Live by the book or create your own wonderful outlook

A number of new books either encourage us to see the beauty in seemingly mundane designs or to decorate our houses free of social constraint, writes Kya deLongchamps.

This year, the choice of interiors titles is rich and wide. Think about the needs and tastes of the person to whom you are treating a great book.

Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, by Ingrid Fetell Lee, Rider, €13.85 (in paperback)

Could we really craft surroundings that influence our mood or whole way of life? Would we recognise elements of public buildings and spaces that could stoke a moment of bliss? 

Former IDEO design director, Ingrid Fetell Lee, focuses on the familiar, material prompts to inner happiness and peace. 

It’s a daily delight she terms “the intangible in the tangible” and highly accessible to all of us.

It might seem counterintuitive, even frivolous, to anyone exploring the more meditative side of spiritual development. 

Can the design character in the babyface of a Fiat 500 spark what Lee terms the “aesthetics of joy”? 

A tangle of history, magical thinking, travel and neuroscience describe not simply a hit of visual ecstasy, but foundation stones to lasting happiness, that inner calm and contentment we all long for.

Fetell’s eight-year journey, collated in this lovely little book, is backed by considerable research. 

If your heart and home are a drudge, take a walk of wonder with this remarkable woman — you’ll be left trying to remember why you ever short-changed yourself. My favourite book on house interiors and on the human interior.

Be Bold: Interiors for the Brave of Heart, by Emily Henson, Ryland, Peters & Small, €25

A tropical print sofa by Swoon, lights similar to Seletti, and canvas print from a local junk shop, as shown in Be Bold: Interiors for the Brave of Heart, by Emily Henson.
A tropical print sofa by Swoon, lights similar to Seletti, and canvas print from a local junk shop, as shown in Be Bold: Interiors for the Brave of Heart, by Emily Henson.

If it were a movie, it would be titled Escape from Planet Vanilla.

Many interiors reflect little more than our paralysing social insecurity in showing any independent character. 

These homes are not muted, they are mute. What would your home look like if you didn’t care what anyone else thought? 

If Dulux didn’t dictate spiced honey as their colour for 2019, what would you choose? Emily Henson invites us to decorate “like no one’s watching”, to make a spirited statement, to be playful, daring, positively wild.

“‘This book is not about calm, quiet interiors and it is a far cry from the restrained, pared-down Scandinavian look — instead, it’s for the brave of heart,” she says.

What’s compelling, amid this colourful riot of personality interiors, are Henson’s personal revelations. 

She recounts how her home has inadvertently reflected the happiest and the most tumultuous passages of her life. 

There’s everything from kitsch rule-breaking to luxurious, colour-saturated, full-on sophistication, all shot with punchy design, both vintage and new. 

Hundreds of clever budget cheats are included. Every gorgeous picture by Catherine Gatwicke has some information-rich style story to tell, including lush, French, punk-rock baroque. 

Ideal for anyone from the seasoned decorator, whose courage needs a tickle, to the uncertain, but spirited beginner.

Design for Children, by Kimberley Birks, Phaidon, €50

The Isetta bubble car from the 1950s, as seen in the book Design for Children, by Kimberley Birks
The Isetta bubble car from the 1950s, as seen in the book Design for Children, by Kimberley Birks

Toys and pieces scaled-down for our most precious dependents are often highly reflective of the design, technology, and even the architecture of their time of making. 

They foreshadow changes in our interiors and even our parenting styles. 

In this fascinating little stocking filler, suited to a design follower, student, or interested parent or minder, Kimberley Birks examines 450 of the most interesting and well-crafted pieces intended for children.

You might be surprised to find the offerings of feted, 20th-century aesthetic gurus included here, among them Marcel Breuer, Jean Prouvé, Marc Newson, Kengo Kuma, Philippe Starck and Marcel Wanders. 

The ideas — from a toy 1949 Roadster Saab, to Alvar Aalto’s small, cantilevered chairs — are ingenious, and little wonder. 

There’s nothing more exacting than the curious, sensory hungry child. Innovation from the early 1900s, from plywood to plastics, is boldly trailed on children’s functional furniture and toys. 

Some of the 450 designs, including Jannes Hak’s Miffy Lamp (1973), are still in production.

Birks has curated carefully, arguing that design-aware parents want “a visual reprieve from the onslaught of garish, blink, beeping sanity teasers”.

Swiss industrial designer, Yves Béhar, is one of the highlighted contemporary creators (his robotic Snoo crib, with smart embedded sensors, was something of a first).

Dior and His Decorators, by Maureen Footer, Vendome, €70

Dior’s setting for his haute couture was alwayssumptuous.
Dior’s setting for his haute couture was alwayssumptuous.

The ultimate coffee table ‘whump’ for Christmas, this glorious book showcases the refined work of the two interior decorators associated with the chicest four letters in fashion.

Victor Grandpierre and Georges Geffroy, working independently on the designer’s homes and business addresses, restated the confident, belle époque Paris salon style from the late 1940s.

French scholar in the decorative arts, Maureen Footer offers a fascinating guide through the Trente Glorieuses (1945-1975) — the coming of Christian, the froth and grandeur of Louis XVI confections, and a catalogue of breathtaking postwar haute couture. 

With classical educations, Grandpierre and Geffroy had a dense, personal catalogue to draw on, including their passionate knowledge of antiques and materials, an insistence on quality, 18th-century crafting techniques, a courage for innovation, and patrons with limitless money to let the fantasy fly.

Their ‘New Look’ was highly derivative and fed off a bruised nostalgia for the bohemian upper-class existence before the Nazi occupation. 

It was a time when women had played exquisite, untouchable creatures to chivalrous gentlemen. It sewed up neoclassic with touches of modernism, just as Dior’s clothes would do. 

Hungrily sought out by royalty and the elite of French society, fabulous room-sets would provide an enclosed, exclusive, and atmospheric stage for a number of feted fashion icons of the time (Dior died too soon, in 1957).

Tapestry, Louis Quinze revival gilded furnishings, trompe l’oeil, rain-coloured walls, acres of silk pooling on Aubusson carpets, and the refraction and flash of cut-glass chandeliers — these sumptuous dream-scapes, flagged in magazine and newspaper features of the day, fed back into the legend of the clothes-maker. 

An exquisite, visual feast of a book.

A Gardener’s Five-Year Record Book, RHS, €20.99, Easons

Plan your garden with this beautiful guide from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Plan your garden with this beautiful guide from the Royal Horticultural Society.

If you are establishing a new garden, renovating an old one, or just continuing decades of work, this lovely journal is an ideal way to plan planting, enjoy your progress, and look back on what you have achieved. 

Full of tips for success, you can customise the journal to your taste. 

Headings from this RHS creation include plants to buy, plant suppliers, useful addresses and gardens to visit. 

The illustrations, from the 17th and 19th century, were originally painted on vellum and are part of the Lindley Libraries collection. 

A welcome stocking filler to plan the next five years, week by week. Just throw in a nice pair of gloves and job done.

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