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Live Beautiful Hardcover – March 3, 2020
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What is Live Beautiful? I didn’t expect any kind of “how-to” book, and it's certainly not that. Nor is it an introduction to her design work. Yes, her own two homes are in it, but, at least for fans, this book does not provide any additional pictures of rooms we haven’t already seen. She is a cookbook author, and there isn’t even one full picture of her kitchen in her Hamptons home. Nor are there any other projects from her portfolio – I was frankly expecting at least one or two additional ones, especially as she has recently been describing herself first and foremost as an interior designer.
Instead, it’s a compilation of other people’s homes. However, as some of the other reviewers have commented, many of these properties have been extensively published elsewhere. They are all lovely, albeit mostly of a certain, very well-done style. Think Parisian/Euro apartments with herringbone floors and marble fireplaces which have been redone to include a lot of Serge Mouille lights and modern art, slab marble kitchen backsplashes, and simple platform beds dressed in unadorned linens. I think there is a very good chance that every one of these homes contains a bottle of Aesop hand soap. They are lovely, but rather monotonous, and even after repeated viewings I would be hard pressed to pick a page and be able to describe which property it belongs to – except for one property in the Hamptons that begins to come a little close to something featured on Hoarders.
And then, finally, there is her editorial voice. I’ve noticed this a bit in her cookbook and some of her Instagram posts. It can be a bit breathy and effusive, with a very slight tendency to wander into self-aggrandizement. Yet she still comes off as lovely and helpful (and I’m also aware here of how critical I am being … I shudder to think how someone listening to me speak might try to summarize my voice!) But here, the voice is just a bit too … much. It’s overdone and unnecessary. Ironically, because I think Ms. Calderone is a very talented designer, with a true ability to create simple, striking spaces, she cannot seem to convey ideas in simple or striking prose. A sample “Something about Copenhagen lights an incandescent fuse in me; the intersectionality of food, design, and lifestyle profoundly resonates, and I suppose it’s not surprising that several of my dearest friends hail from this sophisticated Nordic city.” Whew. All of this to introduce the home of a well-known Danish interior designer whom Ms. Calderone has not met, but rest assured “I have been in Signe’s orbit for years.” Ok then.
So what is this book? I think if you love this particular style, and you would like a coffee table book of homes in this style to flip through – this is your book. It’s very well done and wonderful to look at. But beyond that, I’m not too sure who exactly this book is for. Unfortunately, it’s not for me, but I hope that soon I am able to read another one of her cookbooks, or perhaps see some new projects that she has done.
This book will definitely appeal to people with a specific design sensibility. There are some recurring pieces (Serge Mouille lamps galore, Jeanneret and Prouve chairs), but there is enough diversity in style to keep it interesting. I especially like the fact sheet, which gives a brief background on the home, and the homeowners favorite resources for furniture/art.
Of course you will find the swoon worthy anecdotes of her two New York properties in Brooklyn and Amagansett, which to me are obviously the highlights of this book. You can clearly see the distinct personal trademark she puts in an urban dwelling vs. summer getaway. Two very different environmental challenges, but both have that airy, elevated feel that still manages to feel approachable and functional. She's not afraid to go an unconventional route, nor seamlessly blend in vintage ceramic vessels with ikea bedframes. This is her charm and she explains little tips and tricks that will get your own creativity flowing. Let's be real, most of our budgets will need some high/low! I love her ability to layer textures with crisp neutral palettes, but her true talent shines in curating pieces that can be standalone moments, and yet beautifully harmonize an entire room to create an atmosphere that is undeniably serene and chic.
For the rest of the book, you will gain insight into the homes of some very famous names (Jenna Lyons, Nate Berkus) and some you may not have heard of in various places around the world. To me, this is a very celebratory book of different walks of life and design styles that have very personal touches. It's interesting to see how they each push boundaries in their own way, each guided by their own principles. This is a book that appreciates individualism through thoughtful creators. I loved reading about Jenna Lyons' use of unlacquered brass and unfinished oak, to show that she's ok with imperfectionism and the beauty of aging. Every time I see a dent on my floor, I take a deep breath and say "wabi sabi" to channel my inner Jenna Lyons.
I'm puzzled by some of these mixed reviews and think they might be missing the point, but to me this is a book that will be full of added value to any design aficionado. There are even tags of what paint colors have been used, online decor destinations, and places of inspiration. Gems of knowledge!
Top international reviews
Reader Tip: Pay close attention to Athena's notes where her design and styling decisions are explained.
Note: my book was a bit sticky when I received it (ohh Amazon) but I used a baby wipe and it came off.
It also doesn't hurt that it looks amazing on your coffee table. Cannot recommend this book enough!
My book arrived damaged, which is clearly Amazon’s issue. They put a beautiful book in a too big box with no padding. It’s a shame they seem to be ruining everyone’s coffee table book.
I can't say I'm surprised...Athena Calderone at her best.