Who knows better where to look for guidance and inspiration than a Design Master? Here, 13 members of our distinguished Council share the five (okay, sometimes six) books that have most influenced their work—and, sometimes, shaped their lives.

Marc Appleton

The Elements of Style

by E.B. White

Why? His writing is a model of simplicity, brevity and precision.

John Singer Sargent Watercolors

by Erica Hirshler and Teresa Carbone

Sargent’s watercolors, which are available in many books, have fed my creative juices for years and exude a freshness and confidence to which I will forever unsuccessfully aspire.

The Power Broker

by Robert A. Caro

This is an amazingly perceptive glimpse into urban politics and the making of New York City, with all the paradoxical good and bad laid bare.

Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture

by Robert Venturi

I read this little book in 1968 while in architecture school, and its observations have haunted me to this day.

The Control of Nature and Annals of the Former World

by John McPhee

All of McPhee’s books are a modern writer’s uniquely perceptive journey to the past through the present.

Janice Parker

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

by Twyla Tharp

Hands down, the best book on the creative process I have read. Inspirational and pragmatic. “If creativity is a habit, then the best creativity is a result of good work habits. They are the nuts and bolts of dreaming.”  This book teaches you to train, train, train, so that on a bad day, you are still doing good work.

Room Outside: A New Approach to Garden Design

by John Brookes

John Brookes was my teacher, mentor, and dear friend. This is a seminal book, published in 1969, and changed global garden design for the better. I keep it close—it’s priceless. The logic, strategy, and simplicity are timeless. The sketches are so charming!

Garden Design

by Dame Sylvia Crowe

Another seminal book on design, from a groundbreaking and innovative woman landscape architect. In the late 1950’s Dame Sylvia Crowe moved from garden design to the planning of roads and power plants, and then reservoirs and Oxford colleges. First published in 1958, it has been continuously in print and remains always relevant.

Monet at Giverny

by Claire Joys

This is the magic, the artist, and his garden. The painter and the gardener. It’s deeply satisfying and will transport you to a soulful place.

Gardens of a Golden Afternoon, the Story of a Partnership: Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll

by Jane Brown

Oh how I want to be someone’s Aunt Bumps!(Edwin’s nickname for Gertrude). This is the loveliest account of the fabled partnership. Their personal and professional admiration for each other is something to behold. The work says it all.  Gorgeous.

The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants

by Michael Dirr

The book by the tree expert, no, legend. Dirr’s knowledge and commentary is without rival. It took me some years to realize just how funny he his. My book is in tatters, lost the back spine years ago. I love it that way. It’s been with me throughout my career and it is like a pair favorite slippers. Irreplaceable.

Paul Wiseman

An Everyday Modernism: The Houses of William Wurster

by Marc Treib

I grew up in the Central Valley of California near a small town of 800 people that had two Wurster houses. My great friend and patron let me help her decorate her 1953 Wurster which, at age 103, she still lives in. He built her first house on the San Francisco bay in 1935. Wurster and I were born within miles of each other –albeit we are of a different generation—but he had a profound effect on my sense of simple authentic California style and its functionality.

Frank Gehry 1987-2003

by various authors (El Croquis)

I have known Frank for over 30 years, and was with him for the opening of Bilbao. I am working with him on our first project together, a large house here in Northern California. He changed the way we can imagine space. He changed me. He changed the world.

Luis Barragán-Mexico’s Modern Master 1902-1988

by Antonio R. Martinez

With as many styles as I am comfortable working in, I have especially admired the way Barragán took simplicity to a new level. Single broad planes humanized by broader still planes of color. I have had the great privilege of working with his protégée Ricardo Legorreta on four projects which deepened my respect for all that Barragan taught for the next generation.

Geoffrey Bawa: The Complete Works

by Geoffrey Bawa and David Robson (Thames & Hudson)

I have spent most of my almost 40 years in business working on tropical houses in Hawaii. Bawa, like Barragan, understood and changed the way we see modern tropical. The difference is his deep understanding of traditional, colonial, tropical styles—English, Dutch, Portuguese. He ultimately founded Sri Lankan contemporary architecture, which has influenced the world, and me, about how to use traditional tropical references in a very contemporary way. He needs to be studied more, and I have many books on his work.

Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson

by Nigel Nicolson (Atheneum)

When I first read this book, it opened a new world to me: Gardens as rooms. Sackville and Nicolson were the ultimate “haute bohemians.” Their work led me to annual pilgrimages to Sissinghurst, to collecting Bloomsbury items, and ultimately to collecting all the first editions of Vita’s work and many of Harold’s, Virginia Woolf’s, the Hogarth Press’s, Sitwell’s—on and on. It all led me to seeing how our deepest psyche is reflected in our homes, gardens, and writings.

Brian Sawyer

A Sand County Almanac

by Aldo Leopold

This 1967 book is one of the greatest books on ecology, conservation, and land- use ethics.  It taught me a deep respect for natural systems and the great beauty of the primordial American landscape; for what remains of it, and especially for what has been lost.

Design of Cities

by Edmund Bacon

Bacon’s book provided the context through which I came to appreciate the hierarchical importance of urban design, architecture and landscape.  It gave me a solid and indispensable sense of the order of our built environment.

The Education of a Gardener

by Russell Page

Page’s autobiography is an inspiring guide to demanding the best of one’s self and one’s clients in the relentless pursuit of beautiful gardens and landscapes. Page did not mess around: he was serious, hard working, and left us a vast legacy of great works.

The Decoration of Houses

by Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman Jr

There is nothing like clear, strong opinions, and Wharton and Codman certainly deliver them.  One must look past what seem to be outdated ideas to appreciate their rigorous and nearly dogmatic approach to design as well as their belief in the inseparable relationship between architecture and interior decoration.

The Transfiguration of the Commonplace

by Arthur C. Danto

This book was a point of departure for me as I came to recognize the value of modern and contemporary art and its place in our lives and minds. It has led to an ongoing pursuit of beauty in all its forms.

Suzanne Kasler


by Stephen Sills and James Huniford

This is a book I’ve had for years that is now out of print. It is one of my favorite books to reference…I am always inspired by the details and composition of furniture and art.

Style by Saladino

by John Saladino

Saladino’s focus on architecture and how interior design relates to architecture is so inspiring. I love his mix of muted colors and textures, with Fortunys, antique tapestries and furniture, the mix of new and old, and the unusual scale he uses that relates to architecture. I love everything in this book!

Maison: Christian Liagre

by Herbert Ypma

I love the brilliant details, and Liagre’s modern and edited sense of style. His aesthetic merges contemporary elements with European undertones that make it timeless in a way that is inspiring to everyone.

Axel Vervoordt: The Story of a Style

by Meredith Etherington-Smith

Vervoordt truly has inspired an entire design movement. He is one of the most well known Belgian designers who really started showing everyone a whole different way of interpreting interiors. The way he uses furniture and objects, it is like art. He considers the whole composition, whether he is working in a cleaner, newer environment or an historic place. His work is so inspiring for design today.

The Belgian Series

by Wim Pauwels & published by Beta-Plus

(Timeless Living, Classic Living, Country Living, Seaside Living, etc.)

The Belgian movement has inspired all of us, and has such a strong aesthetic, which is captured in these books. I love the entire series, which is very broad. The style is all about the architecture, the furniture is all about layering. Each book captures such a strong sense of Belgian style.

Tom Kligerman

Monograph of the Works of McKim, Mead, and White Vol. l-IV, 1879 -1915

McKim Mead & White’s massive four-volume folio follows the firm’s progress from New England Shingle Style houses to the academic classicism of buildings like the long-gone Pennsylvania Station in New York. This is the oeuvre I spent the most time studying when I first started learning architecture as an undergraduate

Sammlung Architektonischer Entwurfe

by Schinkel. 1982

Schinkel’s buildings astound —Gothic to Neoclassical—with elegant Germanic precision. His rigor sets the stage for later architects—like modernist Mies van see Rohe. The drawings are exquisite—plans, sections, elevations—even the lushly drawn trees. Wish that I were this disciplined…

Bernard Maybeck: Visionary Architect

by Sally Byrne Woodbridge, 1992

The inventive Arts and Crafts buildings of Bernard Maybeck are quirky and personal, with an artist’s intuitive approach to buildings. His mannered Palace of the Fine Arts is as much sculpture as it is architecture. His work may be the biggest influence on the way I think about buildings.

La Villa Kerylos

by Regis Vian des Rives, Editions de l’Amateur 1997

Rare is the house as completely and exquisitely designed as the Villa Kérylos. Every detail, material selection, scrap of furniture makes this a lesson in the power of a single vision. Can you say “gesamptkunstwerk”? I think about this house with every building I design.

Alvar Aalto and the International Style

by Paul David Pearson, 1978

Alvar Aalto’s light modernist hand created buildings that are a dance of white plaster and rich tile, wood and brick. His furniture and architectural details are equally delicate and original.  Aalto’s work reminds us that we cannot live by traditionalism alone.

David Kleinberg

David Adler: The Architect and His Work

by Richard Pratt

Dupre-Lafon: decorateur des millionaires

by Thierry Couvrat Desvergnes

Jansen Decoration

by Maison Jansen

Jean-Michel Frank

by Pierre-Emmanuel Martin-Vivier

Billy Baldwin Decorates

by Billy Baldwin

Mara Miller and Jesse Carrier, Carrier and Company

An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration from Pompeii to Art Nouveau

by Mario Praz

Praz’s book of illustrated interiors served as an extension of how we had learned to study art history, and was a natural way to study interior decoration. One benefit to looking at interiors in chronological order is getting to see how referential décor is—by condensing hundreds of years into one reference. Seeing the history and anthropology of life through interiors helped us to combine the isolated lessons of decorative arts and antiques that we were learning at FIT. It is also simply enjoyable to peruse so many interiors—both humble and grand, realistically and expressively rendered. We still search the rooms in this book for lovely details and inspiration.

The Elements of Style, revised edition, A Practical Encyclopedia of Interior Architectural Details from 1485 to the Present

by Stephen Calloway, General Editor Copyright 1991, 1996

A comprehensive and accessible guide to key features of American and British domestic architecture. It is so carefully edited and laid out that 500 years of information is condensed into one volume. Our copy always has tabs and post-it notes peeking-out of its pages. This reference material still far exceeds any Internet search in clarity and usefulness.

Course in Interior Decoration

by The New York School of Interior Decoration, Revised, 1931

This might exist in more current revisions – but we have an old leather-bound copy. It teaches interior decoration chapter by chapter, complete with glossaries and quizzes. To quote from the very first chapter, “It [a decorated room] must appeal to and attract the mentality of the occupant, so that the mind is unconsciously set at rest in the room, and a sensation of satisfaction and pleasure is experienced.” Soon after, the elements of decoration are noted as character, unity, variety, balance, restraint, proportion and scale. These jewels of wisdom are all provided by page 7 . . . imagine what remains!

Diego Giacometti

by Daniel Marchesseau, Harry N Abrams Inc;

A nearly complete survey of Diego Giacometti’s furniture designs and sculptures which still inspire contemporary designers.

Legendary Decorators of the Twentieth Century

by Mark Hampton, Doubleday

This was published while we were in college studying interior design. What a gift—to get a concise history of the decorators who continue to influence contemporary designers, along with charming text and even more charming illustrations. It helped bring to life the world of interior design that we were contemplating entering.

William Hefner

Place of Houses

by Charles Moore, Gerald Allen, Donlyn Lyndon

I had this book and used it in grad school where Charles Moore was my professor. I love that it addresses both functionality in houses (how architecture can affect living and daily life) and the aspect of delight.

Five California Architects

by Esther McCoy and Randell L. Makinson

This book addressed the aesthetic diversity of influential California architects. It taught me to embrace a stylistic range.

Style by Saladino

by John Saladino

Saladino’s appreciation of the classical informs his architecture and interiors. I especially like how modern architectural elements can live well in this classical context.

Morphosis: Buildings and Projects, Essays

by Peter Cook and George Rand

As an architect in Los Angeles, I found the early work of Morphosis to be inspiring. The complexity and levels at which the architecture was worked and overworked was inspiring, plus a lot of their projects could be seen around town.

SOM: Architecture of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, 1950-1962

Introduction by Henry Russell Hitchcock, text by Ernst Danz

My first job out of school was at SOM where I spent eight years.  I continue to be inspired by the purity of the early work of the firm.  It’s uncompromising in its vision and its materiality.

Pamela Babey

Chasing the Rose

by Andrea di Robilant

This novel is a favorite for reading. It takes me along on a HUNT. In this way it relates to my profession, as I love the hunt, the search for a solution, an object, a thing, the answer. It is set in the Veneto, my favorite part of the world and about the rose (I grow some old roses in my garden). It touches on history, on Paris, the Jardin des Plantes (still worth a visit), and indeed takes us around the world about a rose. There is the pleasure of the ‘read’, but this little book goes farther: the FEEL of the dust cover, the illustrations, the type, all well considered, a complete package of enjoyment.

The Story of a Style and Timeless Interiors

by Axel Vervoordt

I first came across this unusual, fearless man about 1984 in Antwerp, and later at the Castle of Gravenwezel. The style brought a new perspective to my mind; a timeless but current interpretation that impressed me, the idea of big, bigger Biggest. His interest in primitive forms, furniture, nature recalled my experiences as a child, my mother’s interest in primitive native furniture. Setting this next to a refined European piece worked for me. These books will remain in my library as a reminder of EARTH and design for design, a non-minimal minimalism.


by Chritian Liagre and Thomas Luntz

To me, this 2007-08 book is the spirit of Liaigre. It seems more personal. There is more heart in this book. Not knowing the man, I can only speak for what draws me to these images that are rich; They are spare but not bare! There surely is a point of view, though his limited palette is sometimes frightening to me. He makes it work in ingenious ways, with deliberate details or a surprise element. He is a guiding light. He cannot be copied, but he can inspire.

Living in Venice

by Elisabeth Vedrenne


Venice: The Art of Living

by Frederic Vitoux

These books stay in my library; images to fill the gaps when I am not there! Some of the imagery is dated, however, the feeling of Venice is always recognizable. I find there is some inspiration of Venice that comes to my work; it might be only a tidbit, a scrap of Fortuny fabric, but the sense of inclusion and love of the exotic that Venice embodies has always been enticing to me.

Tony Duquette

by Wendy Goodman and Hutton Wilkinson

The king of spit and glue! I wish I had more time to try out his techniques. He just piles it on, as opposed to the minimalists, demonstrating the schizophrenia that I experience at times, when I am heard to utter “simplify, simplify”. His stage sets, his gardens, and home are all waiting for a party to fill in the gaps. His jewelry is unforgiving in its opulence. Though there is so much going on in a room. It is visually dazzling but not uncomfortable, it is like being in a kaleidoscope. His “country homes” for Dodie Rosekran’s in Venice and Paris are full of joy.

L’Unique Trait de Pinceau

by Fabienne Verdier

Calligraphy extraordinaire. This book opened my eyes to a new sense of richness and beauty.

Suzanne Tucker

The Decoration of Houses

by Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman Jr. 1897

This book may appear to be old and a bit fuddy-duddy, but it is surprisingly current.  Well before she became a Pulitzer Prize- winning novelist, Wharton co-wrote this with her then architect, Ogden Codman, Jr., while remodeling her summer residence in Newport, RI. It became a classic on how to build and decorate houses with nobility, grace, and timelessness (and is still in print today!). If you look beyond the schoolmarmish tone and dated black-and-white photography, you will discover timeless truths and insightful and inspiring advice, such as “Architecture and decoration, having wandered since 1800 in a labyrinth of dubious eclecticism, can be set right only by a close study of the best models.”  How true!

World Furniture: An illustrated History

by Helena Hayward, 1969

This was my textbook/bible for a year-long course in The History of Furniture my sophomore year in college.  A must-have for any designer—as far as I am concerned this is the furniture bible. A comprehensive survey of furniture of different eras from the major countries of Europe as well as America, the Middle East, India and South East Asia, it is profusely illustrated with drawings and photographs.  It’s not just a great learning tool, explaining how everything is intertwined and all the influences on furniture and styles across the ages, but it is still on my go-to shelf as a great reference book.

Billy Baldwin Decorates: A Book of Practical Decorating Ideas

by Billy Baldwin, 1972

Both books by the iconic Billy Baldwin (the other is Billy Baldwin Remembers) are must-haves for every designer, and this one remains a must-read for practical and timeless decorating advice. Comfort and quality were Baldwin’s top tenets, but he considered a space’s “good bones” to be a higher priority: “I’ve always believed that architecture is more important than decoration. Scale and proportion give everlasting satisfaction that cannot be achieved by only icing the cake.” Truer words have never been spoken, and will always be my mantra.

The Private House

by Rose Tarlow, 2001

Rose is a national treasure and those who know, value this book above all others.  She was one of the teachers of the UCLA extension interior design program 30 years ago and this is a perfect compilation of her teachings and approach to design.  It’s a short read, yet the priceless information contained within is worth more than four years at a design school—unless you are lucky enough to have Rose Tarlow as your professor!  And it is filled with fascinating and touching stories of her youth, surprising revelations, and witty clues into what shaped her into the design force she is today.

The Givenchy Style

by Francoise Mohrt, 1998

I seem to refer to this book on a monthly basis, and still swoon every time I crack the pages. It is filled with inspiration from architecture to design, interiors and gardens, color and decorating. The fashion designer’s own personal residences—his chateau outside Paris, his seaside house in Cap Ferrat, and his magnificent townhouse on the venerable Rue de Grenelle in Paris—always share an ease of living, whether casual or grand. His approach to collecting and the placement of furniture and art exhibit an unmatched level of taste and style.  Givenchy was the epitome of elegance in every aspect of his life.  This book explores the sources of inspiration for him, adding up to a timeless portrait of a brilliant artist who was the very essence of chic.

The Parish-Hadley Tree of Life: An Intimate History of the Legendary Design Firm

by Brian McCarthy & Bunny Williams, 2015

This recent book is filled with great insight, experiences, and wisdom from those who passed through the legendary firm of Parish Hadley.  The essays are touching, humorous, and insightful, and filled with sage advice.  I gave copies to all 30 of my staff, as it really gives the budding architect or designer a crash course into what it takes to succeed in the high end of the service of design.

Alexander Gorlin

Towards a New Architecture

by Le Corbusier

This polemic is still the most inspiring call to architecture as an expression of one’s time, a primal art that embodies the full range of human needs from shelter to the transcendent level of the cosmos.

The Iliad

by Homer

This blood-and-guts tale from ancient Greece includes multiple references to the landscape and the flat planes surrounding the walled City of Troy. Combined with its description of the “lines of armies rotating on an axis,” they recall the abstractions of Kandinsky’s “Point, Line, and Plane” as a metaphor for the timeless connection between humans and the landscape.

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

After years of reading badly written and obscure architectural theory, the
glittering, transparent prose of “The Great Gatsby” was like a
tremendous breath of fresh air.

After years of reading obscure and badly written architectural theory, The Great Gatsby appeared as a revelation, with its glittering and transparent prose that summoned up worlds of luxury and decadence. And the fabulous mansions and parties that unfold in this tale of outsize egos certainly were an unconscious model for many of the luxury homes that I have designed over the years.

The Book of Ezekiel

The Old Testament

The prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the heavenly Temple in Jerusalem is depicted in intricate architectural detail, from the walls, courtyards, gates, and chambers to the Temple and the Holy of Holies.  This fantastic measured survey by an angel “whose appearance was of brass” of a sacred
architectural project was the basis of my thesis at Cooper Union and went on to inspire my many synagogue designs and served as the basis of my book Kabbalah Art and Architecture.

The Classical Language of Architecture

by Sir John Summerson

The scales fell from my eyes after learning about the Five Orders of Architecture, the classical vocabulary that reigned for 2500 years and is so lucidly explained in this book. As I walked around the traditional buildings of Manhattan, the language of classical architecture became for the first time readable, and I saw the basis for the revolution of modern architecture within the context of the orderly past.  This lucid book emphasizes that learning is integral to the process of becoming a creator of architecture itself, and that, as Vincent Scully said, “architecture is a dialogue of buildings over time.”