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Front Porch: Bringing home to the beach

St. Petersburg [Florida] Times
July, 2005

by Elizabeth Bettendorf

One of my favorite things about summer is reading books, a tradition that dates back to childhood when I used to load up on Nancy Drew mysteries and haul my stash on the train to summer camp in North Carolina.

A fondness for breezy beach books trailed me well into the summers of adulthood, with the same literary rules still intact: nothing too heavy or pretentious. Summer reading should be like sitting on the back step with a bowl of sweet, dark cherries - mindless, sugary, good-for-you hot weather pleasure.

Of course, now my tastes run equally to nonfiction, particularly books about home, gardening and decorating. The more pictures, the better, though if the topic is truly delicious - say a book about an old summer home such as The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer House or novelist Edith Wharton's musings about decorating in the Gilded Age - then I might read all night.

I've collected a summer reading list of new and not-so-new home and decorating books that I think will complement days spent at a beach cottage or simply on the family room sofa with a glass of iced tea.

* Designers on Designers, edited by Susan Gray, McGraw Hill, 2004.

Contemporary designers muse on the greats, such as Billy Baldwin, Sister Parish, Eileen Gray, Elsie De Wolfe, even Edith Wharton. In addition to photographs and essays, the book includes helpful lists of do's and don'ts, advice that includes starting a collection, layering lighting and avoiding clutter. It also offers a few tips on ways to keep a room interesting, such as a 1960s lamp in a room full of FFF, "fine French furniture."

* Living Large in Small Spaces: Personal Style in 100 to 1,000 Square Feet by Marisa Bartolucei, Henry N. Abrams, 2003.

A tour of the seriously space-challenged, from a fabulous 200-square-foot apartment in New York's restaurant row occupied by an aspiring artist who created displays for a Manhattan department store to a downright spacious 1,000-square-foot apartment in a 1937 Los Angeles apartment building designed by Richard Neutra and once inhabited by Charles and Ray Eames.

* The Emotional House: How Redesigning Your Home Can Change Your Life by Kathryn L. Robyn and Dawn Ritchie, New Harbinger Publications, 2005.

A quick but interesting look at ways to pull together a personal style, including ideas on creating a homey kitchen, anchoring a room with art and creating mood with color. (Blue acts as an appetite suppressant, for example, so if you're dieting the authors suggest swabbing your dining room walls with the color).

* MaryJane's Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook by MaryJane Butters, Clarkson Potter, 2005.

For the farm girl in all of us. In fact, a fetching photograph in the front of the book features a handwritten note clothespinned to a line with the quote: "Farm girl is a condition of the heart." A book filled with beautiful lifestyle photographs of the author's Idaho farm and filled with tips on everything from flower arranging to housekeeping to apron making. You may do nothing else but look at this one.

* Better Homes and Gardens New Cottage Style: Decorating ideas for casual, comfortable living.

More domestic eye candy: lots of blue ticking, painted furniture, clawfoot tubs, whitewashed floors, seashell arrangements, weathered unpainted Adirondack chairs, roses spilling from baskets, bowls of vintage buttons, old wicker. You get the idea.

* Girls Just Wanna Have Clean! 1,387 Tips to Clean Your Place Fast: 10-Minute Emergency Cleaning by Vicki Christian, Meredith Corp., 2004.

This is a book to buy for the silver-glittered cover featuring a domestic diva wearing high heels and bling. Read the "Ode to Bleach" and tips on everything from polishing brass to removing lipstick stains.

* The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer House by George Howe Colt, Scribner, 2003.

A National Book Award finalist. The writer ponders the sale of a 100-year-old Cape Cod family summer place where he spent many summers.

* American Writers at Home by J.D. McClatchy, The Vendome Press, New York, 2004.

A beautiful pictorial journey inside the homes of writers, from poet Edna St. Vincent Millay's gorgeous former dairy farm in the Berkshire foothills to Samuel Clemen's Hartford, Conn., home decorated by Louis Comfort Tiffany to William Faulkner's Rowan Oak in Oxford, Miss. This is a different kind of homes book, one that details the lives of the writers (21 in all) as well the places they called home.