Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Pinterest of a book

I don't consider myself to be a "fan." I don't seem to have the ability to be passionate, to the nth degree, about much, if anything. I appreciate beauty and talent where I find it, but I rarely find it consistently – it's unusual for me, that is, to be so taken with a designer, or an artist, that everything they do delights me.


Thus, when I say that I am not a fan of Miles Redd, I don't want you to misunderstand me – I'm not not, I should say. I'm not anti-Miles Redd for some of his work I like and some of it I don't care for. Some of it is fun, bold, sassy, a clever pastiche, and some of it is trite, cute, derivative, and occasionally ridiculous. More style than substance in fact.

I am a fan of books, of course, especially books about decorating, so I was delighted to be lent a copy of Miles Redd's The Big Book of Chic. Well, it's certainly big and really makes a statement on the coffee table. But I must confess, leafing through what I can only describe as this tome, I came away unsatisfied. Rarely, I felt, have so many trees been slaughtered for so little purpose.

It's as if Mr. Redd had printed out his Pinterest page. Printed it out on lovely rustly cartridge paper, bound it in wonderful thick wrapped board, and finished it off with a glossy dust jacket courtesy of Assouline. But a Pinterest it remains – droll quotations, notwithstanding.

One half expects to turn the page and find two cute Labrador puppies in a basket, or a four-poster bed in a meadow of flowers (picturelesspinterest.tumblr.com). Well, maybe Salukis would be more chic than Labradors, but you gets the idea.


I am a fan of books, as I say above, and the design of them (perhaps because my first degree was in graphic design) is of interest and concern. An agglomeration of photographs with a small amount of text is, in itself, no bad thing for not all interior design books need essays of pith and moment to accompany imagery – visuals that, sometimes, very clearly belie the text. Yet a book that is all imagery beyond a few words as an introductory chapter is somehow unsatisfactory – we are used to explanations and feel, and are, cheated if they are not there. Mr. Redd's book is more than that but when one is faced, for example, with images repeated as vignettes or with an identical image, but black and white, pairing the one on the opposite page the result cannot help but be unsubstantial and unsatisfying. I'd love see more of Mr. Redd's work and understand more about his design proces and philosophy, but sadly this book delivers neither.

43 comments:

  1. Just bought the book last night- its in the mail - after being seduced elsewhere, having read - even father afield - that the tome in question was mostly pictures, containing few words. Words are one thing. Canny organization another. It seems the reader is meant to pull things together?

    Know what I'd really like to see? Seriously (if you haven't done it already and I've missed it). A post from your hand on the books that have made your heart sing.

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    1. Daniel James Shigo, thank you. It is a very seductive book, I agree. You might notice by the way that I have updated my post with a final paragraph – one I was in the process of writing when I inadvertently published. I went off merrily to the kitchen thinking I would finish when I'd made coffee and was horrified to find comments coming in on my phone.

      We are in town next week for the Winter Antiques Show. Are you available for dinner or lunch?

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    2. Daniel, P.S. I think I've written about books I've like as part of posts about other things but you have given me an idea and I'm grateful.

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    3. Thank you for that last paragraph! (I have inadvertently clicked publish as well more times than I can count.)

      Glad you are coming to Gotham, and it would be lovely to see you and catch up.

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  2. I can think of several books that could be similarly described. I can only imagine that they are "vanity published", because I can't believe anyone would spend the serious amount of money required to buy one of them.

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    1. columnist, thank you. Precisely my reaction when I last went to the bookstore at the beginning of December. One I saw, by a famous NY decorator, had page after page of collages the likes of which I would not have found satisfactory had my students produced them.

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  3. My thoughts exactly. Other than for shipping issues bumped corners etc. I am not in the habit of returning books, I looked through the book and was not engaged, I went back and "read" through it again and I thought to myself that this was like the writer giving the reader the finger. This book was anything but Chic.

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    1. Anonymous, thank you. There is a certain cynicism in the production and sale of this book. The triumph of styling, I'm afraid.

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  4. I did the same thing and ordered the new Edith Wharton's The Mount. I love her and so looked forward to the book, but was a little disappointed. Don't know what I expected.

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    1. donna baker, thank you. I'm sorry to hear about that book being disappointing for I had thought of buying it. I buy books mostly online but will not order before I've had time to look through a book in a bookstore. This has saved me a lot of money and time. But, perhaps, its not easy for you to get to a bookstore – there is only one left here in town that I know of.

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  5. You hit the nail on the head, to coin a phrase. I adore him so much that maybe I expected too much? One expects a little something extra when shelling out for such an expensive tome.
    I still adore him.

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    1. Architect Design, thank you. I expected something a bit more serious and I was very glad a friend lent it to me first. I think she was disappointed too. Miles Redd is one of the best decorators there is, I think, but his work seems at times over-chotchked.

      BTW Looooove the black doors. I'm in the process of persuading the Celt that ours need to be Farrow and Ball's Mahogany high gloss.

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  6. Thought it looked a bit empty when I 'looked inside' on Amazon, massive pages devoted to a single thing. I've just got hold of an old copy of Rory Cameron's 'My Travel's History'--great first chapter, which he calls a predella.

    Best

    Herts

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    1. Anonymous, thank you. Predella – the base on which all stands. Lovely use of a word. I shall try and get that book, thank you.

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  7. Reading your blog on my phone, I almost fell off the necessaire thinking you were about to join the mass of other bloggers praising this book. (Noticing the images were from publisher's galleys rather than an actual printed book that a blogger bought brings influence into question). I'm not saying the decorator is without talent, but clearly he believes more in p.r. than actually developing an academic background in design. A lot of people can pick out a pretty picture, but few can say something truly interesting about it.

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    1. Mister T, thank you. It is an interesting book in that it is not about design and decorating but rather about image creation and brand building. It didn't work for me - it had the opposite effect.

      I hope your necessaire remains without perils.

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  8. I was disappointed in The BIG BOOK. Something that takes up that much real estate should earn its keep. This book, does not. I'm a Miles Redd fan, but this book was a major disappointment. Ditto to Charlotte Moss's collage book. As an English major who loved Edith Wharton, I can see why those design forward would think The Mount a bit twee. But if you love her books, this more than usual academic dry toast is acceptable...not joyful...but acceptable. I'm knee-deep in a book about Scottish houses. Can't remember the name. It's downstairs and I am not. At least the writing is good!

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    1. home before dark, thank you and my apologies for a late reply. I had looked forward to Redd's book and ... well, you read my reaction above. As to Charlotte Moss's book – having read a good review I decided I'd take a look and the best I can say is I'm not the demographic for it.

      I've not visited the Mount so cannot really say if the decor is twee but there is, judging by photographs, a certain twee correctness about that late 19th- early 20th-century classicism.

      I saw a new book about Scottish Houses in London but was warned I would have to carry it if I bought it so I didn't. Do you recommend it?

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  9. Until you do the book yourself - really, please find a way to do it - I'll wait 'til the movie. Best wishes Blue.

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  10. Overdaubing of image making ("design") upon image making is a tough dance to pull off, for the reasons you state and for some you imply, and nobody who sensibly perceives this challenge can be insensitive to its consequences. Redd's young and financed enough to try again. By the same token, the Wharton study is much the talk of our little Virginian hamlet these days, but we all know why: underneath it all, there is Wharton to hold our curiosity. I just very gratifyingly spent lavishly for an immense and sumptuously produced publication for the Paul Mellon Center at Yale, on the London Town Square (Todd Longstaffe-Gowan), but the thrill of its display is compromised: embedded in literature, anthropology, history, architecture, gardening, politics and commerce, town planning and contemporary design, its ravishing illustrations of the resort to comfort make a tragically humane gesture, utterly gorgeous as the object may be.

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    1. Laurent, thank you. Yes, I looked at the Longstaffe-Gowan book in London during the holidays and (see comment above) decided not to buy it there. Amazon is so much more convenient to say nothing of cheaper than a bookstore. If my bookstore (the only remaining one in the area) were a local business I'd likely support it - as I do my local wine merchant rather than the supermarket.

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    2. Amazon is cheaper than a bookstore and e-books are cheaper than China and one fine day we shall be fortunate to have nothing to purchase from anyone who has any idea of its quality or of us because he hates his job. Such, primarily, are our merchants already, our tellers at our banks if we are so lame as to venture there, our service station attendants who are ourselves. The deregulators wanted to scorch the earth and by golly, guess what. The language means nothing, the past is toast, and Miles Redd is selling envy by the cubic yard. Not that you haven't warned us.

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  11. Despite any appreciation for the personalities involved, these "scrapbook" and "collage" books with multiple identical images and minimal text hold no interest for me. Hopefully, this fad will soon past.

    (On a side note, Todd Longstaffe-Gowan will be making a lecture appearance sponsored by Decorative Arts Trust in March. It'll be a not-to-be-missed opportunity for those interested in historic landscape design. Also, he'll talk about his new garden designed for Kensington Palace).

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    1. The Devoted Classicist, thank you. I hope you're right in that the fad for these "scrapbooks" will pass – I suppose it will. It does indicate, to me at least, the dire state of ID publishing.

      Todd Longstaffe-Gowan is appearing in Memphis, I assume.

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  12. You have all missed the point of this book. Misunderstanding its look, its content, its intention and its author. The slight "bitchiness" of many of the comments is typical of men of a certain age...not unusual in the world of interiors and no great crime, but something to be aware of as one ages.

    Try the thinking "glass half full"! The book is brimming with content about MR's designs...just take a look, its all right there. The book is a completely original, sincere, uncensored effort by its author to be true to his vision.

    Have fun and join the party...

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    1. Oh, my, not yet another male, extolling his own vision - and of a certain age, no less. Possibly it's the massiveness of that latent contradiction, of inflating the reductio ad absurdum of 'completely original, sincere, uncensored' self-absorption which leaves "the thinking glass" in such dubious condition.

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    2. Anonymous, thank you. Greetings from the party - where glasses are brimming!

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  13. 'bitchiness of men of a certain age'? I won't rise to that bait, bitchy and certain aged though I am. Fortunately, a sense of humor carries one far.

    I quite admire some of Redd's work--there's some pizzazz and scholarship and wit sorely missing from many of the eclectics currently practicing--and getting published in Elle Decor. That said, I otherwise agree with every word you utter in this thoughtful and provoking essay/review, Mr. Blue.

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    1. The Down East Dilettante, thank you. As I write above, I don't dislike Redd's work - as you say, there is pizzazz, scholarship and wit, the latter going a long, long way for me.

      As to the "bitchiness of men of a certain age" no comment is necessary.

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  14. My, my - you must be exhausted answering all these lovely and interesting comments!
    I haven't seen the book yet, but I think it's healthy that someone whose opinion differed finally popped up here. It would have seemed more valid without the preface.
    Very happy to be reading you again.

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    1. gésbi, thank you. Differing opinions are what makes it all the more interesting. Even the preface, in this case, lends a certain air to the whole.

      I'm equally happy to see you again!

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  15. Michele from BostonJanuary 23, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    Dear Blue, As first an Albert Hadley, then Bunny Williams, then Miles Redd fan, I was disheartened at first to read your review. I,too,love to know much about the rhyme, reason, and interpretation behind a design as photographed and couldn't bring myself to order Redd's book because it appeared to be just a series of images and very little text (like most shelter magazines these days). I'm now happy I didn't make the purchase and will eagerly await the next publication of a Redd project in a magazine. Too bad. I think he's an incredibly exciting designer, and at 43, can only get better! I also think those of us who've been around for a while (pre-HGTV!), don't need simple visual juxtaposition to see where a design spark originated. I love his use of color and his soigne details and think he's best when he shows some true swagger.

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    1. Michele from Boston, thank you and my apologies for a late reply – a visit to New York intervened and apparently also took away my manners.

      I think Miles Redd is talented and his work shows well in magazines but this book does not do him justice. Swagger is a good word to use with regard to his work but for me there is always too much layering and dabbing about with stuff. Nonetheless, he is to be watched as are a few others.

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  16. A lot of drooling and fawning has gone on throughout blogland about this book. I am so glad to finally read someone's commentary that approached the book in a more objective way. I am beginning to believe that one only has to have worked at Parrish Hadley to get published and content matters little. One of the images in the book is from a home Redd did in Texas. The only thing missing was the elephant act and a flying trapeze. Now, go throw yourself a big party in your elegantly appointed bathroom.

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    1. Anonymous, thank you and apologies for a late reply. I, like you, have the feeling that not all who worked or interned at Parish Hadley are as good as perhaps editors would have us believe.

      Yes, a lot of "drooling and fawning" has gone one and continues to do so – more than a little hero-worshipping and and good old-fashioned crushing, if you ask me (which you haven't.)

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  17. I think Miles Redd is incredibly talented and love seeing his worked published,but here's the thing about the book there was NOT one photograph in it that I had not seen before...so disappointing and the use of that terribly over used word chic is well terribly unchic. Sadly we all expected more from the incredibly
    talented Mr Redd.

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    1. Bumble at home, thank you. That is precisely what I felt about the book – I was not seeing anything I had not seen before either in magazines or on Redd's website. I agree about the overuse of the word Chic - I am so sick of seeing it written or even hearing it spoken.

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  18. Having paid extra to recieve the book by Christmas and then to open the book to find damaged end pages, I was not pleased with Assouline, but I did get a new copy. The video clip of Mr. Redd on the their page was charming, although he references other publishers as not understanding his 'maquette,' ususally used to refer to architecture, but his book is not literature; it is an idea book, and as such I find it interesting to have his projects in one place, as I had been clipping them out of magazines for years. Mr. Redd, I hope you are reading this blog. I think there are those who have difficulty with your vision here, but I personally am glad you stuck to your guns.

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  19. Anonymous, thank you and my apologies for a late reply. I recognize more that the vision might well be Mr Redd's but I suspect he wanted to go beyond the regular "monograph" that are weighting down store shelves as I write. I've never disliked his work except that I feel he does not know the value of taking things out of a room rather than packing them in.

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  20. This is a late comment, but I thought I'd add a little note to the topic of 'monographs'.

    I am a book editor who specialises in architect and design books. As many of you have guessed, a number of these architecture or design books are indeed 'vanity' projects by the author, with authors paying up to $50,000 to a publisher for the privilege. My former publisher has made a great deal of money out of such authors. In saying that, publishers do go to enormous lengths to ensure the books have high production values, but if the author is paying $50K, they do have a say. And sometimes that 'hybrid' approach can end up creating books that are a little... well lacklustre.

    I like Mr Redd, and I like his work, so this is not a comment on his skills. More on this 'flip' side of publishing - a side few people realise exists. I just wish more publishers had the confidence to be able to direct the books so they looked like proper coffee-table tomes. Sadly, money seems to be the culprit.

    janellemccullochlibraryofdesign.blogspot.com

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