In last Thursday’s Home section of the New York Times, the “Shopping With” column featured Kelly Wearstler shopping at Potterton books in Los Angeles. Potterton is a unique bookstore that specializes in both new and out-of-print design books. (Potterton also has outposts in London and New York). In the article Wearstler discusses how she gets much of her inspiration from old design books and that she collects them just as she would art. You can read the full story here.

Lately I’ve been wanting to learn more about interior design theory so I’ve been sourcing old design books for myself as learning tools. One book I recently purchased was Mark Hampton on Decorating. In this book, the late and esteemed decorator Mark Hampton (who David Hicks’ partner before starting his own firm) covers various aspects of design such as color, the use of accessories like draperies and rugs, room layouts and much more. He also shares how readers can incorporate his design principles into their own homes.


Above is the book cover which is lovely by itself but it’s all of Hampton’s hand drawn illustrations inside the book that are the real treat.


Here is a rendering by Hampton of the guest bedroom in the New York farmhouse of Keith and Chippy Irvine. Even though the book…and surely this room…was done in the 80s, the illustration has such a timeless quality and the colors are very inspiring.

Here’s another one of Hampton’s illustrations…


Throughout the book, Hampton gives an in-depth  view on his approach to design. Accompanying the black and white illustration above, Hampton tells readers to “consider the aesthetic pleasure of looking through a doorway and seeing a painterly view of the room beyond.” In another chapter where he discusses tips for framing art Hampton says, “When I frame a number of pictures that are going to hang together, I use several framers to avoid a mass-produced look.” Quite insightful.

Although I haven’t yet finished the book I am thoroughly enjoying reading it and find it very inspiring. It’s definitely a book worth checking out. Another out-of-print design book I recently purchased is Carleton Varney’s Decorating with Color. Renowned interior designer Carleton Varney was a protege of Dorothy Draper and has been the president of the Dorothy Draper Company since he was 29, a position he still holds today. Varney’s design style embraces the use of bright colors, bold patterns and floral prints.


In this book, Varney shares his wisdom on the use of color in decorating. He also gives plenty of advice and helpful tips presented in Q & A format. One of my favorite Varney quotes?  “Every room needs a touch of black”!


Decorating with Color also includes many of Varney’s vivid interior illustrations. Above is the book’s back cover which provides a glimpse at some of the illustrations you’ll see inside. This book was written in 1972 but I think that any of these color combinations could still be used today. This book is a such a great source of inspiration and another title I would highly recommend picking up.

If you need some direction on where to shop for out-of-print books, I always have great luck on ebay or on Barnes & Nobles’ “Used & Out of Print” area of their website. If you’ve never read these two titles go find yourself a copy now!


  1. I just came across your blog and thought this article on old design books was amazing. I will definately be looking into getting copies of these books. Thanks for sharing! Tracey

  2. Great article on vintage design books! I also love older and out of print design books. Thanks for the inspiration!


  3. Jassy Irvine

    The painting that Mark Hampton did of my father’s ( Keith Irvine), old bedroom ( which became a guest room when the new wing was added), was actually decorated before the 80’s began. You can also check out his book called “Keith Irvine, A Life in Decoration”. Sadly, he passed away in May 2011, and the world lost one of the most innovative decorators of the 20th century.