The obvious: an economic crisis is upon us with all of its belt tightening, door closing, head shaking and the negativity and pessimism that follow. Its effect extends into all segments of the economy, perhaps none more so than in shelter-related goods and services, from mortgages to furnishings to construction supplies.

Shelter-related books are no exception: “The economic downturn has certainly affected the market,” says Peter Chapman, senior editor at the Taunton Press. “With new home starts way down and the real estate market flat, there has been a serious slowdown in the demand for books in the house and home category.”

It was not ever thus. Bryan Tandem, publisher of Creative Publishing International's home improvement line, says that in previous recessions, like those in 1991 and 2001, “Books in general and home improvement books in particular weathered things rather well.” After all, when the economy slides, even reluctant DIY-ers break out their tool kits, and they often need help from a book.

Rustic Retreats

Since ecologically sound decorating is such a strong trend right now, it makes sense that some publishers are turning to one of the most “back to nature” types of dwellings: the cabin. Ralph Kylloe's new book, Cabins, from Gibbs Smith (Oct.) presents a number of homes and camps that conjure up memories of holidays in the mountains and vacations by rivers and lakes.

Kylloe, the author of 13 books on rustic design, owns the Ralph Kylloe Gallery at Lake George in New York's Adirondack Mountains. He has an eye for cabins both traditional and contemporary, and the photographs in this book will inspire those who already own cabins, as well as those who hope to one day.

For the latter, Cabinology: A Handbook to Your Private Hideaway by Dale Mulfinger from the Taunton Press (Oct.) provides a roadmap to making a cabin a reality. Architect and “cabinologist” Mulfinger guides the reader through decisions as big as choosing a site to as small as getting the right hearth installed. Along with 250 full-color photographs, the book includes stories from cabin owners around the country, along with Mulfinger's tips and tricks for getting things right.

Fear of Falling Home Values

Tandem says, however, that the current recessionary period (beginning in 2006) has been different. “All home improvement publishers—including Quayside—saw noticeable drop-offs in sales.” This means, Tandem says, at least 20% “year over year” declines, “and some have been hit much harder than that.”

Why the drop-off, if it's true that hard times usually signal an upturn? Tandem believes that the accelerated rate of falling home values has put homeowners in such a crunch that “consumers not only aren't hiring others to do remodeling, they aren't even buying the materials to do it themselves.”

However, Tandem also believes that one of CPI's problems was a recent decision to load its frontlist with “more inspirational subjects that catered to a more affluent readership: “When the housing recession began, those frontlist titles met with a public that had suddenly drawn in pretty radically. Fear has a way of eroding inspiration.”

Beautification Inspiration

On the other hand, Irene Singletary, publisher of Morgana Press, has a quite different perspective. “Here in New Orleans, amid devastation and hard times, the human desire to beautify one's home and surroundings remains strong,” says Singletary. “Tough times and a gritty economy spark the mind to explore eccentricities and unique ideas, a new way of looking at things. Things you thought you would never consider, you embrace. Right now is the time for new tastemakers to emerge.”

Singletary notes that during a downturn, people are more concerned than ever with turning their houses into homes. “When people cut back on expenses like traveling and eating out, they seek to enjoy their private, personal space more and to do more in-home entertaining. And they look for ideas.”

With that in mind, Morgana Press offers Vieux Carré Chic: The Art of Overindulgent Home Décor by TJ Fisher and Skip Bolen (Feb. 2009), a “mad-hatter's mesmerizing jumble of exquisitely controlled chaos.” Loosely translated, that means interiors stuffed to the gills with everything from priceless antiques to dime-store kitsch.

Both Singletary and Tandem are right in their own ways. Yes, the market for how-to titles has fallen, but yes, people are looking for ideas on home beautification, too. What ties this together?

The Clean Team

The dirty secret behind home remodeling and decorating? Cleaning and organizing still need to be done. Fortunately, there are new books to help with those endless tasks.

First, the clutter. Everything has to go somewhere before you can actually clean, so take a look at The Clutter Clinic: Organise Your Home in Seven Days by Romaine Lowery, from Weidenfeld & Nicolson (Sept.). Touted as a “complete clinic,” this book provides practical and colorfully illustrated guides to restoring order in each room of the house, with a helpful guide to retailers who can help.

Second, the dirt. Who better to help you deal with it than Thelma Meyer, a woman who raised nine children in Iowa—and always kept her house clean. Her daughter Monica took inspiration from her mother when she created the “Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day” household products. Now, mother and daughter have teamed up to publish Mrs. Meyer's Clean Home: No-Nonsense Advice That Will Inspire You to Clean Like the Dickens (Mar. 2009) from Wellness Central.

Senior editor Natalie Kaire says, “Millions love the Meyer's products, which dominate the environment-friendly cleaning market. There is an uptick in environmentally focused publishing, and titles that focus on cleaning tend to do well.”

Green Is the Word

“One word: green,” says Taunton's Chapman. “If in previous years the home improvement/home decorating list has been dominated by books on organizing and storage,” he says, “this year we are seeing green coming into its own—with books on everything from solar power and green building to green cleaning and living an earth-friendly life.” Chapman also believes that while some DIY projects, like large-scale kitchen and bath makeovers, have been sidelined by the economy, “Homeowners are looking to replace windows, insulate and weatherize, which ties in to the green surge. The biggest trend in this segment is projects that save money and add value to the home.”

Taunton's big title this season in this category is a perennial bestseller: The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live 10th Anniversary Edition by Sarah Susanka with Kira Obolensky (Sept.). Susanka's manifesto of scaled-down home architecture and design has a new cover, new introduction and a new chapter that highlights three new “Not So Big” houses in Minnesota, North Carolina and Washington State.

When it comes to things green, Quadrille Publishing offers Urban Eco Chic (Sept.) by noted eco-designer Oliver Heath, who wants to “create energy-efficient homes that are beautifully designed” and combine elements of “vintage, nature and technology.” In keeping with that goal, the book is printed with vegetable-based inks on FSC-certified paper and recyclable laminate. Creative Homeowner has Natural Style: Decorating with an Earth-Friendly Point of View by Janet Sobesky (Oct.), in its Green House line.

Another design friendly “green” title is Clarkson Potter's Dreaming Green: Eco-Fabulous Homes Designed to Inspire by Lisa Sharkey and Paul Gleicher (Nov.). According to editorial director Doris Cooper, it's “the very first, high-end book that shows extraordinary homes that marry elegance and environmentalism.”

Easier Being Green

Amacom puts the emphasis squarely on the homeowner in its November release Your Eco-Friendly Home: Buying, Building, or Remodeling Green by real-estate expert Sid Davis. This book addresses practical considerations of how to find and finance eco-friendly real estate as well as use environmentally sound materials and techniques to make homes more efficient—even how to take advantage of tax credits available to those who “build green.”

Meanwhile, The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit by Stephen and Rebekah Hren from Chelsea Green (July) brings a tighter focus and a more hands-on approach to green real estate. Their ideas range from simple (growing potatoes in a barrel) to labor-intensive (installing a green roof), and they give detailed, clear instructions for each project, along with a chapter on their philosophy of home energy use that explains how each of these remodeling projects contributes to a greener, healthier home.

Creative Homeowner also offers The Little Green Book: 365 Ways to Love the Planet by Joseph Provey (Sept.), filled with nontechnical, easy ways to be greener at home, at work and at play. Similarly, National Geographic's True Green Kids: 100 Things You Can Do to Save the Planet by Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin (Sept.), the third in a popular series (True Green Home and True Green @ Work were the first two titles). So many of the suggestions in the book, from reducing shower times to four minutes per family member to using all-natural cleaning products, will help younger home residents understand the importance of green living.

Two Big Hitters

Two of this season's biggest home/décor books may hit home runs because of magazine branding. House Beautiful: The Home Book is a November titles from Hearst/Sterling, and Hearst Books v-p and publisher Jacqueline Deval notes, “We've found great success over the past few years with our House Beautiful titles, despite the softer marketplace, largely because of our variety of formats, affordable price points and the strength of this particular magazine brand, which has been doing exceptionally well at the newsstand—that success naturally has a halo effect over our book business.”

The book is meant to become the home owner's bible on interior design, and the book's editor, Marisa Bulzone, says, “The practical advice extends so far as to how to choose a good umbrella stand.”

Home as sanctuary is, of course, behind Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on ABC, starring Ty Pennington. Pennington's new book is Good Design Can Change Your Life: Beautiful Rooms, Inspiring Stories. (The initial print run of 50,000 was bumped up to 150,000 in anticipation of a September appearance by Ty on Oprah.) Pennington thinks that no matter what the market is like, “What people need to initiate change is inspiration.”

Frugal Fixes

Quadrille Publishing's Courtney McLaughlin agrees with both Chapman and Singletary. “Our response is books that suggest numerous ways to save money while improving the home. After all, we are spending more time in our homes now that the prices of fueling up and eating out have skyrocketed, and people still want to make their homes more comfortable and pleasant.” Since not every green consumer is ready for a renovation or even new furniture, Quadrille's The Little Book of Thrifty Fixes for the Home by Bridget Bodoano (Aug.) is meant to offer ideas for “turning the home into a sanctuary of sustainable style” through reclamation, reassessment and recycling (for example, instead of painting or wallpapering a room, hang maps).

A blunter approach is taken in Mariposa Publishing's Screw It! I'll Be My Own Contractor by William A. Trimble (Sept.). Trimble, an award-winning builder/contractor, recommends spending money on the things that can be seen, since things like kitchen and bath remodels may be expensive, but can result in an over 100% return on investment.

Still, some experts believe that there needn't be a sacrifice of beauty for budget. Design expert Barbara Flanagan's new book Flanagan's Smart Home: 98 Essentials for Starting Out, Starting Over, Scaling Back (Nov.) is Workman's lead fall contribution to the home pack. Flanagan selects only the right stuff for every household function from sleeping to cooking to cleaning. Her fiercely edited list includes not just the items themselves but information about which types are best: for example, she recommends using a French press as a coffeemaker since it not only brews excellent coffee but can be stored out of sight when not in use.

Says Workman editor-in-chief Susie Bolotin: “We all know that we have to stop throwing so many things away.... At the same time, we want our homes to be as stylish as our clothes. So how do we tackle that disjunction between style, which implies trend and change and disposability, and function and permanence? Flanagan's Smart a book based on the notion that if we shop wisely, we can make choices we won't regret... choices we can live with for decades.... I love the idea that we can lead totally comfortable lives—no deprivation needed—with only 98 things in our homes.”

The Design's the Thing

Any apartment dweller knows that even if every item you own is exquisite, your space can still look dull or cramped if it's not well thought out. Chronicle comes to the rescue with Apartment Therapy Presents: Real Homes Real People, Hundreds of Real Design Solutions by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan with Jill Slater and Janel Laban (June). “We've found that more and more people are looking to decorate on the cheap,” says Christina Loff, lifestyle publicst, “which is why we decided to bring out this title [written by the founder of the popular site]. It offers alternative ways to work with the space and budget constraints.”

Even those with larger budgets may have space constraints, especially when it comes to rooms with a purpose. Says Cooper at Clarkson Potter, “A strong trend is in books that focus on helping people create the perfect room for their passions.” To that end, CP is offering The Luxury Bathroom: Extraordinary Spaces from the Simple to the Extravagant by Samantha Nestor (Aug.), perhaps the ultimate guide to the ultimate room with a purpose.

“Books for a targeted and high-end audience continue to have great frontlist and backlist lives,” Cooper adds, mentioning Equestrian Style: Home Design, Couture, and Collections from the Eclectic to the Elegant by Vicky Moon (Sept.) and The Divine Home: Living with Spiritual Objects by Peter Vitale (Oct.) as two higher-priced entries that are expected to do well.

An October title from the Taunton Press will be of interest to anyone attempting to make sense of classic rooms. Roots of Home: Our Journey to a New Old House by Russell Versaci (Oct.) traces the development of today's traditional homes to their earliest predecessors, whether New England colonials or French Creole cottages. Versaci has been designing new houses that look like old houses for more than 30 years, and his explanations of what works from each of the 13 classic house forms he discusses will help homeowners understand what appeals to them and why.

The Designer's the Thing

Of course, in the decorating category, books with personalities behind them also do well. Clarkson Potter released Darryl Carter's The New Traditional: Reinvent-Balance-Define Your Home in August, a must-have for fans of the designer whose line for Thomasville has brought him wide attention.

Another “it” designer with a book from Clarkson Potter is Celerie Kemble. Her To Your Taste: Creating Modern Rooms with a Traditional Twist (Nov.) shows readers what's beautiful about the traditional, but also help them to feel comfortable breaking the rules in order to create spaces that are both original and livable.

In October, Broadway Books is releasing A Passion for Blue and White by tastemaker and decorator Carolyne Roehm, which showcases Roehm's take on two “seemingly everyday colors.” From French blue to navy and from stark white to cream, the pairing is shown in living rooms, bathrooms, tabletops and even gardens.

Norton Books for Architects and Designers' Michael Taylor: Interior Design by Stephen M. Salny (Jan.) is a tribute to the famed designer, called “the James Dean of interior design” by Diana Vreeland. Taylor's casual/formal, antique/rustic “California Look” aesthetic can be seen in places ranging from his own Sea Cliff home and office to a villa for a Saudi Arabian sheikh and the resort Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley

Women in Charge

Despite ideas and inspiration from books, the remodeling market remains slow, continuing its gradual decline since 2005. David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, sees a light at the end of the tunnel: “We expect remodeling to remain generally flat in 2009 followed by strong growth due to home maintenance needs.”

However, the NAHB also knows that market demographics have shifted: according to a recent Harvard University study, women control 91% of home buying and remodeling decisions. That's why the NAHB's BuilderBooks imprint recently released Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions by Tara-Nicholle Nelson. Says Sandy Dunn, first vice president of NAHB and a builder from Point Pleasant, W.Va., “Builders recognize that women have more buying power than ever.... This new book provides building professionals with unmatched insight into this important segment of the buying population.”

Considering that all of the current trends, from green living and great design to frugal DIY, are what modern women attend to, perhaps this NAHB angle is a way out of the home/décor publishing market slump: appeal to the female demographic.