Whether you want to check out the biggest houses in Hollywood for decorating ideas, cringe at the home fashion faux-pas of the 70s or try your hand at making some pot holders to match your kitchen, the following books and DVDs are a good place to start.
Hollywood At Home Architectural Digest
(Harry N. Abrams, Inc.)
I know I’m not the only one who has ever driven down, say, Mulholland Drive and had The Beach Boys pop into my head singing, “Wouldn’t it be nice?” Well, for those readers who are size queens when it comes to houses, “Hollywood At Home” offers plenty of architectural porn, albeit tasteful. The book is a collection of 25 articles from Architectural Digest since 1930 featuring the homes of Hollywood stars. Though you won’t get the benefit of California weather, “Hollywood At Home” is a great read for those who can’t afford a plane ticket and don’t want to mess with those notoriously unreliable star maps. How else are you going to score a room-by-room tour of Cher’s house, or Katharine Hepburn’s, or Diane Keaton’s? Without risking arrest, I mean.
Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible ’70s James Lileks (Crown)
“Sweet smoking Jesus, what was the matter with these people?” That’s the question James Lileks asks as he acts as tour guide through some of the tackiest home fashion choices of the 1970s culled from a collection of vintage interior design magazines, books, and pamphlets. Lileks uses the same hilarious tone that made his collection “The Gallery of Regrettable Food” such a classic. According to Lileks, “Otherwise sensible American housewives who would never grind a Quaalude into their morning coffee or sleep with their tennis instructor nevertheless went daft during the 1970s and performed heinous acts of design on unsuspecting homes.” Does your home need a fashion makeover? If while browsing through “Interior Desecrations” you find yourself saying, “Hey, that looks familiar,” the answer is probably yes. Get a taste of the tasteless at www.lileks.com.
Obscene Interiors: Hardcore Amateur Decor Justin Jorgensen (Baby Tattoo)
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but Justin Jorgensen usually needs only a few dozen for the photos in “Obscene Interiors,” his book of biting interior design critique. Jorgensen has collected personal ad photos of men (both straight and gay) and tastefully Photoshopped out the subjects to highlight the surrounding decor. Not everyone would look at a photo of a naked man and zero in on the hideous lamp on the table in the background. Jorgensen, thankfully, does, and the results are hilarious. Dozens of photos in full tasteless color are accompanied by cutting commentary like, “Cheap is not a color scheme,” and, “That couch would look totally great if it was on fire being thrown from a bridge.” A great read for anyone who peruses personal ads – and a great “What Not To Do” guide for those who place them. Just pray you don’t recognize any of these living rooms or bedrooms. Get an eyeful yourself at JustinSpace.com.
Girls With Hammers Cynn Chadwick
(Alice Street Editions)
Looking for fiction with a construction worker subplot? Like your romantic protagonist to don a hard hat with her broken heart? Well, look no further than “Girls With Hammers” by Cynn Chadwick. The book chronicles carpenter Lily Cameron’s relationship trials and tribulations. When Lily’s father dies she’s forced to set her own business, Girls With Hammers, aside and take over the family construction business. Soon after her lover of 18 years picks up and leaves and her best friend moves to Scotland. Any psychotherapist will tell you that’s an awful lot of life stressors happening at once. How will Lily handle it? Well, by questioning, at age 35, what it means to be what you are, or what you might have been. “There better be a big lesson in this for me,” she says. “I ain’t goin’ through all this shit for nothin’.” As a good friend of mine would say, “Another f–king growth experience.” Even if you’ve never built a cabinet in your life, there’s plenty to relate to here for anyone who’s ever had his or her tender heart whacked with a hammer.
Decorated To Death Dean James
(Kensington Publishing Corporation)
Sure, you say, I like interior design as much as the next guy, but I really wish there was a book that combined it with gay vampire detectives and murder. Thankfully, there is. “Decorated To Death” by Dean James finds gay vampire sleuth Simon Kirby-Jones trying to find the killer of Zeke Harwood, a celebrity interior designer. The “King of Home Decorating” meets his demise at a special event held in his honor that star-struck Simon happens to be attending. Publishers Weekly called “Decorated To Death,” “A well-crafted mystery combined with whimsical characters to create an imaginative spoof on the classic locked-room mystery.” And James knows his mysteries. According to the author’s bio, “James lives in Houston, Texas, where he is manager of Murder by the Book, one of the nation’s oldest and largest mystery bookstores.” In addition to the Simon Kirby-Jones series, he is the author of two previous Southern mysteries, “Cruel as the Grave” and “Closer than the Bones.”
ReadyMade: How to Make [Almost] Everything: A Do-It-Yourself Primer Shoshana Berger, Grace Hawthorne
Do-It-Yourselfers, meet ReadyMade. ReadyMade, meet Do-It-Yourselfers. Ah, finally a blind date unlikely to end in disaster. For those who have already discovered the delight of ReadyMade magazine (“a magazine for people who like to make stuff”), you know what I’m talking about. For those who have not: behold, “ReadyMade: How to Make [Almost] Everything: A Do-It-Yourself Primer” by ReadyMade founders Shoshana Berger and Grace Hawthorne. Hip, fun and so super nice you’ll want to introduce them to your parents, the 60 original projects in “How to Make [Almost] Everything” will keep you busy for a very long time. After all, idle hands are the devil’s tools. The projects and how-to essays are broken down into six raw materials: paper, plastic, metal, wood, glass, and fabric. Berger and Hawthorne show you how to take frequently discarded objects (Fed Ex boxes, beer cans, old phone books) and make them into something useful, or at least keep them out of a landfill, with attitude and style. Perfect for the person who can’t throw anything away.
The Art of Knitting and The Art of Knitting & Crochet 2
While it’s true some people don’t like to read, sometimes actually seeing something done is easier to understand than reading about it. Perhaps that’s why “The Art of Knitting” and “The Art of Knitting & Crochet 2” are the best-selling knitting DVDs in the country (truth be told, the competition isn’t exactly steep as “The Art of Knitting” touts itself as the “first-ever DVD guide for knitting”). While these DVDs suffer from some of the typical shortfalls of educational films (occasionally less than stellar sound, awkward and stilted folks giving instructions), overall it’s not a painful experience – if you actually want to learn how to knit, that is. It isn’t like the “Nude Yoga” video a friend of mine with no interest in yoga bought (his review: “It was boring – just a bunch of naked ladies lying on the floor”). But “The Art of Knitting” is a useful tool for visual learners. With these DVDs you can actually watch someone do what you’re learning, even in slow motion. The instructions are well paced and fairly simple. Both discs include features for the knitting-obsessed, including a Mr. Rodger’s-esque sequence on how yarn is made, an interview with a knitting psychologist (who knew?), a fashion photo shoot, tips on how to start your own knitting circle (often called a Stitch ‘N Bitch) and more. For those looking for something a little more hip, these would make good companions to Debbie Stoller’s “Stitch ‘N Bitch” book series.
Brini Maxwell’s Guide to Gracious Living: Tips, Tricks, Recipes and Ideas to Make Your Life Bloom
(Stewart, Tabori and Chang)
“Living graciously is an art, but it’s one of the easy arts,” says Brini Maxwell, host of Style Network’s “The Brini Maxwell Show.” Then why do so many of us freak out when it comes to things like personal style, home decorating and entertaining guests? Because most domestic divas are made, not born. While we don’t all have a little domestic angel on our shoulders, we do have Brini Maxwell to help show us the way with her new “Guide to Gracious Living.” Described as part Donna Reed, part Marlo Thomas, Brini Maxwell has a knack for personal flair, home design, entertaining and household tips. And can you believe the Brini Maxwell Empire grew from her own cable access show in the late 90s? Her “Guide to Gracious Living” offers readers tips and ideas on everything from decorating to throwing a dinner party (complete with food and cocktail recipes) to gift giving to household chores. Take her tip for the age-old but often unspoken problem of ring-around-the-collar: “Treat the stain with a little shampoo applied with a toothbrush; rub it in well – it’s made to dissolve body oils – and then wash as usual. That ring with disappear like a husband on trash day.” So what constitutes gracious living? “Well, for me, it really boils down to quality of life,” Maxwell says. “With the cacophony that is our everyday existence we often forget that this is it – we are living what we work so hard to create for ourselves.” As Brini would say, “Now why didn’t you think of that?”