Edited by Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 9/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
Contemporary World Interiors
by Susan Yelavich
New York: Phaidon Press, $75
512 pages, 1,075 illustrations (1,000 color)
This big, beautiful survey of interiors is remarkably comprehensive. Susan Yelavich divides her 500 chosen projects into 11 categories—houses, apartments, lofts, offices, civic, religious, cultural, retail, restaurants and bars, hotels, and therapeutic—but nevertheless acknowledges "a new elasticity in typologies" with chapters straining "to control their borders." Overall, the book "sets its sights on the achievements that can be said to flow from design."
The price for such inclusiveness is that some fine interiors—Zaha Hadid Architects's Monsoon bar-restaurant in Japan, 1990, Atelier Jean Nouvel's Galeries Lafayette store in Berlin, 1995, a Walzworkinc apartment in New York, 2004—are represented by only a single image, although most are given a few more. Yelavich also devotes little space to identifying materials and furnishings, although her brief descriptions are always apt and enlightening. The quality of photography is high, and the graphic design is unfailingly attractive, but there has apparently been a price for that, too: Text often appears far from the images it describes, requiring considerable page-turning.
These quibbles aside, this vast collection of material, informed by intelligence and a catholic taste, constitutes a uniquely valuable basis for reflection on the current state of design. The author ends her eloquent introduction with a suggestion that this volume may even be a basis for reflection on the human condition: "Interiors are, after all, narratives about ourselves. . . . The mistake is to see the interior as a mere container of behaviors or tastes. It participates in those behaviors and tastes. The task ahead is to read them carefully."
Dr. Johnson's Doorknob and Other Significant Parts of Great Men's Houses
by Liz Workman, foreword by Germaine Greer
New York: Rizzoli International Publications, $25
208 pages, 120 illustrations (102 color)
This sweet little charmer, just 6 inches square, of course shows us Samuel Johnson's doorknob. It's accompanied by Thomas Jefferson's bed, Victor Hugo's soup tureen, Charles Darwin's banisters, Charles Dickens's mirrors, Sigmund Freud's mantelpiece, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's desk, and much more. Happily, these details speak to us directly in full-page images without attendant philosophizing—Germaine Greer's foreword does add, however, that most of these great men's houses were run by women. The perfect epigram for the whole enterprise is a quotation from Virginia Woolf: "London, happily, is becoming full of great men's houses. . . preserved entire with the chairs they sat on and the cups they drank from, their umbrellas and their chests of drawers. And it is no frivolous curiosity that sends us to Dickens's house and Johnson's house and Carlyle's house and Keats's house. We know them from their houses. . . ."
by James Archer Abbott
New York: Acanthus Press, $75
384 pages, 600 illustrations (164 color)
James Archer Abbott's previous Jansen, a monograph on the famed Paris design house, was the second volume in the excellent 20th-Century Decorators series from Acanthus Press. This welcome sequel focuses on Jansen furniture produced from about 1900 to 1970. Some of these designs were for the White House, others for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor or the monarchs of Europe. Still others were purchased by the wealthy and knowledgeable of Geneva, Rome, Cairo, New York, and Buenos Aires, via an international network of satellite galleries. Abbott offers a general introduction to the Jansen style, followed by richly illustrated sections on seating, tables, case furniture, accent furnishings and details, and upholstered pieces and draperies, seen either alone or in their original setting. Together, they paint a picture of a privileged world that no longer exists.
What They're Reading. . .
Principal of David Kleinberg Design Associates
The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman
by Leo Lerman, edited by Stephen Pascal
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, $38
658 pages, 86 illustrations (9 color)
Consummate New York interior designer David Kleinberg just happened to be reading about a consummate member of New York's culturati. The Grand Surprise is the memoir of the editor and arbiter who exercised his power through posts at Vogue and Vanity Fair and entertained talents such as Marlene Dietrich, Isak Dinesen, and Truman Capote at a series of legendary Fifth Avenue parties. "Everything in New York was so available and accessible. People were more interested in mixing," Kleinberg says of Leo Lerman's early career in the mid-1940's. "Also, information wasn't passed around as quickly in the past, so there was time to make discoveries." What with all of today's publications, might Kleinberg be suffering from a little information overload? "I don't think you can be in the design world and not be a magazine junkie." —Deborah Wilk