Book Browse: The Pretty and Proper Living Room

The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden - cover

A read through The Pretty and Proper Living Room, by Holly Holden, is the next best thing to being raised by a grand Patrician family and inheriting every needlepointed, monogrammed, and engraved bit of decorating DNA they possess. The sub-title doesn’t lie: “Old-school secrets for timeless elegance… and the no-no’s to know.”

The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden – cover

Indeed, writes Holden, quite pretty and proper herself, the nature of her subject “is inherited, not re-invented,”  passed down through the generations “like a secret code.” In sharing said code, the designer-author gives us a thorough primer on the elements of traditional design–from accessories to furniture to lighting. 

The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden – Aristocratic Accessories

And whether you were to the manor–or the bungalow–born, the information is darn useful to anyone interested in interiors and perhaps especially to those just starting out. To wit: Holden illustrates the difference between an Ushak and a Heriz rug; shows how to tell a Chippendale from a Hepplewhite; extolls the good sense of protecting tabletops with a pane of glass; and marks the wisdom of buying inexpensive wine glasses  instead of renting them when entertaining.

The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden – Elegant Entertaining

As I’ve just posted about weddings, or more precisely Miss Manners’s guide to wedding etiquette, this book would be a thoughtful gift to the traditionally-inclined young bride. Get her off on the right track, as it were.

The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden – Sumptuous Seating

Anything to save her (and the rest of us) from Forbidden Faux Pas. These might be my favorite parts of the book. “Do not use coasters unless you need them… Do not use plastic cups at parties… Avoid matched sets of furniture… Stay away from candles with bright colors.” You don’t have to agree with them all, but you can respect the integrity of a point of view.

The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden – Rug primer
The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden – Things to ask your upholsterer

If you don’t know your √©glomis√© from (Robert) Adam, there’s an excellent glossary. 

The Pretty and Proper Living Room by Holly Holden – glossary

And let me be the first to say I did not know the design motif of half-horse-half-fish was a hippocamp. Or that in Greek mythology, hippocamps pulled Poseidon’s chariot. Now thanks to the lovely Holly Holden, I do know.

I wouldn’t Bullfinch you.

The Pretty and Proper Living Room was privately published in Fall 2013 and is available through The imprint is Fox Hall Publishing, named for the author’s historic house in Connecticut.


  1. I am clicking on over right now! Thanks for always bringing us new things to treasure.
    xo, lissy

  2. What a wonderful post about a great reference book!!! My son is getting married this spring – and this book is a must for my future daughter-in-law! Look forward to continued reading of your blog!

  3. It looks like a wonderful book, Frances, and how could you possibly go wrong with a title (and subtitle) like that! Certainly one to include in my ever growing collection of design books…

  4. I have the book & have given the book as a gift to family & friends. You’re right, it’s a great reference & also a beautiful addition to my living room. Holly inspired me to get out the good stuff & use it, & buy used or antique furniture instead of new. I love that the book is loaded with gorgeous photos to illustrate her design ideas.
    Thanks for giving her book this positive review!

  5. What excellent coverage of an essential design book. As we enter the wedding season, this book is an ideal gift, perhaps coupled with a Holly Holden approved home accessory!

  6. What a great post on a FABULOUS book! It’s my new decorating bible and I’m so excited that it was featured on your beautiful blog!! As an aspiring decorator I look to Holly and her expertise to guide me through the business and I’m so grateful she shares her wealth of knowledge in this new book.

  7. I’m so excited to see what I refer to as my “design bible” on your site! I love the idea of giving it as a wedding gift – Holly would certainly approve!

  8. Frances, thank you for sharing this book; another I will have to order on your recommendation . Right now i’m deep in Frances Mayes’ Under Magnolia, everyone ( especially if you’re a deep Southerner!) should run don’t walk and get it! it’s a stunner.

    1. Thanks for your recommendation, Sonya. I’ll get Under Magnolia this second! And thanks for writing. Holly has quite the fan club – my goodness!

  9. Pretty and Proper is a must have! I have read it cover to cover and shall use it as a reference time and time again. This book is a true interior design treasure!

  10. I love this book so much that I have one in each of our three homes, front and center on the coffee table. It is such fun sharing with my friends on Nantucket and Vero Beach. Everyone will find it a most valuable reference for interior design.

  11. Frances, I spent practically all day trying to order 4 of these books. Only once did “it” let me get as far as putting in cc# and that time, “it” wouldn’t let me go further. Any suggestions?

    1. Thanks for writing Gayle and I hope you are sorted out by now. If anyone else has this problem please let me know and I will sort you out directly with the author and her distributor. Frances

  12. Thanks for sharing info about this book Francis. There are so many ways to decorate your living room that sometimes you just have to take some inspiration from some older styles!

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