Great Gift Books About Beautiful Lifestyles

You can’t go wrong with a book, that’s the good news as we round the Christmas clubhouse turn. Here are a handful of design books, a history-style-picture book, a royal historical novel, and a charming how-to-live-a-lovely-life book by a fellow blogging friend.

What I love most about Veranda Interiors Editor Carolyn Englefield’s A Passion for Living is well, everything. The focus is on her years in Europe and the subjects range from Tuscan farmhouse, to English manor, to Provençal mas, from simple to grand. Much to inspire and many take-home ideas. 

Veranda – A Passion for Living, by Carolyn Englefield

 Sometimes you look at design books and think “Who the hell lives here?” ‘Scuse my French. I look at Markham Roberts’s book and think “These people must interesting. I’d like to know them.” The cover alone had me at hello. And Markham is a lovely man.

Markham Roberts – Decorating the Way I See It

 Midcentury Houses Today is my out-of-the-box choice, giving me a new-found understanding and appreciation for the exciting architectural movement of the 1940s and ’50s that continues to resonate so strongly today. Features 16 houses in New Canaan, Connecticut. Interviews with architects, clients, and current residents really bring it alive.

Midcentury Houses Today, by Michael Biondo, Jeffrey Matz, Lorenzo Ottaviani, and Cristina A. Ross

 Jean-Louis Deniot. Fresh, French, modern, soulful, fun, and occasionally out there. Crave him, crave his work, and confess to slight crush on him since I interviewed him (via telephone) for House Beautiful years ago. But I am a married woman. Also must blow a kiss to author Diane Dorrans Saeks, one of my design writing idols. Her blog The Style Saloniste is the bomb. You would also enjoy Diane’s pick of fall 2014 style books.

Jean-Louis Deniot Interiors

 While I’m in gushing mode, fabric and accessories designer Michael Devine’s lovely book came out earlier this year and deserved its own post. Didn’t happen and my bad, but don’t hold it against him or this beautiful book. An Invitation to the Garden and place at his welcoming table are just what we need to get you through the winter.

An Invitation to the Garden, by Michael Devine

Modern, glamorous, expensive. Nobody does it better than Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz.  Designer of Mondrian Hotels and rock stars’ mansions, BNO here showcases more than 60 projects, including the cribs of Lenny Kravitz and Puff Daddy Combs. Or is it P Diddy? Sean? What are we s’pose to call you now?

Suspending Reality – Interiors by Benjamin Noriega Ortiz

Old-world with a contemporary twist, glamorous, and just the right amount of stunning. Nobody does it–and much more–better than Robert Couturier. In his Designing Paradises, he leads us through his beautiful house and garden in Connecticut and to clients beyond, conveying to us his authentically beautiful life and love, not only for the people closest to him, but for the work about which he is clearly so passionate.

Designing Paradises, by Robert Couturier

What luck I had having writer and cultural historian Charlie Scheips as a dinner partner some weeks ago. I had read about his new book on Elsie de Wolfe’s Paris with relish. Frivolity before the Storm is the subtitle, as if the subject alone isn’t enticing enough. Read and see all about the legendary decorator and hostess’ extravagant parties and elegant guests in the fraught and turbulent years in Europe between the world wars. 

Elsie de Wolfe’s Paris – Frivolity Before the Storm, by Charlie Scheips

A dear friend gave me a signed copy of The Queen of Four Kingdoms, a historical novel by HRH Princess Michael of Kent, and I can’t wait. Set in the 15th century about the clever and ambitious Yolande of Aragon, “It was a time of high stakes and high risk,” wrote Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes in a blurb, “of lives wrapped in gilded velvet, but drenched in ambition and blood…I loved it.” 

Princess Michael is clever herself, but don’t get in her way. Years ago, we were in a van together in Italy, on the way to a dinner outside Venice. I’ve forgotten what made me laugh (okay snort, if you must know), but I have not forgotten that HRH shusshed me. Shusshed me.

My apologies, Ma’am. It is said I have a laugh like a horse, verily like a horse upon sensing his favorite cowboy about to present him with a filly and bale of fresh hay, and thus it has always been so… You ol’ bat.

And finally, here’s a super new book self-published by a fellow blogger whom I admire and consider a friend, though we’ve never met in person. Dense with text and widely varied in topic, Shannon Ables’s Choosing the Simply Luxurious Life is what your mother would tell you if she were Coco Chanel, Diana Vreeland, Lady Bountiful, Mary Poppins, Oprah, and Depak Chopra all rolled into one. You can pick it up and read for five minutes or an hour, and you’ll get something good from it. (Spoiler alert: I’ve ordered copies for each of my nieces and daughters.)

Choosing the Simply Luxurious Life, by Shannon Ables

And if you’re still looking, James Gaddy’s picks in Wall Street Journal Off Duty section books is excellent.

Ho! Happy Reading, Frances


  1. Thank you Frances for great gift ideas !! Next year I plan to give your book to family and friends …..Mery Merry Becky

  2. Well, once again, you had me laughing out loud (I’ll admit to a couple of snorts) early this morning! “You ol” bat.” Frances, you are so damned funny…just love you! And that being said, I’m rushing out to buy a copy of the”ol’ bat’s” book! Can’t wait!

  3. You really ARE very funny, Frances! I love it… I too laughed out loud over your: “Who the hell lives here??” observation… I too have thought that SO many times going over some of my magazines and books.. Good recommendation on the Veranda one: LOVE the cover, and will pick up the Shannon Ables book, and the Elsa de Wolfe’s Paris… very fun. Thank you!

  4. Oh dear, to be shushed… Most annoying. You have no doubt heard that famous comment, allegedly by The Queen Herself (and here I mean the real one) regarding her “She’s far too grand for the likes of us” … The fact that the British Press refers to her as “Princess Pushy” says it all. When I was living in London, I recall a tear streaked Princess Michael on the morning news, bemoaning the fact that her father was a Nazi. So perhaps you just interupted her in a moment of prayer? As one ages, it must be frightening and difficult to imagine one as the right hand of God with a pedigree like that…

    1. Ha! I love the Queen’s quote. Isn’t she the best?! And yes, the princess, alas, has gotten herself into quite a few PR scrapes through the years… Thanks for sharing Madame la Comtesse, and Merry Happy to you!

  5. I used to try and muffle my snort-y laugh. But I was told that it adds to my Southern charm, so I now let ’em rip. And boy did I ever when i read “You ol’ bat”. I am GLAD you wrote that. After all those many years since she had the royal gall to “shuss” you, you finally got a chance to zing her back. You go girl.

  6. Frances,

    Thank you very much for including my book in your list of recommendations! I am eager to dive into many of titles you have listed. Thank you very much for the kind mention. xoxo

  7. Lovely post!

    And ahead of time…..lovely , lovely article in Veranda…..about my friends Brooke and Steve’s amazing house in Ojai!

    It is breathtaking…..and they are the most wonderful people….EVER!

    A miracle happened….in 10 months…..! It is true and documented!


    I cannot wait to read the whole article! A smash hit for Veranda; you , Lisa Romerin (she photographed my house…….no one is better!!); and Brooke and Steve!

    A wonderful thing all around……and a happy family… a beautiful place they created together!

    Those two! Yowzers!!!!!

    1. Thank you so much Penny! And yes cannot say enough about Brooke and Steve–creators of Patina Farm and the wonderful blog Velvet and Linen, penned by Brooke. You have beat me to the punch on the Veranda issue – I cannot wait to see it! Blessings to you, to them, and to you all, Happy New Year! Frances

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