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Holiday Reads: six books topping our festive wish list

Looking for something for the bookworm in your life? Or simply for your own letter to Santa Claus? Look no further than our roundup of the latest releases we're lusting over.

Holiday Reads: six books topping our festive wish list

Surely nothing beats a fireside flick through a glossy new tome. And the only thing better than one glossy new tome? Six of them, naturally. That’s why ­­– just in time for the festive season – we’ve rounded up the best recently published books that we’re dying to have on our own shelves. And while they’re almost too good to give away, we have to admit each one would make a pretty impressive present. So whether you’re buying for a friend who likes fashion photography or a dad who’s into design and decorating, we’ve got you covered.

Casa Cabana, by Martina Mondadori, Vendome

Casa Cabana comes courtesy of the magazine of the same name, edited by Martina Mondadori. It is every bit as sumptuous as the twice-yearly mag, which since its foundation in 2015 has had decorators and design aficionados drooling over its jewel-like photographs. This book, like its sister publication, is often awesome, always aspirational and never, ever dull. It’s also relatively short on words, so definitely one to peruse when all the excesses of the season have gone to your head. Instead, you can just sigh over the many Cabana wares you wished were in your own home.

What writing there is, however, sparkles with wit, and delights with a discrete sense of style. There are recipes to make the mouth water (Skye McAlpine’s peach and saffron crostata anyone? Sí, grazie!) and waggish essays from flaneurs and fashionistas alike. Particular mention goes to Patrick Kinmonth for his piquant piece on the merry-go-round that is having one’s friends to stay. Above all, however, this book is just a lovely thing to have, not least given its fabric cover ­– something the magazine itself has become known for, often collaborating with major names for issues. This time it’s Schumacher’s turn, and each copy of this tremendous tome is bound in one of four fabrics created in collaboration with the company.

Atlas of Interior Design, by Dominic Bradbury, Phaidon

Published in September this year, Atlas of Interior Design is the ultimate in armchair travel (and vicarious key-holing). Journalist Dominic Bradbury, who has made his name writing for the very best magazines in the industry, from House & Garden and The World of Interiors to Elle Decoration and Architectural Digest, and has penned north of 20 books, brings us a global survey of the very finest residential rooms in the world over the last 80 years. There’s the trad and outré, the obscure and the celebrated, names big and small. Those in the know will recognise much of the roll call: Jacques Grange, Kelly Wearstler, Axel Vervoordt and many more.

With more than 403 schemes to choose from, spanning 47 countries, we’re hard pushed to find a favourite. Is it the sunshiney maximalism of the Madrid residency souped up by Duarte Pinto Coelho in the 1960s? Truman Capote visited, so we’d be in good company. Or perhaps the faded grandeur of the Bavarian dacha done by Studio Peregalli in 2019? How we long for wall paintings like that. Meanwhile, either of the Madeleine Castaing creations featured could never fail to make the heart sing. Which, as it happens, seems to be what happens as we flick through the entirety of this glorious book. Interiors snoops of the world: rejoice.

The V&A Sourcebook of Pattern & Ornament, by Amelia Calver, Thames & Hudson/V&A

Amelia Calver has worked at the V&A for two decades and her knowledge of its archive is quite awe-inspiring. She’s brought this wealth of knowledge to bear in this exquisite tome – a white-gloved leafing-through of more than 1,000 of the museum’s objects, textiles and documents adorned with surface pattern and 3D decoration. We’d wager that most of the Almanac’s readers have more than a passing interest in print, pattern and embellishment, so we’d be surprised if this delightful book wasn’t already on your lists.

Sourcebooks normally feel like rather specialist things. And yet this book, simply by dint of being crammed with such wondrous things, is a treasure trove for all who look at it. As well as concise descriptions of what’s being shown, we’re treated to lucid Q&As, like that with the founders of print-mad textile designers Timorous Beasties, for instance. You may not be a designer or artist yourself ­– you may not, in fact, have any practical use for this book at all – but it is hard not to be buoyed by the beauty of its subject and difficult not to admire the selection of source matter: from a gilded Spode custard cup, made to look like a tulip, to the greenery-yallery of Morris et al. In this catholic array of the printed, the patterned, the prettified, Calver has not produced a manifesto by any means, but what she does proclaim, loud and clear, is that ornament is sublime rather crime.

African Artists: From 1882 to Now, Phaidon

In 1989, art from Africa was barely represented in mainstream circles. An exhibition in Paris that year marked a shift. Magiciens de la Terre, first at the Pompidou Centre and then the Grande Halle de la Villette, sought to correct the problem of “100 per cent of exhibitions ignoring 80 per cent of the earth” by showing an equal proportion of non-Western artists in the milestone show. It worked. In the intervening years, auction houses have opened specialist departments on the subject; galleries from Dakar, Cape Town and Lagos have outposts in London, Paris and LA; 1:54, the art fair dedicated to artists from Africa and its diaspora, is now in its ninth year. The market goes from strength to strength.

However, it would be wrong to suggest African artists are afforded the same space as Western ones. This ground-breaking book from Phaidon, presenting an A-Z of contemporary African art, seeks to rectify this. (It features three artists born in the 19th century, hence the start date.) Rich in imagery and beautifully written up, it calls attention to more than 300 artworks, contextualising them geographically, in relation to other art movements and within global art history more generally. It’s no mean feat, but they’ve sure done it well.

Helmut Newton: Legacy, Taschen

Powerful and provocative, beautiful and often disquieting, the quietly voyeuristic photographs of the late Helmut Newton still have the ability to shock. It says a lot about this subversive man, who in the 1960s made it his job to be “dangerous”, bringing naked women on to the pages of Vogue and the German magazine Stern. His erotically charged, highly stylised pictures of hyper-sexualised long-limbed women turned fashion photography on its head, and in doing so made the German-born Newton one of the most important photographers of the last century. It also earned him the nickname ‘King of Kink’.

Legacy, which has been published as an extensive catalogue to accompany an exhibition of the same name at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin, does what one might expect from a title like that, surveying almost six decades of his work. Across this time, his style varied and developed, shifted and evolved to the point that it’s hard to categorise his output. As well as working in fashion, he was well-known for portraits (often taken with an uncompromising eye) and, above all, his many, many nudes. It’s likely that no photographer has been as much published as Newton, which makes a book of such lavish reproductions and with such generous scope a tantalising prospect indeed. Get it into your hands and we guarantee it will be black, white and read all over.

Country and Cozy: Countryside Homes and Rural Retreats, Gestalten

Hawk-eyed readers of this book will perhaps think us a little biased for including Country Cozy here, for indeed Inigo does get a mention in this charming compendium of rural interiors. We’re jolly proud to say so too, for it’s a fine accolade. The houses featured in this 288-page anthology surprise, delight and offer a commentary on country living that goes against the cottage-core grain.

This is a book for traffic-choked urbanites as much it is for country mice. Don’t be fooled by the name ­– Country Cozy isn’t just limewashed wood and ditsy florals. In fact, shabby chic hardly gets a look-in beside a wealth of more unexpected entries: minimalist fincas, contemporary extensions to tumbledown farmhouses, converted convents. There’s as much concrete as there are frilly curtains, and every residence provides a different take on rural ways of life. For every owner seeking to preserve traditional construction techniques, there’s another looking to engage architecture and landscape in a way that feels truthful to the 21st century. What links them is a desire to honour regional character, craftsmanship and history. This book is about diversity of design and how the countryside, in all corners of the world, nurtures new ideas.

FURTHER READING

Fabric captions: ruby ‘Cashmere Velvet‘ (background), £360 per m; cream ‘Linen Shade’ (on table), £155 per m; both De Le Cuona

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