Book Reviews

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Yes, technically the Hudson Valley isn’t part of New England and doesn’t share quite the same Colonial roots as most of our region. And yet, when you page through Pieter Estersohn’s gorgeously illustrated Life Along the Hudson: The Historic Country Estates of the Livingston Family, you’ll find yourself beguiled by beauties that have a great deal in common with Litchfield County or the North Shore of Massachusetts. Thirty-five homes dating from 1730 to 1946 have been captured by the renowned architectural and interiors photographer, largely country houses built by the grand families of America’s aristocracy—the Astors, the Aldriches, the Delanos, and so on—on land owned by the influential Livingston clan, who settled the area in the late seventeenth century. Many properties remain in the hands of descendants, while some have been lovingly restored by preservation-minded newer inhabitants such as artist Brice Marden, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, and Richard Jenrette, founder of the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. A river journey well worth making for fans of architecture, interiors, and splendid views.

Life Along the Hudson: The Historic Country Estates of the Livingston Family, $85, Rizzoli, rizzoliusa.com

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Over the past twenty-five years, the partners of the architectural firm Ike Kligerman Barkley have played imaginative riffs on older architectural traditions. The subject of their latest book is, therefore, a perfect fit. What we call the Shingle style was from its beginning a flexible, composite method: the application of early New England cedar-shingle cladding to house configurations that had developed later in the nineteenth century. The fourteen houses captured here by photographer William Waldron extend this procedure with shingle-wrapped forms that call to mind more recent influences: Sir Edwin Lutyens, Frank Lloyd Wright, even flat-roof modernism. One particularly pleasing example, on Martha’s Vineyard, manages to combine 1950s Wrightian hexagons with echoes of McKim, Mead & White’s former William G. Low house in Bristol, Rhode Island, for a composition of spare, meditative horizontality. Still, these homes wear their historical learning lightly. As spaces for living, they are invariably urbane, comfortable, and altogether lovely.

The New Shingled House, $60, The Monacelli Press, monacellipress.com

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Leafing through this selection from Southport architect Mark Finlay’s three-plus decades of work, you might get the feeling that he’s an architectural chameleon. And, it turns out, that’s a perfectly fitting metaphor. As Finlay explains in the book’s introduction, his ability to imagine sympathetic dwellings for many different kinds of clients stems from early years spent creating shelters for the creatures that skittered or slithered or flew through the woods surrounding his childhood home. The houses he fashions these days, mostly for animals of the two-legged variety, are often English in feel. But some breathe of other lands and climes, such as a Greenwich house that evokes thoughts of Morocco, or, for a client in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, an edifice that wouldn’t seem at all out of place in New Orleans or Martinique.

Country Houses: The Architecture of Mark P. Finlay, $60, Images Publishing, imagespublishing.com/us

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Gardens at First Light is photographer Stacy Bass’s second essay on capturing the most beguiling and beautiful aspects of the Northeast’s many notable gardens—concentrating largely on New England and, in particular, ferreting out the bucolic jewels tucked away here and there in the state of Connecticut. Her first book, In the Garden, appeared in 2012 and became a best-seller in its category. This new volume (with accompanying text by fellow Connecticut resident Judy Ostrow) narrows the focus to that magical time of day when the mists of dawn still linger and the first few shafts of golden light begin to penetrate the trees. As you leaf through the pages, you’ll encounter an occasional bit of whimsy—a topiary crocodile?—but, in the main, these are subtle and unshowy landscapes. They are gardens you’ll want to savor slowly and live with, rather than rush through, and a helpful reference guide at the back of the book, with drawn layouts of the twelve projects included, will aid you in planning your exploratory mental walks.

Gardens at First Light, $60, athome Books, athomebooks.com

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Designer Robert Couturier, despite having an office in Manhattan and clients located all over the world, has nonetheless become a New Englander by adoption. And perhaps the primary paradise described in his recent book Designing Paradises is the Connecticut property he shares with his life partner, Jeffrey Morgan. Couturier was born, as it were, into the French design tradition—his childhood homes were stuffed with antiques and damasks; Jean-Michel Frank and Jacques Adnet both worked for the family—and yet his own personal style, following his translation to the U.S. and the founding of his firm some twenty-eight years ago, has expanded to embrace both modernity and the relative chastity of Colonial American architecture and interiors. This book, produced in partnership with photographer Tim Street-Porter (another Litchfield County resident) and writer Tim McKeough, is the first monograph to focus on the designer’s work, believe it or not, and it’s hard to imagine a lover of beautiful houses who wouldn’t want to pick up a copy and enjoy the diverse delights Robert Couturier has concocted over the decades.

Designing Paradises, $60, Rizzoli, rizzoliusa.com

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A lovely and thoughtful new book by Massachusetts architect Mark Hutker, A Sense of Place: Houses on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, follows the earlier Heirlooms to Live In: Homes in a New Regional Vernacular and presents an additional baker’s dozen of the sensitively conceived homes created by Hutker Architects in recent years (several of which will look quite familiar to New England Home readers, having graced the pages of previous issues). As always with the firm’s work, the houses engage in inventive yet natural-feeling ways with the very special landscapes and building traditions of the Cape and the Vineyard. Whether set into dunes and scrub or standing proud on a seaside meadow, these are buildings meant to enhance their surroundings for the long term, structures that will give pleasure to their owners, their owners’ children and grandchildren—and to the neighbors as well.

A Sense of Place: Houses on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, $50, The Monacelli Press, monacellipress.com

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Landscape architect Margie Ruddick’s new book begins at the old Hilltop Steak House in Saugus, Massachusetts. In fact, the whole weedy, asphalted strip of commercial blight/delight lining that section of Route 1 north of Boston, over which the Hilltop’s giant cactus and plastic cows once presided, proved an unexpected subject for a design studio Ruddick conducted at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design—and pondering how to harmonize the area’s conjunction of roadside development with a mostly hidden ecosystem of protected wetlands led to some of the ideas she presents here. She outlines five strategies for blending landscaping art with elements of uncultivated, unplanned nature to make beautiful spaces that are also environmentally healthy and truly functional for the communities of which they are a part and the people who will use and delight in them. Each point is illustrated with examples of remade places, from Long Island City to the city of Chengdu in China, making this book an excellent primer for anyone interested in outdoor environments that combine utility, life, and joy.

Wild by Design: Strategies for Creating Life-Enhancing Landscapes, $45, Island Press, islandpress.org/books

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In her newest publishing foray, Litchfield County resident and best-selling design author Susanna Salk—aided by examples drawn from a who’s-who of the world’s top interiors experts—explores the outsize impact that seemingly minor design touches can have on the look and feel of a room. The book’s sections focus on just where and how you will want to create an effect: on horizontal surfaces such as a table or kitchen shelf; on walls; on the often-neglected fireplace mantel; and via what Salk calls “little moments” and “big moments,” which can range from curtain ties and the backing of your bookshelves to the art of evoking a coherent overall visual scheme using rhymed shapes, colors, and patterns. Scores of beautifully photographed vignettes are accompanied by quotes from the designers and incisive suggestions about how to achieve similar results. Are you looking to engineer a compelling collection of family portraits for your great room or add a welcoming arrangement to the console in your foyer? This little volume will offer much food for creative thought.

It’s the Little Things: Creating Big Moments in Your Home Through the Stylish Small Stuff, $45, Rizzoli, rizzoliusa.com

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Martha’s Vineyard stone artist Lew French will be familiar to New England Home readers, who have glimpsed his remarkable fireplaces and other structures in feature stories over the years. Following eleven years after a previous publishing foray, Stone by Design, this new volume shows French’s aesthetic evolving in subtly new directions while remaining instantly recognizable. “I have tried throughout my career to let the natural materials . . . speak for themselves,” he says about his working method, which involves gathering promising chunks of raw material—some of them natural products of geology and weather, some of them leftover artifacts from earlier industry or construction work—and squirreling them away until just the right application comes along. Over time, French’s palette has grown to incorporate driftwood, antique timbers, and occasionally stones that have been split, using feathers and wedges, or otherwise altered. Recent projects include wall sculptures, water features, items of furniture, and a scattering of complete environments, including his own seasonal home in Brazil—all beautifully photographed by fellow Vineyard resident Alison Shaw.

Sticks and Stones: The Designs of Lew French, $35, Gibbs Smith, gibbs-smith.com

The tale told in Anthony Catalfano’s Embellished Spaces is one of a self-taught creator whose rise to success transported him from the blue-collar streets of Leominster, Massachusetts, to the more private lanes of New England’s moneyed haunts. Propelled by an innate passion and a boundless self-confidence, Catalfano has led his own interior design firm since 1989, undertaking projects from Maine to New York to Florida.

 

His interiors are most often traditional in their fundamentals—you’ll see valences, floral prints, and English antiques aplenty—with the occasional foray into a Deco- or midcentury-inflected modernism (and, at least once, a jewel-hued evocation of a south Asian harem). Quiet palettes of caramels and creams are frequently punched up with a few juicy splashes of color—as in the library shown above, which appeared in the very first issue of New England Home. But for Catalfano, it is the totality that counts: “It must all tie together to become a singular piece of art,” he says. Finally, should anyone doubt his drive or appetite for hard work . . . there are now 276 pages of solid evidence to make the case.

Embellished Spaces, $95, Bass Rocks Press, bassrockspress.com

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Back in 1897, The Decoration of Houses became one of the founding texts of American interior design. Authors Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman—both with strong New England ties—laid a special emphasis on function and simplicity that continues to guide design thinking today. Contemporary decorator Thomas Jayne first encountered The Decoration of Houses as a student, and he has revisited Wharton and Codman’s ideas ever since in conceiving his own work. This new volume is a product of that manifestly fertile cross-century conversation. Chapters focus on both the whole of a space, and on the individual elements—walls, doors, windows, ceilings, floors—that make up that whole. But, to be honest, even on those days when you might not feel up to a history lesson, you’ll still love the book simply for its photographs of Jayne’s own beautifully orchestrated rooms.

Classical Principles for Modern Design: Lessons from Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman’s The Decoration of Houses, $50, The Monacelli Press, monacellipress.com

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Yes, the book presents itself as a how-to tome. But even if you never intend to set hand to spade, it’s well worth perusing. Vermont-based Julie Moir Messervy provides do-it-yourselfers and non-gardeners alike with an education on how landscape designers think, outlining some of the ways they structure our experience of the outdoors. How appealing and functional spaces can be defined, what materials and details will evoke the right mood: all of this is knowledge to enhance your appreciation of any gardens you visit, and it will help assure success when the time comes to create (or recreate) some outdoor scenery of your own. The substantially updated edition of Messervy’s original 2014 book also features plentiful examples from landscape professionals across the U.S. (including glimpses of several projects that have appeared in New England Home.)

New Landscaping Ideas That Work, $24.95, The Taunton Press, tauntonstore.com