Ever wondered which coffee table books rock stars, magazine editors, artists and comedians can't put down? Wonder no more...
Everything you ever needed to know about coffee table books but were afraid to ask. Where possible we’ve put links in the title so you can go and buy them…
Best selling Young Bond children’s author, Fast Show creator, cartoonist, and former singer with The Higsons.
James Bond Movie Posters The Official 007 Collection, Tony Nourmand (Boxtree, 2001)
What the Hell are You Doing?: The Essential David Shrigley (Canongate, 2012)
The Disciples, James Mollison (Chris Boot, 2008)
In my mind every well-stocked coffee table should feature a film book, a music book, an amusing book, some highbrow cartoons, a photographic book, an art book featuring classic artists of some sort and a travel book.
My suggestions to get the collection started cover some of these. I’d start with my film book The Official James Bond Movie Posters book edited by Tony Nourmand and published by Boxtree, which is pretty unbeatable.
I have The Essential David Shrigley from Cannongate, which I bought because it said it was essential. Also in the comedy genre the Vic Reeves’ Vast Book of World Knowledge covers both art and comedy and is very interesting. It’s mainly full of his paintings and funny comments.
The best ever coffee table book which covers both the rock music and photography categories is The Disciples by James Mollison.
It’s a series of double page spread shots of fans of different bands and artists from 50 Cent to Madonna to Rod Stewart but none of them are captioned so you can spend ages playing the game of working out who they are fans of.
Nightlife impresario of the Wills and Kate set, owner of Bunga Bunga and Maggies.
My favourite coffee table book is Vanity Fair: The Portraits, which was made to accompany a big photographic exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It is a wonderful collection of iconic Vanity Fair photographs in both black and white and colour, spanning the magazine’s history throughout the 20th Century.
Photos taken by the world’s greatest photographers from Cecil Beaton to Annie Leibovitz and Mario Testino beautifully capture icons from the worlds of art, film, music, sports, business, and politics. It is a truly inspirational book of iconic figures from Charlie Chaplin to Bill Clinton and The Rolling Stones.
Editor-in-Chief of Grazia magazine
Sex, Madonna and Steven Meisel (Martin Secker & Warburg 1992)
Madonna’s coffee table classic Sex is 20 years old now but still fab. It’s really very good looking, in its 90s retro Steven Meisel and Fabien Baron way – but I also love it because of the enormous furore it caused when it was published. All of that seems so quaint now, in these times of free online porn – but at the time, it seemed SO SHOCKING.
Former Head of the British Fashion Council
America By the Yard: Cirkut Camera, Robert B Mackay (W.W. Norton and Company, 2006)
This extraordinary book measures 16in x 11in (40cm x 27cm) but the 102 images it reproduces were much, much bigger. The Cirkut Camera was Eastman Kodak’s rotational device for taking panoramic pictures that could be up to 60 inches (150cm) wide. Known as yard-longs (a yard being 36ins or about 90cms), these photos were hugely popular in the 1910s and 1920s and were also widely used by commercial photographers after the Second World War. Robert B Mackay, who collects Cirkut Camera images, has brought together an irresistible collection of group shots, stupendous geographical images and just plain curious pictures in his book.
Hollywood and The Ivy Look, Mark Shaw and Tony Nourmand (Reel Art Press, 2011)
Majoring on an era when male movie and TV stars were grown-ups who knew how to dress without needing stylists, Hollywood and The Ivy Look is a fabulous celebration of easy-to-wear menswear. The preppy style of The Ivy Look of 50 years ago appears very contemporary and very desirable. This is effortless style personified. As well as uber-cool guys like Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Lee Marvin, this glorious book also highlights the pin-sharp persona of unlikely style icons such as Walter Matthau, Jason Robards and Henry Fonda. Witty and informative captions complement the many unfamiliar images collected by Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh.
Singer with New Order, founder member Joy Division
South with Endurance: Antarctic Photographs, Frank Hurley and F. Jack Hurley (Bloomsbury, 2001)
My favourite coffee table book that I have at home is South with Endurance: Antarctic Photographs by Frank Hurley. We were made to read books like The Catcher in the Rye for homework at school (Salford Grammar school circa 1970s) but the one that stood out for me was the amazing story about Sir Ernest Shackleton’s escape in 1917 when his ship was crushed by ice in the Antarctic. The story stuck with me – and years later I came across a book of Hurley’s photography of the doomed expedition. They saved his film by welding them watertight into canisters. The photographs must have been utterly groundbreaking at the time. Thank you Mr Williamson of Salford Grammar School for first telling me this. I won’t tell you his nickname, as it’s not politically correct anymore. But neither was picking kids up by their sideburns whilst delivering a kidney punch, even in the 1970s.
Deputy Editor of InStyle magazine and co-host of the Frank Skinner show on Absolute radio
Dictators’ Homes, Peter York (Atlantic Books, 2006)
The concept for this book sounds like it was dreamt up in the pub by disgruntled Hello! magazine staff, playing a game of ‘What interiors story idea would get you the sack?’ Fortunately, Dictators’ Homes is no beer-fuelled game, but a glossy tome, written with incisive commentary by style expert Peter York. It should be wholly inappropriate, but actually, it’s an inspired concept, cleverly illustrating how political monsters are just desperate inadequates, motivated by a constant need to ostentatiously scream, ‘Made it ma! Top of the world!’
From Gaddafi’s gold mermaid sofa (think unpleasant seven-year-old lottery winner) to Imelda Marcos’s hideous statues (Ambassador’s residence in a Disney film) and Saddam Hussein’s regional fairy shop art, it beautifully subverts the whole notion of the coffee table book. And how comforting to finally flick through an interiors bible and feel, ‘Yep, my place is way more tasteful than this’.
Up and coming artist with exhibitions at Home House, Mayfair and London Newcastle Gallery Shoreditch
Jenny Saville, Simon Schama (Rizzoli, 2005)
History of Men’s Magazines, Dian Hanson (Taschen, 2005)
For me there are two books that in a way sit well together on my coffee table. I say table but they’re usually found dotted around my studio floor. The first would be a book I recently acquired: Saville, a retrospective glance at the painter Jenny Saville who I have always admired. There are not many painters out there that can command the viewer with work that resonates like she can. To quote the book: “The viewer is not a spectator and is not unwilling, Saville’s paintings do not allow a disinterested glance, once you look you’re hooked”.
This book shows craft, labour and process of a talent which is scarce, the marks she lays down and the use of colour seem and look easy in their composition but here lies her talent.
Dian Hanson’s History of Men’s Magazines
I have two of these books, which I found reduced in a bookshop. The 70s book, Vol 5, contains the most iconic imagery which sums up a time and place: The titles: Fling, Screw, Ace and Dude; The colours: neon yellows containing black and white imagery, hot pinks colliding with muted blues, and the girls. In one cover a girl is body-painted and leaning back in the form of a seventies’ Formula 1 car, this all combines in complete pop titillation, complete works of art themselves. I use these books for reference only, mind you.
Singer, The Charlatans
Factory Records The Complete Graphic Album, Matthew Robertson (Thames and Hudson, 2006)
So what constitutes a coffee table book? They don’t really have a definition but everyone knows what they are. For me it’s a book that doesn’t fit in a bookshelf – a deluxe book a bit like a deluxe CD. One you have to lean up against the CD rack or squeeze between some of your prize vinyl where it sits awkwardly yet still looking beautiful. Too good to hang around with the regular CDs and it knows it.
Coffee table books are bigger than a novel, brasher than a hardback biography and more show-offy than a signed hardback autobiography. There’s just something awful about the name. Coffee tables kind of remind me of dinner parties and nightmarish mix CDs featuring Enya. When I think about coffee table books I can’t help thinking of Kramer from Seinfeld and his brilliant spin on the coffee table book. A coffee table book about coffee tables.
They are more often than not lovingly put together and are often a heavy, glossy, hard, well thought out, mulled over piece of art. The kind of book you can learn all kinds of interesting stuff from like the difference between de Stijl and Bauhaus or the difference between Renaissance or Pre-Raphaelite. They are big enough to show art and photographs in their full glory and you kind of get trapped under them on the sofa till you’ve looked at every page.
My choice is Factory Records The Complete Graphic Album. Elegantly debauched and bought from the V&A – the designs it contains are at once nostalgic but still oddly futuristic after thirty years. The most celebrated designer within its pages is, I imagine, no stranger to a minimalist coffee table, Peter Saville. But it’s also got lesser-known work by Central Station Design and 8vo and the whole thing is given the necessary flowery depth in Tony Wilson‘s foreword. You can lose a few minutes or a few hours in it and it never seems to be any less exciting.
Award winning editor of Readers Digest, formerly Radio Times
NOVA 1965-1975, David Hillman and Harri Peccinotti, (Pavilion Books 2004)
I guard this book with my life. Stuffed with photos of feature pages and front covers, it charts the history of Nova, the most groundbreaking magazine of a generation. Nova captured the extraordinary explosion of creativity – and showcased some of the most brilliant talents – of the late sixties and seventies. It was original, daring and visually stunning in a way that few, if any, magazines now come close to. Any time I feel a bit jaded, I just have to flick through some of these pages to feel inspired all over again.
Founding editor of The Face
The Ruins of Detroit, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre (Steidl 2010)
Detritus Chic anyone? This is the metropolitan version of the gold rush ghost town. Though not the first book of its kind, this is a remarkable large-format record of the post-industrial ruination of the once world-dominating Motor City. Factories, churches, theatres, schools, shops and shuttered grand houses: a once prosperous neighbourhood stands haunted, derelict and abandoned to nature. The surprise is that these images are brutal and immensely sad, telling of dashed ambition and trashed dreams, and at the same time evocatively beautiful. People are nowhere to be seen but ghosts are everywhere.
Editor-in-Chief Junior Magazine
Century Of The Child: Growing by Design 1900-2000, Juliet Kinchin and Aidan O’Connor (Museum Of Modern Art, £40)
What a stylish affair childhood turns out to be according to this glorious fully-illustrated tome that accompanies the brilliant MoMA exhibition.
Curating a century of design from stark wooden furniture and playthings at the turn of the century to funky Starck-designed children’s interiors, the book provides a fascinating insight into how the worlds of modern design and childhood collide with stunning effect. From the kindergarten movement to wartime propaganda, from design for children with disabilities to innovations in playgrounds, there are sections on school architecture, toys, advertising, books, and clothing that helped shape the modern childhood. Nostalgic heartstrings will be pulled as you recognise classic toys like Lego, Spirograph and the original Slinky (all in vintage packaging), and make you wish you could relive those golden days of childhood all over again.
Tailor to Ray Winstone
Esquire Encyclopaedia of 20th Century Men’s Fashion, O.E. Schoeffler (McGraw-Hill 1973)
I found a copy of this in New York. It wasn’t cheap, it was $400 but I’ve seen them change hands for a grand. It was printed in 1973 and basically teaches classic men’s attire and how to dress. I’ve definitely made my money back on my investment, considering the amount of ideas I’ve nicked from it over the years. It’s a must for anyone working in – or with an interest in – men’s style.
Pale & Interesting, Atlanta Bartlett and Dave Coote (Ryland Peters & Small 2011)
Pale & Interesting is an interiors style guide based on the design philosophy of Atlanta Bartlett and Dave Coote. It’s about putting together a relaxed and comfortable home that reflects your own particular lifestyle and personality, where fashions and trends are noted but not followed rigorously, where good design is essential and the quest to create a happy home – not a show home – is paramount. Inside it maps out their simplistic approach to decorating using honest materials, artful recycling, choosing vintage over newly-made and handmade instead of mass-produced items to create an environment that is easy-going and personal.
I love this book! Barbara Johnson was a lady of fashion in the 18th Century who meticulously recorded every item of clothing she ever had made or bought for her over her long life with fabric samples, descriptions, fashion plates and bills, pinned and stuck into the old accounts book of a man called George Thompson. Each page of the original fashion diary has been photographically reproduced so that you feel you can touch the fabrics and are flicking through the actual album. What makes it even more fascinating is that the accounts book she used for her record is still visible behind her entries which details his expenditure over a 10-year period, on clothing, pistols, horses and entertaining.
Maria Sibylla Merian – The St. Petersburg Watercolours, Eckhard Hollman (Prestel 2003)
This book has been such an inspiration to me both visually and otherwise. It consists of 196 plates of the 17/18th Century botanical artist and natural historian Maria Sibylla Merian. Packed with beautiful and sometimes grotesque paintings, drawings and studies depicting flowers, shells and insects, plus a history of her life. It is hard to believe that a woman from that age could have travelled so extensively, sometimes on dangerous expeditions, living such an independent life. She was one of the first naturalists to record and study the metamorphosis of insects, a remarkable achievement for a 17th Century divorcee! What a woman!
Some others we recommend:
A twin set of great fashion books to grace any coffee table.
Fabulous Frocks, Sarah Gristwood and Jane Eastoe (Pavilion Books, London, 2008)
Fabulous Frocks celebrates a century of brilliant dresses for women, from the flapper dresses of the 1920s to the sexy feminine styles of the 1950s and on to the fantasy outfits of modern designers like Mugler and McQueen. The authors, former fashion editor Jane Eastoe and historical biographer Sarah Gristwood, explore several aspects of women’s attitudes to fashion in their writing, but the images are worth the price of admission alone.
Brassai: Paris by Night, George Brassai (Bullfinch, 2001)
George Brassai, born Gyula Halasz in Brasso, Transylvania, Hungary trawled the Paris back streets in the early thirties photographing prostitutes, gangsters, lesbians, homosexuals, brothels, lovers, pimps, and labourers. He later wrote that he used photography “in order to capture the beauty of streets and gardens in the rain and fog, and to capture Paris by night.” Brassai’s breathtaking genius never fails to impress in what is simply one of the finest, most haunting and most evocative collections of photographs ever assembled in one book. No home should be without a copy.
Sharp Suits, Eric Musgrave (Pavilion Books, London, 2009)
Sharp Suits brings together 148 images and eight chapters that plot the development of men’s tailoring from the 1860s to the present day. Menswear writer Eric Musgrave covers the American, French and Italian take on suits as well as looking at classic British traditions. Covering suits in movies and suits in music provide plenty of opportunities for cool pictures of cool guys. Anyone who thinks that suits are boring ought to read this book.
The Day of the Peacock: Style for Men 1963 – 73, Geoffrey Aquilina Ross and Christopher Breward (V&A Books, London, 2011)
Geoffrey Aquilina Ross was the first menswear editor of British Vogue in the late 60s and 70s. To produce this enchanting memoir of the heady days of The Peacock Revolution in menswear, he re-connected with many of the photographers he worked with in that golden age and got them to dig out many long-forgotten images. This is a brilliant book for anyone who likes to see guys wearing their clothes with panache, style and confidence.