AMERICAN VIEW, by Raymond Waites, Bettye Martin and Norma Skurka (Harper & Row, $35). "America's relaxed attitudes shape and color everything we do," this new idea book tells us. The authors illustrate their point with a richness of old and new furniture, decorative accessories and recipes among which they feature their own line of New Country Gear products in photo montages arranged by color to minimize confusion. The images are as American as, well, "Daffodils and Copper Kettles," "Pine Cones and Field Flowers," "Red Barns, Red Apples." Big, handsome photographs make impressive picture essays on front doors, fences, window details and the characteristic patterns of what the authors call "Artech," the indigenous style that has emerged from the melting pot as America's own. With a keen eye for the simple-made-chic, American View offers up some fresh ideas, celebrates the familiar and increases our respect for design produced at (and inspired by) our own front doors.

THE IMPECUNIOUS HOUSE RESTORER, by John T. Kirk (Knopf, $25). In the intimate style of a daily journal, John T. Kirk shares the lessons of his adventures restoring the Daniel Bliss House in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. The book is an instructive, good-humored discussion of "the process of restoring an early structure step by step," from selection of a restorable property through tracing its history, to a cellar-to- attic examination of everything from sills to slaughterhouse. And that's before the actual restoration begins. As with any old house, there is plenty of work to be done and Kirk, aided primarily by black and white snapshots, takes us through it board by creaking board.

HISTORIC HOUSES OF THE SOUTH, by the editors of Southern Accents (Simon and Schuster, $35). Two centuries of southern architecture, pre-Revolutionary to early 20th Century, are set forth here in dazzling photographs of 20 houses and text that illuminates them with just enough descriptive and historical detail to whet the reader's appetite. Geographically, the houses range from Hampton in Baltimore to Whitehall in Palm Beach, and from the Hays-Kiser house in Antioch, Tennessee, to Villa Finale in San Antonio, covering the "Old South." It is not just the live oaks dripping Spanish moss that let you know where you are when you enter this book. Patterns of architecture are clear: broad hallways that lead straight through the first floor from front door to back; double porches -- upstairs and down; Chinese Chippendale balustrades, and of course the great white columns. Here the emphasis is not on how to do your house but how they did theirs then and gave them the "special sense of charm and history" that earned them their places in this book.

THE WORLD GUIDE TO HOUSEPLANTS, edited by Anthony Huxley (Scriber's, $19.95). This picture-filled encyclopedia tells the grower about plants in their native micro- climates, then applies that information to the care and feeding of those same plants in the home. For example, did you know that the Spathiphyllum sitting on your window sill above that radiator traces its ancestry to Columbian and Venezuelan rain forests where its relatives "enjoy warmth and very high humidity"? No wonder it's wilting. "Stand on trays of moist pebbles and mist-spray foliage weekly," the book advises. Color photographs, while modest in size, bring home such points by showing cloud-shrouded mountain rain forests thick with mosses, and keep us humble with shots of ficus trees 300 feet in diameter. The book divides the world into 10 geographical regions, describes climate and vegetation in each and carries the reader off on plant-hunting expeditions through exotic eco-systems, then brings him back with the very plant he has in his living room.

THE COMPLETE BOOK OF HOME DESIGN, by Mary Gilliatt (Little, Brown, $25). Designer Mary Gilliatt has produced a flood of ideas that are less expensive than the glossy production of the book makes them appear. Lush color pictures impressively illustrate her admonition to "develop an eye for detail", while arrows and concise notations on the pictures themselves point out the details as clearly as your mother might remark dust on the mantle. Originally written for British readers, the book includes advice about "Rented Bed-Sits," or studio apartments, which tend to receive scant attention in American shelter publications. A windfall for the instant gratification set, the rental unit ideas double nicely as ideas for instant makeovers. However, it is the mundane in Gilliatt's book that gives punch to its stylish solutions to decorating problems. (Beneath those gracefully draped windows one sees that there are indeed ugly pleated iron radiators.) While some of the book's ideas are highly contrived, most appear to work with easy grace, leaving the reader with a sense of the attainable.

GARDEN DESIGN, by William Lake Douglas, Susan R. Frey, Norman R. Johnson, Susan Littlefield and Michael Van Valkenburgh, with the publication board of the American Society of Landscape Architects (Simon and Schuster, $35). While no book can explain the element of magic that makes "great design," this one goes far to inspire and elevate our visions of the garden. Starting with Derek Fell's seductive pink peonies framed on the cover, Garden Design begs to be leafed through. In fact, it deserves a close reading, too. In chapters entitled "A Sense of Place," and "Elements of Design," this book puts plants in perspective in highly readable essays accompanied by pictures deftly selected to illustrate the specific points made in the text. The book advocates no single style. The solutions to design problems range from simple pots on a front stoop to elaborate terraces and pools, and from loose woodland gardens to formal parterres. A sampling of the vast spectrum of stylistic opinion appears in the chapter called "Designer's Choice," a unique portfolio of work by some of the foremost professionals in contemporary residential garden design. It is rare to find so much substance in a book that could easily sell on the basis of its pictures alone, but this thoughtful, sophisticated examination of what makes a garden is an educational experience as well as a visual treasure.