Whether you're looking to overhaul your home's outdated colors and tired furniture, or you simply enjoy living vicariously through the good taste of others, the latest batch of design books offers plenty of ideas for making personal spaces more appealing.
The decorating book expected to make the biggest splash this spring is Trading Spaces: Behind the Scenes (Meredith, $19.95, 175 pages, ISBN 0696217120), a treasury of insider information from the phenomenally popular home improvement show, "Trading Spaces." For the two or three people in America who have somehow missed the TV show, here's the rundown: Homeowners sign up to redecorate (and, in some cases, ruin) a room in a neighbor's home with the help of designers and a $1,000 budget. At the end of two days, the rooms are revealed to the owners. The result might be a tastefully appointed French Country bedroom . . . or a living room with hay glued on the walls.
Edited by Brian Kramer, Trading Spaces: Behind the Scenes offers candid biographies of the show's main players. Perky host Paige Davis admits that her upbeat personality evokes a love/hate reaction people either love her or find her, in her own words, "loud, obnoxious, dramatic, overbearing and annoying." Designer Frank Bielec, known for his country kitsch designs, admits that he used to work as an aerobics instructor. Hildi Santo-Tomas, the designer with an aloof demeanor and a penchant for high-glamour rooms, reveals her goofy passion for Pluto, a Labrador Retriever she calls her "life source and soul."Beyond the bios, Trading Spaces: Behind the Scenes includes revealing photos and hilarious features, such as a table to help readers determine which of the show's cast is their design soul mate. The book ends with a roundup of every "Trading Spaces" episode. Aside from the gratuitous poster-size portraits of cast members, which would appeal only to a true fanatic, this book is an extremely satisfying peek inside a little show that became a monster hit. While the book is heavy on fun facts, it's light on decorating tips. For that, open up Think Color: Rooms to Live In by Tricia Guild. This hefty volume of decorating inspiration is an antidote for those who balk at the thought of citrus-colored walls or pink bedding. Think Color proves that bright, bold colors can look tasteful and, yes, even soothing.
Guild is the creative director and cofounder of Designers Guild, a company that specializes in sleek designs with liberal use of fresh flowers and vibrant fabrics. The colorful photos in the book convey this rich sensibility, and accompanying text offers advice on everything from creative ways of serving food to successfully using wallpaper.
Novice decorators will appreciate Guild's concise explanations of her choices in each room. A bold room where flowery red, yellow and blue curtains are paired with a rainbow-striped chair somehow looks restful. How? As Guild explains, this is because a barely noticed white rug ties together and "stabilizes" the room. Don't worry if reading this gorgeous book doesn't result in a major transformation in your own home. Just flipping through these glossy pages is satisfying enough.
If just adding a few throw pillows won't do the trick, turn to The Distinctive Home: A Vision of Timeless Design (Taunton, $40, 240 pages, ISBN 1561585289) by Boston architect Jeremiah Eck. The author aims to explain the essence of a distinctive home, and he succeeds with this ode to good architectural design. You don't need a degree in architecture to understand his simple, thoughtful meditations on houses. Eck considers every element of the home, from landscaping to roofline, and explains the importance of both the smallest details (the chimney) and the bigger picture (how the house appears from a distance).
In Eck's view, a home is more than just a storage unit for TVs, appliances and Jacuzzis. "To me," he says, "one of the goals of a house should be not just to provide pleasure but to achieve a higher level of all-encompassing satisfaction. Well-proportioned spaces, good light and small but thoughtful details can help push a home beyond mere pleasure." The book is filled with beautiful color photos that give detailed ideas on how to make your own home distinctive. Amy Scribner's latest home improvement project was painting the bathroom of her Washington D.C. home in periwinkle blue.