You are what you stack


               
It is publishing season for decorators, and scores of them have new books out. The monograph, an expository form once reserved for architects, seems to have become the preferred form of publicity for interior designers as well, even those with just a few years of work under their belts.


Bruce Buck for The New York Times
Some coffee table favorites.
Yet prominently on display last week at William-Wayne & Co. on Lexington Avenue, the purveyor of decorative accessories like rattan ice buckets and blue Canton ginger-jar lamps, was a vintage title. In a glass case up front, nestled next to the Stork Club ashtray and the vintage Revlon compact, was a small book with a distinctive zebra stripe printed on its linen binding.
Published in 1940, “I Married Adventure,” by Osa Johnson, is a memoir of the author’s life on permanent safari with Martin Johnson, an adventurer and photographer. Like the other objets de vertu in its proximity, the book ($150) is a memento of a certain kind of good life. It is also a familiar totem to those working in the decorative arts — stylists, designers and magazine editors — a visual code that brings either a smile or a wince.
“Every five months or so it pops up in a store or an antiques show, and I have to avert my eyes and run,” said Jeffrey Bilhuber, a veteran Manhattan interior designer. “I fell victim to it once when I was young. It was my first show house, over 20 years ago, my nod to a level of sophistication. The minute it hit the table, I realized I had made a mistake.”
That books can be beautiful is a truism of bookmaking, an ancient fine art. That they can be decorative, a graphic object to deploy on horizontal surfaces like any other bibelot, is one that designers have embraced, with the result that certain titles tend to show up with the frequency of an overplayed pop song. From Taschen’s “Cabinet of Natural Curiosities,” the 20-pound behemoth from 2001 with its graphic red coral cover, to vintage titles like Osa Johnson’s or anything from Slim Aarons, photographer of WASPs at play during the “Ice Storm” years, the coffee table book (or the illustrated book, to use the industry parlance) can say as much about a room’s designer as its owner. Read full article

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