Our design history has evolved over time and is a product of the culture and traditions that brought it to life. For the most part, anything that has stood the test of time does possess that connection. I’ve been reading a great book English Style and Decoration, a Sourcebook of Original Designs, by Stafford Cliff (Thames and Hudson). It documents the evolution of style in England (which drove much American design) from 1700 to the modern era. Several things are unique and fun about this history of design. The graphics are all pulled from the notebooks, drawing pads, and pattern books of the leading designers and builders. You learn what and who was the driving force behind each new wave of ideas, and actually see the sketches from their own hands. Another unique approach is that this book covers the broad swath of decorative arts in general. You can see how the same design ideas spilled over into many areas including, furniture, silverwork, pottery, fabrics, lighting fixtures, etc.
Every chapter also shows sketches of room interiors where designers attempted to capture their vision of how these decorative arts came together to make a complete statement.
If there is a downside to the book, it will no doubt heighten your thirst to learn more about our design heritage and traditions. You may want to dig into the work of Earnest Gimson of the Cotswold School.
Aside from all the great information about the designers and their history, the book is worth it just for the inspiring graphics. Sort of like a seed catalog in the dead of winter, it should fire your imagination to build and create.
George R. Walker