Edited by Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 10/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
by Thomas Luntz
Paris: Flammarion, distributed in the U.S. by Rizzoli International Publications through Random House, $125
320 pages, 432 illustrations (403 color)
This suitably lavish and striking book, unlike most designer monographs, limits itself to only six of the subject's recent interiors, allowing an unusual degree of familiarity with each. (A previous book Maison: Christian Liaigre, published in 2004, shows only eight residential designs.) Only one of this book's six projects is from the designer's native France: a hilltop villa in Mougins, overlooking the Bay of Cannes and surrounded by terraces of aromatic plantings by landscape designer Pascal Cribier. The others include a town house in a Spanish village, its rooms predominantly red and black, with details such as custom bronze coat hooks shaped like horses' heads; a 184-foot yacht, outfitted in mahogany and teak and ornamented with antique objects from around the world; an 18th-century lakeside farmhouse near Geneva where ebony doors with carved bronze handles open onto a central spiral stair of ebony and stone; an island getaway in Bora Bora combining thatched roofs, partitions of tamarind wood, and furniture, fire pits, and bathtubs carved from natural lava stone; and, finally, an aristocratic house in Toronto arrayed with enormous fireplaces, an oversize bronze and glass lantern in the stair hall, oak parquet flooring, and leather-covered doors.
Missing are any of Liaigre's well-known commercial projects, such as the Mercer hotel in New York and the Hotel Montalembert in Paris. What matters is that all the interiors included display Liaigre's impeccable craftsmanship and showcase his elegant furniture designs. Most of the skillfully composed photographs, including many detail shots, are by Jean-Philippe Piter, and a final page identifies the art seen in the interiors. Alas, there's not a floor plan to be found, but even so, the book is an admirable production.
The Modern Interior
by Penny Sparke
London: Reaktion Books, distributed in the U.S. by University of Chicago Press, Chicago, $30
240 pages, 100 illustrations
Penny Sparke is a professor of design history at London's Kingston University and a serious scholar of interior design. Her previous book, Elsie de Wolfe: The Birth of Modern Interior Decoration , was reviewed here three years ago. In her latest work, she takes readers on an uncommonly thoughtful tour of design evolution from the Victorian era to today. The introduction cites cultural critic Walter Benjamin's observation, "The advent of modernity coincided with the emergence of the private individual." To which Sparke adds, "The emergence of the private domestic interior, and its capacity to facilitate self-reflection . . . on the part of its inhabitants, was also part of that same historical moment."
Sparke emphasizes the distinction between domestic and commercial interiors by dividing her book into two corresponding sections, "Inside Out" and "Outside In." As these titles suggest, Sparke acknowledges mutual influences and overlaps of these spheres, such as domestic touches in hotel lobbies, railway cars, and even in a bustling shopping mall in Calgary, Canada. She also instances the multiuse furniture of Charles and Ray Eames and praises Florence Knoll's Planning Unit for creating "a new language for the modern office and the home."
Sparke concludes with something of a surprise, speculating that when faced with "the implications for the interior of the concept of 'virtual space' . . . in which new inside and outside spaces can be accessed through a computer screen . . . the idea of modernity, of the separate spheres, and above all of the modern interior, cease to have any meaning." Fortunately for the scholar, redefining space is exactly what designers do best.
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
New York: Penguin Group, $16
"So many people just look at the LEED checklist and design to the points," says Kevin Pierce. "The real point is to use natural resources in a smart way." Not that Pierce has anything against LEED: His Chicago Center for Green Technology was the first municipal building ever to be certified platinum. Even so, the architect and urban designer is a great believer in out-of-the-box solutions and is game to follow any road that might lead to new ideas. Appropriately, one of the many books in his reading pile is Michael Pollan's investigation of the contemporary food chain and how it uses the concepts of industry, the organic, and sustainability. Particularly illuminating to Pierce is Pollan's look at Polyface, a Virginia farm on which the animals raised for food are integrally used to sustain the land and its resources. The result is cultivation that far out-produces the harvest typical of similarly sized farms. "People often think being green is about abstinence," says Pierce. "If it's done right, though, we really will be able to enjoy great abundance." —Deborah Wilk