Book review: Living Modern

Sep 23, 2010
  • Article by Online Editor
  • Designer

Living Modern: The Sourcebook of Contemporary Interiors
Photography by Richard Powers
Text by Phyllis Richardson
Published by Thames & Hudson

When we speak of Modernism, we often picture the stark functionalism of Le Corbusier and his ‘machine for living’. The movement has become synonymous with the disciplined restraint typified by Corbusier’s Villa Savoye in France, and Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion – early designs that marked the beginning of an architectural style that came to define the mid-twentieth century.

Thames & Hudson’s latest title, Living Modern: The Sourcebook for Contemporary Interiors, is pitched as “this generation’s interiors bible” – an essential reference for stylish, contemporary living that explores modern as a lifestyle, rather than a style. Author Phyllis Richardson identifies the Modernists’ optimism for the future and enthusiasm for new materials, new methods and a new style unrestrained by tradition. “Being modern was always about having a wide rather than a narrow view,” she argues.

As an object, the book is an elegant and seductive volume. The glossy red cover, red-tipped pages and yellow and green accents make for a striking book design. This is not merely another title to add to the bookshelf, but an eye-catching book to be displayed and admired. Inside, the book brims with photographs of residences from across the globe; New York penthouses and Brazilian apartments sit beside French chateaux, houses in the Australian bush and Alpine ski lodges in Austria, illustrating how truly global design has become in the twenty-first century.

Organised by theme, the sourcebook presents a wealth of contemporary interiors grouped by materials, surface and style; architecture and function; furniture and location – covering the urban just as well as the remote desert retreat. Australian projects are featured prominently: architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, Glen Murcutt, Bark Design Architects, Donovan Hill, Architectus, James Russell and Eckersley Garden Architecture are all included, alongside the work of local design firms Scott Weston Architecture Design, Chris Connell Design and Hecker Phelan & Guthrie, among others.

The influence of Modernism is, of course, evident throughout the book. Unembellished surfaces, clean lines and expansive glass walls allude to the work of Corbusier, Mies and Frank Lloyd Wright. Furniture pieces by Charles and Ray Eames, Arne Jacobsen, Eileen Gray and Marcel Breuer are testament to the enduring appeal of the aesthetic championed by these designers. Alongside these design icons, however, are other, more contemporary design classics: Ron Arad, Marc Newson and Frank Gehry’s pieces complete the furniture section, while distinctive colours and decorative details emerge from the otherwise stark interiors. As Richardson explains, “The successful modern interior features a considered juxtaposition of elements… [with detail that] complements rather than distracts.”

There is no denying the book’s success as a starting point for design inspiration. The 10 themes are divided into subsections (‘Ambience’, for instance, includes natural light, screens, fire, colour, white, pattern, neutral and contrast), making it a wonderful book to become immersed in. However, as a resource for designers the book is, at times, lacking in more detailed information. Instead of photo captions, for example, it offers an index – a curious omission for a sourcebook that boasts such a generous range of designs from practices across the world (with whom the reader may not be familiar). Photographs are indexed by architect/designer, and by page number – but I found myself flicking through the hefty 368 pages, to the back of the book, in my efforts to identify the designers. The inclusion of a directory for stockists, too, will be of limited use to the Australian market; but these are minor shortcomings in a book that is ultimately a visual resource.

Photographer Richard Powers has compiled a remarkable collection of images for this book. With previous publications including Beyond Bawa: Modern Masterworks of Monsoon Asia written by David Robson, and Tropical Minimal by Danielle Miller (both titles also published by Thames & Hudson), as well as photography shoots for newspapers and magazines around the world, Powers has justifiably earned a reputation as a leading interiors photographer, with compositions that beautifully highlight the details and intricacies of each project. Carefully arranged as brief visual essays on styles and themes, the photographs are brought together to create a rich and valuable compendium of contemporary interior design.

We’ve got three copies of Living Modern: The Sourcebook of Contemporary Interiors to give away. For your chance to win one of three copies, complete the ADR reader survey before 10 October 2010.

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