Daydreaming may seem a little self-indulgent in these difficult times, but curling up with a glossy book on a dreary November day may be just the catalyst you need to re-envision and revitalize your home. Without these dreams, and the designing and redecorating that follow, American homes would not be what they are: welcoming, comfortable places, full of the fragrance of good food cooking on the stove mingled with the sound of healthy debate in the air. Homes where antiques and air mattresses somehow go together.

American homes have become eclectic combinations of functionality, beauty, whimsy, technology and tradition. The season's best home decorating books discuss planning and designing interior spaces, but they also capture that indomitable, contagious American spirit that is reflected in our individual dwellings our own sweet homes.

Mary Carol Garrity, author of Nell Hill's Style at Home, is an example of American vivacity and success in her own right. Garrity followed her dream and defied the odds; she transformed an old bank building in the small Midwestern town of Atchison, Kansas, into one of the hottest home furnishing stores in the nation. Customers now come from miles away to feast their eyes on the ever-changing displays of unique and fascinating furniture and home-decorating accessories arranged with Garrity's special flair for creating style and atmosphere. She shares her design secrets and decorating tips in this warmly illustrated book full of inspirational ideas for invigorating and enhancing your own home's interior. She encourages her readers to try mix-and-match techniques and to use items they already own in new and creative ways. "Consider an object's intended purpose," she suggests, "then challenge yourself to dream up other, totally unconnected treatments." She concludes with a room-by-room portfolio of practical suggestions, her list of "must haves" for creative decorating, and seven "rules" she breaks with aplomb, assuring readers they may "happily ignore" them, too, with similar success. If you feel you need a better understanding of the basic rules of design before you start breaking them, however, Better Homes and Garden's Decorating Basics: Styles, Colors, Furnishings is a wonderful resource. It's a user-friendly guide to understanding your own tastes and preferences and incorporating them into your home's dŽcor. It offers a wealth of sage advice, and like Mary Carol Garrity's book, showcases a philosophy of home decorating that embraces personal taste and one's cherished belongings. "The joy as well as the challenge of early 21st century decorating is to learn how to pair elements harmoniously and gracefully. It's about working with and enjoying your favorite colors, furnishings, collections, and art." Resplendent photos take you on sundry home tours in styles ranging from Ô50s Funk to Country French to Colorful Contemporary. This is a fun book, full of handy tips for the first-time homeowner or beginning decorator.

For the more serious student of design, Mary Gilliatt's Interior Design Course is a handsome volume with in-depth chapters on specific room elements: walls and ceilings, floors, windows, furniture and finishing touches. Techniques for achieving a multitude of effects are explained in detail, terms are defined, and illustrative, inspiring photos complement the text. The pictures are as sumptuous as they are educational, and plenty of practical advice is sprinkled throughout as well: "A corridor will look less long and narrow if the end wall is painted or covered in a warm color." A renowned British designer, Gilliatt even delves into the play of light in a room, the chronology of style periods and an overview of period furniture on both sides of the Atlantic, making this a comprehensive as well as comely addition to any home library or coffee table. If your house is going to the dogs, and you need more than an innovative paint scheme to solve your decorating dilemmas don't growl try Animal House Style: Designing a Home to Share with Your Pets by Julia Szabo. This book offers the latest in living with canines, cats and other creatures great and small. Animal lovers will appreciate this light-hearted book devoted to helping humans design pet-friendly accommodations for their co-habitant critters. From choosing appropriate flooring and fabrics to protect your home, to practical safety tips to protect your pet, this book demonstrates how living with animals doesn't mean giving up style, beauty or your own creature comforts. It's also packed with plenty of indoor shots, but of course, in these photographs, the dŽcor takes a back seat to the beguiling animals who innocently steal the show.

Aside from all the living, loving and pet-pampering we Americans do in our domiciles, an increasing number of us also accomplish some sort of additional work there. Whether a full-fledged home office is your need, or some space for your lucrative hobby is required, At Work at Home: Design Ideas for Your Home Workplace by Neal Zimmerman takes the home workplace to new heights. (Literally included are "elevated" work spaces like attics, lofts and tree houses, along with plenty of conventional room conversions, additions and renovations.) Again, the photos are divine, and whether you crave a state-of-the-art music studio, erudite writer's retreat, cozy, out-of-the-way alcove for your computer or a complete home office, if these appealing work spaces don't motivate you to action, they will certainly allow you to daydream in splendor.

Linda Stankard's home, sweet home is in Cookeville, Tennessee.

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