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The 15 Coffee Table Design Books That Will Teach You About Design And/Or Help You Get Out Of Your Design Rut (Tried And Tested By Us:))

Coffee table books: let’s talk about them! They’re dense, often expensive, but the good ones are SO worth the price of admission. As a voracious reader-turned-design fanatic, I’ve collected my share of big ol’ tomes – so today, I want to show you my fifteen favorite coffee table books. The catch? They’re all ones that I’ve learned from!

Let’s be real: a lot of coffee table books are photo-heavy, but my current budget is dedicated towards the titles that are both beautiful AND helpful. Below, you’ll find the books that taught me how to spot good vintage, how to mix patterns, how to identify American architecture by name (saltbox? Beaux Arts? Richardsonian Romanesque? I know them all!), and how to live comfortably in my home. I own and love every single one of these books.

But before you get started, I have a tip for you! Most of these are available to preview on Amazon – just click the button right below the cover image. I’m a big fan of thoughtful consumption these days, so make sure that you love the book before you add it to cart! (And if your budget allows, I’ve shared links to independent booksellers when available! Let’s keep those little stores in business. :)) Now, onwards, to what I’ve learned from the fifteen books that have shaped my design world…

Lesson 1: How To Modernize, Respectfully

$64, Amazon

Historic Style: Kelee Katillac – Honoring the Past with Design for Today by Jorge Arango: Full disclosure: this one is a BEHEMOTH (in a good way). It has it all: historic preservation! Classic interiors-turned-technicolor showstoppers! 400 years of design knowledge! It’s eight solid pounds filled with enormous shots of brilliant, thoughtfully crafted interiors.

via historic style

I love Kelee’s fresh, modern eye – her spaces mix old and new in a bold, dynamic way. This book is the perfect mix of information and inspiration – if you’ve ever enjoyed a design history post on the blog, Historic Style is RIGHT up your alley. Preservation has never been more interesting!

Lesson 2: Make Your Home Feel Like You

$25, Amazon | $46.50, Bookshop

British Designers At Home by Jenny Rose-Innes: When I’m feeling stuck with my color palettes, British Designers At Home yanks me RIGHT out of that creative rut. The spaces featured in the book run the gamut, style-wise – some are grandiose, some are simple – but they all have that cozy, collected, distinctly-British vibe that we’ve come to admire. If you’re looking to make your “house” feel more like a “home,” there’s some great inspiration here. (Jenny is also the author of Australian Designers at Home, if you’d like to complete your set!)

Lesson 3: How To Do…Everything

$17.69, Amazon | $27.89, Bookshop

The Interior Design Handbook: Furnish, Decorate, and Style Your Space by Frida Ramstedt: This book was marketed as the “comprehensive bible of interior design,” which would have been brash had it not been TOTALLY TRUE. If my memory was erased and I needed to re-learn everything (not a joke – everything) about interior design, this would be the first book I’d pick up.

via the interior design handbook

LOOK AT THAT! I’m an over-thinker, so having a list of rules for every possible design scenario punctuated by simple, clear illustrations is SO helpful. I’m of firm belief that we all should own a copy The Interior Design Handbook – it’s that good.

Lesson 4: How To Find Inspiration Anywhere

$27.70, Amazon | $32.55, Bookshop

Creative Spaces: People, Homes, and Studios to Inspire by Poketo: Before Em moved to Portland, she (very graciously!) allowed me to pull a few books from her stash. Creative Spaces was one of the titles I pulled and I’m so glad I did – it’s packed with all kinds of interiors, crafted by all kinds of creative types. If you were also a daily DesignSponge reader (RIP), you’ll LOVE this book.

Lesson 5: How To Spot High-Quality Pieces

$35.49, Amazon | $55.80, Bookshop

The Finer Things: Timeless Furniture, Textiles, and Details by Christiane Lemieux: This one’s a must-read for my fellow flea market and Facebook Marketplace fans! The goal of The Finer Things is to train your eye so you can recognize (and appreciate) those valuable, well-made pieces in the wild.

via the finer things

There’s a ton of great design history in the book, too, along with some stunning interior photos. I credit Christiane with SO MUCH of my design education – last year, we ended up in a few of the the same Zoom meetings and it took everything in me not to fangirl!

Lesson 6: How To Live More Sustainably

$24.69, Amazon | $37.20, Bookshop

The Low-Impact Home: A Sourcebook for Stylish, Eco-Conscious Living by Remodelista: There’s no shortage of great coffee table books from the Remodelista team, but I’m especially partial to The Low Impact Home. I picked this one up after a trip to Antarctica left me with some residual climate panic and I’ve really enjoyed implementing the tips I’ve learned in this book! It’s exciting to read about the future possibilities, too. (PS. If you’re currently renovating, you might find some eco-friendly money-saving ideas in here!)

Lesson 7: How To Take (and Embrace) Risks

$37.30, Amazon

Wonderland: Adventures in Decorating by Summer Thornton: OBSESSED. This is actually my favorite coffee table book – Summer’s spaces are just beyond. She’s mastered the art of the mix-and-match and she’s spilling her secrets in this book!

via wonderland

Her spaces are maximalist AND uncluttered; bold AND calm; whimsical AND sophisticated. Wonderland is a total masterclass in how spaces come together – if you’ve ever felt nervous or unsure about your design taste or skill, Summer’s words will reassure and embolden you.

Lesson 8: How To Win Bar Trivia With A Deep Knowledge Of American Architectural Styles

$70.14, Amazon

A Field Guide to American Houses (Revised): The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture by Virgina Savage McAlester: This is, for all intents and purposes, an encyclopedia. We start with the Wigwam, we end with 21st-century American architecture, and we learn EVERYTHING in between. A must-read for preservationists, design history lovers, OR for anyone who wants to communicate accurately with their contractors. (The paperback is also available for under $30, which I’d recommend over the hardcover – easier to transport!)

Lesson 9: How To Pick Design Rules To Follow (And Design Rules To Break!)

$25.39, Amazon | $51.15, Bookshop

Every Room Should Sing by Beata Heuman: You’ve undoubtedly seen Beata’s work over the past few years…and now, you can jump inside her brain and learn exactly how she pulled those iconic rooms together.

via every room should sing

Her style is famously British – collected, vibrant, warm, and unfussy – so it’s fascinating to learn which rules she keeps in mind when designing! (In the pages above, Beata writes about how she chose denim upholstery to ground the other colors in the room. It’s a classic tip, but her finished room is so fresh and dynamic!)

Lesson 10: How To Blend Pattern, Texture, and Color

$19.99, Amazon | $32.55, Bookshop

Living With Pattern: Color, Texture, and Print at Home by Rebecca Atwood: If you love a good block print or a more worldly, eclectic, California-cool style, Living With Pattern will be especially interesting to you! Rebecca REALLY breaks things down and holds your hand in this one – she makes design feel approachable as she provides room-by-room commentary and tips. (Added bonus: the edges of each page orange, so it looks REALLY cool on a table.)

Lesson 11: How To Implement Your Inspiration

$30.99, Amazon | $37.20, Bookshop

Vivid: Style in Color by Julia Green & Armelle Habib: When they say “style,” they mean it! Vivid is like Pinterest in book form – there are a ton of great home tours, but they’re mixed in with gorgeous travel and fashion photography (arranged by color, no less!).

via vivid

The spaces featured in this book rely heavily on vintage; they feel lived-in and personal and attainable. Plus, the final two chapters – white and black – showcase some really fun, thoughtful, and fresh neutral spaces.

Lesson 12: How To Build A Dreamy, Functional Kitchen

$27.49, Amazon | $41.85, Bookshop

The deVOL Kitchen: Designing and Styling the Most Important Room in Your Home by Paul O’Leary, Robin McLellan, and Helen Parker: Why aren’t we talking about this book ALL THE TIME? deVOL’s three directors met up, wrote down all of their kitchen design tips and tricks, and you’re still reading my blurb? RUN! Your dream kitchen is waiting! (If you binged For The Love of Kitchens on Magnolia, you’ll adore this one.)

Lesson 13: How To Stop Stressing And Embrace What You Love

$33.99, Amazon | $55.80, Bookshop

How To Live With Objects: A Guide To More Meaningful Interiors by SIGHT UNSEEN: I have a special spot in my heart for this book – I’ve had it for a year and a half, but it just helped me out of my bedroom design rut! I’m a huge over-thinker and designing spaces that will be shared on this platform is pretty nerve-wracking for me – How To Live With Objects is the antidote. It makes design feel less precious and more possible.

via how to live with objects

This book preaches the gospel of enjoying what you have and working with what you’ve got. It eschews the idea that rooms need to be “designed,” instead suggesting that our homes are more comfortable and more beautiful when we fill them with things we love. Is that obvious? Maybe! But sometimes a mix of practical tips, fantastical photographs, and common-sense advice is just what the doctor ordered, you know?

Lesson 14 & 15: How To Come Full Circle

Left $14.92, Amazon / $30.23, Bookshop | Right: $17.13, Amazon / $30.23, Bookshop

Styled: Secrets for Arranging Rooms, from Tabletops to Bookshelves by Emily Henderson: I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out the book that started it all for me: Styled, written by my boss, Emily Henderson. (It was my first design book, and I bought it years before starting here! It’s crazy to think about. :)) It still holds up, too – I love that it offers a taste of each style and that it really encourages play and exploration in your own home. It’s REALLY fun to flip through and I’m still gleaning new tips with every read, even though I work here now and can literally ask the author questions whenever I want. Books are magic!

The New Design Rules: How to Decorate and Renovate, from Start to Finish by Emily Henderson: And our pride and joy, The New Design Rules. If you could see how much time, care, and heart our team put into this book…well, you’d be pretty sentimental, too! There’s a lovely mix here – need some inspiration? It’s in here. Need a diagram of the stairs or a window with all parts labeled so you can have a coherent conversation with your contractor? That’s also in here! Whatever you need, we’ve got you.

There are a ton of books out there that didn’t make this list – some are just a little light on the text; others I just haven’t read yet! – so let me know if you have any other recommendations! I’d love to prioritize checking out your favorites. And if you liked this format, let me know – maybe we can get some more book recommendations going from the rest of the team. LET’S TALK ABOUT BOOKS!!! I’ll see you down there in the comments. xx

Opening Image Credits: Opening Image Credits: Design by Caitlin Higgins (me!) | Styled by Emily Bowser | Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: The Reveal We’ve All Been Waiting For! Caitlin’s Mostly Thrifted, Postmodern Regency Deco Living Room

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Juanita
1 month ago

This is an incredible list, including some I was not already aware of, thank you Caitlin!! Another I’ll add is Minimalista, by Shira Gill. Gorgeous aspirational photos and very doable/practical tips, I always turn to this book when my home (/life) starts feeling cluttered. Wild Interiors by Hilton Carter (subtitle: Beautiful plants in beautiful spaces) is another favorite. Case Study Houses is also a fun one for those interested in mid-century design, featuring interior and exterior photos of case study-style homes in the 50s and 60s, side by side with photos from today—cool to see how their owners have updated them while preserving and honoring the homes’ design features.

Would love to see others’ recs too!

LouAnn
1 month ago

One of my favorite subjects: home design books! This is a strong list. I only have about half of these (i’m a big fan of Beata Heuman’s and Christiane Lemiux’s books) so plenty of ones new to me. A few of my favorites: Heidi Callier’s new book, “Memories of Home.” This is probably my favorite new book by a mile. So many amazing rooms. Ben Pentreath (a British designer) has a couple of great books and I always find ideas that I can use even though my budget is far below his usual clients. One I like is “English Decoration.” And it looks like he’s got a new one coming out in the fall. Thomas O’Brien’s “Library House.” If I could steal any one designer’s home, this would be it. Since that’s not going to happen, this book is a good Plan B. Eye candy but comfortable, inviting eye candy. “Color Palettes: Atmospheric Interiors Using the Donald Kaufman Color Collection.” This is an old book but it’s filled with interesting color combinations for painting homes. Here are a couple of books I wish I hadn’t wasted my money on: “Arranging Things.” Silly me. I thought it was going to be… Read more »

Erin
1 month ago

I’ve got it and have to confess that I was disappointed in it for two reasons: 1) because it was mostly (all?) pictures I’d already seen on her website and 2) I didn’t think the text was particularly useful or inspiring. I felt like I really learned something from Beata Heuman’s book, but that wasn’t the case for Callier. That said, I love Callier’s work, so if you want to binge on pictures of her interiors without going online, it’s great for that. Great call on ‘British Designers at Home’, too, as it’s one of my favourite design books! I find it fascinating that almost everyone says that while they love their stuff, at the end of the day it’s just stuff, and that if they had to pick something from a burning house, they’d mostly rescue people, pets and photos.

MBJ
29 days ago
Reply to  LouAnn

Yeah, Arranging Things was… not for me. As you mentioned, yeah, if you live in a $2M home with exquisite architecture, you can just put a branch in a room and it’ll be great. But the rest of us need a little more help and also actually need to live in our homes, haha

Cici Haus
1 month ago

Uncommon Kitchens: A Revolutionary Approach to the Most Popular Room in the House by Sophie Donelson is an awesome book for kitchen design!

Dana
1 month ago
Reply to  Cici Haus

This book is amazing and also saved me tens of thousands of dollars by convincing me NOT to renovate my kitchen, so the return on investment of buying it was incredible

Nicole
1 month ago

As someone whose maiden name was Thornton, please put the sad, always forgotten middle “n” back in Summer Thornton’s name! 🙂

Julie
1 month ago

Old Brand New by Dabito is total eye candy for color, textures, mixing old and new, and creating rooms that WOW. In my dreams I hire him to style my house!

Liz
1 month ago

+1 for Rebecca Atwood’s books! They are such a fun read and so visually beautiful.

Frances
1 month ago

These books can be so expensive, but they are not out of reach at the LIBRARY!! I’ve been getting heavy duty coffee table books at the library for years – the only limit is your ability to actually carry them home

Rory
1 month ago

And don’t forget about all the free books you can borrow at https://archive.org/details/inlibrary. Search “interior design” or “furniture” or some similar topic to get started.

Heather
1 month ago
Reply to  Frances

Yes! I go a step farther and request (via the “Suggest a title” feature) that the (Austin, TX) public library order new design books that they don’t already have in their collection. It is often a long wait but saves so much money and space at home!

I also recommend the design books on goodwillbooks.com. Often there are out-of-print treasures available for a song!

MBJ
29 days ago
Reply to  Frances

I was going to say this! I’ve gotten quite a few on this list from the library and enjoyed them but only went on to purchase a couple. One book I LOVED and ended up buying used off Amazon was Design Commune. I don’t know how much I “learned” except for the fact that it fully helped me nail down my style and realize what my eyeballs want to look at.

Sarah
1 month ago

Not really a how-to but love the Maine House book. #2 comes out soon. Definitely an anti consumption vibe. And the Jasper Conrad I think? English country

Sarah
1 month ago

It’s a gorgeous book and celebrates the communities and traditions around each of the homes. One of my faves!

Katrina
1 month ago

For those readers that want inspiration additional to “Wonderland:Adventures in decorating,” I recommend “Decorate Fearlessly” by Susanna Salk.
Other books that are personal favorites are Hans Blomquist’s “In the Mood for Colour”, and Anna Spiro’s “Absolutely Beautiful Things”.

Patricia
1 month ago

I’m pinning this post so I can dip into these books over time. I, of course, have Emily’s book on my personal shelf.

Debbie
1 month ago

Agree with some of the commenters about Dabito’s and Sophie Donelson’s books. Love those! Also, anything by Tom Scheerer, Gil Schafer, Lauren Liess … can’t miss!

Nicole Sandridge
1 month ago

I agree with most on this list but was surprised to not see Pierce & Ward’s book. A Tale of Interiors is my absolute fave.

SusaninColumbus
1 month ago

I have stacks and stacks of these books. My go to source are library sales. The books may have been out for a couple years but for $2 versus $50 I can enjoy the pics and move on, if I don’t find the book worth keeping. But my shelves are proof that so many were keepers.

But what I have learned is I am not interested in “How To” books. I am not going to spackle a wall or demo a bathroom. What I find most interesting are the books that tell me “Why.” I love seeing a beautiful space and hearing the decisions made to get there. Why did they choose that couch. Why did they pick that color. Why is soooo much more interesting to me!

Kristi
1 month ago

Great post! Fun and helpful!

L
1 month ago

So happy to see deVOL’s book made the list!
It is full of endless inspiration. Another book I can’t say enough good things about is Our Way Home by Hendricks Churchill. It’s a tribute to their beautiful Connecticut home that they lovingly restored. I reach for it time & time again…highly recommend!
Also, an enthusiastic “yes!” to the reader who mentioned Pierce & Ward…pure magic!

MD
1 month ago

I devoured Emily’s Design Rules book. I started marking pages and quickly realized I was pretty much marking every page. I also have the deVol book, which I basically just salivate over. Great advice too about checking your library first before you commit.

Paula
1 month ago

One book I’ve really enjoyed is “Markham Roberts: Notes on Decorating.” More in the traditional vein, but I love his inclusion of older, personal pieces in interiors.

Rebecca
1 month ago

Habitat by Lauren Liess is, by far and away, the book that taught me the most about design! And it’s beautiful in a wide variety of styles. I found it invaluable to design my home and specifically identify my aesthetic. 🙂 Her other books are good too.. but Habitat takes the cake for me.

Sally
1 month ago

This will show my age but The Not So Big House by Sarah Susanna really changed my thinking and perspective and remains the book that has influenced me the most over the years -and I have a sizeable collection. It truly shows how bigger is not only not necessarily better when it comes to comfort and design but is often actually worse. A really interesting read.

Sally
1 month ago
Reply to  Sally

Sorry, typo. Susanka not Susanna.

BETH
1 month ago
Reply to  Sally

YES!!

Alexis
1 month ago

I highly recommend Erin Gates’ first book, Elements of Style. Not only is it a great book for design advice, it is actually a pretty good memoir on Erin’s early career and upbringing too. She is witty, sincere, and down-to-earth. I read the book in one weekend and then lent my mother my copy and haven’t seen it in years! She’s enjoying it too much!

Ajay
1 month ago

This is so beautifully curated

Beth
1 month ago

Just bought 3!! Another great and useful post, thank you! Hopefully we’ll see the embodiment of this inspiration soon in your upcoming bedroom reveal. Can barely wait to see the gorgeous spaces you and Jess have respectively designed!!!

Dani
1 month ago

I love this post and all the comments! I’ll second the recommendation above for the library and also recommend ThriftBooks; I bought myself The Field Guide to American Houses (paperback) this Christmas for $6. Always check used first!
For a book idea, try Perfect English Style by Ros Byam Shaw. It’s interesting and inspiring and just lovely.

Clare
1 month ago

I have nothing to contribute but wanted to give a huge thanks for this post. Love love love love love it and love design books. Can’t wait to add more to my collection. I’ll be referring back to it for years for gifts! Glad folks are as enamored with British design as I am.

Grace
29 days ago

Surprised to see no one mention the Domino books. Have found them accessible, inspiring and informative, and have re-read many times!

Suzanne
29 days ago

So many good recs Caitlin (and all the comments)! I have a few of these and added a ton to my wishlist . A couple I would recommend is Vern Yip’s Design Wise – such a wealth of useful information and great eye candy – plus Get Your House Right by Marianne Cusato and Ben Pentreath. The Vern Yip book was invaluable during my design courses in ensuring my layouts were spatially correct and comfortable and the Cusato/Pentreath book has provided incredible guidance in planning our new build. It’s all in the details!

ASL
29 days ago

If you like English decor, I love Ros Byam Shaw’s books. “Perfect English Farmhouse”, “Perfect English Townhouse”, “Perfect English Cottage”. All great and helpful if that’s a look you want to incorporate. Second Ben Pentreath as well.

Emily Geleske
29 days ago

I’m a design book hoarder – I mean collector. Adding all of these to my list!

LK
28 days ago

Really like that this list is geared towards books that are helpful! It’s easy enough to find beautiful inspiration, but I want to learn more about what works (or doesn’t), and why, and looking forward to checking these out!