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Feature: From the BWAF Bookshelf: NY Design Inspirations—Past & Present

The October edition of the BWAF Bookshelf explores women in history and today who have influenced design and design thought in and around New York City, and beyond.

Book covers from left to right: The Decoration of Houses, Deborah Berke, and Long Island Landscapes. ^ See photo credits below.

Deborah Berke

Tracy Myers and Deborah Berke
(Yale University Press, 2008).

Deborah Berke, contemporary New York architect and founding partner of Deborah Berke & Partners Architects, has been in practice well over twenty-five years, about the same amount of time that she’s been teaching architectural design at Yale University. Berke has designed a large range of projects that manage to adhere to her conviction that “architecture is not an end in itself, but a setting that is enhanced by its use”. She has won continuous praise for her ability to create the unexpected, for her unwavering precision and clarity in her work, and for her passion for architecture that is relevant to its time and its setting. In this well-documented, handsome, cleanly laid out monograph (echoing Berke’s own attitude towards design), Tracy Myers weaves together twenty-one of Berke’s most prominent projects, including her award-winning residential work as well as larger scale projects such as the Irwin Union Bank and the Yale School of Art & New Theater. This volume attests to Berke’s secure place within the long tradition of significant American designers.

Long Island Landscapes and the Women Who Designed Them

Cynthia Zaitzevsky
(Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities, 2009)

In this meticulously researched and richly illustrated volume, Cynthia Zaitzevsky provides an in-depth view of the more than seventy Long Island Landscapes designed by women during the era of great Country Places (c.1990-1940).  Eighteen notable women landscape and garden designers are featured in this book. The first chapter sets a larger context of the relatively new profession of landscape design that offered new possibilities for women, although it was often difficult to attain apprenticeships, let alone jobs, in a male-dominated environment.  Each of the following six chapters is devoted to one of the following prominent landscape designers: Beatrix Jones Farrand, Martha Brookes Brown Hutcheson, Marian Cruger Coffin, Ellen Biddle Shipman, Ruth Bramley Dean, and Annette Hoyt Flanders.  Each chapter delineates the important Long Island projects (sketches and pictures included) in the woman’s career while providing brief biographical background. The last two chapters combine the work of the other 13 significant designers who helped shape Long Island’s landscapes, but whose main body of work lay well beyond Long Island –across the Northeast, if not across the country. All in all, Long Island Landscapes is a tribute to the passionate and entrepreneurial women who were pioneers in the nascent but burgeoning profession of landscape design.

The Decoration of Houses

Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman Jr.
(1897; reprinted by Rizzoli International Publications, 2007)

When we hear the name Edith Wharton, we usually think of her literary works the likes of The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. We can be forgiven for overlooking her equally significant written contributions on design, including her first and timeless treatise, The Decoration of Houses. Originally published in 1897, The Decoration of Houses was a reaction to American taste in the late 19th century, suggesting solutions to refine furniture and ornamentation within the home. Complete with image plates, the book takes us through particular characteristics and rooms in a house that should be attended to, arguing that a person’s environment defines who he/she becomes. Wharton herself was critical of the surroundings she grew up in, describing New York City, her hometown, as “crammed” and “untended.” Today, the book is still widely consulted and is considered a classic in interior design, referencing historical styles and advocating simplicity in room decoration rather than garish ornamentation.

^ Photo Credits: Photos were obtained from publishers’ websites.

1 Comment

  1. Bethanie

    I’m not an expert in architecture literature, but reading this was certainly worthwhile!

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