If I Were a Book…

If I were a book I’d be The Perfectly Imperfect Home – How to Decorate & Live Well, by Deborah Needleman, published late last year by Clarkson Potter. And if I were a portfolio of drawings I’d be one by the book’s illustrator, Virginia Johnson.
Needleman cover

Needleman, Carolina Irving LR
A lesson in multi-tasking in Carolina Irving's living room: a Robert Kime ottoman is coffee table, foot rest, and extra seating.

It is simply the most charming, practical, accessible, inspiring book on interior design I’ve come across in a long while. That is a lot to say because all design books are labors of skill and talent, and I love every one of the 72 million I have; they are like my children. But this trove of useful information, with a clear and informed point of view (nothing’s worse than no point of view), and depicted by delectable watercolors is an absolute joy.

The vignette as scrapbook. In Nancy Lancaster's cottage Little Haseley, a mantle is arranged with mementos and objects, while the mirror above is bordered with family photos.

Artist Virginia Johnson does for interiors what Maira Kalman does for food in Michael Pollan’s recently released Food Rules, another fab book, btw. The pictures are so darn endearing that you feel happier just thinking about whatever it is they represent.

The book is structured rather quirkily yet makes perfect sense, with chapters such as, well, “A Bit of Quirk,” “Cozifications,” “Glamifications,” and “Dinners With Friends” alongside the slightly more predictable “Places for Chatting” and “A Doted-on Bedroom.” My favorite is “Spots for Books, Drinks, & Feet,” which just about sums up my decorating philosophy.Needleman chapter That, and a quote from Billy Baldwin with which Needleman introduces the book: “Any house or room remembered with pleasure has the look of being loved by those who live in it.”

Would that all aspiring decorators acquire early on the wisdom Needleman so straightforwardly imparts, like “Best not to cover your sofa with that personality-expressing statement fabric you’ve been eyeing….” As well as: What to do with the remote. Where to put the keys. How to arrange art. What pillows go where. Have the best bed linens you can afford because it’s a luxury you can indulge in every day. She says she doesn’t know “why we tend to skimp on our own pleasure–perhaps it’s our puritanical past.” Thank goodness I’m an Episcopalian, is what I say to that.

Needleman bedroom
This drawing was inspired by a show house bedroom done by Peter Dunham. His fabrics are terrific, too, btw.

And she’s just cute, that Deborah Needleman. In one sidebar she writes: “I don’t do any of this, but I wish I did,” before listing such desirous domestic practices as keeping glasses upside down on felt-covered shelves; storing trays vertically, and draping tablecloths over pants hangers to reduce wrinkles.

I remember when (but not where) I first saw this room done by Tommy Scheerer and this goofy Victorian sofa all jazzed up with a pink print and that fab arrangement of prints and sconces above it. Genius.

It’s a wild guess, but the reason she doesn’t do them might be because she was busy founding and running the beloved, erstwhile domino magazine; and then before drawing breath she was at it again creating the what-did-we-ever-do-without-it Off Duty section of The Wall Street Journal; before being assigned to the helm of the WSJ Magazine. Oh, and she wrote this book in the middle of all that. What a slacker.

One more thing about The Perfectly Imperfect Home: When you get to the end there is a key to all the illustrations–a description of the room or vignette and who its designer was. It’s like a whole ‘nother book. If you want a preview, go to Needleman’s sort-of excerpt in The Wall Street Journal, “10 Odd, Yet Essential, Elements of Style,” here… Buy the book here… Read a really good interview on the Decor8 blog here… Enjoy.

I got so excited writing this I ate a whole bag of pita chips. Dang.

John Stefanidis sets the scene for a shady lunch with friends, which is not to say shady friends.


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