As far as I know only one bookshop survives in Atlanta – that is, within the part of town where I live. So, when I want to evaluate an interior design book, I rarely go the the bookshop – I go instead to one of two shops, neither of which is a bookshop – one is furniture store that sells interesting (frequently Belgian) books about European and American design, and the other a not-so-run-of-the-mill gift shop whose inventory always includes the latest designer monographs. I find little point going to the Big Box Bookstore (the single-surviving bookshop mentioned above) despite it being down the street. Too sad, too tired and the model hasn't changed since my father-in-law set up what was then Waterstone's in what had been the Conran's Habitat building in Boston in the 80s.
A charismatic man was the Celt's father, who would have been horrified at what has happened to publishing since his time. When attired in his formal kilt, arrayed with sporran and sgian dubh, glass of single malt in his hand, he was the most interesting of public speakers, charming the knickers of his audience (as the Brits say) with a combination of erudition and humor – but, I digress...
Buying books online for me is a double-edged sword – the lower price is always welcome but increasingly I'm dissatisfied with bent corners and imperfections in book jackets caused by shrink-wrapping and (occasionally) inadequate packaging. In fact, there's a book in a box in the hall right now, awaiting its journey back to the post office. It's not being returned for the reasons above but because it is a big let-down – another disadvantage of buying online if one has not first assessed the book firsthand beforehand.
"Order them online," suggested the Celt as I picked up both Fritz von der Schulenberg's and Tino Zervudachi's books. But I'm not a fan of delayed gratification, so as a compromise, I bought one immediately – no reduction there – and the other, online that evening. Thankfully, it arrived in perfect condition. Books other than interior design books – smaller books – tend to arrive in a better condition, which suggests there might need to be a reassessment of packaging methods in some executives' minds. It is, after all, a simple design problem and could be solved very quickly. No biggie, as we used to say.
We all know, or should know, Fritz von der Schulenberg's work. One of the best photographers of interiors there is, whose photographs I've known since I bought my first issue of The World of Interiors (December 1982 - January 1983) – and whose book I very much looked forward to. When I saw Luxurious Minimalism: Elegant Interiors in the Rizzoli bookstore earlier this year I was not disappointed but, as usual, decided to buy it online, which I eventually didn't.
Two things impressed me most – first, the delicious silk(-like) covered boards and spine, gold stamped without a jacket (luxurious minimalism, indeed), and second, the table of contents which heralds a fundamental lesson in interior decoration written and illustrated by the best:
The Art of Elegance, an introductory essay by Fritz von der Schulenberg; followed by Rhythm with Nicholas Haslam and John Minshaw; Colour with John Stefanidis; Light with David Collins; Space with Anthony Collett and Annabelle Selldorf; Texture with William Sofield; Composition with Axel and Boris Vervoordt and Robert Kime.
Rather than scan from this book I photographed it lying the desk in our new office. In case you're wondering, the wood is zebra wood.
A quotation from the Foreword by David Mlinaric suffices to explain to those who have not heard – I cannot imagine there are many – of Tino Zervudachi. This Foreword is also an elegant assessment of the present-day state of interior design (not a negative assessment by any means), and well worth reading rather than being passed over on the way to the pictures. It's a short quotation but one that shows how young this man was when he became successful and now, not quite fifty, is the owner of the firm.
".... Tino's work shows both a respect for the existing or the old and an enthusiasm for the new. It never crosses the threshold of excess and yes is glamorous and quietly luxurious. Tino was brought up in London and moved to Paris to start a branch of our design company, Mlinaric, Henry & Zervudachi, in 1991, when he was 27. He had joined the studio in London when he was 19..."
Tino Zervudachi: A Portfolio is big book, beautifully illustrated, very well-written and makes clear that Continental interior design, at its best, is elegant, cultured and dapper. Actually, the exactly the same as the best American design, but with a completely different accent.
None of the interior design books I've gone through in the bookstore have appealed to me for a long, long time. There seems to be plenty of majestic titling belying a dearth of substantive content. Also, it is apparent that mid-century or early-twentieth-century furniture still plays a role in the minds of designers who wish to appear original. So this is a refreshing change. Either – or better, both – of these books illustrates how to live in the present whilst appreciating the past, and neither book rigidly defines what that present might be. I highly recommend them.
I was not asked to review either of the books but have done so purely out of the pleasure of finally finding books worth buying.