Think of the most eye-pleasing room you’ve ever stepped into. You know, the one that drew you in just by the curious placement of furniture or the surprising colour pairings. Chances are the designer behind it began by flipping through a book or two. “I live with books and buy them constantly,” says David Powell, the principal designer at Powell & Bonnell in Toronto. “They’re stacked around me everywhere.”
Since we’re perpetually fascinated by the texts that serve as inspiration for designers, and previously browsed the bookshelves of Toronto architects, we figured interior designers would have an equally impressive collection to skim through. Below are a few to add to your wishlist:
Kelly Cray of UNION31
Interior Design magazine: While the name of the glossy speaks for itself, Cray says it’s been a source of inspiration since he started his profession. “It’s something I discovered in school and keep gravitating towards,” he says. “It’s a cross-section of design styles and interiors.” Cray also notes that the mag helps to spur creativity for current projects, whether it be a model suite or residential space.
Workshop magazine: “I have judged a book by its cover,” Cray admits. “Many times I’ll go out and purchase a book if the cover stands out, just because it makes my coffee table look amazing.” The magazine is a blend of European and Asian design that’s constantly pushing the creative envelope — from modern light fixtures to vibrant art installations.
Night Fever 3: This coffee-table read, speckled in neon-bright hues, is enough to grab any reader’s attention. But sometimes it’s about more than the exterior. Cray says designers constantly borrow ideas from one another before finding ways to make them their own. Flip to the page “Guest Room”, for instance, where the geometric-shaped headboard and gold-quilted duvet is the type of sleek and sophisticated imagery that often influences his work.
Alana Boychuk of Boychuk+Fuller Inc
Geography of Home: Writings on Where We Live by Akiko Busch: This relatively small book contains insightful musings on how the space within our home helps to define our private and public lives. “Busch meanders through each room and explores how we use and adapt to a space in order to seek comfort,” she says.
Site Unseen: Laneway Architecture & Urbanism in Toronto by Brigitte Shim and Donald Chong: This thin book details the laneways and residences hidden in the nooks and cracks of the city, which is something that’s always fascinated Boychuk and her partner. “I find sometimes the books find me rather than I find them,” she says. And she’s not just referring to a work’s bright visuals. Boychuk says the written word can be just as powerful “because that way you can use your imagination.”
A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder by Michael Pollan: Hear the name Michael Pollan and you’ll likely picture an anti-industrial food critic. But the now-famous American author and journalist penned about architecture long before he did food culture. In this particular read, published in 1997, Pollan reports on the process of building a writing studio on his property. “He describes his need and want for the space. It’s borderline between architecture and interior design,” Boychuk says.
Neil Jonsohn of UNION31
Maison Francaise magazine: Jonsohn often flips through this bi-monthly decor publication for inspiration, which is injected with French flair. The designer favours French and Italian publications above all else. “Both cultures have a rich architectural history,” he says. “It seems to enable them to mix the old with new in a very honest and thoughtful way.”
Modern Ethno Interiors: This sizeable hardcover is just as exotic as it is practical. It details the emerging ethno design trend (think: bright orange hues and wood furniture) through 50 striking projects. Similar to travel, the book helps to spark new ideas that would otherwise remain unfamiliar, Jonsohn says. “Design is ultimately about solving problems within a visual context,” he says. “I suppose that’s what I look for, new approaches to solving problems.”
Paris Architecture & Design: Since Jonsohn is drawn to European-inspired design, it’s no surprise this weighty read is perched neatly on his bookshelf. “I am always looking for new sources of inspiration,” he says. The book showcases innovative and modern projects in Paris, which is one of the designer’s new favourite locales.
David Powell of Powell & Bonnell
Get Your House Right (Architectural Elements to Use and Avoid) by Marianne Cusato and Ben Pentreath: Pick up this book if you’re looking for practical knowledge on the ins and outs of the design world. In other words, how to do it right. “The authors explain how modern-day interpretations can just get it so wrong,” says Powell. “It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and there are multiple copies floating around in our office.”
Billy Baldwin Remembers: Billy Baldwin, also known as the dean of American interior decorators, was a prominent design figure in the 1950s and 60s, taking on famous clients such as Diana Vreeland and Jackie Kennedy. “His sensibility still looks fresh to me after all these years,” Powell says. Despite all the glitz and glamour, Baldwin lived in a bachelor apartment and felt that’s all he needed. After recently downsizing to a studio apartment, Powell can relate. “In my business we deal with extraordinary clients and vast projects, but I long for none of it,” he says. “At this point in my life I want simplicity and convenience.”
It’s not as much about Baldwin as it is about the time period. Pick up a design read that hones in on the early- to mid- twentieth century, and chances are Powell will have already skimmed its pages. In fact, Powell & Bonnell’s product line is heavily influenced by the 1930s and 40s era. “To me it was one of the most fascinating periods of design, because there is a sensuality and refinement to it,” he says. “After the war there was a new movement that redefined the way people thought. I don’t know there’s been a finer moment.”