When it comes to the eternal question of inspiration, and where to glean it, I find myself increasingly falling back on books. In an age of Instagram and Pinterest, it’s worth remembering that there’s treasure to be found on junk shop shelves. For me, books have the power to trigger a Proustian rush of emotions about rooms, fabrics, lighting and atmospheres, in a way that a digital image can’t.
Two of my most important tomes are Terence Conran’s The House Book (1974), a trove of astonishingly relevant practical advice, and the rather rarer, and more rarefied, An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration: From Pompeii to Art Nouveau by Mario Praz (1964). No book has had a more profound influence on how a generation of decorators perceive, or bring to life, grand rooms. But fashions change, and sadly Praz now finds himself out of print.
Books have the power to trigger a Proustian rush of emotions about rooms, fabrics, lighting and atmospheres
So I asked Johnny de Falbe of John Sandoe Books, the Chelsea bastion of beautiful publications for decorators, what have been the bestsellers of recent years. He cites Haute Bohemians by Miguel FloresVianna, which invites readers into the homes of a wide range of designers, from Christopher Gibbs to Carolina Irving; and anything by influential Belgian interior designer and art dealer Axel Vervoordt, whose wabi-sabi-inspired aesthetic has been endlessly copied, but rarely bettered.
Personally, I’ve loved Billy Cotton: Interior and Design Work, which is brimming with details of the homes he has created for an eclectic array of clients, not least the artists Cindy Sherman and Lisa Yuskavage. When I have a fancy for the deeply glamorous, I pull out The Private World of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, by Robert William Murphy, which surveys the mind-blowing collection of art, antiques and furniture the couple collected over 40-plus years. More recently, stylist Violet Naylor-Leyland’s Rare Birds, True Style: Extraordinary Interiors and Signature Looks reveals the eccentricities of domestic life, while The Colourful Past, by paint purveyor Edward Bulmer, is a tonal bible for any would-be decorator. For original ideas, rather than the infinite replication of interiors as seen on social media, swap your phone for a book.