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Good value re-print?
on 8 November 2012
The first edition of this book had been out of print for a few years and although secondhand copies were sometimes offered for sale, the high asking prices reflected the book's scarcity. Consequently, most ordinary readers seeking a copy wouldn't have been tempted. Hurrah, then, for this re-print by The National Trust which returns the hardback volume to the bookshops at a very reasonable price. But is it worth it? For someone like me, with an interest in architecture and design, I think so.
Let me say straight away that my bookcases are stacked high with architectural reference books and monographs. And I've plenty of other stuff on Lutyens, the architect - some of which is repeated or refreshed in Ms Wilhide's text. But as the foreword states, this volume is intended to focus more about Lutyens the designer of interiors, too. Others, more knowledgeable, may be disappointed and point to the fact that Country Life has similarly previously published much information about his interior and furniture design while giving many examples of his working drawings. As well, there's been good work published by others over the years featuring individual Lutyens' properties. However, the problem with much of the earlier published work on Lutyens is that the photographs tended to be rendered in monochrome - at the time, colour printing was unthinkable for cost and practical reasons. Nor has Lutyens' variable reputation always warranted colour printing.
So this book studies his interior designs further. However, the reader has to plough through almost half of the text and photos to get there. Perhaps I'm being ungenerous. Some of his well-known houses are here, pictured in colour, some with Lutyens' furniture displayed in situ. And, sometimes, the story behind it. There are examples, too, of Lutyens' granddaughter's contemporary cabinet-making from his original designs. Ms Lutyens, in the foreword, discloses the fact that although her grandfather designed the original interiors and furniture - down to the door and window locks - often the owners took away the portable furniture with them when they sold the property. Therefore in those domestic designs recorded here, not everything can be viewed as the definitive composition Lutyens' intended. It's an obvious difficulty for the author to overcome in a project such as this.
Those interiors and furniture that are on display are pictured in colour as they should be. The reader may appreciate at first hand the contrasting materials and textures used - without the book looking like a volume of National Trust visitor guides and published articles spatchcocked together. But some may find it doesn't deliver enough on the main theme.
This book has long been on the reading lists when researching Lutyens; having purchased this edition, it easier to see why. The casual reader will find much to enjoy here. I just wish it had more visuals on the subject of his interiors and less on other views. Why, for example, are there single photographs of domestic property exteriors without at least one related reference view of the interior or its furniture? Doesn't always make sense to me - except, perhaps, for ownership/copyright reasons. Or maybe it's simply that the interiors have been `modernised' and no longer resemble the original concepts. Will we ever find out?
Nevertheless, a solid addition to my bookshelves.