Bad Books

Through this project I’ve read a lot of bad books on homebuilding and interior design. Here are the ones I didn’t like. For my favorites, head over to our Resources page. But if you want to hate-read some books on building a home, read on.

Ray Booth: Evocative Interiors is absolutely not our style at all (more on our style here). “Evocative” is mainly used as a synonym for “opulent.” And all of the interior design showcased in the book is expensive. LOTS of crown molding, and complicated woodwork, and stone, and textiles. And lots of spaces that look like they’ve been staged for a photoshoot in a place where nobody lives or has a junk drawer. There are lots of better options for inspiration.

Cabins & Camps: A great book if you think that “cabin” means that everything should be built out of logs. The walls, the roof, the couch, the end tables – logs logs logs. 

Snow Country: Mountain Homes and Rustic Retreats: Pretty pictures of mountain homes, trending largely towards the chalet crowd with waaaay too much money. Ski Style: Alpine Interiors, Architecture & Living Style has some more of the same.

Monochrome Home: Harmony, Balance, and the Elements of Modern Style: Not super helpful. Lots of close-up photos, of, say, a bunch of seashells in a black bowl. Also pretty dated at this point.

Contemporary Details (Whitney Library of Design): Even more dated than the 1999 publication date would suggest. Most of the photos reminded me of the neighbors’ house in Christmas Vacation

Todd : Well, something had to come through the window! Something had to break the stereo!

Margo : And why is the carpet all wet, *Todd*?

Todd : I don’t *know*, Margo!

Total Design had the same problem (and is now dated enough to recommend a phone jack in a guest bedroom for “checking email”).

House Beautiful: Dream Homes includes a lot of pretty pictures of pretty houses in pretty places. Unfortunately, most people are way, way too poor to mimic many of the looks in the book. If you’re designing for your second beach home, you may find some great inspiration here, but for most of us the looks are out of reach.

Abode: Thoughtful Living with Less is too “unadorned white walls and bare wood” even for me. It also works towards giving design advice, but it’s all pretty light – single paragraph discussions on how to choose art or flooring or whatever. It’s fine, but not a super important book to seek out.

Building Your Home: A Simple Guide to Making Good Decisions: a little too simple; too basic. “Here are some things to think about” isn’t terribly helpful if the list comes without much insight.

Design Secrets: Architectural Interiors didn’t do much for me. It was pretty focused on “architectural” spaces — areas that look like they’re part of a catalog spread or a museum lobby rather that somewhere that actual human beings live. 

Composing Architecture and Interior Design sounded promising, but was waaaay too conceptual for me. It’s a lot of “look if you take and apple and cut it up this way you form a room that is reminiscent of an apple orchard” rather than “here are things to consider when designing an actual house.”

Designers Abroad: inside the Vacation Homes of Top Decorators. This book has very pretty pictures, mostly of ultra-expensive vacation retreats done on high budgets. Not very relevant for most of the rest of us. Great Escapes: Inspirational Homes in Stunning Locations has more in this vein. 

Western Design: A 1995 book that feels like a book from 1995. It largely treats “Western” as synonymous with “cowboy.”

Our Place: Improve Your Home, Improve Your Relationship: A mix of a pop psychology book and an interior decorating handbook. Does a messy room mean you have a disorganized mind? Are you looking for quizzes that you and your partner can fill out to figure out if you have compatible styles? Then here you go!

The House that Pinterest Built: I’m all about a big ‘ol pinterest board. It can be a great source of inspiration. But at the same time, it can foster the worst elements of envy and keeping up with the Jonses and their houses that look like nobody has ever lived in them or spilled a glass of red wine. This book fosters the bad side of pinterest (and is pretty ostentatious to boot. Like a two-page back-and-white spread of block letters that just read BED as a chapter heading).

Classical Principles for Modern Design: Lessons from Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman’s The Decoration of Houses: Not as “modern” as the title would have you think. Lots of very fussy wall treatments and formal seating. 

The Healthy House Book: I quit reading after the advice regarding avoiding electromagnetic radiation.

Bonus: Some Okay Books

Not good enough for our Resources page, but not bad enough to hate-read.

Apartment Therapy: Complete and Happy Home included a lot of little quick-hit pieces of advice, along with some case studies of spaces that “work.” It’s a good “early” interior design book, but after reading some of the other books on our Resources page, a lot of the information felt familiar. The examples were good though, so it’s worth a read.

But Where do I put the Couch: Answers to 100 Other Home Decorating Questions is a nice little interior design book. As you may gather from the title, it presents information in a question-and-answer format. Which flooring options are best? How can I decorate with fabrics? Does a TV have to take over a room? It reads less like a handbook and more like a new homeowner’s search history. Not a bad resource, especially if you dig the format, but not a must-read.

Undecorate: The No-Rules Approach to Interior Design is on the other end of the spectrum. It generally takes the “do what you want” approach to interior design, without much in the way of structure. Not a bad result for pretty pictures to inspire a similar approach, but not a must-read.

150 Best Cottage and Cabin Ideas was a better book than I expected it to be. It’s a nice little collection of case studies, with captions and narratives that call out nice design details in each cabin in the book. And the ideas aren’t only applicable to “cottages and cabins” either. It’s not an architectural textbook by any means, but it’s worth a read for some inspiration.

Pottery Barn Workspaces: Not a bad collection of ideas for different home offices, which have become more relevant post-covid. The color palettes are a nice addition.