AS THE POPULIST society is replaced by the imperial society, so book publishing is changing from "How to Do It Books" to lush full color editions, often on esoteric architecture or unknown designers. The books are a great delight to those of use who can't get enough information about design.
"Art Deco" by Victor Arwas (Abrams, $45). Of the multitude of Art Deco books, this might well qualify as the most complete, both in the scholarly text and the gorgeous illustrations. Arwas is a graphics dealer in London and a collector. In this book, he rightly limits Art Deco ( a name not used until the 1960s, according to some authorities) to those sumptuous, elegant and perhaps epicene designs from France circa 1925, the time of the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes. Arwas says the United States didn't enter the expo because Herbert Hoover explained there was no modern art in the United States. He traces the beginning of the style to the Arts and Crafts movement in England and Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Scotland through the Sezession in Austria and on to Art Moderne in the United States. He covers its current revival in which some designs are just now being produces. His biographies of the artists are exceptionally complete and useful. All collectors of the style, of which Washington has a zillion, and any one who likes to look at handsome pictures will have to have this book.
"Eileen Gray: Designer" by J. Stewart Johnson (Museum of Modern Art; $12.50, paperbound, $7.95). This slim volume tells a poignant story. Gray, an Irish woman, lived in France from 1900 until her death in 1976 at the age of 97. She designed magnificent lacquer furniture in the highest of Art Moderne style. Gathering her courage, she was the architect for two houses. She went on to design wonderful furniture that was far too advanced for its time. Just before her death, she was rediscovered, especially by Johnson, curator of design at the Museum of Modern Art. He organized a show of her work at the Victoria and Albert as well as at the Modern, for which this fascinating book was the catalogue. Today, at least two of her pieces of furniture -- a wonderful adjustable bed side table and a pivoting chest of drawers -- are manufactured by Stendig.
"Fantastic Architecture: Personal and Eccentric Visions" by George R. Collins (Abrams, $35). Some builders are simple, untutored folk who don't know any better than to build their houses of bottles, or newspapers or plastic, or mosiacs. Some are futurists, such as Buckminster Fuller who sees future cities floating in balloons. And then there are the artists, such as Antonio Gaudi who built marvelous manors, tall towers and undulating walls. The authors have sought out the weird and the wonderful in buildings and even gardens all over the world to produce what must be the most charming and comprehensive book on divergent design.
"Contemporary Decorative Arts From 1940 to the Present" by Philippe Garner (Facts on File, $27.50). Garner, the British Sotheby's applied art expert gives a fast run through furniture, silver ceramics, jewelry, glass, textile, fashion, industrial, graphic and film design. He hits the high spots.The illustrations are brilliant. Useful if you need a quick identification of a designer.
"Decorative Interiors: Volume 69 -- Environments for People," edited by Maria Schofield (Morrow, $35). In this book you can see a small row house in Toronto with a curved glass roof, an underground museum in France, a swimming pool covered with a gold balloon, a glass-block Japanese house with tatami mats, an office building with an interior garden and a device which keeps Citycorp Center in New York from swaying. The selection cheers us up on the state of architecture. But the strange collection of uncomfortable-looking furniture and foolish accessories in the back of the book is depressing.