From Castles To Kitchen Cabinets; a sampling of the season's literary offerings
Turning inward, cultivating one's own garden, the care and feeding of domestic impulses - all these social trends are embodied in 1982's architectural publications.
Without floundering in a whirlpool of possessions, some doting on doors, hinges, and knobs can be a manifesto of a healthy concern with our daily life style and architectural ambiance.
Obviously, the objects and artifacts that fill the spaces nearest and dearest to us matter, as these books on interior design indicate. It is not inner vs. outer environment, nor private vs. public consumption, but striking a balance that matters.
The volumes here serve less as coffee-table books than considerations of coffee tables:
''Interior Design: The New Freedom,'' by Barbaralee Diamonstein (Rizzoli, 192 pp., $35); ''Attention to Detail,'' by Herbert H. Wise (Perigee, 159 pp., $12.95 , paper); ''The Office Book,'' by Judy Graf Klein (Facts on File, 288 pp., $40), and ''The Last Country Houses,'' by Clive Aslet (Yale, 344 pp., $29.95).
Unlike her earlier interviews of architects involved in grander enterprises, the designers that Barbaralee Diamonstein quizzes here need her help escaping from the frivolous (penthouses for idle-rich friends or relatives) to the sublime (Zen and the art of keeping ornament down to a minimum, one suggests).
''Are you saying that our physical surroundings are just accoutrements to living life, and the really grand design is life itself?'' she asks Ward Bennett. Well, why not?
This book gives glimpses in question-and-answer lines on the way we live, on the sociology of the American home, and, of course, on architecture. Designer Mario Buatta, for instance, reminds us that seven generations of an English family may live in one house, while an American family lives only one-seventh of its days in the structure, moving seven times in the course of one lifetime.
The personalities of client and designer add bits of humor and human touches to the fitting out of the home. The creative spirits interviewed are varied and lively: There are spare designers and cluttering ones (Joseph Paul D'Urso's living room looks like a hollow chamber to serve as pedestal for a single ladderback chair, whereas even the mellow yellow of Sarah Tomerlin Lee's Helmsley Palace interior can't integrate its wall-to-wall quilting of prints).
Diamonstein knows - and the reader deserves - better than Lee's glitzy midtown Manhattan Rococo. Though well designed, the book could stand selections with a little more wit, whimsy, and even show biz, a la Architectural Digest. Some of the designers chosen show a heavy hand in costuming these rooms rather than a sure touch in designing them.
''The Office Book'' takes some of the same designers (Ward Bennett, the Vignellis, John Saladino) but somehow packages their work in a livelier container. This almost encyclopedic book not only divides today's office into handy categories (spaces for machines, mailrooms, coffee-break places) and offers samples from well-known architects, but it gives a word-and-picture tour of the history of the office. It contains such fascinating background bits as the work of Frederick Taylor, whose early-century ''scientific management'' focused on the time-work equation in office design, even calculating how long it took to sharpen a pencil and the properly productive number of drawers in a desk.
The subject may seem too specialized for the non-architect, but anyone bound by his or her work walls would enjoy dipping into and picking through this selection.
If ''The Office Book'' details surroundings, ''Attention to Detail'' positively dotes on them. Its subtitle might be ''The Joy of Hinges, Getting the Hang of Hooks, A Complete Collection of Kitchen Cabinets.'' For all the ordinariness of such objects, the pictorial cataloging is irresistible. Only an aesthetic hermit could deny the pleasure in looking at elegant layouts and well-shaped objects.
The porcelain drawer knobs leap off the page; the glistening Jacuzzis invite the reader to jump in. Anyone who has ever driven past the furniture and object showrooms of the South or Southwest worrying that America will smother in a sea of plasticized, ill-made artifacts dye-stamped for the Sunbelt schlocksters will find some cheer in eyeballing the elegant myriad parts still manufactured.
''The Last Country House'' heads back to when such details were carved, chiseled, and hammered, not machine-tooled. One of an ongoing series of studies on the grand house architecture of England between 1890 and World War II, this is a kind of wish book for nostalgia buffs as well as an anecdotal and entertaining account.
This ''Brideshead Revisited'' country is the Edwardian landscape refurbished by Sir Edwin Lutyens and British gardeners to whom a blade of grass meant as much as a bit of wainscoting. Despite the inequities that brought a wealth of the labor of many to the walls of the few, the interaction of architect and client produced architectural works of enormous charms.
Leave it to the English to lyricize this design elegance in equally elegant language: ''Born late in the evolutionary chain, they (country houses) were nonetheless great mammoths of domestic architecture,'' Clive Aslet writes. ''They grazed in a savanna of cheap labor and cheap fuel. They basked beneath a sky in which the filmy clouds of income tax and death duties had only just begun to appear.''
Ironically, an American took these ''Castles of Comfort'' to their extreme. ''Not a bath in the place,'' William Randolph Hearst fretted in American fashion of Leeds Castle in the 1920s. So he imported his own.
The parody of ''Citizen Kane's'' architectural concoction reflected this model. (One inventory after Hearst's passing found a collection of 18 or so old chimney pieces that he had moved, Aslet writes.) The blackguarding of Hearst's journalism was reflected in his vandalism of old English buildings, and the ''megalomaniac dream castle'' of San Simeon in California was only the final epitome of this excess in the contemplation and creation of his Xanadu.