For many Americans, home has become office—and school, and sole source of meals and activities, and more—since the pandemic has taken hold, creating a surge in home improvement spending, gardening, and houseplant purchases.
Little surprise, then, that books about these topics also have gotten a boost. Gardening titles spiked almost 45% in 2020 compared with 2019, per NPD BookScan, as readers gravitated toward self-sufficiency and eco-conscious pursuits. House and home titles saw a rise of 7.5%, led by big names in organizing (Clea Shearer and Joanna Tepplin, The Home Edit and The Home Edit Life), decorating (Joanna Gaines, Homebody), and decluttering (Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up).
Forthcoming books continue in this vein. Some were in the works when the pandemic hit; others responded to it. Many seek to help readers create what Design a Healthy Home author Oliver Heath calls “more productive, happier, and healthier spaces to live and work in.”
Embrace your space
Joanna Thornhill, an interior stylist in London, received first edits on The New Mindful Home (Laurence King, Apr.) as the world was shutting down. Still, she says, the manuscript read as “so relevant to now.”
Mindful of current conditions, Thornhill—whose previous books include 2019’s presciently titled My Bedroom Is an Office—eliminated a section on communal crafting. But otherwise, her book, which PW’s review called a “practical guide” to “creating a calming space,” seemed more necessary than ever. Even those with modest means, she says, can make interminable hours at home more bearable by adding wall color to compensate for a lack of outside stimulation, and lighting candles to signal that the home office has morphed into a meditation room for the evening.
Thornhill also includes a chapter on biophilic design—incorporating the innate human attraction to nature—as does Justina Blakeney in Jungalow (see our q&a with Blakeney, “Changing the View”). Oliver Heath, meanwhile, devotes all of Design a Healthy Home to the concept of connecting home with nature.
Heath, a British sustainability architect whose company caters to corporate clients including Unilever and Deutsche Bank, presents 100 ideas for naturalistic home design. Number one is all about color, and choosing hues “that remind us of nature” (the soft blues of calm skies; yellows for the welcoming energy of sunflowers). Number 16: move your desk next to a window to “maximise exposure to natural light and notice seasonal changes.”
In The Humane Home (Princeton Architectural Press, Apr.), Sarah Lozanova imagines her readers seeking a “green life” in order to exist in harmony with nature, as she writes in an opening chapter that touches on downsizing, decluttering, and aiming small. She has loftier aims thereafter, including water conservation and waste reduction.
Lozanova says that lately, actions that support a sustainable home and planet have “become appealing options,” and the trade is taking notice. Thornhill agrees, adding that sustainable design was still considered fringe a few years ago, but the pandemic has “brought people up to speed.”
Keep it simple
With Covid-related supply chain shortages still an issue, now might be a good time to embrace minimalism, suggests Stéphanie Mandréa, cofounder of Canadian eco-products company Dans le sac. While cooped up at home, why not learn to waste less, clean better, and shop in bulk to reduce your carbon footprint?
Minimal (trans. from the French by J.C. Sutcliffe, Ambrosia, Apr.), which Mandréa wrote with Dans le sac cofounder Laurie Barrette, offers familiar guidance in this department alongside recipes for food, and home and beauty products, which, Mandrea says, have the added allure of giving the family projects to tackle together (e.g., making candles).
Yumiko Sekine, founder of Japanese lifestyle brand Fog Linen Work, is also a fan of projects “you can do while you’re stuck at home.” She and coauthor Jenny Wapner wrote Simplicity at Home (photos by Nao Shimizu, Chronicle, out now) before Covid hit, but its nonconsumerist bent speaks to the moment. “Many people are nesting by necessity during the pandemic,” Wapner says, and “many are also struggling financially.” She says the book presents “economical, and often free, ways to organize and beautify”— weaving place mats from old sheets, for example—and encourages readers to pare down possessions to the most essential.
Other spring titles are in accord with this notion. “The less you have in your home, the less you need to do,” writes professional organizer Dilly Carter in Create Space (DK, Mar.). Carter, whom the BBC called “London’s Marie Kondo,” gives decluttering a room-by-room spin, walking readers from bedroom and bathroom to office, kids’ rooms, and shared spaces, in a series of chapters that begin with “chaos” and end with “calm.” She punctuates her how-tos with sufficient checklists and Kondo-esque shirt-folding diagrams to occupy many a bored afternoon.
For lawyer, historian, and social activist Christine Platt, minimalism is personal—“rooted in my authenticity and intentions as a Black woman,” she says. She’s a longtime practitioner, but the advent of Covid, which spurred The Afrominimalist’s Guide to Living with Less (Tiller, June), added urgency.
“Now that people are home for 24 hours a day for weeks at a time, it’s impossible for them not to acknowledge their overconsumption and clutter,” Platt says. “It’s impossible to not only see how their living spaces aren’t functional, but also feel it.” Using stories from her life and her progression into minimalism, she instructs readers in the principles, process, and practice of letting go, in order to make room for what matters.
No author PW spoke with suggests that living with less means living without greenery—Platt, for one, said in a 2020 blog post that she believes in having “less (except for books and plants),” and Sekine and Wapner’s Simplicity at Home depicts serene rooms accented by glass-jarred cuttings.
Washington farmer Erin Benzakein makes her living bringing flora to the masses. She’s also the author of 2017’s Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden and 2020’s Floret Farm’s A Year in Flowers, which have sold a combined 129,000 print copies, per BookScan, and spawned a line of calendars and other paper products. In Floret Farm’s Discovering Dahlias (with Jill Jorgensen and Julie Chai, photos by Chris Benzakein, Chronicle, Mar.), she details how to grow, harvest, overwinter, propagate, and design
with the colorful blooms, presenting activities to see enforced homebodies through many seasons.
“Spending time in nature and the garden is incredibly grounding and calming,” Benzakein says. “So many families grew a garden together for the very first time in 2020.”
Tending flora is also an indoor pursuit, one that Hilton Carter, a plant stylist with 461,000 Instagram followers, encourages in Wild Creations (Ryland Peters & Small, Apr.).
Carter started work on the book two months into the pandemic, when he already knew “so many of us would want to feel connected to nature,” he says, “and also the gratification of being nurturing.” He offers instructions for terrariums, air plant wreaths, and DIY planters, along with care tips to minimize frustration for newbies. Aware that sourcing tools and materials would be challenging at various points during lockdown, he made sure to include materials that could be found online or around the house.
Adding houseplants and flowers are among the many easy, low-commitment ways to brighten a home with A Pop of Color (Ryland Peters & Small, Mar.), according to interiors expert Geraldine James, whose previous books include 2020’s #Shelfie and who has worked for major British retailers including Selfridges. A bold accent wall, for instance, might serve as a mental vacation for the travel-starved, as it can “create a sense of another country or climate.”
Designer Corey Damen Jenkins, a veteran of HGTV’s Showhouse Showdown, also favors the bold. In his first book, Design Remix (Rizzoli, Mar.), he nods to the pandemic, writing that “savvy interior decoration can be a vaccine for cabin fever.” He shares anecdotes about surviving the 2008 recession in his hometown of Detroit, urges readers toward “fearless” creativity, and professes the belief that “winters go faster when you are surrounded by great, bold design.”
Creativity and nostalgia also infuse Beata Heuman’s bright, energetic Every Room Should Sing (Rizzoli, Mar.). Though the designer began plotting the book in early 2020, “I didn’t start writing till the first proper lockdown, so I was quite aware of making it tie in well with everything that was going on,” she says.
Growing up isolated in rural Sweden, Heuman was “perched” for a life in lockdown and “always thought home should encompass everything you need, so you could stay there and be cozy.” She pushes readers to explore their own personas for inspiration, a design philosophy she feels is perpetually relevant, pandemic or no.
Ultimately, Heuman notes, Covid has made everyone “more aware of home and the value it has.” That awareness will remain, she and other authors say, even after some semblance of normalcy resumes.
Lela Nargi is a freelance journalist and author living in Brooklyn.
Below, more on home and garden books.
Changing the View: PW Talks with Justina Blakeney
The Los Angeles interior designer and author of ‘Jungalow’ (Abrams) wants to help readers “create a home that feels healthy and supports wellbeing.”
Feed Yourself, Feed the Planet: Home & Garden Books 2021
New titles show that gardens can sustain humans, animals, and ecosystems all at once.