Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Books 2013: Let's Do This Thing

Here you go.
My top ten most stylish books of 2013. 
All picked with you and the people on your holiday list in mind.
And all still deliverable by Christmas if you act promptly.



A few facts about Lucien Freud:

1. He loved paint and sex and Earl Grey tea. 
2. He was ruthless and destructive and utterly charming.
3. He guarded his private life so jealously that he stopped two biographies from being published during his lifetime (the latter incident involved East End gangsters).

Well, now it's all here in intimate eye-popping detail. Over the last ten years of Freud's life, journalist Geordie Greig had breakfast with him regularly and Freud gradually opened up to him, allowing him to tape their conversations, interview his friends and family, and gain intimate access to all facets of his life. The result is a warts-and-all glimpse at a man who until the very end of his life kept everyone guessing.
(Available HERE.) 

(Lucian with daughter Bella, 1985. Photo by Bruce Bernard.)


What makes this book so effervescently magical is not just the apartment with all of its swoon-worthy luxury but the personal warmth of the owner and author, Howard Slatkin. 
In cheerful down-to-earth prose, he welcomes you into his home as if you were a dear friend and, room by room, reveals all the little details that can help transform an ordinary room into a cozy sanctuary. 

Admittedly, not many people have the resources to create a palace like his, but as Howard points out, it's not how much an object costs, it's about how it fits into your life. Every page is filled with tips and ideas to increase the comfort and style of your home, whether it be exalted or humble. Among my favorites is knowing that a thirty-inch-high coffee table is the perfect height for serving meals and playing board games -- Howard, I'm getting right on that.
(Available HERE.) 

(How genius is the miniature theater curtain on that painting?)


Ivan shot my upcoming design book so I have an extra-special fondness for everything he does. This book, an exclusive collection of photo essays shot over the past twenty years, grants the reader access into the intimate worlds of fashion designers and shows you how they really live--soulfully, poetically, and surrounded by inspiration. 

Maxime de la Falaise's New York apartment is a riot of color and coziness. Nicole Farhi's London garden is a portrait in shaggy chic. Coco Chanel's Paris home (yes, he went there!) is fifty shades of beige and a million kinds of elegant. From the décor to the works of art to the fascinating personal collections of these designers, these aren't just photographs, they're visual explorations in living authentically.

As Ivan says, " I have tried to capture the spirit of the homes of these great fashion designers because first of all they are true artists and as such whatever they touch, they do it with all their heart and skill. Their homes are where they find inspiration, nourish their creativity, nurse their doubts. It is the less public face of their world, it speaks eloquently of who they are when alone."  
(Available HERE.) 

(Manolo Blahnik's home in Bath, England.)

(Maxime de la Falaise's apartment in New York.)

(Nicole Farhi's London home.)


Derry Moore (a.k.a The Earl of Drogheda) has photographed some of England's most beloved celebrities in their favorite spaces, and the result is a fascinating testament to essence of the English room. In introductory essays, each subject explains their particular spot: for Jeannette Winterson, it's the magical history of Paris' legendary Shakespeare and Company bookshop. For Alan Bennett, it's the rumpled coziness of his flat in Primrose Hill. And for Benedict Cumberbatch, it's the library at the members-only Garrick Club where his father used to take him as a little boy. 

Editor's Note: Check out Derry Moore's earlier series on English rooms (The Englishman's Room, The Englishwoman's Room and others) available at used bookstores  and online sites like Alibris. I have them all and still refer to them all the time. From Diana Cooper's bedroom in Little Venice to Dirk Bogarde's living room in Provence, they're an enduring paean to the distinctive qualities of an English room. 
(Available HERE.)

(Tino Zervudachi's vacation home in Hydra.)

( Jeannette Winterson's pick, Shakespeare and Company, Paris.)

(Cressida Bell's kitchen.)


"My childhood is streets upon streets upon streets upon streets. Streets to define you and streets to confine you, with no sign of motorway, freeway or highway. Somewhere beyond hides the treat of the countryside, for hour-less days when rains and reins lift, permitting us to be among people who live surrounded by space and are irked by our faces."

And so it begins. Wave upon wave of lyricism, hurtling you past a dreary childhood into the glittering heights and depths of rock stardom and beyond. Morrissey is devastatingly eloquent. His prose burns itself into your brain and smolders there. Whether you're a fan or not, this book is a stunner: it's a soul-baring look into a poetic man in a world that (to him) is devoid of poetry.
(US version available HERE. More explicit UK version available HERE.) 


This celebrated book has been on my wish list for a while, so when it was re-published a few months ago in a smaller softcover format, I jumped at it.  

Lovingly photographed by Simon Brown, these farmhouses, manors and grand estates are fertile ground for design inspiration. A dark red room pulses with warmth despite the gray winter sun. Tattered rugs and peeling wallpaper radiate a delicious shabby elegance. In this land, beauty doesn't fade with age, it intensifies...and if that's your primary takeaway from the book, I consider that more than enough.
 (Available HERE.) 


7. TRANSFORM YOUR HOME INTO A PLACE YOU LOVE THAT FITS THE WAY YOU LIVE. is one of my favorite design blogs and this handbook is filled with all the genius tips, how-to's and suggestions that I've come to treasure from them. In the opening pages, Julie Carlson and her team lay out their "Ten Rules to Live By" manifesto and then take the reader on a detailed tour of twelve very different houses that each embrace their pared-down aesthetic. (The chapter on building the ultimate IKEA kitchen is a revelation. Just saying.)

This is a book that really trains your eye to notice what works, what doesn't and why. Their obsession with details pays off big-time for the reader: I love their suggestion of using painters tape and see-through plastic covers to create a cool informal art display on a wall. And their "Remodelista 100", a list of their all-time favorite objects, should become the gold standard for every wedding registry.
 (Available HERE.) 


Jennifer Boles, the wunderkind behind the blog The Peak of Chic, has exhaustively researched the vintage rooms of legendary decorators to give us 100 of the leading design essentials behind  classic style. I love the way this book is laid out in dictionary format, making it brilliantly simple to find everything at once. What you immediately realize is that these objects and details have endured for very good reasons: Painted ceilings can add as much life to a room as a sunny sky. Sisal matting takes the edge off a room that's in danger of becoming too precious. Slipper chairs are the chairs that keep on giving--they add extra seating in a pinch and take up very little room. And as for the entry on "Evening Rooms", a civilized space designed to soothe nerves after a long day out in the world's glare, well, it'll make you want to create one in your own house ASAP.
(Available HERE.) 



Cult book designer Chip Kidd (you've seen his TED talk, haven't you?) has written an utterly charming guide for children on the basic principles of graphic design. Form, color, use of white space, and why type fonts matter, plus lots of fun projects like designing your own logo  -- it's all there. My friend bought it for her 11-year-old son and he insisted on bringing it in the car to read on the way to school. My son wants to read it too and he will -- as soon as he's able to pry it out of my hands (I'm almost done).
(Available HERE.) 


Originally published 65 years ago, "Exercises in Style" has been blowing people's minds ever since. Ostensibly an ode to creativity, the book's premise is breathtakingly simple: author Raymond Queneau takes an anecdote of the utmost banality and proceeds to tell it in ninety-nine different ways.  
(Available HERE.) 

Here's the original anecdote (most of it anyway):

And here are just a few variations:

Crazy amazing, right? 
Buy it for anyone who's ever said, "I'm plumb out of ideas."
Or "There's no other way to do it."
Or "I have writer's blah."
(Which includes me, by the way.)

This special anniversary edition includes homages by contemporary authors like Jonathan Leshem, Lynn Tillman and others.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Buckling Down

("Young Woman Writing," Pierre Bonnard, 1908.)

I haven't spoken about it much, but I'm nearing another big deadline for my book and after  going over all the chapter revisions that need to be done and counting out every hour that remains between now and the morning I have to email it to my editor, I have to admit it's going to be an incredibly pressure-filled race to the finish! And although I would hate to think the dark hollows underneath my eyes have taken up permanent residency, at the moment they provide an excellent explanation for anyone who asks me what I've been doing lately.

You have always been most gracious in understanding when I have to take a small step back from ABL, and this is another one of those times. I have to shut out the world and go inward now.

I wish all of you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and promise to return refreshed and with plenty of exciting December posts...including my Holiday Book List (which is especially fabulous this year).


(And just out of curiosity...does anyone have a favorite under-eye concealer?)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hogarth and the Art of Messy Chic

William Hogarth (1697-1764) understood what it meant to really inhabit a room. In his paintings, he shows ordinary people enjoying their personal spaces in a manner that can only be described as -- shall we say -- "soulful." Beds are left unmade, chairs are toppled on their sides, tablecloths are wine-bespattered, and there's usually at least one person so brutally hungover they can barely sit up straight. This is the world of Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy and Tobias Smollett's Humphrey Clinker -- unbridled, sensuous and flagrantly alive.

I love it.

This is what rooms are for, people. For living in. Leafing through design magazines it's easy to get the impression that a house should be perfect. But trying to be perfect is a losing proposition because there's no endpoint -- you'll never reach it. (I speak as an ex-perfectionist.) 
("Marriage a la Mode: The Tete a Tete", 1743)

In a Hogarth painting, tables aren't for sitting primly at--they're for leaning on, eating on, gambling on, putting feet on and sometimes drooling on. They may be spread with white tablecloths, but they're usually stained. Chairs are for perching on sideways, scooching across the room, or teetering backwards on so no one else can see your cards. Okay, maybe his characters push the line a little, but erring on the side of messiness is better than living  in a room that doesn't accommodate any degree of personal freedom, don't you find?

A perfect room intimidates. It foists an unspoken question upon the visitor: "Can you live up to me?" I actually know of a home where nothing but clear-colored drinks are served. Perhaps it works for the people who live there, but I feel strongly that our personal spaces should be a judgment-free refuge, and if there's no room allowed for human error -- or comfort, for that matter -- I think I would unlock the front door every night with a heavy heart.  
("Marriage a la Mode: The Settlement", 1743)

A home should be lived in, not worshipped. So the floors get scuffed. So the furniture gets worn. So the tables get scratched. So what? Why do you think chefs reach for their favorite seasoned cast-iron pan and not a new teflon one when they want to cook something that's got their heart and soul in it? That's right -- because the cast-iron one is a repository of all the love that's been inside it. Your house is no different.

So make it interesting.
Make it creative.
Make it loud.
Make it convivial and filled with laughter and ideas and crazy plans and dream projects and anything else that gets your heart pounding faster.

And for Hogarth's sake, make it messy.

("The Orgy", 1735)

Editor's Note: 
Stare at one of Hogarth's paintings long enough and you can practically HEAR it -- a polyglot cacophony of laughter, grunts and high-pitched squeals. If you want to hear the way I think the above painting would sound if it came to life, click HERE.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Question: When Is a House More Than a House?

Answer: When it's also an art project, a collaborative labor of love and a 3-D ode to enchantment.

(Welcome to Acorn Manor. Could it be called anything else?)

I'd been hearing about it for months. My friend Vanessa Leigh Price had been hired to decorate the home of an LA musician, and every time I ran into her, she would drop another beguiling nugget.

"Did I tell you the house was built in 1910 and is shaped like an acorn?"

"We're ordering a cream Aga." 

"We're doing one of the bathrooms based on a photo you posted on your blog of the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace." (Wow, really?!)

My invitation to see Acorn Manor arrived last week and I am extremely honored to be the first one to show it to you. It's a house with great personal warmth, the kind of place that makes everyone who enters it feel immediately at home. 
Ready? Let's go.
(Stained glass windows hint at the decorative story that lies within.)

Do you mind if we head straight to the kitchen first? I want to do a quick genuflection in front of the Aga. I love the dramatic paint colors in this room. And how about that leggy teal chair? It's such a great visual counterpoint to the monumental heft of the stove.

Interesting Fact: Vanessa and the owner were so intent on having every detail in the house convey the historic sensibility of Acorn Manor that even the names of paint colors were taken into account. Case in point: The kitchen walls above are painted in Churchill Hotel Ecru and Lincoln Cottage Black from Valspar's National Trust Collection. (See, that's what I mean about it being an art project.) 

Cheeky Detail That You Would Never Know Unless I Told You: What color do you think they painted the food pantry? What else but Farrow and Ball's "Arsenic"?

The cool autumn light creeping in bounces off those mini subway tiles in the most enticing manner. (Vanessa found them at Lowes  -- I love when something cool doesn't cost a fortune.) And what's better than dark gray grout? I'll tell you. Nothing.

Fancy a cup of tea? There's some mugs on the top shelf of the butler's pantry. The cabinet interiors are painted in Farrow and Ball's Hague Blue -- grand, right? -- and Vanessa had the wood doors sanded and stained to their original color. There's a coziness to this room that makes me want to sit down with a cookbook and lose all track of time.

This is the "Pub Bathroom." Did I mention that every room in the house has a name? The Timorous Beasties wallpaper, antique brass details and red boudoir curtains have a sexy decadence perfectly in keeping with late nights. All it needs is an antique dartboard on the wall.  

Down the hall is the "Rebel Room", so called because of its remote location and because upon moving in, the owner discovered an old peeled Bacardi sticker on the door mirror -- a memento from a former teenage tenant, perhaps? (Side note: The sticker's considered part of history and is still there.)  There's a creative calm to this room that whispers, "No hurry. The idea will arrive when it's meant to arrive."
(Creative gods Marcel Duchamp and David Bowie offer inspiration from on high.)

Here we are in the Great Room. The warm hues of that antique rug inform every piece of furniture around it. And look at the light. This is a house that accommodates all weather. How wonderful to be inside this room on a rainy day -- can't you see yourself on that window seat, stack of books at your feet, music going, logs crackling on the fire?

Decorative Details: The red chair is from Obsolete, the fringed lamp is from Ray Ferra's, and the poufs are from Nicky Kehoe.
(Photo by Olga Roth.)

If I had to name the style of this house, I think I'd call it "Domestic Libertine."

Come upstairs for a minute. I want to show you the "Stable Bathroom." I'm extremely chuffed that the design is based on one of my photos. 
(Royal Mews. Photo by LBG, 2011.)

And here's the bathroom. Note the same green tiles, the same dark panelling (Farrow and Ball's Blue Black), and the same cream walls. Vanessa and the owner even carried the pop of red on the bottom of the stable post over into the bath mat!
(Photo by Olga Roth.)

Stroke of genius: Vanessa found the brass towel rack at an equestrian shop -- it's made for hanging horse blankets.
(Photo by Olga Roth.)

Look at this bathroom, would you? It's been dubbed "The Oval Office" because it sits directly off a large oval sitting room. Those tiles. That tub. That green pendant lamp. It has an Old World sensibility to it that conjures up a country estate in the Cotswolds.

Have you noticed the running theme of red and blue and green throughout the house? 

I find that interesting because red, blue and green were popular colors with eighteenth century artists like Thomas Rowlandson, James Gillray and Isaac Cruikshank --it adds another layer of meaning to the owner's passion for historic accuracy. 

Shall we step outside for a moment? Yes, that would be a vineyard.

Now you're in a separate studio called "The Lodge." This is obviously where the magic happens.

Upstairs is another creative refuge especially designed for audio odysseys and mental wanderings. Soundproof velvet curtains add a layer of intimacy and keep the neighbors at bay. 

Admittance to The Lodge is strictly by invitation only.

To contact Vanessa Leigh Price, you can email her at excelsior Or just click HERE.


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