Art of the House: Reflections on Design


I’m delighted to announce that Art of the House: Reflections on Design (Rizzoli), the long awaited sequel to Bobby McAlpine’s best-selling The Home Within Us, is now available. Written by Bobby McAlpine (McAlpine Tankersley) and Susan Ferrier (McAlpine Booth and Ferrier), this book represents an distinct departure from the portfolio-style book that has dominated the interior design and architecture shelves for the last decade. While the book provides an inside look at several houses created together by Susan and Bobby, its deeper offering is a series of meditations on the meaning of design. Having had the honor of working closely with Bobby and Susan as co-author and principal photographer, I can attest that it offers a rare and intimate glimpse into the heart and soul of the house–and of these two extraordinarily gifted professionals.





Each chapter begins with a meditation on an aspect of design accompanied by a related still life composition artfully photographed by Susan’s husband, Adrian Ferrier. Together, these words and images describe aesthetic principles and the sensual, emotional, and spiritual meanings they possess. Images of rooms and the carefully chosen and arranged objects within them follow, illustrating the power these ideas carry when embodied in a house. Accompanied by Bobby’s and Susan’s observations, these images give readers an opportunity to find new inspiration and insight into the meaning and importance of home.



The objects we surround ourselves with form our private language. When we put these into play with personal memories, mythologies, and points of view, we express a rich and personal world.



In addition to providing a visual feast, the book provides readers an opportunity to witness the creative processes of two iconoclastic design professionals. I’ve heard beautiful architecture and design volumes called “envy books.” Art of the House is not an envy book–it is a profound and generous offering intended to inspire and transform.



Riches are always present as long as we are willing to make the necessary investment in time and attention to see them. The definition of luxury is to be totally aware of our surroundings.



In the first chapter, Lessons in Light, Bobby describes how his lake house at Lake Martin, Alabama, heightens awareness of the beauty within and without its walls.





“My house at Lake Martin is a carefully calibrated machine for seeing—as well as being—at the lake. Like a camera obscura, it is a plain brown box on the outside with an interior that frames beauty and captures light.”





“Light’s journey through the house offers an irresistible invitation to bring more and more objects into its path, coupling unlikely partners and challenging their compatibilities. Picking up your possessions like plants and moving them into the light allows you to see them all over again.”


If you have something important to say and you want it to be heard, sometimes the best thing to do is whisper. Receding and projecting simultaneously, white whispers this same way.



In the chapter entitled When White is Present, Susan and Bobby muse on the power of white to calm and enliven a room and heighten our perception of surrounding textures, colors, and forms.





“Painted in with the fewest, broadest strokes, white creates a sense of calm and balance. Once the eye perceives white, it begins hunting for highlights elsewhere, finding a rhythmic sense of unity.”





“Next to white, everything else finds its truest expression—black becomes blacker and silver shines more brightly. In its absence, colors and textures tend to collide or clamor for attention. Like the dogwood that blooms in the woods at springtime, white endows everything around it with the promise of a fresh start and a new day.”



Everything in this still life might have been discovered on a walk by a lake or in the woods—a pair of feathers dropped by a bird, a chunk of mica, water-worn glass floats that drifted ashore, a piece of metal left out in the rain, books carried into the shade for an hour of reading and forgotten there.



In the chapter entitled From the Forest Floor, the two reflect on how, when brought inside, colors, textures, and objects drawn directly from nature create a sense of harmony and unity with our surroundings and within ourselves.





“A massive wall of local field stone divides the living and dining rooms. Stacked without visible mortar, it appears to have risen directly from the earth. Excavated from nearby fields, the stone literally grounds the house to the land on which it stands. . . . When nature and design combine in seamless unity, dissolving the division between what is outside and inside, the invisible walls separating us from our higher selves come down as well.”





“Like diffused reflections on the still surface of the lake, the contents of the room mirror those of the landscape. Without pretense or exaggeration, they are inspired by it. Wood walls brushed lightly with a greenish-gray glaze appear to have grown a skin of lichen. Textiles evoke the subtlest and often unnoticed nuances of nature—the brown velvet underside of magnolia leaves and the blurred pattern of leaves reflected on water. Linen curtains and upholstery the colors of moss and mushrooms suggest the undergrowth of the forest’s floor.”



This room is the quiet hour you ask for every moment of your life–a place to sit quietly and be exactly where you are. There is a comfort that comes from being in a place and feeling connected to it.

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A thoughtful celebration of the power of architecture and interiors to shape who we are and how we live, Art of the House is a rich addition to anyone’s design library–or library of any kind. Although I’m a little biased, my advice to anyone who cares about the home is to bring it into yours as soon as you can!



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