Books for Interior Designers: Frances Merrill’s 12 Must-Reads

For Frances Merrill of LA’s Reath Design, literature has helped develop a very personal, eclectic style — and perhaps unsurprisingly, she believes inspiration can be found beyond typical interior design books (read: the coffee table editions who are de rigueur in studios and studies everywhere).

Here the AD100 designer presents a curated selection of books for interior designers – including those that have shaped her thinking and her career. While some fit squarely into the design books category, other listings prove that professional knowledge can also be found in other corners of the library.

The way we live

From Stafford Cliff

Prolific design writer Stafford Cliff, former creative director of the Conran Design Group and author of dozens of design books (both as part of The way we live series and other volumes) occupies an important place on Merrill’s shelf. “There are so many fantastic books that cover one style, but The way we live has a bit of everything,” she says. “There are over 1,000 photos [within it]. On just one page you can see pictures from San Francisco to Mauritius to Scotland to Cairo. All of Stafford Cliff’s books are wonderful. This is the best starter.”

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a house

By Tracy Kidder

“For those of us who love house projects, this really encapsulates the interpersonal dynamic that goes into them,” Merrill says of the Pulitzer Prize winner’s 1985 documentary about building a single house in Amherst, Massachusetts.

The White Album– In particular his essay “Many Mansions”

By Joan Didion

Reading Joan Didion is always a good idea. Merrill finds particular resonance, however, in the author’s 1977 critical analysis of Governor Reagan’s overbearing (and unfinished) residence in Didion’s native city of Sacramento. Throughout its pages, Didion offers a keen look at how politics and power are encoded in the built environment. “This is required reading for anyone who takes a job with me,” notes Merrill. “It touches on waste and elitism and classism and style — all the interesting struggles inherent in this industry.”

The house the Pecks built

By Helen and Alf Evers

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Findings can come from surprising sources. The house the Pecks built “was given to my kids when they were little and has always been one of our favorites,” explains Merrill. The 1940 children’s story revolves around a carpenter and his family who end up building an insanely sprawling home while becoming increasingly mobile, making this book an early critique of suburbanization. “Not only are the illustrations adorable, [but] it just goes to show how building mania can take over and how we need so much less than we think.”

Andrew Henry’s Meadow

By Doris Burn

“Another children’s book!” Merrill laughs. Released in 1965, this follows the adventures of a resourceful boy who deals with his middle child’s loneliness by starting a child-centric village in a meadow. The city is filling up with bespoke, quirky homes of the young inventor’s own design. “As a studio, we focus on providing our clients with a home that is tailored precisely to their needs and preferences. The houses Andrew Henry builds for his friends are just that.”

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Charleston: A Bloomsbury House & Garden

By Quentin Bell and Virginia Nicholson

Charleston Farmhouse in rural East Sussex, UK was established during the First World War to function as a major center and artisanal retreat for the radical Bloomsbury Group. His fusion of creative output is a great study in cross-disciplinary collaboration. “It’s a personal favourite. I love any book that shows such a specific personal style,” she notes. “At Reath we always try to capture the essence and personality of our clients and this book is a lesson in that.”

Additional reading

“Depending on the nature of the project, we always dive into these,” says Merrill. For even more inspiration, the designer of the AD100 recommends:

Image may contain: interior design and interior

Mexican homes today by Verna Cook Shipway and Warren Shipway

Image may contain: human, person, furniture and home decor

Detached houses by the sea by Alexandra D’Arnoux and Jerome Darblay

Image may contain: city, small town, urban, building, metropolis, nature, high rise and outdoor

Private Paris: The most beautiful apartments by Marie-France Boyer

Image may contain: Villa, House, Building, Housing, Hacienda and Cottage

Finnish summer houses by Jari Jetsonen

Image may contain: human and person

The House Book by Terence Conran

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