Looking for design inspiration? With the ubiquitousness of online interior-design sources, it’s easy to comb through, say, thousands of wallpaper options in just a few minutes, but it can also be the equivalent of turning on a firehose to water a single seedling. The best interior design books, on the other hand, grant readers a portal into a tightly edited, beautiful collection of ideas and images. To narrow down the top tomes, we asked a handful of decorating pros—interior designers, architects and more—to share their all-time favorites.
Evocative eye candy
What if instead of decorating based on a specific design philosophy, you went by pure feeling? This is the ethos of Hepfer’s book “Mood,” which showcases interiors inspired by seven emotions: happy, relaxed, energized, cozy, sexy, tranquil and nostalgic. It’s a go-to for designer Kevin Francis O’Gara, founder of Kevin Francis Design in Atlanta, who loves that it includes Hepfer’s personal sources of inspiration (specific foods and playlists, for example). San Diego-based designer Rachel Larraine incorporates the book into her design process: “It makes a great ice breaker when trying to discover the look my client wants to create.” She adds that the way they respond to what they’re seeing and feeling in the photographs helps them articulate what they want in their home.
Anthology of artful interiors
The projects in this book range from a tropical vacation home inspired by citrus to her own “fearless romantic”-style city home. Francis O’Gara has been following the author, Chicago-based designer Summer Thornton, on Instagram for years, admiring her work’s “bold, yet inviting nature” he says, “and the way things don’t quite match, which is a nuanced design skill that most don’t dare to master.” And the photos don’t just speak for themselves—throughout the book, Thornton walks readers through her thought process, explaining a surprisingly dark paint color choice (to bring some intimacy to a room with many openings), for example, and an unusual wallpaper pick (pink with giant birds, to inject levity into the bathroom of an otherwise polished-looking apartment).
Fresh take on abodes abroad
There’s something relaxing about looking at Japanese interiors, says artist and philosopher Shantell Martin, who lived in Japan for five years and is “slightly obsessed” with Japanese architecture, Edo Period art and minimal interiors in general. “They can feel refreshing, and at times, also like they are out of a sci-fi movie,” she says. This is the book she frequently pages through for visual inspiration. Featuring 28 Japanese abodes, from urban apartments to seaside estates—many designed by the country’s leading architects—it gives readers a peek at breathtaking spaces that bring the outdoors in, play up natural light in creative ways and more.
Deep dive on furniture’s First Couple
While the Eames chair is one of the more recognizable pieces of mid-century modern design, the story of the duo who designed it, Charles Eames and Ray Kaiser Eames, is less known but also inspiring, according to Matthew Miller, principal and founder of StudioLAB, a design firm in New York City. “They’re an amazing couple who shaped the design and furniture industry into what mid-century modern is today,” he says. This book explores not only their furniture but also their photography, film and textile design, says Miller, who frequently includes Eames pieces in his interiors and considers the book a valuable reference that can spark decorating ideas for anyone.
Lessons in contemporary design
Anyone who loves decorating with natural or found objects and raw materials will appreciate this compilation of designer Nicole Hollis’s spaces, says event designer Jung Lee, owner of an eponymous home-goods boutique in New York City. The book features many of the Hollis’s “timeless interiors that blend with the environment,” from an open-plan property perched on a Kona lava field to a black and white pied-a-terre in San Francisco, says Lee, and offers ideas for enhancing neutral spaces with a strategic use of black and an array of textures.
Spotlight on over-the-top rooms
Maximalist pattern mixing and an abundance of color are the focus of “The House of Glam,” the book that Jessica McCarthy, director of interior design at Blueground, a furnished-apartment company based in New York City, relies on most. It’s packed with playfully sophisticated details like saturated paint shades on walls, wildly geometric designs on floors and whimsical objets on display. “Whenever I start a new project, I look to this book to get creative, and then I tone it down a bit in the execution,” she says.
Guide to global spaces
This coffee table-size tome features hundreds of living spaces from all over the world, so it naturally appeals to Joanne Behrens, who, as a vice president of design and project services for Rosewood Hotels, has learned to be fluent in many different design philosophies. The rooms come from renowned designers like Anouska Hempel and Kelly Hoppen as well as fashion designers, filmmakers and musical notables. (One standout: Cole Porter’s swanky Manhattan place, designed by famed designer Billy Baldwin.) And because the book cover comes in four different colors, Behrens points out, “you can get a copy that doubles as decor for nearly any space.”
Mariam Naficy, San Francisco-based founder of Minted, knows and appreciates a fellow creative when she sees one. So it’s little surprise that one of her favorite décor books is a collection of New York City-based designer Ken Fulk’s dramatically layered spaces, with descriptions of his unique process of “seeing a story and an experience in his head before he starts designing,” Naficy says. Inside are full-bleed photos of a restaurant, private plane and homes he has designed, including a refined-rustic Napa Valley farmhouse.
Primer on “Mod-Baroque” interiors
Known for her refined-eclectic style, Los Angeles-based designer Kelly Wearstler has sustained a big following for decades, and this book featuring her residential and hotel properties around the country has longevity too. Wearstler’s ability to combine a “museum-like lavishness” with comfort and functionality is an aspect Lina Benedetti, interior designer and creative director of Benedetta swimwear, admires most. “Her craft is making luxury effortless,” Benedetti says, and because the book includes all kinds of examples—Wearstler’s use of bold colors, striking prints, the interplay of geometric shapes—it’s one of her most valued references.
Love letter to coastal style
The charming seaside area of Bellport-Brookhaven, N.Y., is the setting for “A Summer Place,” which showcases the beauty of this special inlet through its homes, from modern builds to centuries-old shingle-style cottages. It’s a top pick of Maneesh K. Goyal, partner and co-founder of Sona and Sona Home in New York City, not only because he’s a fan of the destination but also for the book’s airy aesthetic and expert tips on hosting, flower arranging and more.
Closeup of elegant, pet-friendly spaces
Dog lovers will be drawn to this thoughtful collection of canine-centric homes, promises Martin, who lives and works in Los Angeles and New York City. “I often wonder about the different lives that dogs may lead and the different types of homes they may inhabit,” she says. Inside are striking photos of two dozen homes with disparate design styles—from a minimalist, hot pink-accented estate in Mexico City to a charming London townhouse with floating storage solutions—each with an appearance by the home owner’s pooch, bringing the spaces to life.
Pattern-mixing made easy
When it comes to exuberant aesthetics, this book is the gold standard for Abigail Cook Stone, cofounder of Otherland candles in New York City. It takes readers through designer Nathalie Farman-Farma’s elaborately decorated homes in Connecticut, Lake Tahoe and London, many of which feature her own Décors Barbares fabric along with antique textiles. Farman-Farma’s penchant for fantastic prints and pattern-layering is so inspiring, Cook Stone says, that it gave her ideas for both her personal home décor and her Homestead collection of candles.
The advice, recommendations or rankings expressed in this article are those of the Buy Side from WSJ editorial team, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by our commercial partners.