Interior Decorating Book Review:
The Best Design Books For A Gorgeous Home

This interior decorating book review is about two types of best interior design books:  a) the favorite home design books of readers, and  b) my own pick of books on decorating interior spaces.

What type of interior decorating book are you looking for?

Since I can't be sure that my personal list of 'best design books' contains the home decorating book you're after ...

... I've put this slideshow (left) together, of the most popular & highly rated books on interior design - favourite design books that all get the thumbs-up from large(ish) numbers of reviewers.

My own list (below) of best design books has several European tomes that I've found useful.

I'm not into coffee table books (you know, the kind with lavish photo spreads that show where some Italian industrialist and his aristocratic wife "get away from it all".)

Not that there's anything wrong with this type of interior decorating book. Visually, they're often stunning, and if you're good at translating that inspiration into your own home, then you can get a lot of mileage out of them.

But home design books about 'dream retreats' don't usually show you how to achieve the 'old French castle' or 'New York loft' look without actually buying your own château or NYC loft first.

So here's a small home decorating book selection that offers inspiring, concrete ideas and usable home decorating advice.

First up, Terence Conran. (Actually, he's Sir Terence Conran, having been made a Knight of the British Empire by Her Majesty the Queen in 1983.)

He's better known this side of the pond, and his books exude European chic with a confident, very stylish approach to interior design.

There are currently over 20 interior decorating and interior design books on the market that bear Conran's name, but that doesn't mean he has authored all of them in their entirety.

Some of them just contain an introductory essay by Sir Terence, and a knowledgeable team of interior design experts has written the rest.

This doesn't take away from the books' value.

They all show Conran's great eye for solidly well-made, intelligent, liveable, un-gimmicky design (and testify to his fantastic pool of researchers/writers and his access to a veritable treasury of photographs.)

Pretty much any interior decorating book Conran has lent his name to is likely worth buying - particularly the ones you can now get second-hand, for silly money, at

The five 'Conran' books in my library all contain sections on

  • different home decorating styles and looks to get your inspiration from
  • planning (asking the right questions, assessing the options and weighing them against your own needs & preferences)
  • furnishings and materials, and
  • a clear and well-illustrated DIY or 'How-to' section.

All of them are also lavishly showered with a large variety of good color photos to illustrate each and every point. Of my personal favourite design books, the first one I'd like to pull off the interior decorating book shelf for you is ...

Terence Conran, The Essential House Book: Getting Back to Basics (London & NY 1994 - pictured right)

As the title suggests, this interior decorating book covers all aspects of a house - designing and decorating your living spaces as well as utilities, safety issues, and troubleshooting tips.

It is a brilliant reference book for design-oriented home decorators, as well as a beautiful picture book for people who want inspiration.

I'll admit that some of the photos show awesome architecture (double-height ceilings, massive windows, open-plan living) - stuff that can't be reproduced in regular, humble homes.

But on the other hand, most design examples in the book were created for more commonplace human dwellings, the kind many people are likely to be able to afford.

Looking at the book in 2010, I find that none of the advice and photos look dated. It's all fresh, exciting, much of it easy to copy, and incredibly inspiring.

This interior decorating book is excellent mainstay material for any home decorator's library. It's up there with the best design books, and you can get the paperback version for pennies these days (I bought it new when it came out & paid almost $100) ... and it's one of the best interior design books to give as a wedding present!

Terence Conran, Kitchens: The Hub Of The Home (London 2002)

Again, this interior decorating book is not in print any longer, but it's very, very worth buying second-hand if you're planning a new kitchen or an overhaul of your old one.

In true, commonsense Conran style, this source book covers every possible angle of planning and equipping a kitchen that is perfect for your needs and your taste. It's also beautifully and abundantly illustrated, in full color.

Dylan Landis, Elegant and Easy Rooms: 250 Trade Secrets for Decorating Your Home (New York 1997)

A few days ago, a site visitor contacted me in search of ideas - she was looking for ways to visually "lift" a low ceiling.

I started writing her a list of suggestions. After a while, the flow of ideas turned into a bit of a trickle, and I turned to Dylan Landis' little interior decorating book for support.

I found some more cool tricks, and recommended the book to my reader.

Dylan Landis is not an interior designer. She is a US-based journalist who specializes in writing about interiors, has a host of designer pals she can pester with questions, and a keen eye for what works and what doesn't.

She claims that her book will help you create "welcoming rooms that exude confidence, polish, and style", mostly on a modest budget. The book consists of 250 bite-size, mini chapters of advice that you can easily consume in a succession of coffee breaks.

Some of the ideas will be immediately useful to you, while others won't be. And a few, it must be said, are neither cheap nor easy to realize.

But the author promises "that if you try any five ideas from these pages, your home will look better or work better (...) Any five 'recipes' in any combination will make a difference you can appreciate, every time you walk in the door."

This is a promise Landis keeps throughout her book. There are chapters on paint/color, walls, windows, problem rooms, home furnishings, on how to display stuff and how to use interesting detail to your home's greatest advantage. There's also an appendix on the ins and outs of hiring an interior designer, and a list of mail-order resources.

Now, seeing as this interior decorating book is already thirteen years old, much of that information (like paint numbers and contact details) may well be out of date. But much of the content is about creating timelessly elegant, personal interiors, and will be current for decades to come.

Even if you only use those five ideas, the results will likely be worth every penny you pay for the book.

Is this a 'must-have' interior decorating book? I'd say yes, but there's one potential drawback. It has no photos, and the few, pretty ink-and-wash illustrations are all black-and-white. You'll have to see in your mind's eye how any of the decorating ideas would improve your home.

Most people I know prefer interior decorating books with lots of colored images, and you may be one of them. Even so, this skinny paperback could serve you as a handy supplement, a reference companion to more lavish picture books on interior design.

There are more 'best interior design books' to come to this page ... so stay tuned! Also, if you have (or have seen) an interior decorating book you'd like to recommend, please let me know!

And check out this article about using a self-development book for home decorating purposes (for the heck of it)!

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