Aesthetic Books _ Holding 2_Hero (Holding) Image
Photo Courtesy of Assouline

31 Books to Judge by Their Covers

These art tomes are as decorative and rich on the outside as they are inside.
Roxanne Robinson May 19, 2021
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Why can't a book be both alluring outside and interesting and intriguing inside? Here at Nest Casa, our belief that books—especially those portraying an artist, photographer, or designer's work—should serve a cover that’s equally as attractive and enticing as its contents. The added bonus? Coffee table books are perfect styling accents.

How to Judge a Book's Aesthetic Value

Another gem of popular wisdom reads: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Nothing could be more accurately said about large format coffee table books geared toward a visual journey of the subject matter with supporting text. Thus, determining a book's aesthetic value boils down to how well it grabs the attention of whoever is buying or viewing it.

An arresting cover image is like a butterfly among moths: it will stand out from the crowd. That said, color in a simple, solid hue with contrasting fonts can also be captivating. These books lend themselves to being arranged by hue to create patterns such as a rainbow effect in a room.

Behind the Scenes of Art Book Publishing

In the genre of art-centric coffee table books, it is helpful to know where to turn for purchasing them. Several fabled publishers of aesthetically pleasing tomes dominate the field, including: Phaidon, Taschen, Assouline, and Rizzoli.

Phaidon

Phaidon is a global leader as a publisher focused on the creative arts, including photography, design, architecture, fashion, travel, and food. It boasts over 1,500 art books, alone, in its vast catalog. Founded in Vienna in 1923 by Dr. Béla Horovitz and Ludwig Goldscheider, the company was named Phaidon in reference to the Greek philosopher Phaedo, a pupil of Socrates. It aimed to provide attainable books that ranked high in layout and production aspects. By 1937, it had produced large-format versions of books on Van Gogh, Botticelli, and the French Impressionists with many more to follow. The business survived World War II by relocating to Great Britain and distributing through English publishers.

The 20th century brought further growth and expansion and the company changed ownership several times. Since 2012, the book brand has flourished under new ownership, capturing some of the most influential cultural icons as book subjects, including: global superstar Rihanna, Nike, photographer Annie Leibovitz, fashion designer Sir Paul Smith, the streetwear brand Supreme, and the cutting-edge artist Cecily Brown. In more recent news, Phaidon has successfully added interior design to its core publishing categories.

Taschen

Taschen entered the world of coffee table book publishing from the side door. It began as a comic book publisher based  in Cologne, Germany, in 1980. The expansion was spurred by founder Benedikt Taschen, who desired to expose lesser-seen art such as fetish imagery, queer art, historical erotica, and even adult material to a mainstream audience. This unconventional approach allowed for controversial art to be a subject of Taschen’s publishing. It was presented alongside contemporary photography, painting, design, architecture, and fashion—for which it earns its place as a best-in-class publisher.

Unique to the brand is also the varying sizes of the  books—from oversized “sumo” tomes to small, pocket-sized books. Its “Basic Art” series, which was introduced in 1985, today includes over 100 titles available in 30 languages. (It received some negative press in Sweden in 2014 since 95 of the artists were male.) The “Basic Architecture” series followed. In 1999, Taschen entered the luxury market with its Helmut Newton’s Sumo book. This limited-edition and signed book became the most expensive published in the 20th century. The first copy (of 10,000) sold at auction for $304,000. Next was an homage to Muhammad Ali: GOAT (or, Greatest of All Time). Other notable subjects have included Nobuyoshi Araki, Peter Beard, David Hockney, David LaChapelle, and the Rolling Stones.

Assouline

The relative newbie of the bunch, Assouline was founded by husband-and-wife team Prosper and Martine Assouline in 1995. They ushered in the contemporary documentation of culture, style, luxury, fashion, and design. These high-quality books with a distinct graphic identity and editorial savoir faire have become the industry’s leader of modern coffee table books—even as the world continues to turn digital.

Assouline is partly responsible for the wave of luxury brand books since the 21st century began. The digital era, which prompted a decline in print mediums, presented a need for brands to tell their own stories in books, which proved to be a boon for their business. Luxury houses such as Dior, Gucci, Chanel, and Goyard collaborated on books with the French, New York–based publisher. Both Chanel and Goyard created brand signature novelty covers: a quilted slipcover for the former and a trunk replica for the latter. Assouline’s lens on culture is so razor-sharp that it has become a lifestyle brand in critical global cities, expanding beyond books to gift items, library accessories, leather goods, and even furniture.

Rizzoli New York

Rizzoli New York began in 1964 as a prominent bookstore nestled in midtown between Tiffany & Co., Saks Fifth Avenue, and Cartier. In the decade following, Rizzoli would become a prestigious publisher of books with locations across the United States, becoming renowned for its top-notch quality book publishing. It is a leading publisher for books on fashion, interior design, art, architecture, photographer, and culinary pursuits. 

Some of the publisher’s current and popular titles include 50 Lessons To Learn From Frank Lloyd Wright (a book examining lessons that the master has left for today’s architects); Andy Warhol (a new look at the artist's life and work in a contemporary context with a continued relevance in the digital world); Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc: A Timeless Legend of the French Riviera (a closer look at the idyllic hotel that has been a premier destination for over 150 years); Come Fly with Me: Flying in Style (a joyous trip chronicling the fun, fashion, and glamour associated with plane travel's exciting history); and Carlo Scarpa: Beyond Matter (a visually impactful experience paying tribute to the master of post-war Italian architecture).

How to Style Your Home With Art Books

Books were meant to fill bookshelves as a manner of organization and storage. This doesn’t escape the possibility of the shelves also becoming places to make and display art. Nest Casa proposes that captivating book covers be shown off. Books, themselves, can create patterns and become an artistic expression when arranged by color from the spine. Books with lively covers draw attention when propped up and placed alone in an accessible position for the viewer to take a closer look at both the outside and inside.

When considering styling coffee table books, the ability to think beyond the usual living room or library setting adds an unexpected touch. Bedrooms, dining rooms, and even kitchens can all be rooms to enjoy art books.

Our Favorite Coffee Table Books

Photography Books

Books About Painters

Interior Design and Architecture Books

Pop Culture Books

Museum Books

Roxanne Robinson
Roxanne Robinson is an award-winning Paris-based American journalist covering luxury and fashion industries with over 25 years of experience. I spent over 18 years at WWD, covering sportswear, accessories and fine jewelry. My career witnessed the shift from print media to the digital age. I gained expert knowledge of the design world, wholesale and retail markets as well as the marketing that supports them. I met endless creatives and business people who create luxury from inception to POS with the consumer. My work has appeared in Forbes.com, BoF, The Hollywood Reporter, CRFashionbook.com, The Jewelry Journal as well in-house publications and websites at Bally, Pomellato, Au Depart and Editorialist.com among others.
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