'Tis a Gift to Be Simple' Especially in the Home


By Julia Bird

Crescent Books

192 pp., $19.95


By Elizabeth Wilhide and Joanna Copestick

Abbeville Press Publishers

144 pp., $45


By Leslie Linsley

St. Martin's Griffin

Houghton Mifflin

232 pp., $10.95


By Terence Conran

Crown Publishers, Inc.

272 pp., $37.50


By Kim Johnson Gross, Jeff Stone, Text by Julie V. Iovine

Alfred A. Knopf

190 pp., $25

THIS year's white winter gave many of us a chance to whoosh down steep hillsides on inflated snow tubes, try out new skis on fresh powder, or brave Michelle Kwanesque twirls on thick ice.

But at the end of the day, we happily returned to the warmth and comfort of our homes. These familiar spaces provided cozy refuge from subzero temperatures and record snowfalls. After cocooning in them for so long, however, we have had ample time to think about how things look and what we can do to spiff up the old place.

A good spring cleaning always helps. But even a spotless kitchen, cobweb-free corners, or a tidy desk may not be enough to satisfy the natural yen for change that often comes as we pass through the vernal equinox en route to summer.

If the urge to redecorate is irresistible, and you're not sure how to begin, turn to the pros.

The home section of your local bookstore may appear daunting at first; there are almost as many guides to interior design as there are rug patterns. And while those glossy coffee-table tomes on styles ranging from Californian to Caribbean dazzle the eye, they often fall short on practicality.

Don't despair. Especially if you, like many people today, are seeking to simplify.

Publishers are catching on to the economic and practical needs of today's consumer. They are delivering an appealing new generation of accessible, unpretentious, and empowering guides to home design. Instead of preaching magaziney magic that perfectly coordinates every detail, they offer tasteful ideas for a simple, relaxed, down-to-earth style.

This approach is at the heart of Julia Bird's Decorating Naturally: White, Cream and Natural Materials in Your Home. "Keeping up with the current ultimate in interior accessories has become an exhausting and expensive process," writes the British stylist. "This is when you start valuing what is simple and naturally available around you."

For her, that translates to whites, creams, and natural materials. "With white there is no colour matching. All whites work well together, picking up the hues of the spectrum." The only vivid colors that enter Pia Tryde's handsome photographs appear in casually placed zinnias, tulips, or berries. Each page of text is framed by - you guessed it - lots of white space.

Calming neutrals are also favored in Natural Decorating: Sophisticated Simplicity With Natural Materials, by Elizabeth Wilhide and Joanna Copestick. In this useful book, the authors spell out steps for such projects as stenciling, bleaching floorboards, and sewing curtains after presenting their thoughtful views on bringing the outdoors in.

"The lure of nature has never been stronger," the authors tell us. "The more frenetic and pressured our lives become, the more urgent our need for peaceful, comfortable surroundings where we can refresh our spirits and recover a sense of equilibrium."

That's only part of their theory. So much of our time we are out of touch with nature - stuck in traffic, holed up in an office, walking city streets - that "the thirst for natural surroundings becomes ever more acute." Furnishing our homes with organic elements helps "redress the balance." Not to mention that this approach is ecologically friendly - "the strongest argument in favor of natural decorating," they write.

Don't be put off by the humble look of designer Leslie Linsley's 15-Minute Decorating Ideas. You won't find any splashy photos in this easy-to-tote guide, but it's loaded with good ideas for quick, easy, and affordable ways to perk up a home. A friendly, chatty tone pervades its pages. "In the summertime, don't take on any project that takes more than 15 minutes," she writes. "It's summer, remember?" Her main message: lighten up. "It's more practical to have a coffee table on which you can rest your feet than a coffee table reserved only for a gorgeous vase filled with fresh flowers and a few ceramics placed at just the right angle."

She reports that many folks are already embracing "cheap chic," an eclectic approach defined by mixing flea market, antique, and yard-sale finds. This "antistyle" trend (as she dubs it) may become so hot it could even overtake American country.

No collection of books geared for simple living would be complete without Kim Johnson Gross and Jeff Stone's Home, part of their "Chic Simple" series. The "primer for living well but sensibly in the 1990s" is almost too hip for a back-to-basics guide. But behind all of its style - zany illustrations, artistically cropped photographs, and a delightfully unconventional layout - is a surprising amount of substance.

"Home" starts with an entire page devoted to the Australian Aboriginal quote, "The more you know, the less you need." And other quotes - from the Shakers to Candace Bergen sprinkle its pages.

It looks at the history of style during each decade leading up to the '90s - "a period of taking stock and accepting responsibility for our own lives and the life of the planet." And it provides ideas for making our homes supremely comfortable, for "More than ever," they write, "the home serves a nurturing role."

The final word on simple interior design comes from leading designer and retailer Terence Conran. If you can buy only one guide to this approach, make it The Essential House Book: Getting Back to Basics. His comprehensive reference manual will help you analyze your home needs, provide plenty of options for seeing them realized, and answer all of your questions along the way.

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