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Staff Pick: The Way We Live



The Way We Live

(Clarkson/Potter)

by Stafford Cliff and Gilles de Chabaneix

The Way We Live, seen through the lens of photographer Gilles de Chabaneix, is intended as a "treasury of global design inspiration." The images capture diverse living spaces in a variety of climates, in villages, towns, and cities. To the authors' thinking: ". . . the shack or cottage interior, cheaply furnished, may yield as much decorative inspiration as the grandest of palazzi or the most exclusive of metropolitan apartments."

Author Stafford Cliff acknowledges a bias toward living spaces smoothed ". . . with the patinas of time and occupation . . . rather than those that have just emerged fresh from the interior designer's computer." As such, the selected images go beyond standard interior-design manual fare. Through de Chabaneix' pictures, we lock eyes with a Canadian fur trapper, eavesdrop on men smoking and playing cards in Delhi, tiptoe past someone napping on a cool tile floor in Saigon, and dizzily push through the crowd at a bustling outdoor market in Guatemala. Though these scenes have little to do with interior design as we think of it, Cliff and de Chabaneix demonstrate that the world and the way that people live in it provides the inspiration for the way we decorate our places.

Still, the emphasis is on interiors. The images confess a bias toward sparse furnishing, elegant color, and use of texture that transcends culture and climate. As remote and exotic as locations like Corsica, Sumbawa, and Ile de Re are, the rooms feel familiar. This elevates the book from exotic to essential.

The Way We Live works on a more practical level as well. The photos are grouped thematically, rather than geographically. Many pages are cross-referenced with page numbers of similar items so that one may turn to more examples of a fetching image or inspiring theme, from the general -- modern kitchens, verandas, and bathrooms -- to the specific -- Moorish lights, cotton drapes, handrails, and marble fireplaces. Cliff chimes in here and there to remind us of the fundamental principles of decoration. The book may even open eyes to differences between home interior marketing and reality, as we see a Provençal interior and one in Burgundy, and realize that real French Country has nothing to do with tassels, toile, or roosters.

I'll venture out on a limb and guess that none of us is fretting over how to faithfully accouter our Alpine chalet, or tastefully appoint a Balinese jungle terrace. Whether you redecorate your bedroom to resemble a Danish royal suite, or just keep the book handy to remind yourself what it looks like, we could all stand a little more beauty and grace in our lives.

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