The Best Interior Design Books Put Comfort & Creativity First

At a time when you need it most.

September 22, 2020
Photo by Hilton Carter

Design has always been about the power of imagination. But this year, when being indoors made it much easier to take stock of what our spaces could be, design has taken on a certain level of much-needed hope. While the outside world might continue to be trying, with some effort, our homes (aka, our inner worlds) can be spaces full of comfort, calm, and inspiration. At least that’s the sentiment we felt as we gathered together our favorite interior design books of 2020.

These 12 titles feature well-known blogger and designer names alongside up-and-comers, and small footprint homes next to more expansive spaces. They detail useful tidbits on layering pieces in a living room and also describe the intricate histories behind those objects. And whether they rev up dreams of a renovation or simply remind you of the cabinet that could use your attention, they aim to inspire readers who want to make a home that fulfills them, now and in the years to come.

1. Wild Interiors: Beautiful plants in beautiful spaces by Hilton Carter

To get a glimpse into Hilton Carter’s world on Instagram is to see the unmistakable beauty in being surrounded by thriving plants. Carter, a plant and interior stylist, elevates greenery from supporting accessories to a space’s main event, and in so doing, demonstrates how others can make their homes come alive. His book Wild Interiors is both a testament to his wildly green thumb as well as an act of encouragement for those who want to follow suit.

2. Ikebana Unbound by Amanda Luu and Ivanka Matsuba

Among all the things we’ve learned this year, one simple reminder stands out: There’s peace in hobbies. Especially when they are creative—and a way to feel more connected to nature. That’s the premise behind Ikebana Unbound, which takes readers through the traditions of the ancient art of Japanese flower arranging. In choosing seasonal stems and learning how to compose modern interpretations yet timeless centerpieces, readers can pick up a passion that celebrates their imaginativeness as much as it values the important lessons of the past.

3. Making Living Lovely by Russell Whitehead and Jordan Cluroe

Whitehead and Cluroe, the British couple behind 2LG Studio, have made a name for themselves by cultivating spaces that are unapologetically characterful. In their book Making Living Lovely, they share their tricks for blending color and pattern into designs that feel playful yet functional. Their confidence with, and flair for, prints and textures will definitely rub off on you!

4. The Little Book of Living Small by Laura Fenton

At a time when tiny homes and only-if-it-sparks-joy materialism have captured our attention, The Little Book of Living Small by Laura Fenton celebrates the idea of lovingly curating smaller spaces—1,200-square-feet or less. Through touring 12 different properties, this book showcases tips and tricks for maximizing every inch of a place without sacrificing personal taste. But even if you live with a larger footprint, this book’s actionable advice can both help organize your home better and make you a more conscious, deliberate consumer. And who wouldn’t benefit from that?

5. The Home Edit Life by Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin

Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin are well-known organizers thanks to their highly successful Instagram account, New York Times bestselling book, and new Netflix show highlighting their ability to convert pantries and closets into rainbow-colored prizes of streamlined success. Their most recent book, The Home Edit Life, teaches readers how to create systems for any nook where mess can accumulate—from desks and purses to fridges and kids’ craft chests. They don’t let up on their penchant for humor through it all—because when it comes to organizing, a good laugh is sometimes very necessary.

6. At Home: Isabel López-Quesada at Home

Designer Isabel Lopez-Quesada has the type of style that tells an intriguing story. Her mix of timeless pieces, bright patterns, and textured finishes are decidedly maximalist—which can be a nice departure from the predominant pared-down palettes around us—making for a design aesthetic that simultaneously feels personal and universal. In At Home, her work pops against backdrops of verdant gardens, especially in her two homes in France and Spain, even as she recounts the stories of how these homes came to be. It’s likely that you’ll daydream of her spaces for a long time to come.

7. Still: The Slow Home by Natalie Walton

The SLOW movement—or living sustainably, local, organic, and whole—may not be widespread just yet, but perhaps that will change in the coming years. Still makes a case for this type of lifestyle, which accounts for how surroundings affect our overall health and well-being. The author, Natalie Walton, visited a dozen homes that practice SLOW, and shows how people are able to find happiness when their spaces reflect a certain harmony. At a time when things feel chaotic, this book can help readers find ways to feel more rooted.

9. The New Southern Style by Alyssa Rosenheck

When you think of the American South, what interior design features come to mind? Photographer Alyssa Rosenheck has a good idea of what those details might be—read: wicker and heavy drapes—and that’s why she’s profiling a modern take on the region with The New Southern Style. By interviewing a diverse cast of creatives on how they’re reimagining long-held aesthetics and traditions, all while spotlighting 30 different homes in the region, Rosenheck provides a nuanced look at Southern living with layered interviews and beautiful photography.

8. Live Beautiful by Athena Calderone

Designer Athena Calderone, the creator of EyeSwoon, has the type of aesthetic that looks like a modern Nancy Meyers movie. Her style is bold yet controlled: She isn’t afraid to use saturated colors and rich finishes, but they’re balanced with greenery and organic textures. In Live Beautiful, Calderone features her homes and those of other designers to underscore spaces that look inviting and are full of personality.

10. The Elements of a Home by Amy Azzarito

It’s easy to think about all the ways in which a home needs to be improved. It’s much harder to consider, and appreciate, each of the many, many objects that bring style and practicality to a design—and have been doing so for ages. Design historian Amy Azzarito delves into the backstories of common homewares in The Elements of a Home, like canopy beds, bookshelves, and mirrors, in chapters that are insightful and entertaining. This is the type of read that will make you say, “Oh, I had no idea,” and then want to share those newfound insights with friends.

11. Made for Living: Collected Interiors for All Sorts of Styles by Amber Lewis

The California cool designs of Amber Lewis have been fawned over for years—just ask one of her million Instagram followers. Lewis has a talent for creating spaces that feel approachable yet idyllic, where natural light mixes casually with warm textures. That’s why her book Made for Living—to be released in October—has already garnered plenty of attention. In it, Lewis describes all the ways in which she brings beautifully composed rooms to fruition, making it that much easier to try and emulate her look.

12. Make Life Beautiful by Syd and Shea McGee

Syd and Shea McGee, the couple behind Studio McGee, also have an effortless style that’s punctuated by an abundance of light and neutrals. Their work has catapulted their Instagram page and built a Target line, and their new book Make Life Beautiful—which also debuts in October—details how they made it all happen. By exploring how they achieved success and delving into their design philosophies, readers will get an intimate take on how this couple developed their sought-after aesthetic.

Which is the most well-thumbed design book you own? Tell us in the comments below!

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Kelly Dawson

Written by: Kelly Dawson

Writer and Editor