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The 10 Design Books That Have Inspired the Mountain House

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In my attempt to be “device-free” on the weekends yet satisfy my insatiable desire to shop, style and decorate on Saturday mornings, I have returned to print media. In case you don’t know what that is, it refers to paper—magazines, catalogs and, most importantly, books. I’m a voracious reader and while so much of our design content is given to us digitally these days, it’s hard to be consuming it at all hours behind a screen for the fear that my kids will think I value technology over “connection.” Thus, my recent love revival of anything in print that satisfies my design and aesthetic addiction, while not feeling like a piece of garbage parent. While designing the mountain house over the last year, I have consistently pulled out and flipped through (and bookmarked) so many great design books. I love so many other books (see the end of the post) but this article is about the books that have directly influenced the design of the mountain house. It’s time to highlight and give credit: here are the 10 best design books for me right now (with regards to mountain fixer inspiration) that have really helped me be a better designer (and parent).

Best Design Books

Habitat: The Field Guide to Decorating by Lauren Liess

Lauren Liess is a real talent and she has designed her father’s lake house as well as many others highlighted in her book. Her design style is classy, classic and warm in a way that feels like you’re nooking into the corner of your favorite couch or chair drinking coffee out of an extra-special mug. She has given me ideas and inspiration on so many weekends. THANK YOU LAUREN. I am also endlessly impressed with the fact that she has five kids and a show on HGTV. Congrats and kudos, Lauren.

Best Design Books

Monochrome Home: Elegant Interiors in Black and White by Hilary Robertson

This book is STUNNING. Hilary Robertson is a master stylist and editorial storyteller and this book is full of inspiration without any color in a good way (we highlighted that dark navy wall, but most of it is white, neutral or black). It’s simple and modern but with so much warmth. I find new things to love every time I flip through it.

Best Design Books

Surf Shack: Laid-Back Living by the Water by Nina Freudenberger

This book is amazing. It’s full of more real homes that, ahem, are not “shacks” in any sense of the word but instead have so much inspiration and ideas that take the fussiness out of design. It’s not totally boho but instead builds a lovely bridge between relaxed and cohesive. It’s BEAUTIFUL.

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Best Design Books

Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home by Julie Carlson

I think I can say with all my confidence that Remodelista is my #1 source of digital design porn on a daily basis. The curated eye and sophisticated yet warm home features make me want to be a better person. Their book, even though it’s years old, feels fresh, modern and timeless. (I also love their new organizing book). NINETYFIVE CHEERS FOR THIS BRAND, THEIR DAILY CONTENT, THE PEOPLE BEHIND IT AND THE BOOKS THEY PUBLISH.

Best Design Books

This Is Home: The Art of Simple Living by Natalia Walton

A sleeper hit that I personally think needs way more attention. This book, like Hilary’s above, is SO beautiful. It tells story after story of how to do life simply, but with texture, depth and warmth. Nine thumbs up.

Best Design Books

The Scandinavian Home: Interiors Inspired by Light by Niki Brantmark

I bought this book before I worked with Niki and I’m so happy to say that the book is as lovely as she is. Before Brian broke the news that Scandinavian wasn’t his thing (ahem), I referenced this book for the main inspiration for the house. Since we made the “rustic” shift, it’s still applicable because it’s full of stunning photos of Scandi chalets.

Best Design Books

Reflections on Swedish Interiors by Rhonda Eleish & Edie van Breems

This book speaks to more eclectic, Old-World Scandinavian interiors. It’s not exactly where we are headed but it has a ton of inspiration toward the warmth and coziness that Brian wants (and eye-candy that I love).

Best Design Books

The House That Pinterest Built by Diane Keaton

This book is an absolute inspiration. It has no resources or how-to information but if you stare hard enough, you LEARN about how to create an inspiration minimal, neutral but warm home. It’s full of integrity and magic (#hidianekeaton).

Best Design Books

Commune: Designed in California by Roman AlonsoSteven JohanknechtPamela Shamshiri and Ramin Shamshiri 

Commune is a design firm that I admire immensely, so I pour over this book and have for years. They do so many different kinds of projects but all of them have something unexpected that creates a tension you can’t look away from.

Best Design Books

The Kinfolk Home by Nathan Williams

The Kinfolk brand is strong and enticing. This book is full of hipster porn, in the “handmade modern” vibe (I mean, I need to trademark that RIGHT NOW). It’s like Amish-meets-super-rich and I want to be both of those things (hot tip: It’s founded by lovelMormonon people of which I was also raised so I feel a-kin to these folks). It’s so pretty, and page after page is full of ideas.

Again, there are so many other books that I LOVE including Orlando’s, mine, Justina’s, Elements of Style, Christiane Lemieux’s Finer Things, but these are the books that have directly influenced how I design the mountain house and books in which I find so much inspiration.

What am I missing? I would love any new recommendations for more inspiration, also because I have many more years of laying on the living room floor while Charlie and Birdie are playing Legos. As a mom, I want to be near but busy so they feel safe but independent. I also read most shelter magazines and any and all catalogs, and I NEVER thought I’d love catalogs so much. Leave your suggestions in the comments so I can keep this weekend ritual for the rest of my life.

  1. “Handcrafted Modern” gives texture to the popular mid-century designers. Leslie Williamson, a photographer, photographs the homes of several designers and artists in their “natural state.” Every photo feels so intimate and natural, like the owner had just gotten up from a chair to go grab a fresh cup of coffee in another room. PLEASE google it. The cover of the book will say enough.

    1. OH you are right! I love that book although I don’t have it anymore for some reason. Thank you 🙂

    2. It’s like Worlds of Interior magazine in a book!

  2. Nice post. I have some of those books and Amazon has suggested most of the others to me, but since I’ve never seen them in person I was hesitant to buy them (Monochrome home in particular). So what catalogs are you enjoying? I’ve tried very successfully to purge catalogs from my life because companies just can’t send you one and then you end up with sooo much recycling. However, I do really miss the Design Within Reach catalog. Really good inspiration.

  3. I collect and LOVE design/decorating books so thanks for this post. How about a post on your 10 favorite “old” design books? Here are the books on interior design/decorating that I’ve found most useful/fun/inspiring:

    1. English Houses, by Ben Pentreath: I like stuff (to a controlled degree) and this book is just so charming — looking at English houses filled with stuff.
    2. Color Palettes: Atmospheric Interiors and Color: Natural Palettes for Painted Rooms. Both are old books by Donald Kaufman (of the paint). These never fail to inspire when I’m looking for paint color ideas.
    3. Modern Mix, by Eddie Ross. What a surprisingly useful and fun book to flip through. His style is a little over the top for me but this book is really informative about antique collecting and what to look for. He’s got all of his silver stored in an old Sears tool chest on wheels that he’s spray painted lime green. It’s ridiculous but a really good storage idea for small pieces like silverware.
    4. At Home with Books: How Book Lovers Live with and Care for Their Libraries, by Estelle Ellis. It’s from 1995 but still the best book I’ve found for ideas on how to display, store, enjoy rooms filled with books. And I’ve got a lot of books.
    5. Finer Things, by Christiane Lemieux. Some design books for the uber-rich are more annoying and useless than inspirational. But this book wasn’t that. It’s really informative, and fun to flip through. I like to learn something from design books and not just have pretty pictures. This was both.
    6. Home by Design, by Sarah Susanka or any of her “not so big house” books. She was ahead of the curve advocating fewer McMansions and encouraging the movement to build smaller but better quality and more interesting houses.
    7. The Monocle Guide to Cosy Homes. Inspirational yet practical. It’s got a wide wide variety of homes featured.
    8. Domestic Art: Curated Interiors. It’s a big book filled with crazy people’s homes. Great fun to flip through.
    9. Styled, by you. 🙂 Your book is specific and really useful and doesn’t just have the same old repetitive decorating advice that some designers try to pass off as helpful/original (“your fireplace is a focal point” or “lighting is important” — yeah, thanks for clearing that up!).
    10. The New Bohemians, by Justina Blake. I don’t like boho interiors. I don’t want my house to look like Stevie Nicks lives there. Yet on page after pate, this book had interesting decor ideas that I could tone down and make my own.

    I think this weekend I’ll drag out a big pile of these books and float through them. 🙂

    1. Great list! I have seven of these and have kept six of them!

      1. Wow. thanks so much for all the info!

  4. I like this post. However, can we please not refer to the mountain house as a “fixer”? You say “mountain fixer inspiration.” That hone was 3x the size and 2x the price of my primary residence before the reno, so it was already quite nice imho.

    1. The house was dated – its a fixer upper. It will have more value, both to Emily’s family, and on the real estate market, when the good bones, location, etc are ‘fixed up.’ That’s what fixer-upper means. It’s not referring to its size or purchase price.

  5. Not a book recommendation but a mom hack – I recently invested in Apple AirPods and started getting free audio books via the apps Hoopla and Libby. It satisfies my need for intellectual stimulation and allows me to be more present for my kids as I can focus on them visually and be responsive too (it’s not like music where it drowns out the other noises in the room). Highly recommend (particularly great for nursing moms)!

    1. OOH, i’m interested. looking it up now.

  6. Those are some of my favorites, especially Remodelista and Surf Shack. I also love Terence Conran’s Plain Simple Useful. I don’t buy books much anymore as I currently have 16 boxes of them in storage, so now I use Pinterest and Instagram (too much).

  7. I love the books you’ve listed here and I would add the Farrow & Ball book ‘How to Decorate.’ It’s definitely not mountain-y but it’s gloriously inspiring and well organized with good tips for using color.

    1. OOH i don’t think i own that one. will invest. thank you xx

  8. Will definitely be bookmarking this and adding some of these to my Amazon wishlist (including those from the commenters above). Thanks!

  9. This is amazing, I absolutely agree with what you say about print media.

    First becoming a designer I thought, “everything is online, I don’t need a design library” but the more years I spend staring at my devices, the more my eyes need a break and to just touch and feel quality paper covered in quality design. I even have started preferring browsing furniture catalogs rather than the web and I’m a MILLENNIAL.

    I put the Scandinavian Home on my amazon wishlist. Is the book D I S P L A Y A B L E as well???

    1. I can’t even do a kindle because after spending all day writing the blog and on social media, I KNOW that a kindle makes more sense but I just need to not touch tech anymore. I’m all full up with the tech experience by 9pm and on weekends, (apart from the occasional story that I WANT to do), so i put it away.

  10. You listed my 3 favorite design books ever. Remodelista is timeless and I don’t care what style comes and goes I will always strive for that vibe. It’s my absolute favorite design book. I also own The Scandinavian Home and Kinfolk home. They easily round out my top 3. If you want color The New Bohemians is a good one as well as Marfa Modern.

  11. Excited to add many of these to my existing collection. Love the idea of device free weekends spent with books. 🙂 I do think Handmade Modern has been taken already: http://francoisetmoi.com/. Erin is awesome and I think you’ll enjoy her vibe. Cheers!

  12. The Not So Big House or something else on small living (that isn’t extreme)

  13. Oooh gonna go look into some of these more. I really love Details by Lili Diallo and the Domino books.

    1. OH i do too! it was more about styling so I didn’t include it here, but I love that book.k

  14. Lauren Liess’s book is so helpful and directly affected many decisions in the planning and building of our home. I found her info to be much like your “how to” posts (hanging curtains, rules for the size of coffee table, etc.) It is both informative and incredibly inspiring, and I miss her blog!

    A book I don’t have but lust after is Brooke’s from the blog Velvet and Linen. I think it may be titled Patina Farm. I’m sure it is amazing b/c of the content she and her husband post on their blog.

    1. maybe i’ll snag it and then include it. I love them. they do such gorgeous work and are really nice people. xx

  15. I love you for this list as I just worked my library request system hard to get half the books listed here. I’m saving the other half for after I finish the first stack 🙂 Also…. I love Lauren Liess!!!! She is my design love! Based on what I’ve been seeing for your mountain house I’m not entirely surprised but yes entirely delighted to see her amazing book on the list.
    Also yeah, books definitely make me feel like a more accessible mom than vanishing into a screen. I feel like my face is zoned out and zombie like when I’m on a device and more present and engaged looking, therefore more interruptable and available to the family when I’m reading a book. Hope that makes sense.

  16. How do you keep track of and organize the inspiration you find in print media?? Please share tips!

  17. Thank you for this post! I LOVE design books and am always looking for new titles.

  18. Some nice choices. I tend to be a bit more reckless in my interior design alternating between streamlined neutrals and over the top colour and texture. So for those out there like myself I would like to recommend “Decorate Fearlessly!” by Susanna Salk. Great book for those of us who want to be more adventurous.

  19. Absolutely smitten with the sofa in the top picture – anyone help me out with the source of that one or a similar style?

  20. The only one of these books I’ve bought and actually kept is the Commune one (I’ve bought several others that I either returned or re-sold).

    Guess I’m just not cut out to be a monochromaticist!

  21. Love this post. Why not do one listing all your favorite Catalogs : )!! Please!!
    And then maybe one with your favorite magazines….

    1. Yes! I would love to hear everyone’s fave design catalogs for free inspiration!

      1. ha. i love so many. Rejuvenation,. Serena and Lily. Target. West Elm. Dash and Albert. Garnet Hill. Pottery Barn. I hate the waste, but I love that i can hang with my kids and still check a few work boxes without being attached to a device, while looking at something so pretty.

  22. But wait, what about that sofa! Where is it from?

  23. Perfect English, Perfect English Cottage, and Perfect English Farmhouse all by Ros Byam Shaw are some of my favorites! I also love Wabi Sabi Welcome by Julie Pointer Adams.

  24. Thank you for this post! I LOVE design books and am always looking for new titles.

    1. Thank you so much for this post, I have been wanting to buy some new books for ages but just didn’t really know where to start? I have the book ‘Decorating with style’ by Abigail Ahern that I always refer to and a new one called ‘Mad about the house’ by Kate-Watson Smyth. Mad about the house has some great tips but not really any pictures and I am more of a visual person so I suppose it depends on what you like.

  25. For catalogs, I still love Ballard Designs and Grandin Road. West Elm also. For books, I’m inspired by Erin Gates’ book Elements of Style.

    1. ooh i love ballard design and grandin road, too. There are secretly so many good finds that I wouldn’t expect. xx

  26. I find the books of Tom Kundig and Thomas O’Brien (particularly American Modern) to be good inspiration even when the style does not align with what I might have in mind.

  27. How can I NOT chime in regarding design books…?!

    Gestalten’s THE CHAMBER OF CURIOSITY
    THE ICONIC INTERIOR by Dominic Bradbury
    TRICIA GUILD color, pattern, and space

    All three showcase uncontrived interiors with great photography and stunning visual moments.

  28. Thank you Emily and EHD readers. I’ve just reserved two books at my local library and am saving this post and comments to my book nook pinterest board to check back later… one of the side benefits of tech.

  29. Is it possible to share where the pillows are from in the photo?? Many thanks

  30. I ordered several of these books after reading this post and was disappointed to find that they feature almost entirely white homeowners. The lack of diversity in hundreds of pages of content left me wanting more varied portraits.

  31. Love this post, Emily! I have many of those books, and the ones named here in comments, but there are a few that I think I need to get!

    Your book, Styled, has been indispensable to me in so many decorating situations! I find I gaze at Northern Delights (Scandinavian Homes, Interiors & Design) more than most of my books and lately I’ve been so inspired by Casa Mexico by Annie Kelly. Probably because its the opposite of my taste but the COLORS give me an immediate mood boost!

    I buy through catalogs so I get TONS. Love all the ones you mentioned and CB2 as well. The Fred Segal collaboration is SO GOOD!

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