reviewed by Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 12/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Design & the Decorative Arts, Britain 1500-1900
by Michael Snodin and John Styles
London: V&A Publications, distributed in the U.S. by Harry N. Abrams, New York
488 pages, 1,080 illustrations, most in color, $95.
Four centuries of British design in less than 500 pages, generous color illustrations, highly readable texts crowded with fact and opinion—this is a compilation to treasure. Coinciding with the opening of the British Galleries at London's Victoria and Albert Museum, the book is broken down into three chronological periods, Tudor and Stuart (1500-1714), Georgian (1714-1837), and Victorian (1837-1901). Each period is then divided into five sections: first, an introduction by coauthor John Styles, the head of postgraduate studies; second, a section on style edited by Michael Snodin, head of the design collection in the department of prints, drawings, and paintings; third, a section titled "Who Led Taste?" put together by Snodin; fourth, a section on "Fashionable Living" by a variety of authors; and last a section by Styles asking "What Was New?" Under these headings, more than two dozen scholars, all associated in some way with the V&A, have contributed essays. The result is richer, more varied, and considerably more entertaining than most histories. Christopher Wilk, chief curator of the British Galleries—which present more than 3,000 objects from the same four centuries—provides the foreword.
Austere Luminosity of Chinese Classical Furniture
by Sarah Handler
Berkeley: University of California Press
417 pages, 322 illustrations, 118 in color, $65.
Chinese classical furniture's "austere luminosity," writes this book's author, "lies on the surface and in the wooden heart of the pieces and gives them their plain magnificence." The focus here is on hardwood furniture designs perfected in the Ming dynasty and still being used. (Recent softwood vernacular pieces, ornately carved pieces, and lacquered pieces are therefore not included.)
Introductory chapters include "A Ming Meditation Chair in Bauhaus Light," in which Handler compares a 17th-century Chinese chair of huanghuali wood with Breuer's 1925 tubular-steel Wassily chair and states that our familiarity with Bauhaus design "now provides us with a sympathetic eye for the magnificent plainness of the wooden household furniture sculpted by Chinese artists." The major part of this handsome book surveys Chinese furniture by type—chairs, beds, tables, cabinets, screens, and stands—and the back matter includes an extensive bibliography and a helpful glossary/index.
The author was curator of the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture, coauthor with Nancy Berliner of Friends of the House: Furniture from China's Towns and Villages, and editor and translator of Wang Shixiang's authoritative Classic Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties.
Wendingen: A Journal for the Arts, 1918-1932
by Martijn F. Le Coultre
New York: Princeton Architectural Press
272 pages, 285 illustrations, 175 in color, $50.
The journal Wendingen, established in Amsterdam in 1918 by the art society Architectura et Amicitia, is best known today for the special issues it devoted to Frank Lloyd Wright in 1925, an important introduction of Wright's work to Europe. The journal's editors also devoted an issue to Eileen Gray in 1924 and championed Joseph Hoffmann, Erich Mendelsohn, Michel de Klerk, and Gustav Klimt. This history of the magazine includes reproductions of all 116 of its striking covers.
by Dominic Bradbury
New York: Vendome
192 pages, 180 color illustrations, $60.
The pleasures of design combine with the titillation of voyeurism in this compilation of 20 designers' own homes. Half are in London, five are in Paris, and others are in Germany and Sweden. Among the most well known are Jacques Grange in the "New Classic" category, Ed Tuttle in "Fusion," and Andrée Putman in "Modern." We also see the rooms of David Hicks's son[,] Ashley Hicks[,] and protégé Charles Bateson. Much of the photography by Mark Luscombe-Whyte is excellent, and all is in color, but he seems unconcerned that all the window openings appear as rectangles of white glare. Otherwise, a handsome volume.
The New York Apartment Houses of Rosario Candela and James Carpenter
by Andrew Alpern
New York: Acanthus
350 pages, 357 black-and-white illustrations, $65.
Architect Andrew Alpern, the author of New York's Fabulous Luxury Apartments, 1987, and Luxury Apartment Houses of Manhattan, 1992, has compiled his best book ever, focusing on the work of two masters of apartment-house design. Rosario Candela and James Carpenter built 126 such buildings, all but three of which are still standing and serving their original purpose—many of them still the city's residences of choice. Alpern shows us 121.
Some interiors are documented, including ones by Mark Hampton, Mario Buatta, Juan Pablo Molyneux, McMillen, and Charles Gwathmey. Most buildings are represented only by brief texts, exterior views, and floor plans. But what floor plans! They display a panache that draftsmen have forgotten and computers can never learn, and we follow all the nuanced relationships among libraries, conservatories, cloakrooms, butler's pantries, and maids' sitting rooms.
There is much to learn here about vanished ways of living as well as vanished styles of architecture. Alpern adds an informative essay and chronologies of both designers' work, and there is a foreword by architect David Netto and a preface by journalist Christopher Gray.
International Design Yearbook 16
edited by Michele De Lucchi
New York: Abbeville Press Publishers
240 pages, 450 illustrations, $85.
This interesting and attractive annual series began in 1986 with a volume edited by Robert A.M. Stern. Every year since, the survey has presented achievements chosen by a different designer or design authority, Arata Isozaki, Oscar Tusquets Blanca, Richard Sapper, and Ingo Maurer among them. This year, Italian architect and furniture, product, and lighting designer Michele De Lucchi made the selections. As usual, they fall into several categories: furniture, lighting, tableware, textiles, and products, this last including electronic equipment, kitchen equipment, wristwatches, toilet brushes, bicycles, and automobiles. Unlike many past editors, De Lucchi refrains from selecting his own designs (besides a few to illustrate his introduction) and instead highlights ones by Zaha Hadid, Ettore Sottsass, Jr., Matteo Thun, Philippe Starck, Shigeru Uchida, Pascal Mourgue, Verner Panton, Geoff Hollington, Ron Arad, and more than 200 others, many relatively unknown.
For today's professional, this series has become a valuable source of new product. The price of the books is high, but production qualities are excellent, with first-rate color photography and generous layouts. There are also interesting introductions to each category and helpful lists: biographies of the designers, recent acquisitions by leading museums around the world, and address, telephone, fax, and E-mail information for all manufacturers and suppliers. Missing, unfortunately, is an index.