5 Fresh, Inspiring Books on Design – The Best Design Books to Read Right Now

We all have “things that matter” in our lives, possessions that mean more to us than they could to anyone else, objects that tell our life stories. When we honor those objects and live with them in a functional way, it brings a sense of calm and order to our homes. The most inspiring design books don’t provide a list of things to buy. Instead, they show us how to hit refresh on our homes by balancing what we already have with our day-to-day needs.

Here are the five best design books I’ve read lately. Whatever your lifestyle, whatever your aesthetic, you’ll find plenty of ideas for making your home more beautiful, functional, and livable. Learn how to arrange what you already have; how to style an entryway, bookshelves, or any space; how to live with art, mix modern with vintage, or bring the outside in.

Every one of these books offers a wealth of photos, as well as room-by-room guides and isights on how to think creatively about your space. And they all prove that you don’t have to spend lavishly to live stylishly.

Best Design Book for Busy Moms

Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide by Gabrielle Blair.

Gabrielle Blair really knows how to live with kids. She has six of them! DESIGN MOM shows you how to create a beautiful, functional, unfussy, kid-friendly home. Featuring great advice on how to live with kids’ stuff without letting it take over the house, and great storage ideas for corralling stuff while keeping a warm, modern aesthetic. Blair lives in Oakland. Go to her blog, Design Mom, for inspiration.

Best Design Book for Styling Tricky Spaces

Styled: Secrets for Arranging Rooms, from Tabletops to Bookshelves by Emily Henderson
Emily Henderson provides a 10-step guide to arranging your tricky spaces, like entryways and bookshelves, with “1,000 design ideas for creating the most beautiful, personal, and livable rooms.” This is a photo-heavy book without a whole lot of text. The book is broken down by room, and tends toward the midcentury modern and boho styles.

Best Design Book for the Naturalist

Habitat: The Field Guide to Decorating by Lauren Liess

In this meaty design book, Lauren Liess, the blogger behind Pure Style Home,, provides a crash course on architectural elements (“The Fundamental Elements of Design”), then walks readers through “The Intangible Elements of Design”–style, mood, comfort, luxury, and charm, among others. She finishes with a room-by-room guide. This is a book for readers, not just lookers. Less, who specializes in bringing the outside in, shows you how to mix natural, vintage, and modern elements; how to use color, lighting, and texture; and how to live beautifully with art.

Best Design Book on a Budget

The Inspired Room: Simple Ideas to Love the Home You Have by Melissa Michaels

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a beautiful home. Michaels encourages you to begin with what you have. She divides rooms up by function–a place to gather (living room and dining room), a space that nourishes (kitchen and pantry), a place for conversation (family room). A beautiful, thoughtful, and doable guide for the happy I’mperfectionist.

Best Design Book for the Nostalgic

The Things That Matter by Nate Berkus

Part memoir, part design book, The Things That Matter feels like an intimate conversation with design guru Nate Berkus. See inside Berkus’s home and discover the people, places, and things that influenced and inspired him. Berks believes that every home tells a story. Featuring detailed photos from 12 homes and the stories that make each home unique. Booklist raves, “This is truly an awe-filled, happy book, on the surface about decorating, but, on a deeper level, how the things we love unfold our soul.” More a by-the-bedside book than a coffee table book, this is one you’ll want to sit with for a while.

5 Stunning Examples of Flat Design

1. We begin our tour of gorgeous flat design with this surprising, eye-catching Darth Vader image by Portuguese designer Filipe Carvalho, who created a whole series of images based on the iconic characters.

Star Wars icons by Portuguese designer Filipe Carvalho


2. Next up is The Hipster Alphabet, by Michael Mahaffey. On his website, Mahaffey describes this comprehensive series of alphabetical illustrations as an act of self-education. I only wish we’d had these pasted to the walls of my Kindergarten classroom!

Just one letter in Michael Mahaffey’s playful, beautiful Hipster Alphabet.


3. Impression Digital created seven images for Harvey Waters Softeners to walk viewers through British design by decade. Browse the decades from the 50s to the 2010s here.

From the Interior Design by Decades project, by UK company Impression Digital


4. Here’s a really cool example of flat game design out of France, by TBWA Dan for SNFC.

SNCF – Défi Ingénieurs 2 View site By TBWA DAN Paris X TBWA Paris X \Else (FRANCE)

5. And finally, that brings us to a bright, colorful use of flat design by a company called Wistia, that allows users to easily add video to their websites.

Flat design for the company Wistia, via


You can read up on the history of flat design here.

What is flat design?

the term given to the style of design in which elements lose any type of stylistic characters that make them appear as though they lift off the page. via Amber Leigh Turner for TNW

Find 50 great-looking examples of flat design at


5 Classic Stocking Stuffers

For the kiddos: Pick-Up Sticks from Motel Deluxe ($22.00)

For the elegant beer guzzler: Red bottle hook (22.00)

For the fidgeter: Electric yo yo (15.00)

For the fun-loving gentleman: West Village Blue Cufflinks (19.00)

For the warm-hearted: Red Gloves with Basket-Weave Cuff (29.00)

Our entryway features a modest but meaningful shrine to the eclectic nature of our lives

Cultivate a Shrine: can possessions make you happier?

My grandmother’s tin colander isn’t necessary, but it does make me happy!

The September challenge in Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home focuses on possessions. Gretchen challenges the popular mandate to simplify your life by getting rid of everything that isn’t essential. Rubin argues that possessions–those that have sentimental value, or those that are useful, or those that serve symbolically to remind us of our relationships with people we love–can actually bring a kind of happiness.

Rubin is inspired by her daughter, Eleanor, who keeps little collections of her treasures throughout the apartment.

The view master I played with as a kid sits atop books that are meaningful to me, including a French edition of Dream of Following her daughter’s lead, Rubin creates her own shrine–a shrine to work. She transforms her office with a painted mural on the wall, which does, she finds, bring her a degree of happiness while she is working.

Following her daughter’s lead, Rubin creates her own shrine–a shrine to work. She transforms her office with a painted mural on the wall, which does, she finds, bring her a degree of happiness while she is working.

As much as I try (unsuccessfully) to eliminate clutter in my home, I also believe in keeping things. Not all of the things I keep are useful every day, but many of them bring me happiness. Take, for instance, my grandmother’s old tin colander (pictured above). After my grandmother died, my dad sent me a box with some items from her house–among them, the colander, which brings me happiness because it reminds me, every time I glance at it, of the dear country lady who showed her love by cooking. Next to it, a little painting that I purchased from Goodwill. The painting doesn’t have sentimental value, but it struck me when I saw it, and I love the simplicity and innocence of it. Looking at it makes me happy.

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