edited by Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 9/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
The Design Encyclopedia
by Mel Byars
New York: Museum of Modern Art, distributed by Distributed Art Publishers, $65
832 pages, 700 color illustrations
For the last decade, the most often consulted book on my shelves has been a 1994 edition of The Design Encyclopedia by Mel Byars. Now Byars, a prolific writer living in Paris, has produced an update that replaces its predecessor as the invaluable reference resource for any design library.
More timely, more thorough, and infinitely more attractive, the new version offers 800-plus pages of small print (compared to 600-plus of large print) and 700 color images (compared to 100 black-and-white). This wealth of material contains answers to almost any question we might ask about the last 130 years of interiors, furniture, products, designers, manufacturers, materials, and styles. As Museum of Modern Art architecture and design curator Terence Riley writes in his foreword, Byars has given us an "essential tool for thoughtfully moving forward and a rearview mirror on what Lewis Mumford called 'the usable past.'"
The Pocket Decorator
by Pamela Banker and Leslie Banker
New York: Universe Publishing, $20 paperbound
216 pages, 300 illustrations
Pamela Banker, president of her namesake interiors firm, and her designer-journalist daughter, Leslie—who wrote "Upstairs, Downstairs" on page S6 of this issue—have collaborated on a little gem of a handbook. It's just the right size for carrying along to showrooms or job sites (about 5 inches by 8).
Chapter headings indicate the subjects covered: Architectural Elements, Fabrics, Floors and Floor Coverings, Furniture, Hardware, Lighting, Motifs, Trimmings, Upholstery, Wall Treatments, Window Treatments. Sidebars focus on such specifics as Standard Bed Sizes, Material Options for Kitchen Counters, and Cushion Fillings. And most are accompanied by Kirill Istomin's line drawings, minuscule but helpful. An appendix offers descriptions of 15 historical styles.
Amid so much information, one may certainly find a few things to quibble with. The section on sofas, for example, says that "average seat height is 18 to 20 inches off the floor," which sounds a bit high; sections on "collecting" and "creating a country look" are uncharacteristically vague. But it's hard to imagine any designer not finding The Pocket Decorator eminently useful.
Eva Zeisel on Design: The Magic Language of Things
by Eva Zeisel
New York: Overlook Press, $38
221 pages, 244 illustrations (169 color)
Born in Budapest in 1906, Eva Zeisel studied and worked first in Germany, the Soviet Union, Austria, and the U.K. She was already a leader in modernist design, particularly ceramics, by the time she came to the U.S. in 1938. A year later, she established America's first university course in ceramic design, at Pratt Institute. The Museum of Modern Art recognized her importance—and secured her reputation—by commissioning her to design the Museum line of white porcelain dinnerware in 1942.
Since then, her work has entered the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum. And the Milwaukee Art Museum is presenting "Eva Zeisel: The Playful Search for Beauty" from October 8 to February 6. Her awards, including one from the National Endowment for the Arts, are too numerous to list.
Still active professionally, Zeisel has now found time to reflect, in print, on the ideas that have guided her. They're not grandiose concepts about changing the world or adhering to an eternal value system. Even less do they champion a particular stylistic dogma. Instead, she presents highly personal ideas of pleasure, comfort, grace, and the "playful search for beauty."
The book's illustrations show her own designs, instructive and amusing old objects and buildings, and dozens of pieces by others who have inspired her. Her conclusion looks optimistically toward the future: "The tall museum doors have closed on the last century's decorative arts. The museum of the new century is now ready, its great halls eager to receive our new century's style. . . . Let us open the doors once again to the magic language of design."
What They're Reading...
Partner in multidisciplinary firm Aidlin Darling Design
by Dung Ngo and Adi Shamir Zion
New York: Rizzoli International Publications, $75
224 pages, 200 color illustrations
This 2002 book explores the social and cultural implications of open planning, connecting it to Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity, cubism, Freudian psychoanalysis, and Isadora Duncan's rejection of classical ballet, among other things. Darling finds these examples relevant to our continuing repudiation of the strictures of classicism. "Perhaps," he says, "someday people will no longer think of program in terms of rooms."