Interiors

My favourite interiors books to give (or keep)

Long before I was myself an interiors author, I’d spend hours and hours flicking through interiors books, daydreaming about one day living in houses like those within their pages. I still do it now, with old books and new. It’s part inspiration, part nosiness, and part fantasising about the possibilities the future might hold. I don’t always love every home featured in even my favourite interiors books, but it’s the general vibe of a book that attracts me and keeps me coming back. Once you find an interiors book you love, you’ll re-visit its pages many times over the years, even as your own style evolves. There may be one or two homes in a book that become your north star of decorating and you’ll remember them forever. That is certainly the case with me. Before I share my six recommendations, a little housekeeping.

Note: some book covers may have changed – when books get re-issued years after their first publication, publishers often change the cover image. The content inside usually remains the same. So if you buy a used version of a book, its cover may be an older version of what’s currently for sale new.

Where to buy: If you can avoid using Amazon, please try. I know it’s tempting and so so convenient, but there are other options depending where you live. In the UK I recommend World of Books, an online used bookshop. They have new books as well and very good condition used ones. There is nothing wrong with gifting a used book ok? Wrapped in tissue and ribbon it will be just as lovely. Also check eBay and Etsy and if you can still visit shops in your area, support your local bookshops, whether new or used. Even if the shop has to order it in and you give your gift a bit late this year, does that really matter? Alright here we go.

FLEA MARKET STYLE by Emily Chalmers and Ali Hanan. Photography by Debi Treloar, published by Ryland Peters & Small, 2005. Buy here.

This is an oldie but truly a goodie. If you’ve followed interior stylist Emily Chalmers career, you’ll know she has a shop Caravan Style, has written a number of books, and has a really consistent style: Vintage, a little bit kitsch, comfortingly retro and sweetly feminine. Even though the book is 15 years old, the homes featured in Flea Market Style still hold up. In fact, as the tides of interiors fashion change, it’s a style that always comes back around. It’s a book for collectors and flea market find lovers and for those who prefer to shun new shiny things and it has a couple of my favourite homes within its pages.

A PERFECTLY KEPT HOUSE IS THE SIGN OF A MISSPENT LIFE by Mary Randolph Carter. Various photographers, published by Rizzoli, 2010. Buy used here.

In Carter’s own words, this is a book on “how to live creatively with collections, clutter, work, kids, pets, art, etc…and stop worrying about everything being perfectly in its place”.

I discovered this book a year or so after I started this blog back in 2009. And obviously it spoke to me! Life Unstyled is all about embracing imperfection to create a home you love, so it was exactly the validation I needed about my own interiors philosophy. It’s a hefty book, designed more like a scrapbook than a glossy interiors book, and Carter has curated a mix of room shots, lists, ideas, and stories about the people who live in the rooms. It features beautifully cluttered homes from artists like Natalie Lété (my idol), photographers like Oberto Gili, and Carter’s own home.

Now I don’t love every home in this book – it isn’t necessarily a book where you’ll scour for inspiration on how to decorate your home in a specific style, but if you want to be freed from the pressure to keep a perfectly tidy house, then this book is for you. It’s much more about a philosophy for living than a particular interiors style.

NEW NORDIC COLOUR by Antonia AF Petersons, 2017. Photography by Beth Evans, published by Ryland, Peters & Small. Buy here.

Quite different from the first two books, this one is packed with clean lines, bold colour and effortless Scandinavian styling. A fresh look at this new and confident way of decorating Nordic homes, it offers an alternative to the typical muted and neutral homes we’re more familiar with when it comes to Nordic interiors style. Some of the homes featured are quite stark and minimal, while others have a more lived-in feel – although nothing like the previous book I mentioned! But they all share a brave use of colour, from deepest blue to salmon pink, and that indefinable coolness that the Scandinavians do so well. With a few small changes (more stuff) I could live in almost all of these homes.

ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL THINGS by Anna Spiro. Photography by Sharyn Cairns and Felix Forest, published by Conran Octopus, 2014. Buy here.

“Nothing in my world matches and everything in my world clashes”. Australian interior designer Anna Spiro sums up her style in the first line of her gorgeous book. When people ask me the rules on pattern mixing I always refer them to Anna’s interior design portfolio (or her Instagram or this book of course). She’s a very successful designer and yet this book feels personal and far from preachy. The homes she decorates and some of which she features in her book are filled with colour and pattern, but because they’re mostly set against a light and airy backdrop of white-washed paneling and that gorgeous Aussie sunlight, they never feel heavy or suffocating.

This is a picture heavy book and doesn’t have pages and pages of text, so it’s a good one for immediate visual inspiration without feeling like homework. In a bite sized but highly informative way, Anna imparts her wisdom on everything from establishing your sense of style to buying a sofa to her thoughts on specific fabric and rooms, all accompanied by the most gorgeous images of rooms, objects, fabrics and vignettes. It’s been a while since I’ve opened this book and flicking through it to write this reminded me just what a great book it is. I highly recommend this for the pattern lovers who might need more confidence in putting it all together.

INSPIRED BY NATURE by Hans Blomquist (including the photography). Published by Ryland Peters & Small, 2019. Buy here.

This is Hans Blomquist‘s fourth book and they just get more and more beautiful. Blomquist is an incredible interior stylist, renowned for creating breath-taking shoots for H&M Home, Anthropologie and West Elm among others. In general I like Hans’ books as pure inspiration and a glimpse into a fantasy world where only beautiful things exist; where flower arrangements are artfully, well…dead; and where real people may not actually live. What I mean is that the images in this book are so heavily styled but in a way that looks like they’re not styled at all and it’s all just bloody gorgeous! As long as you take his books for what they are – impossibly beautiful styled sets inside impossibly beautiful homes – then there is inspiration to be had.

Inspired by Nature focuses on personal and natural homes and has a luxe bohemian vibe to it. I like to look at the way Hans groups collections in the shots, the way he creates artistic vignettes with household items (albeit very beautiful ones) and the way he often focuses on texture to add depth rather than colour or pattern. It’s a great book for someone who loves a more muted and rustic boho look, think rich hippies in Ibiza.

MAD ABOUT THE HOUSE: 101 Interior Design Answers by Kate Watson-Smyth, with illustrations and design by Abi Read. Published by Pavillion, 2020. Buy here.

Kate doesn’t really need an introduction, but for anyone in the UK who may have had their head under a rock, Kate is an award-winning journalist, blogger, podcaster and author who writes about all things interiors. Her blog Mad About The House and her podcast The Great Indoors (which she co-hosts with Sophie Robinson) are both number one in their categories – she knows her stuff.

I wanted to include this book because I think it’s just really bloody useful! It isn’t filled with beautiful photography and Kate didn’t travel around visiting inspiring homes across the globe. Instead she has compiled a huge list of questions (101) that people ask when decorating their homes and she has used lovely illustrations throughout – very effective in helping you visualise an idea without getting too caught up on a particular style. Some of the questions are “When is it ok to paint furniture?” “How do I mix different woods?” What can I do about ugly radiators?” “When should the TV be over the fireplace?” (Answer: never. Couldn’t agree more Kate!) It’s basically a homeowner’s manual and it should come with every new home purchase!

I love this whole idea because this is often the stuff that holds us back. The little things that no-one ever taught us and that we’re afraid we’ll mess up. There is so much to know when decorating a home, aside from just what colours are you going to paint, and it can often feel overwhelming. Kate manages to answer a wide array of questions with in depth answers on topics ranging from kitchen layouts to rug sizes to mattress choices. This would make a great gift for a new homeowner or anyone who owns a home for that matter!

Emily Henson's four interiors books surrounded by plants

I suppose I’d be silly not to mention my own books. It would be odd to say they’re my favourites, but equally it would be falsely modest to act like I don’t think they’re any good. All I’ll say is between my four books there is something for (almost) everyone. I have a very limited number of signed copies of Be Bold for sale, otherwise, they’re all available from good bookshops worldwide.

There are so many excellent interiors books out there and this is just a small selection of some of my old and new favourites currently on my shelves. I’ll have to write another list soon! But I hope it’s given you some inspiration and even better I hope you’ve discovered a book or two you hadn’t heard of before. Happy reading!

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