Required Reading: Three Books with Inspiring Design Lessons.

In need of some inspiration, I brought home three new books: Home by Ellen DeGeneres, Simple Matters by Erin Boyle, and Design Sponge at Home by Grace Bonney. These are three very different books, but they all had something to teach me, and I completely gobbled them up in a single afternoon.

Home by Ellen DeGeneres is an elegant, all grown up, coffee table book featuring seven of her homes, including a modern California ranch, two apartments, a Tuscan style villa, a horse ranch and three mid century homes. It is interesting to see how well-made furniture and art, such as Poul Kjaerholm’s PK33 stool, Jean Prouve chairs and a Ruth Asawa sculpture, can fit so well into all of these different types of dwellings. I also enjoyed Ellen DeGeneres’ words at the end of each chapter, summing up what she learned from the different properties. My favorite being this tip from her time living in the so called “Birdhouse” in the hills above Hollywood: “If you live in a home with big, glass, floor-to-ceiling windows, always know what day the gardener is coming and dress accordingly.”

At the end of the book, DeGeneres presents a hand-full of people who she collaborated with while creating these homes, and the “Thoughts, ideas, and advice from Cliff Fong” are spot on:

  1. Don’t be afraid to mix high and low price points. Not everything has to be precious to be important.
  2. Splurge on something you really love, especially something with some inherent design value.
  3. Buy lots of books, especially on art. Read them.
  4. Take a trip to Europe, spend as much time there as possible.
  5. Learn another language.
  6. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
  7. Find beauty in imperfection.
  8. Experience and appreciate nature.
  9. Mix new and old.
  10.  Live deliberately.




I also plowed through Design Sponge at Home. And if DeGeneres’ book showed an all grown up style, this one has more of a teenage/early twenties vibe. The interiors shown in the book are a bit too layered and eclectic for my taste, and the DIY’s at the second half of the book has the attitude of  “if you just have a wooden pallet, a mason jar and some paint, you can create anything.” OK, I’m exaggerating a tad. And I’m honestly compelled to make the “Faux Porcelain Vases” made with puff paint, the “Concrete Garden Spheres”, and the “Map Covered Boxes,” along with some of the flower arrangements with detailed instructions.


Simple Matters, by Erin Boyle, is a beautiful minimalist book in the art of living with less, and ending up with more. While Marie Kondo does a better job at guiding the reader through the ultimate home decluttering process in the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Simple Matters does a great job taking you through life beyond the day (or weeks) of decluttering: “Congrats on decluttering so far, but the road to cleared-out spaces doesn’t end there. The bigger problem than getting rid of things is the problem of acquiring them in the first place. In addition to divesting yourself of stuff, commit to barring from entry anything that is not useful or lovely or hopefully both.” Boyle suggests leading by example, and stop bringing unnecessary things into your own, your friends’ and family’s homes. Here are some great tips from her book:

  1. Give a gift of experience over a physical object. For example: a gift certificate to a dinner out, a year’s membership to a museum, a subscription to a paid service like Netflix or Yoga Glo.
  2. Get yourself off junk mail lists through websites like
  3. Refuse all freebies (including toothbrushes from your dentist).
  4. Avoid shopping when you are feeling sad or hungry.


To set an example and reduce spending, why not come on over and borrow these books, instead of getting your own copy? I’ll put them in a reusable bag for you, next to my desk.




Photos: Charlotte Coffey

About the Author:
Charlotte Coffey is the principal designer of Lotta Coffey Design & Interiors, and creates authentic, modern Scandinavian interiors in San Francisco, Marin County and the Wine Country. In her spare time, she enjoys eating, running and painting things white.

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