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One for the Books: Creativity and Coolness--by the Pound


This holiday season, publishers are vying for dominance on your coffee table. The offerings are enchanting, but make sure the table is sturdy. A single tome tipped our scale at 8.55 pounds.

As a measure of cool, there is no competition for Bruce Mau's magenta satin volume "Life Style" (Phaidon, $69.95). The Toronto designer's last book, "S,M,L,XL," was produced with Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rem Koolhaas.

Here, Mau goes it alone, documenting his own creative process and graphic design studio work. It is an anecdotal rendition of the visual world--with snippets of intelligence for navigating modern life.

"Unless we can come to terms with the global image economy and the way it permeates the things we make and see, we are doomed to a life of decorating and redecorating," Mau declares upfront.

Mau won't necessarily help you create your own style, unless you're inspired by the branded, pop culture sensibility that drives him. On the other hand, if magenta's not your color, the book is available in seven other decorator hues. Either way, the book will be the season's hip conversation piece.

For a preview of the millennium, "10x10" (Phaidon, $59.95) is unchallenged as the architecture book of the year. It opens the window on breathtaking designs by 100 emerging architects. Ten international critics weigh in on their work. The scope is global, the implications awesome. Curiously, "10x10" measures 12x12 inches.

The National Gallery of Art's exhibition on art nouveau was responsible for the lushly illustrated collector's volume "Art Nouveau, 1890-1914" (Abrams, $75). Editor Paul Greenhalgh of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where the show originated, conveys the beauty of Tiffany lampshades, Klimt paintings, Lalique jewelry, Gaudi architecture and more. A softcover edition costs $35.

For pictorial garden history, "The Garden Book" (Phaidon, $39.95 ) is unrivaled. It celebrates 500 gardens with a single image of each. The A-to-Z book opens with Finnish designer Alvar Aalto's asymmetrical pool at Villa Mairea, built in 1941. Szymon Bogumil Zug's 1775 plan for a Radziwill palace garden in Poland comes last.

Aspiring billionaires can learn from "Hearst Castle" (Abrams, $49.50), an illuminating tale at the intersection of capitalism and architecture. Victoria Kastner's saga of San Simeon, the legendary California estate of William Randolph Hearst, who died in 1951, is captured in detail and with more clarity than in Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane." No mention of Rosebud, but plenty on the travails of an unsung architect, Julia Morgan.

Anglophiles may take pride in "Sir Edwin Lutyens" (Abrams, $39.95), a study of the British architect's interiors and furniture. Washington is home to the only building Lutyens (1869-1944) designed in the United States, the British ambassador's residence. Author Elizabeth Wilhide includes archival photos, original furniture designs and restored interiors and gardens.

David Linley, furniture-making son of Princess Margaret and photographer Lord Snowdon, provides glimpses of how the British upper crust lives in "Design and Detail in the Home" (Abrams, $49.50). More exotic British modern comes from "Textile Style" (Bulfinch, $35), by Caroline Clifton-Mogg, who uses hand-painted and ethnic fabrics to luminous effect. In "London Interiors" (Taschen, $39.99), Jane Edwards shows why London continues to be a source of design trends.

The old empire is put to bed by "Fusion Interiors" (Watson-Guptill, $35), British textile designer Martin Waller and Dominic Bradbury's look at Asia, India and Africa. In "African Style" (Clarkson Potter, $32.50), American Sharne Algotsson provides U.S. resources for African fabrics, furniture and accessories. She also shows how the African American aesthetic is complemented by organic styles of the 1950s. Mid-century fans will find more on the period in "Classic Modern" (Simon & Schuster, $40) by Deborah K. Dietsch.

Still, Old Europe is not without its appeal. "Decorative Floors of Venice" (Merrell, $65) by Tudy Sammartini offers inspiration underfoot. In "The Villa" (Abrams, $60), Joseph Rykwert traces an honored house style from ancient Pompeii to a 20th-century Naples, Fla., residence designed by Richard Meier.

Francophiles can travel to "The Finest Houses of Paris" (Vendome, $50), by Christiane de Nicolai-Mazery and Jean-Bernard Naudin, or visit "The Secret Gardens of Paris" (Thames & Hudson, $45) with Alexandra d'Arnoux, Bruno de Laubadere and photographer Gilles de Chabaneix.

During much of the last century, a yearbook published by Britain's influential Studio magazine recorded the arrival and passing of the decorative arts. Taschen revived the project in a six-volume, decade-by-decade series of "Decorative Art" reprints, completed in time for the holidays. Each volume has more than 500 pages and 1,000 illustrations ($39.99 per volume). All were compiled by Charlotte and Peter Fiell, authors of last year's superb sourcebook, "Design of the 20th Century."

Start with the shag-carpeted '70s to get a jump on the next retro style revival.

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