Book cover: Art and Design in Home Living by Frances Melanie Obst
Art and Design in Home Living
  • by Frances Melanie Obst
  • © 1963 The Macmillan Company, New York
  • hardcover with dust jacket


Written by a member of the faculty of the bygone Department of Home Economics at UCLA, this hardcover book “describes the basic principles of good design and shows that they remain the same despite the changing fashions.”

At Mid Century, we reach for this well-researched volume whenever we’re seeking documentation about context from the midcentury. Although this book, with a practical tone, reads more like a textbook, it covers both the the decorative and the useful, and the importance of space, line and proportion in home interiors.

“Art and Design in Home Living” includes sections on foreign influence throughout the history of home design, covering styles ranging from American colonial and chippenwood, to Mexican and Indian, and to Japanese and contemporary designs through the early 1960s.

Fun and vital features of this book are a decent index with informative subheads, and black and white photos and line drawings throughout its pages.

“Do choose pieces of distinction.”

 – Art and Design in Home Living, page 114

How-to’s include creating harmony and composition in arrangement of furnishings. Details cover use of fabrics such natural and man-made fibers and types of weaves, use of color throughout the home for various design effects.

Frances Obst, the author, fully elaborates on “the importance of tailoring living quarters to the needs and interests of their occupants.”

Obst observes that the tenets of good design are important to apply to both an individual room, as well as the flow from room to room. Individual furnishings and accessories should be chosen to add to the overall integrity of each room, enhancing the design rather than distracting from it.

Lighting, for example, depends of task and background needs. Obst provides details including proper task lamp height for tables or desks, and floor lamp heights for background or ambient lighting.

“The aesthetic goals of any person creating a background for living should be three: first, to recognize beauty; second, to see beauty in familiar things; and, third, to learn how and where to put art to use.”

 -Art and Design in Home Living, page 4

Chapters consist of theory, ideas, and advice for DIY projects:

  • Design Analysis
    relationships of the many elements that make up a room design principles aesthetic relationships of design

  • Planning the House
    floor plans, room sizes and shapes, and integrating living patterns work sequences in active areas like the kitchen quiet areas for reading or close work color references and effects on overall design

  • Backgrounds for Living
    wall, floor and window treatments accent walls and build-ins for storage effective use of lighting

 “As colors come together, they tend to borrow from each other, thereby gaining or losing interest, growing lighter or darker than when seen separately.”

 -Art and Design in Home Living, page 36
  • Furnishing Expression
    basic furnishings including furniture design, materials, styles and combinations of pieces in different rooms) landscapes and outdoor living spaces use of specific pieces such as the coffee table

  • Decorative Additions
    use of collectables and accessories such as wall art, accent pillows, vases and floral arrangements, fruit bowls, area rugs, books, candlesticks even table settings and ceramics


Book cover: Art and Design in Home Living by Frances Melanie Obst
Sourcebook of Scandinavian Furniture Designs for the Twenty-First Century
by Judith Gura © 2007 W. W. Norton, paperback includes CD with printable JPEG files of all photos in the book
This is truly a book to ooh and ahh over, especially if you love modern furniture design in full-color photos covering the movement that came to be known as “Scandinavian Modern.” As an American study of Scandinavian design, the works typical of those in this sourcebook predated and thus deeply influenced American designers of the midcentury. “This Danish influence actually created space for the midcentury modern period in American design,” says Blake of Mid Century.
“Of the several hundred objects illustrated in section two on contemporary furniture, some were chosen for aesthetic appeal, some for inventive use of materials, some for timelessness, but all for their excellence of design.”
 – Sourcebook of Scandinavian Furniture, Preface, page 9
This book is a sampler from the five different countries that make up Scandinavia, also known as the Nordic Nations: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden. Featured are 500 selective designs with yummy names:
  • The Seesaw Sofa
  • Space Bench
  • Yesbox Sofa
  • Butterfly Easy Chair
  • Boomerang Bench
  • Astral Matchstick Slat Bench
Furniture descriptions include name of designer, year, name of piece, materials, measurements, and producer/manufacturer. Judith Gura is widely commended for compiling this much-needed American digest of modern Scandinavian design. Gura also details history, product specs and a full bibliography as well as designer bios.
A sample of pages from the book being reviewed

A sample of pages from the book being reviewed

This approach to furniture from Denmark featured smaller furniture, uncomplicated and better proportioned, conserving space for the smaller rooms of the day.
  • Finland—the practical and the functional emanated from its land and history.
  • Iceland—high craftsmanship that evolved over time.
  • Norway—emphasis on furniture craftsmanship and decorative arts.
  • Sweden—high design trending toward luxury styling.
“…an invaluable reference for everyone who loves modern furniture, and… an essential tool for interior designers, architects, collectors, and students with a special interest in Scandinavian design.”
 – Sourcebook of Scandinavian Furniture, back cover