Best books on design and decoration, for a general audience?
October 7, 2017 1:32 PM   Subscribe

What are the best books on design or decoration, geared toward a general audience? I am not interested in "how to" books, but rather ones that explore the history and theory of designing and decorating. I am especially interested in fashion, graphics, architecture, and the decorative arts. I realize that this is a broad topic, but if there are books that you especially enjoyed, please let me know the names as well as what makes them so good.
posted by mortaddams to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
A Pattern Language might be a good place to start--maybe a bit academic, but a foundational book about principles of harmonious design. From Wikipedia:

At the core […] is the idea that people should design for themselves their own houses, streets and communities. This idea […] comes simply from the observation that most of the wonderful places of the world were not made by architects but by the people.

— Christopher Alexander et al., A Pattern Language, front bookflap
The book uses words to describe patterns, supported by drawings, photographs and charts. It describes exact methods for constructing practical, safe, and attractive designs at every scale, from entire regions, through cities, neighborhoods, gardens, buildings, rooms, built-in furniture, and fixtures down to the level of doorknobs. The patterns are regarded by the authors not as infallible, but as hypotheses:

[…] each pattern represents our current best guess as to what arrangement of the physical environment will work to solve the problem presented. The empirical questions center on the problem—does it occur and is it felt in the way we have described it?—and the solution—does the arrangement we propose in fact resolve the problem? And the asterisks represent our degree of faith in these hypotheses. But of course, no matter what the asterisks say, the patterns are still hypotheses, all 253 of them—and are therefore all tentative, all free to evolve under the impact of new experience and observation.

— Christopher Alexander et al., A Pattern Language, p. xv

posted by Elsie at 2:06 PM on October 7 [7 favorites]

For fashion, you can't beat Valerie Steele (bibliography at Amazon--I could not get her site to load in any of my browsers).
posted by crush at 3:01 PM on October 7

E. H. Gombrich's A Sense of Order is a classic in this field. Having trouble linking on phone but it's easy to find.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:47 AM on October 8

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
by Edward R. Tufte

On review I realize I misunderstood what you meant by graphics.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 1:48 PM on October 8

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