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updated: 12/9/2013 10:36 AM

Books for the stylish coffee table

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  • Gift books for your design-savvy friends: left to right, "Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home"; "Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoraton"; "Love Where you Live: At Home in the Country"; and "Thomas Pheasant: Simply Serene."

    Gift books for your design-savvy friends: left to right, "Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home"; "Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoraton"; "Love Where you Live: At Home in the Country"; and "Thomas Pheasant: Simply Serene."

  • Interior design books to adorn your coffee table: left to right, "Beyond Chic: Great Fashion Designers at Home," Fifth Avenue Style," "Design Brooklyn: Renovation, Restoration, Innovation, Industry"; and "In With the Old: Classic Dècor from A to Z."

    Interior design books to adorn your coffee table: left to right, "Beyond Chic: Great Fashion Designers at Home," Fifth Avenue Style," "Design Brooklyn: Renovation, Restoration, Innovation, Industry"; and "In With the Old: Classic Dècor from A to Z."

By Jura Koncius, The Washington Post

Throughout the fall, the stack of design books on my desk just kept getting taller and taller. It now measures more than three feet. My job was to select eight books that were either worth buying for the home library or wrapping up as presents for design-savvy friends. It was a heavy task.

For those of you who don't think being a design writer is perilous work, take heed. As I was removing the shrink wrap from Mario Buatta's massive volume of his life's work, it slipped and landed on my foot. All I could think of was that this book, all seven pounds' worth, was trying to get my attention. And it did.

So after careful consideration, here are my recommendations.

"Beyond Chic: Great Fashion Designers at Home" Ivan Terestchenko ($85, Vendome Press)

People who love interiors often love fashion, too. So when you can get a peek into the homes of some of the most creative fashion minds in the world, it's worth a look. The 19 designers whose homes the book explores include Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani and Reed Krakoff. The exotic places: Venice, Paris, Marrakesh and Luxor, to name a few. In shoe maestro Manolo Blahnik's Victorian stone house in Bath, England, you'll see his nonchalant furniture placement and shelves holding his slipper collections. You can never see too many photos of Coco Chanel's three-room Paris apartment, filled with glittering chandeliers and gilded chairs. Stick your best perfumed candle on top of this book on your coffee table, and you'll achieve instant chic.

"Design Brooklyn: Renovation, Restoration, Innovation, Industry" Anne Hellman and Michel Arnaud ($40, Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Brooklyn has emerged as the new hub for creative types in the world of furniture design, art, food, music and fashion. The book highlights Brooklyn's renaissance, including furniture ateliers operating out of former auto body shops and the classic brownstones that have been retrofitted for hipster life. Hellman and Arnaud, who write and take pictures for the blog Design Brooklyn, are plugged into the latest borough mojo. The layout and photographs are lively and evocative, highlighting places such as a former garage with cinder-block walls that is now a hot pizza place and a Park Slope townhouse modernized with white paint for Manhattan loft refugees. I particularly enjoyed reading the "brief history of Brooklyn" chapter chronicling the ethnic groups that have settled there and the fate of its architecture through economic ups and downs.

"Fifth Avenue Style" Howard Slatkin ($60, Vendome Press)

Not everyone is fascinated by how the other half lives. And not many of us have elevator vestibules to decorate. But it's hard not to be intrigued by the over-the-top residence of New York designer Howard Slatkin and his dog, Winnie. Slatkin spent three years personally selecting every tassel, gilded statue, silk velvet banquette and chiseled doorknob for this grand place. (This is a guy who gives house guests a copy of the New York Times tied with a ribbon and delivered on a china-laden breakfast tray.) But he also shows the backstage spaces you really want to see: laundry room, closets, dressing room and flower-arranging space. Everything is meticulously organized and displayed. One of his tips: Line the closet or drawer where you keep your silver in tarnish-free cloth.

"In With the Old: Classic Decor from A to Z" Jennifer Boles ($34.95, Potter Style)

Atlanta blogger Jennifer Boles loves the oldies: skirted tables, screens, slipcovers and slipper chairs. She has boned up on the history of 100 decorating classics for her first book. Boles' blog, The Peak of Chic, which she began in 2006, is where she holds forth on romantic, timeless rooms. Boles, a House Beautiful contributing editor, was raised in a Southern home where she learned her way around passementerie and leopard prints. She's a walking encyclopedia of decorating history and design legends, such as Dorothy Draper and John Fowler. She can explain all those decorating terms you never quite figured out, including the origin of the Parsons table. (They were designed in the 1930s at the Paris branch of the Parsons School of Design.) Even if you collect mid-century modern, by the time you've read this, you'll wonder why you are living without chinoiserie and upholstered doors.

"Love Where You Live: At Home in the Country" Joan Osofsky and Abby Adams ($50, Rizzoli)

I can imagine sitting down by the fireplace with this book and studying the natural-looking rooms of its 18 homes full of old wood floors, painted benches and kilim rugs. They're the kind of comfortable places where dogs and cats are welcome to sit on the quilt bedspreads and curl up on the white slipcovered sofas. Reclaimed farmhouses and barns have their own inherent charm and individuality. Osofsky owns three Hammerton Barn stores in the Berkshires and Hudson Valley, so she has a retailer's perspective on what furnishings look good with the simplicity and patina of country architecture. Mixing in a few modern touches keeps the rooms fresh, and there are lots of ideas to borrow.

"Mario Buatta: Fifty Years of American Interior Decoration" Mario Buatta with Emily Evans Eerdmans ($75, Rizzoli)

The thought of floral chintz might send you running to your black leather lounge chair. But the first book by New York designer Mario Buatta is a must for serious design libraries. The romantic rooms by the so-called Prince of Chintz have graced showhouses and shelter magazines for decades. There is a chapter about his work at historic Blair House, the president's guesthouse. There are photos of his lavish projects, including Mariah Carey's New York triplex. This "Buatta-pedia" as Buatta likes to call it, has the big budget room shots interspersed with Buatta's personal photos and tales of a storied career, laughs included. The swagged window treatments, antiques, tassels, velvet walls, dog paintings and colorful needlepoint rugs illustrate his mastery of the English-country style. Buatta dedicates the book to his mother, who let him stay up late and rearrange the furniture, and to his Aunt Mary, who took him to antiques shops and changed her chintzes every season.

"Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home" Julie Carlson with the editors of the Web site Remodelista ($37.50, Artisan Books)

This well-ordered, well-photographed book is packed with great ideas. It includes detailed descriptions of a dozen cool houses, with ideas on how to "steal this look." There are very thorough chapters on bathrooms and kitchens. has an army of loyal followers who look for no-nonsense, sensible solutions for real problems: how to make the most of a 1940s bath, how to stylishly outfit your kitchen in Ikea cabinets or how to organize batteries in a wooden cutlery tray. Carlson, editor in chief of the Web site, used the book to highlight remodeling, redecorating and organizing, as well as budgeting. The "Remodelista 100" at the back of the book is like the Academy Awards of everyday household gear. (Think Isamu Noguchi Akari paper lamps and Miele vacuums.) You'll find yourself counting how many you have and wishing you had more.

"Thomas Pheasant: Simply Serene" Thomas Pheasant ($60, Rizzoli)

Washington designer Tom Pheasant, who established his studio in 1980, mixes modern and classical in beautiful rooms that emphasize "details over drama." Pheasant's rooms regularly grace the pages of Architectural Digest, and you'll find his clients all over the world. Pheasant thoughtfully describes his design philosophy and how he connects with his clients. His rooms, balanced with many subtle architectural details, tend to be done in soothing beiges, taupes, grays and creams. Yet one of my favorite rooms in the book is an inviting saffron-and-orange family room where the various shades and textures of the spicy colors create a space just as soothing as one in beige. It's a nice book to add to your library of the works of local interior designers.

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