For Frances Merrill of LA-based Reath Design, literature has helped develop a highly personal, eclectic style—and perhaps unsurprisingly, believes her inspiration can be found beyond typical interior designer books (read: the coffee table editions that de rigueur in studios and studies everywhere).
Here, the AD100 designer shares a curated selection of books for interior designers—including those that have shaped her thinking and career. While some fit right into the design book category, other lists prove that there is also professional wisdom to be found in other corners of the library.
The way we live
By Stafford Cliff
Prolific design writer Stafford Cliff, the former creative director of Conran Design Group and author of dozens of design books (both as part of The way we live series and in other volumes), occupies an important place on Merrill’s shelf. “There are so many fantastic books covering one style, but The way we live has a little bit of everything,” she says. “There are over 1,000 photos [within it]. On just one page you can see images from San Francisco to Mauritius to Scotland to Cairo. All of Stafford Cliff’s books are wonderful. It’s the best appetizer.”
By Tracy Kidder
“For those of us who like house projects, it really nails all the interpersonal dynamics that go into it,” Merrill says of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s 1985 documentation of a single house’s construction in Amherst, Massachusetts.
The White Album— Specifically his essay “Many Mansions”
By Joan Didion
Reading Joan Didion is always a good idea. However, Merrill finds particular resonance in the author’s 1977 critical analysis of Governor Reagan’s hubristic (and unfinished) residence in Didion’s native Sacramento. In its pages, Didion offers a sharp look at how politics and power are encoded in the built environment. “It’s required reading for anyone who takes a job with me,” notes Merrill. “It touches on waste and elitism and classism and style — all the interesting struggles inherent in this industry.”
The House the Pecks Built
By Helen and Alf Evers
Insight can come from surprising sources. The House the Pecks Built “was given to my kids when they were little and has always been one of our favorites,” explains Merrill. The 1940s children’s story centers around a carpenter and his family who end up building an insanely sprawling house while becoming upwardly mobile, making this book an early critique of suburbanism. “Not only are the illustrations charming, [but] it simply shows the mania that can take over when building a house and how we need so much less than we think we have.”
Andrew Henry’s Meadow
By Doris Burn
“Another children’s book!” Merrill laughed. This one, published in 1965, follows the adventures of a resourceful boy who deals with his middle-child loneliness by establishing a child-centered village in a meadow. The town is filled with custom-made, quirky dwellings of the young inventor’s own design. “As a studio, we are focused on giving our clients homes that are specific to their needs and preferences. The houses that Andrew Henry builds for his friends are exactly that.”
Charleston: A Bloomsbury House & Garden
By Quentin Bell and Virginia Nicholson
Located in rural East Sussex, United Kingdom, the Charleston Farmhouse was established during the First World War to function as an important center and artisan retreat for the radical Bloomsbury group. The amalgamation of its creative outputs is a wonderful study in cross-disciplinary collaboration. “It’s a personal favorite. I love any book that shows such a specific personal style,” she notes. “At Reath we always try to capture the essence and personalities of our clients, and this book is a lesson in that.”
“Depending on the style of the project, we always dip into this,” says Merrill. For even more inspiration, the AD100 designer recommends: