The best coffee table books loaf with panache wherever they're put down. Beguiling covers tantalize the viewer into savoring at least a few pages, an idyllic way to pass some stress-free time. They also reveal much about the owners' tastes. Here are some magnificent books about homes and gardens, ideal for the most tasteful people on your gift list.
AMERICAN MASTERWORKS: HOUSES OF THE 20TH AND 21ST CENTURIES Text by Kenneth Frampton, edited by David Larkin, photography by Michael Freeman and Paul Rocheleau (Rizzoli, $85)
American Masterworks is a definitive look at houses that revolutionized the concept of a home, from 20th century architect Henry Hobson Richardson to Frank Lloyd Wright, to his emigre apprentices, Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra, to present-day architects, the cutting-edge gang's all here.
Kenneth Frampton's discerning essays, along with 435 color and black-and-white photographs edited and designed by David Larkin, showcase 45 superb dwellings. The stunning Richard Neutra-designed Kaufman House built in Palm Springs in 1946 graces the cover; photographed at dusk in the desert, its lavender hues look magical.
Designs filled with angles, large windows and wondrous open spaces are presented here for the ogling. Ideal for a student of modern architecture or for someone who appreciates contemporary, clean lines.
THE MEDITERRANEAN HOUSE IN AMERICA
By Lauren Weiss Bricker, photography by Juergen Nogai (Abrams, $50)
It's no wonder that Florida and California embraced Mediterranean architecture in the 1920s and '30s. With its terra cotta roofs, white stucco, loggias, balconies, fountains and terraced gardens, the romance of the style spread to less temperate parts of the country, too. Courtyards and patios, extensions of the interior space, became the defining feature of Mediterranean style. Houses with names like Tre Fontane and Casa Della Porto in Palm Beach are among the gorgeous homes showcased along with their famous creators. From architects of the 1920s, such as Charles Platte, who began his groundbreaking foray into the Mediterranean world with his Americanized Italian villa, to the work of more contemporary architects, this book offers a trip through time and style.
MARIE ANTOINETTE AND THE LAST GARDEN AT VERSAILLES
By Christian Duvernois, photographs by Francois Halard (Rizzoli, $65)
Gardening was one of Marie Antoinette's many indulgences. To escape the demands and duties of Louis XVI's royal court, the queen retreated to her own private enclave at Le Petit Trianon near the Palace of Versailles. "This is a story of a little piece of land that became, during the second half of the 18th century, a major player in one of the most passionate and international debates concerning formal versus natural landscape design,'' this book tells us.
Perhaps her desire to be free of the palace also incorporated a love for uncontrived beauty. In addition to creating a working farm and glorious gardens with sublime roses, Marie Antoinette planted the first Anglo-Chinese garden. Lovers of history and gardening will appreciate this elegant and eloquently written book with more than 200 color and black-and-white illustrations.
GARDENS: PRIVATE & PERSONAL
Text by Nancy D'Oench, coordination by Bonnie Martin, photography by Mick Hales (Abrams, $50)
Want to go on a grand tour of more than 90 stupendous gardens without leaving home? This splendid Garden Club of America book is a treat for both avid gardeners and complete novices, a look over the wall at what expert gardeners are doing throughout the United States. It's filled with useful information, whether you garden in a grand swath of land, or a cluster of patio containers. Owners from Chesapeake Bay to Colorado Springs, the Napa Valley to Tennessee, tell how their gardens have evolved and show off prized plants and favorite resting areas. "Many see themselves as stewards of the historic gardens they now tend or of the land they are privileged to plan and plant," the text notes. Lavishly photographed, the reader will be enthralled and inspired by these outstanding American gardens.
A PASSION FOR BLUE & WHITE
By Carolyne Roehm (Broadway Books, $60)
"Passion'' is an understatement. Designer and party-planner extraordinaire Carolyne Roehm is obsessed by blue and white. But what's not to like? Page after page of glorious rooms, featuring fabrics, table settings, flower arrangements, collectibles, bedding, notepaper, even wedding accessories, underscore Roehm's taste.
Roehm, who once worked for her mentor, Oscar de la Renta, shows that one doesn't need a lot of money to create a welcoming, yet sophisticated ambience. Her sources include inexpensive import and thrift stores, as well as antique shops and galleries. She has even used designer sheets to cover walls and furniture. Readers get to see the spectacular interiors of her homes in Aspen, New York and Connecticut. Turning these pages one feels like a particularly stylish voyeur. Great for those who love blue and white — or Roehm's previous eight design books.