BOOK REVIEW: Undecorate

-1I LOVE A NEW DECORATING BOOK, especially these days, when they help make up for the sad lack of decorating magazines. And despite its name, Undecorate, whose tag line is “The No-Rules Approach to Interior Design,” is a decorating book.

It’s an attractive book, to be sure, and fun to look at. But the concept is disingenuous. Undecorate (Clarkson Potter) shows twenty homes and apartments that are very much decorated in any reasonable sense of the word, only by their owners instead of those with A.S.I.D. after their names. Those homeowners are nearly all prop stylists, set builders, retailers in the home furnishings biz (including the book’s author, Christiane Lemieux, founder of DwellStudio, a textile and children’s furniture company), and so on. They’re hardly what the book’s introduction calls “real people.” They’re visual artists, with an eye for color, a knowledge of historic styles, and an overall creative bent. Most are based in New York and L.A., with a smattering of Southerners.

Totally understandable, of course. What publisher would spring for a full-color coffee-table look book showcasing the homes of real real people? We have the Internet for that.

With only a couple of over-the-top exceptions — an obsessive collection of bright-green ‘Sprout’ memorabilia (Sprout being the Jolly Green Giant’s sidekick), a Chicago couple who share living space with half a dozen classic cars — these camera-ready homes are far from immune to decorating cliche, never mind rules. Over and over, we see studiously neutral color schemes, white sofas and cowhide rugs, trendy vintage science posters, Harry Bertoia wire chairs, and other familiar tropes.

Author Lemieux’s Manhattan apartment. Does this look undecorated to you?

Lemieux congratulates herself and her subjects for being in on “the beginning of a movement.” Really? No one over 25 can possibly think mixing flea market finds with modern furniture, hanging vintage advertising posters in a child’s bedroom, or painting an accent wall pink — all examples from the text — are new ideas.

Former Domino magazine contributor Chase Booth’s house on Copake Lake in upstate New York

“Undecorated style isn’t one wholesale thing,” the book’s intro states, taking a stab at definition. “It’s a shifting target and has more to do with process than finished product.” Deborah Needleman’s foreword calls undecorating a movement free of ideology — meaning, I guess, anything goes.

In her acknowledgments, Lemieux thanks Rumann Alam, the under-credited writer, for “making sense of a somewhat nebulous idea.” Two hundred pretty pictures notwithstanding, I’m afraid it’s still a nebulous idea.