The 5 Design Books I’ll Always Keep on My Bookshelf

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

As the House Tour editor here at Apartment Therapy, looking at a wide range of homes is a requirement (and a delight!). And while many of those spaces I see online, I still have a penchant for flipping through the pages of a good coffee table design book for inspiration.

I’ve had the very fortunate pleasure of both having the money to splurge on buying design books and occasionally being sent them in the mail from publishers, so my shelves sometimes explode with more books than I can store. When that happens, I cull my collection, purging my home of design books that while lovely, aren’t useful to me in the long term. But not the list below! The five books in this post have staying power on my shelves; in fact I’ve dragged them from rental to rental.

I think this may have been a textbook from when I was in design school in college. But it doesn’t have a boring, study vibe to it. Full of colorful photos, it shows off a history of the world’s most important architectural structures (from the pyramids to Frank Gehry and beyond). I think it’s important to study great designs and to learn from the past, and seeing some of the world’s most beautiful buildings—even just on the page—is always immensely inspiring, even for sparking interior design ideas. The edition I have is an older one, but they have since published an updated version.

I’m a firm believer in the idea of changing perspective when you’re struggling with a design dilemma or trying to get over writer’s block. Pilot and photographer Alex MacLean photographed the rooftops of buildings around New York in this interesting book. It has virtually nothing to do with interior design or decor at all, yet I always feel unusually inspired after flipping through the pages. They’re the kind of photographs that make you stare intently, scanning each square inch, drinking up details. It’s the kind of book that can take you out of whatever creative rut you may have been ruminating too hard on.

(Image credit: Lindsay Ribe)

“A complete and happy home is so much more than a series of pretty rooms. Between these two covers, we’ve captured everything we’ve learned at Apartment Therapy about decorating, organizing, cleaning, and repairs, so you can make and maintain your own fabulous home,” reads the intro to the most recent book from Apartment Therapy. “…Featuring every aspect of design and decorating from floor plans to paint, specific rooms to style approaches, with the goal of setting up and living well in a place you love.” It really is the most comprehensive and helpful book, and I’d use it even if I didn’t work here!

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

This book has become such a classic for me. And for others—I spot it on the bookshelves and coffee tables in house tours all the time! It’s a great resource for when you need help figuring out if something “is right,” or even if you just want a little push in the right design direction. And the cover is just so lovely!

Thanks to a generous package in the mail, I have a new book that will now always be on my shelves. Wendy Goodman has been New York magazine’s interior design editor for 20 years, and to say she is an expert in interiors is an understatement. Her truest gift is uncovering spaces like no other. Apartment Therapy had the pleasure of touring Wendy’s own home in a house tour, and you can see that she has a passion for her own interiors, as well. In May I Come in? she visits more than 75 homes—all captured in full color, immersive photographs—of some of the most unique homes, possibly ever. The book doesn’t actually come out until September 25 of this year, but is available for preorder right now. And having been able to flip through the pages myself already, if you are interested in statement-making spaces, you’ll find inspiration on nearly every page.