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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 She’s referring to her off-the-clock passion: finding raggedy, outdated, neglected furniture via yard sales, thrift stores, flea markets and yes, even dumpsters, then transforming it and using it to create amazing, high-end rooms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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“What We’re Reading” brings you our monthly pick of new design-related books, along with comments from our HGTV.com 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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