.

Carter Oosterhouse

Available for purchase Tuesday, October 2.

Carter knows how intimidating home design can be. With his upbeat “you can do it” attitude, he shows readers how to create budget-conscious design elements that they can implement with basic tools and a little DIY experience. His mission is to bring people’s imaginations to life when it comes to home design.

In Carter’s Way, he decodes the principles of design, using specific examples and stunning photography. He also teaches readers how to be environmentally responsible by using green products wherever possible — without adding huge costs or hassle to the project. Each chapter covers a different area of the house, acknowledging the diversity of layouts in today’s homes.

Carter Oosterhouse

This room uses a black-and-white background to showcase two stunning purple chairs. Don’t be afraid to flash your style (as long as it makes design sense).

I spoke to Carter this week about his book and while I had him, I asked a few other questions as well. Here’s what he had to say.
Interview With Carter & Chance To Win Autographed Copy of Carter’s Way

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Tomorrow, Gil Schafer III’s The Great American House:Tradition for the Way We Live Now will be hitting shelves in bookstores across the nation. And let me tell you, if you have a love for traditional design — you have to go find this book. We at Design Happens received an advance copy weeks ago and this book has been viewed by most everyone — and the resounding response from the team has been “That’s a stunning book!”

The Great American House

Available for purchase Thursday, September 20.

Gil takes the best of traditional architecture — from the detailed craftsmanship to the elegant, balanced proportions — and translates it for the kind of connected spaces that fit today’s family. The book is full of gorgeous photos, alongside personable, informative tips that illustrate the entire process of restoring, renovating, and building classic homes.

The Great American House inspired me to ask designers from across the U.S. to speak on what they consider to be classic elements of traditional design within American homes. Here is what they had to say.

Tobi Fairley of Tobi Fairley Interior Design:
American is by its very nature all-inclusive and about choice, individual taste, and freedom. To me, American interiors are bold. They’re courageous and risk-taking without forsaking tradition — timeless pieces of furniture layered among stunning patterns and striking colors. They’re also versatile and dynamic, affording a family comfort and luxury as well as high-function for daily use. Above all, American interiors are welcoming, hospitable and inviting; guests feel natural yet pampered.

Great American House

The family room features painted paneling, a rustic beamed ceiling and a fireplace surround made from granite.

More Designer Interviews & Photos From The Great American House

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When Lara Spencer, coanchor for Good Morning America, says that it’s easy to get “addicted to the hunt,” she’s not talking about stalking celebrity news stories. She’s referring to her off-the-clock passion: finding raggedy, outdated, neglected furniture via yard sales, thrift stores, flea markets and yes, even dumpsters, then transforming it and using it to create amazing, high-end rooms on a budget.

I can totally relate, because her lifelong addiction to “sale-ing” is my brand new one: Since I bought my first house, I’ve been a Craigslist and estate sale addict, and the thrill of finding (and transforming) that amazing piece is intoxicating. New to the hunt? Lara’s new book, I Brake for Yard Sales, shows you how to find furniture gems in the rough. (Get more of her tips tonight at 8/7c in her HGTV special!)

I Brake For Yard Sales Cover

Thrifting runs in Lara’s family — she spent nearly every weekend as a child hopping from secondhand shop to yard sale to auction with her mother and siblings — so she’s nailed down the tricks of the trade. She starts by helping you define a your style, then offers tips for how to recognize quality pieces (and duds.) She also shows you how to use the pieces once you get home — a vintage sign becomes an industrial-chic focal point in this space filled with modern, graphic touches.

Sign Transformation

From flea market find to living room showpiece.

And as Lara reveals how she makes over and styles each piece, she also tells you how much she paid for them: Can you believe she picked up an Eames lounger for just $150 and a pair of Picasso sketches for $30?! (So. Jealous.) This collection of medallions set her back only $20, while the ornate “musical” chair was a mere $50. Looks like a million bucks, right?

Yellow Wallpaper Antique Furniture

Retro yellow wallpaper gives traditional furniture a modern look.

The book also shows off some of the interiors she’s decorated with flea market and budget finds. My favorite: This living room in comedian Kathy Griffin’s house that’s decorated in a style the friends jokingly call “Palm Springs gay man going through a midlife crisis in his midcentury home who wants to attract the hottest guys to come over.”

Kathy Griffin Living Room

Kathy Griffin's living room, designed by Lara Spencer.

And Lara is full of ideas that take decorating outside the (reclaimed and repainted) box. After recovering her kitchen chairs one t0o many times, she found the perfect budget-friendly solution to two messy kids: cover the chairs with shower curtains!  She used one heavy-duty plastic curtain per chair, and hid the seams with chrome upholstery tacks.

Shower Curtain Dining Chairs

Dining room chairs recovered with high-end shower curtains.

When you finish the book, you’ll want to drive off and slam on the brakes for the nearest yard sale…I know what I’ll be doing this weekend!

Take a break from furniture scouting tonight at 8/7c to watch Lara redecorate her best friend’s home on the HGTV special I Brake for Yard Sales.

Happy bargain hunting!

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It’s hard for me not to turn my review of The Perfectly Imperfect Home: How to Decorate & Live Well (Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 2011) into an out-and-out love letter to its author, Deborah Needleman. Full disclosure: When I claim that I live with “approximately one million old shelter magazines” in my bio on the blog, 3/4 of those are the mag she founded, Domino. If you were also a fan of the dearly departed Domino, you’ll find a lot of its guiding whimsy and wisdom in these pages.

perfectly imperfect home cover

The main premise of Needleman’s new second book is that great homes showcase signs of life, not a meticulous look that a decorator has crafted for its inhabitants. In each of the chapters, she touches on the elements you need to make your place stylish, yet preserve its warmth at the same time.

The practical tips on things like bed height and proper placement of a rug in a room are helpful, but the book really shines when Needleman encourages personality. “Jollifiers” (i.e., “sentimental things that spread a little joy every time you cast your eye upon them”) and “Cozifications” can easily be neglected or ignored if one is too busy worrying about more superficial aspects of decor. The book is a great reminder to have fun with your spaces and focus on getting the best possible set-up for the life you actually live, peculiarities and all. The cute watercolor illustrations by Virginia Johnson have a charmingly dashed-off feel that further highlight and embody the casual-chic spirit of the book.

I’m thinking The Perfectly Imperfect Home would be a wonderful “jollifier” to add to any design junkie’s coffee table this holiday season.

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