One of my very favorite things to do in the whole wide world is to plop down in the curve of the couch on a Saturday morning, coffee cup nearby steaming, with a pile of good design or cook books in my lap to thumb through. Even better if music is drifting about in the background, the windows cracked so the breeze can gently tussle the pages. Books transport me, and design books specifically, are what I turn to when craving inspiration outside of the same ol’ same ol’ scrolls on the gram.
When we began the arduous process of designing our new home, we wanted to be very intentional and authentically us with every step, from the paint colors, to the furniture placement, to the light fixtures and so forth. I found myself asking over and over again, “Do I actually like this?” Or, “Is this what the Internet says I should like?” Have you found yourself in that tricky intersection, whereupon questioning your taste, your preferences, and your style, it all begins to blur with what is beautiful, yes, but not quite a reflection of you?
Back in the chilly months of hibernation in December and January when the majority of the design work was being done, I asked myself this question so many times that I realized I needed to take a leap back before diving in to make sure we were going to love the result not just a year from now, but eighty. In doing so, I took a lot of time off social media and stopped scrolling. I paused. I breathed. It helped.
You see, I didn’t want to take a current trend, while lovely, and run wild with it when in five years down the road, we spent all this money and time and it just didn’t feel like us anymore. Or even at all! Renovations are not cheap. And they are emotionally labor intensive. So I wanted to be sure. I wanted to create something sustainable long term for us and for this old house, something so absolutely right for us that we felt inspired by our home and the memories we would make there.
I also felt a bit confused regarding what I truly loved and wanted to live with versus what I found beautiful but did not (like colorful kitchens and anything the color red) and wanted to know what exactly my style was after all these years dabbling. In turn, I felt called throughout this process to create a home for us six that reflected my findings, my inner sparks and joys, in a mindful and poetic way. I felt it was important, and still do, to not only feel comfort and beauty in the spaces we were about to live in, but be connected to them in a way that gave our family life and renewal and purpose. And for the families who would live in our home in the future. This is where books helped me tremendously.
Finding what speaks to you can ironically be a hard task in the age of hyperspeed information because we are utterly inundated with too many ideas and countless imagery on a daily basis, many of which are aimed to sell us something with savvy marketing teams behind the screens. I have found that if I do not purposefully seek out what calls to me, or take the time to explore in depth what I am drawn to, connected to, and value, I can easily get swept up in the current of what is hot in the moment or what gets likes and trending attention.
For me, books help ground and inspire without the comparison battles that entangle the web of social media. Social media can be a wonderful place to get ideas for sure, and inspiration there is endless, but I do feel that when we curate our feed we are limiting ourselves a bit and this can in turn, affect what we make and do in our lives. Too much of seeing the same house, the same room, the same brands can start feeling stale, and when designing or making something, stale is the last thing you want to feel.
And libraries, they are my sanctuary. It’s in book pages that I find I am able to take little puzzle pieces from here and there, only to put them together in a new and refreshing way, one that speaks to my spirit as someone who likes to create spaces and make things, like home, a beautiful and meaningful place to be.
Below is a selection of books that were a major part of my creative process in designing our home. They inspired, they taught, they guided, they transported, they challenged, and they comforted. I hope you are able to find a spark within the many lovely pages below, and if you haven’t already renewed your library card, get on it!
For the Love of White: The White and Neutral Home– Christie Rucker
- Reading Notes | Aggressively neutral, white on white, textural, calming, thoughtful, clean, refreshing, detailed, anything but sterile
- Design Wise | For those who like white, this book is a bible because it shows how the absence of color in town, country, and coastal homes can be anything but boring and cold. This book is warm, thoughtful, and incredibly inspirational.
- Good to Know | This book was most referenced throughout my entire design process as it aligns with my philosophy of creating calm and cozy but mainly neutral spaces.
Shaker: Life, Work, and Art– June Sprigg & David Larkin
- Reading Notes | Informative, historic, primitive, detailed, old world, deeply minimal, handmade, period specific, transportive
- Design Wise | This is not a design book but rather touches on the life, work, and art of the Shakers whose design philosophy I am inspired by. They have a paired back intentional way of living that overflows into everything they mindfully made, their homes being no exception.
- Good to Know | This book is a history lesson and while it does offer visual inspiration, it is also a wonderful step back in time if you too draw inspiration from this specific group of people.
Down to Earth: Laid-back Interiors for Modern Living– Lauren Liess
- Reading Notes | Laid back, earthy, bohemian, moody, vintage industrial, client focused
- Design Wise | This book is a case study in design for different families with different styles. Offers a lot of beautiful imagery that shows how homes offer the opportunity for self expression.
- Good to Know | While I am not drooling over the overall aesthetic, I did learn a lot about what I personally love and that’s why I decided to include it. Not that the design within these pages is not beautiful, it just didn’t resonate with me as much. That being said, I think it is important to visit many different styles before committing to ones own and always be open to learning more.
English Decoration: Timeless Inspiration for the Contemporary Home– Ben Pentreath
- Reading Notes | Timeless, layered, warm, soulful, unapologetically English, bold, collected, country
- Design Wise | This book is a survey of English style at it’s best. It features homes that are eclectic and layered embodying the essence of English life both in the city and the countryside. Dripping with unique inspiration from across the pond.
- Good to Know | If you value minimalism, this book may not inspire you for that is not it’s intention. If English design lights a spark within, you will however enjoy these pages.
Upstate: Living Spaces with Space to Live– Lisa Przystup
- Reading Notes | Soulful, eclectic, New England focused, patina, organic, multi-dimensional
- Design Wise | Offers fresh perspectives on a wide variety of styled homes from Upstate New York offering a peak into the lives of many who are design enthusiasts.
- Good to Know | It’s deeply image focused with I love without a lot of commentary. A feast for the eyeballs.
Workstead: Interiors of Beauty and Necessity– Workstead
- Reading Notes | Mindful, sustainable, timeless, minimal, light driven, inspiring
- Design Wise | For those interested in historic renovations and beautifully crafted interiors this book is a treat. The design firm, Workstead, also creates light fixtures which we used in several places throughout our home making this book quite the treat inspiration wise. They are committed to creating long lasting design which gets to the nuts and bolts of how a home can stand the test of time.
- Good to Know | This book is made by a design firm so it highlights their projects, creating a great resource if you are drawn to their aesthetic.
Pacific Natural: Simple Seasonal Entertaining– Jenni Kayne
- Reading Notes: Laid back, practical, earthy, effortless, seasonal, minimal
- Design Wise | Let me start by saying, this is not a design book. However, what you find inside of these pages embodies the beautiful Northern California aesthetic that Jenni Kayne is known for. Based on the imagery alone, one can gather many beautiful ideas when it comes to home design including use of natural materials, emphasis on seasonal entertaining, and philosophy for creating a mindful life.
- Good to Know | While absolutely gorgeous, it is minimal in content and heavy with full page imagery. It’s more of a minimal guide, but inspiring nevertheless.
Perfect English Style: Creating rooms that are comfortable, pleasing and timeless– Ros Byam Shaw
- Reading Notes | Timeless, colorful, historic, casual country, charming, eye candy, patina, mis matched, lived in cozy, nostalgic
- Design Wise | This book celebrates relaxed English style that focuses on charm and ease of living above all else. While there is a wide variety of styles, they are all undoubtably English country.
- Good to Know | These pages touch on all the rooms of a traditional English country home including places like utility and boot rooms which other books seem to neglect.
The Great American House: Tradition for the Way We Live Now– Gil Schafer III
- Reading Notes | Traditional, architectural, Americana, grand, historic, landscapes, comfort
- Design Wise | This book covers both the elements of a great house including architecture, decor, and landscape. It tells stories of four homes designed by the author who is known for renovating historic homes.
- Good to Know | Different from many books on this list, The Great American House interplays between indoor and outdoor spaces with dozens upon dozens of exterior and interior shots.
STILL: The Slow Home– Natalie Walton
- Reading Notes | Wabi-Sabi aesthetic, embraces nature, values slow, intentional, international, minimal, muted colors, organic
- Design Wise | Those interviewed in this book approach design in varied ways, however there is one common thread which is embracing slow that stands for sustainable, local, organic, and whole.
- Good to Know | There is an interview component that offers a behind the scenes look at both the home and home owner which I find to be incredibly fascinating.
The Shakers: From Mount Lebanon to the World– Michael K. Komanecky
- Reading Notes | Informative, historic, primitive, detailed, old world, deeply minimal, handmade, period specific, transportive, colonial
- Design Wise | This book, while not an outright design book, it captures the Shaker philosophy of simple, beautiful, useful that lend themselves beautifully to intentional home design. It is full of information, examples, stories, and artifacts of life from Mount Lebanon which is where the Shaker community gathered.
- Good to Know | A beautiful coffee table book for those that like a bit of history. These pages show the art of simplicity in a transportive way.
Made for Living: Collected Interiors for All Sorts of Styles– Amber Lewis
- Reading Notes | California cool, deeply informative, visually delightful, relaxed yet refined, natural materials
- Design Wise | It thoughtfully covers go to finishes, paint colors, space and flow along with the art of styling. I found the photography very inspiring despite these photos coming from what I feel to be a majority of new build design. I do feel a nice mix of old and new.
- Good to Know | Rather expensive design aesthetic. Great starting point for inspiration but to achieve this look in its entirety would require quite a hefty budget. It is made to also promote her brand and shop which while not a bad thing, is important to note.
British Designers At Home– Jenny Rose-Innes
- Reading Notes | English centric, extremely individualized, quirky, multi-dimensional, colorful, pattern party, maximalist, fun
- Design Wise | You get a peak into the lives of 20 plus British designers and the homes they’ve created for themselves. This offers a unique vantage point from which to asses the interiors these designers have created.
- Good to Know | If you like wallpaper, pattern on pattern, and Q&A’s this book is a delight.
The Maine House: Summer and After– Maura McEvoy & Basha Burwell
- Reading Notes | Rustic, moody, layered, collected, coastal, imperfect, charming, natural
- Design Wise | For Maine enthusiasts, this book captures the beauty of what it means to make a home in Maine featuring a wide variety of styles that somehow come together and create a feeling that evokes timelessness.
- Good to Know | Thoughtful mix of old and new highlighting the whimsy and wonder of the cape.
This is Home: The Art of Simple Living– Natalie Walton
- Reading Notes | Intentional, neutral, resourceful, conversational, expressive, Wabi-Sabi, creative, simplicity
- Design Wise | This is a love story about home and celebrates the design process in a deeply authentic way. It goes beyond the design which is important and focusing on how to create a nurturing environment in ways that can enhance our lives.
- Good to Know | Portrays varies homes of different walks of life from around the world, discussing issues such as sustainability, beauty, and function.
Patina Farm– Brooke Giannetti & Steve Giannetti
- Reading Notes | Neutral, deeply intentional, nature focused, European farmhouse, vintage, unfussy French, homestead, dreamy
- Design Wise | This book is a huge inspiration for me personally in the way the authors have created such an intentional home for their family and furry friends. It inspires me how it is laid back yet refined. Every page is so very much themselves. If you enjoy old world charm and rustic simplicity this book and all Giannetti books are over the top inspiring.
- Good to Know | This is a dream property created by both husband and wife including architectural sketches along with the delightful menagerie of farm animals.
The Country Home (American Country)– Time Life Books
- Reading Notes | Vintage, eclectic, detailed, primitive, cozy, inspirational, warm
- Design Wise | This book is a peak into antique country style that visits a range of country aesthetics, some of which are stunning and others that merely outdated and/or not in line with what I would consider my aesthetic. Despite this care free mix of imagery, this book and the entire series of American Country is incredibly inspirational eye candy.
- Good to Know | It’s an old book. It hails from the 80’s so keep that in mind. But to truly get a glimpse of old interiors one must be willing to go back and visit older publications such as this.
Simplicity at Home: Japanese Rituals, Recipes, and Arrangements for Thoughtful Living– Yumiko Sekine
- Reading Notes | Paired down, extremely mindful, informative, organized, intentional, Wabi-Sabi, embraces nature, calm, warm
- Design Wise | This book is extremely inspiring in the way it approaches minimalism and intentional homemaking. It’s a beautiful starting point for those who hope to pair down but need a visual reference.
- Good to Know | It’s arranged seasonally and offers simple Japanese recipes and rituals.
Habitat: The Field Guide to Decorating– Lauren Liess
- Reading Notes | Earthy, decor focused, natural elements, moody, art filled, family friendly design
- Design Wise | It’s a field guide which can be used as a reference or can read chronologically. It’s extensive and detailed and offers a peak into specifics like color, furniture, flooring, lighting, and overall aesthetics.
- Good to Know | It packs a lot of punch but also feels a bit overwhelming. Perhaps best for someone who wants to more about decorating as opposed to a specific type of design.
Early American Country Interiors– Tim Tanner
- Reading Notes | Primitive, cozy, period specific, dark colors, historic, austere, antique filled, charming
- Design Wise | Focusing on timeless Americana design, this book showcases the essence of primitive country style. It is a wonderful resource for those wanting inspiration on what it means to decorate with primitive style.
- Good to Know | This book is unapologetically primitive and the homes shown are connected by a common thread that values early American antiques, most of all from the Eastern coasts. An excellent resource if wanting inspiration on use of historical colors within your home. This book helped us go yellow.
If you have any favorite design books, do share! And if you enjoyed this post, drop a comment below. They are always a bright spot in my day. Xx
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Lara - Beautiful and, most importantly, heartfelt!
Curiously, I sometimes use nostalgic cookbooks as a design reference (‘Apples for Jam’ by Tessa Kiros is a favourite), as well as vintage illustrated children’s books and Terri Windling’s magical Myth & Moor blog. They often capture the cosy, whimsical English feel that I appreciate (similar to the 3rd photo and 2nd-last pic above).
Would love to know whether you use a specific app to create vision boards for your projects (besides Pinterest)? Thanks and warm wishes to you, Amanda, from South Africa
Angelina - Such a lovely list of resources! Heading to my local library soon!
admin - Angelina, woo woo! So many good ones here. Xx
Melissa - I have two of these books; the British Designers at home book I got myself for Christmas 2 years ago. I love it so much, and yet I know I couldn’t live in a lot of the spaces in it! Such cool pattern mixing but some of them are just too extra. haha. The blue that a lot of them use though, is superb. My small town library doesn’t have basically any design books, which I found such a bummer when we moved into our new house a few years ago. I’m glad you made this list though, for when I feel the urge to buy myself another one so I’ll have a reference point. This year the design book I got myself wasn’t really as helpful or informative as I hoped! 🙂
admin - Melissa, I know exactly what you mean about loving something but not loving it so much that you want to live in that space. I think it’s really cool that we can appreciate design in this way! And I am glad you found some other good ones here. Let me know if you want any more tidbits about any! Xx
Marie - Requested basically all of these from the library and when they all came in at once I almost broke my arms carrying them out the door! So worth it though, these are really great resources. I’m especially loving Lauren Liess’s books.
admin - What a treat getting to experience them all at once! So fun. xx
Ally - Thank you for these lovely resources!! I’ve been searching ista and your blog hoping to find where you sources your light switches (the brass ones!)
many many thanks