Cleaning, Greening and Dreaming

I.M. PEI: Complete Works
I.M. PEI: Complete Works
By Nora Krug
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, September 18, 2008

If there's a unifying theme to this fall's home-design books, it's a call to clean up your act: Get rid of the junk and clear out the toxins. In that spirit, we have compiled a streamlined list of titles worth considering for the limited space on your bookshelves. Among them are several elegant art books that are more than mere adornments (or clutter!). They offer a look inside beautiful homes and pay tribute to the work of some of our most esteemed architects.

Kick the Clutter: Clear Out Excess Stuff Without Losing What You Love

By Ellen Phillips (Rodale, $17.95)

Ellen Phillips understands the problem in every hoarder's heart: the inability to distinguish things that are useful and loved from those that are not. Her cure, laid out with enthusiasm in "Kick the Clutter," comes in the form of worksheets, such as the "Love It-Lose It Spectrum," the "Item Action Plan" and the "Five Steps to a Clutter-Free Life," which includes signing a contract with yourself. She also offers a room-by-room discard guide (e.g., "take down five things from the front of the fridge"), beyond-the-trash ideas for what to do with your rejects (sell them on eBay, for example) and advice for keeping the clutter from returning (maintaining a thrift-shop donation bag). It may seem contradictory to purchase a book that preaches buy less, discard more. But sometimes a treatise full of tough-love tips is exactly what a pack rat needs to take that first step toward the dumpster.

Flanagan's Smart Home: The 98 Essentials for Starting Out, Starting Over, Scaling Back

By Barbara Flanagan (Workman, $12.95)

Barbara Flanagan has far more streamlined advice for clutter-free living. In "Smart Home," the author, a product designer who trained as an architect, breaks down household possessions into such categories as sleeping, dining and the all-encompassing living, and spells out exactly which objects, down to the brand, are essential for each. For cooking, the list comprises 34 items, including a saltcellar but not a dishwasher. She lists 13 items, including an electric blanket and a flashlight, that will not only improve your bedroom decor but also contribute to "a lovelier version of you: wide awake, rested, and less caffeinated." In the spirit of Cook's Illustrated, each of the essential 98 pieces has been tested and "rated for its environmental, social and aesthetic impact," so you can have a clean conscience, too.

Home Enlightenment: Create a Nurturing, Healthy, and Toxin-Free Home

By Annie B. Bond (Rodale, $19.95)

The tone of Annie Bond's book -- a call to living a natural lifestyle free of synthetic toxins -- is decidedly New Age-y, but the message is timely. Given the recent scare over plastic toys and baby bottles, many of us are looking for simple ways to create safe, healthy homes, and Bond has myriad suggestions. For the bathroom: a hemp or organic cotton shower curtain rather than a plastic one. For the kitchen: catnip oil to fend off cockroaches. The book is full of nifty recipes for homemade cleaning agents that would make Heloise proud, including a formula for antibacterial spray whose main component is apple cider vinegar. Bond's use of scientific studies may sometimes be questionable (end-of-the-day exhaustion can come not from work-related stress, she suggests, but from the formaldehyde in a pressed-wood desk). But she offers you as many things to worry about as she does all-natural ways to forget about them. Try, for example, a healing-salts bath.

Michael S. Smith Houses

By Michael S. Smith with Christine Pittel (Rizzoli, $50)

Interior designer Michael S. Smith's book feels like an extended issue of Architectural Digest, and, like that magazine, it leaves you with a mix of envy and desire. Perhaps it's the master bedroom of a London townhouse where cashmere drapes cascade beside floor-to-ceiling windows or the sunlit guest room in a sprawling Martha's Vineyard beach house. The volume uses plenty of designer-speak ("I love to play on that idea of dissonance"), but there's a lot of candor, too. "I have no qualms about buying printed cotton bedspreads at Urban Outfitters," Smith admits. Such frank talk from a favorite of the celebrity crowd, including Cindy Crawford (whose Malibu, Calif., house is among the residences featured), makes his book as much fun to read as it is to look at.

American Masterworks: Houses of the 20th and 21st Centuries

By Kenneth Frampton and David Larkin, photographs by Michael Freeman and Paul Rocheleau (Rizzoli, $85)

This is a coffee-table book with a point of view. The presentation of what it says are the 44 greatest hits of modern American residential architecture is enlivened by the opinions of its author, the critic and Columbia University architecture professor Kenneth Frampton. "While this house is unquestionably a work of art," he writes of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House in Plano, Ill., "it may well be that only a bachelor's retreat can really constitute the legitimate basis for such an exercise." Organized chronologically, the book demonstrates the evolution of modern design from H.H. Richardson's 19th-century Glessner House in Chicago to the more light-filled, geometric and sculptural works by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Philip Johnson, Richard Neutra and Louis Kahn. This volume, an updated version of a 1995 edition, includes among its new selections one mid-Atlantic property, the Ledge House, a multi-winged retreat in the Catoctin Mountains designed by Peter Bohlin that Frampton hails as "a magnum opus of exposed timber construction."

I.M. PEI: Complete Works

By Philip Jodidio and Janet Adams Strong (Rizzoli, $85)

As a child in China, "I didn't know really what architecture was," writes I.M. Pei in the preface to this monograph. It's a surprising confession from the prize-winning architect whose work, elegantly showcased in this volume, has left an indelible mark on the field. The book underscores the breadth of his creations, from signature projects such as the Louvre renovation in Paris and the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art to lesser-known works such as the Oare Pavilion, a distinctly modern observatory that sits amid sheep-grazing grounds in Wiltshire, England. It also offers an in-depth look at what may be his last large-scale building, the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar. Sketches, plans and photographs from multiple vantage points provide insight into Pei's technique, but it is the frankness of Pei himself (who admits to having had "no experience" with rock-and-roll before designing the musical genre's Hall of Fame in Cleveland) that distinguishes this compendium.

Stanford White, Architect

By Samuel G. White and Elizabeth White, photographs by Jonathan Wallen (Rizzoli, $75)

Stanford White's legacy has been shaped as much by his sensational private life -- and murder -- as it has been by his work. As the title makes clear, this book, co-written by a great-grandson of White's, aims to turn the focus back to his professional accomplishments. There is little discussion of White's personal story, with the space better used to display his signature grand, ornate creations. That oeuvre includes an array of opulent residences along the East Coast, including the Robert Wilson Patterson house (now the Washington Club) in Dupont Circle, as well as many institutional and public buildings, among them the first church White designed, Lovely Lane Methodist in Baltimore. The lavish photographs, particularly the archival images of White buildings that have been demolished, such as the New York Herald Building and the original Madison Square Garden, are sure to make even the most committed minimalists a bit wistful.

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