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Publisher's Weekly

October 8, 2007

Sprucing Up the Homestead;
Despite-or perhaps because of-real-estate gloom, remodeling/ redecorating books are still in vogue.

by Sarah Robbins

COVER STORY; Pg. 26

 

 

While the desire for new home-decorating and renovating ideas may never wane, as Marni Jameson tells us, real estate woes are big news these days. Sales of new homes are slower than they've been in almost a decade-new data from the Commerce Department show an 8.3% decline from July. And the forecast for the rest of the year and into 2008 is just as bleak, says Stephen Melman of the National Association of Home Builders. "Buyers straddling the fence are waiting for the dust to settle, and folks looking to do a major renovation-like adding rooms or completely redoing a kitchen-are less likely to take out a home equity loan," says Melman. "This economy will certainly discourage some jobs and the size of some jobs."

Publishers, too, have begun to feel the pinch. "Any glitch in the home construction market affects home improvement as well," says Bryan Trandem of Creative Publishing international. "We've all seen a bit of a downturn in book sales that corresponds almost exactly with the housing market nationwide."

Still, some seasoned veterans aren't overly concerned by headlines. "Having lived through [the stock market crash of] 1987, I can tell you there was a very strong sense that there were different kinds of books for different ends of the market," says Clarkson Potter publisher Lauren Shakely. "I can't predict what's going to happen-anyone sitting in the U.S. right now is getting a little nervous-but you have to live at home and you want to feel comfortable, so our books will evolve as the market changes."
Some companies, like Creative Publishing, will focus on giving consumers more bang for their buck, but this year will see no shortage of high-style options-even if they come with a hefty price tag. Says Marta Schooler, publisher of Collins Design: "People are always looking for new ideas-even if they want to be inspired and to dream. Books are the place you do that."

Cost-Effective Construction and Remodeling

During the housing boom, many would-be renovators couldn't find a contractor to give them the time of day. "They were too busy to answer the phone," says Melman. Lean times may have freed up the pros, but the hands-on approach seems to be here to stay.

In January, Storey will publish Home Plan Doctor, a practical guide to navigating every stage of construction or a renovation, whether you're working on your own or collaborating with an architect. "When you're looking at something two-dimensional, it can be hard to imagine what the space will look like. Even the symbols-for doors, stairs, etc.-can be confusing," says editorial director Deborah Balmuth. "And though many stock plans run about five dollars, you need to pay extra to get the details-and that can get expensive." Larry Garnett's book, she notes, provides sample floor plans and instructions, which enable readers to scrutinize their own blueprints, request changes and add their own elements.

Along similar lines, Taunton will publish a cost-effective, room-by-room tour: Affordable Remodel by Fernando Pagés Ruiz comes out this month. "Every single step in the home improvement process is filled with decisions that can either cost or save you hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars," writes Ruiz, founder of Brighton Construction Company in Lincoln, Neb. Editor Steve Culpepper calls Affordable Remodel "a what-to-do, rather than a how-to"-a stop in each room offers a different piece of practical advice, such as using high-end products where they'll make the biggest impression: on kitchen counters and the backsplash, as opposed to on floors or inside cupboards.

Many DIYers want to concentrate on details rather than the big picture. "Even-or perhaps especially-in a down housing market, homeowners are on the lookout for ways to improve bits and pieces of their homes," says Tim Bakke, publisher of Creative Homeowner. "The books that continue to sell strong for us are those that cater to focused segments of the home improvement industry, and on interior home improvement especially." Updating trim, tile work, fixtures and other details can be a cost-effective way to get a lot of look for the right price. A September title, Ultimate Guide to Floors, Walls, and Ceilings, focuses on the six surfaces of any room-floor, four walls and ceiling-and offers repair, improvement and decorating tips for all. A still narrower focus is found in Ultimate Guide to Crown Molding, which presents in photographic step-by-step format more than 30 projects, from a simple one-piece treatment to multipiece built-up cornices.

"I find that when the housing market goes down, it affects not just how people redecorate, but how they do their plumbing and wiring," says Sterling publisher Charles Nurnberg, who has high hopes for Popular Mechanics When Duct Tape Just Isn't Enough: Quick Fixes for Everyday Disasters (Nov.). "There are a lot of little things that happen around the house that cost a fortune-bug problems, appliance failures," says Nurnberg. "If you know what to look for, you can take it up yourself and avoid spending $100 on a service call." Another hardworking title aimed at cutting labor costs is DIY Guide to Appliances: Installing and Maintaining Your Major Appliances , a January release from Creative Publishing international.

But home improvement novices aren't hitting the books solely to save money. "Customers have been empowered by their exposure to DIY media programs," says Diane Steele, publisher at Wiley, which will turn out two fall titles in its popular For Dummies series: Do-It-Yourself Painting for Dummies and Do-It-YourselfPlumbing for Dummies. "When people look for a place to get started, they typically seek a book that provides strong step-by-step text with photos and illustration," says Steele. "They often have a quick-fix expectation, and they place high values on content that gives them a sense of confidence in their ability to succeed."

Design It Yourself

Part of that "quick-fix expectation"-and general inspiration-may stem from the public's fascination with the growing number of home improvement television programs on HGTV and TLC. Flourishing shelter magazines like Elle Decor and Domino also encourage people to bring high design home-at a price they can afford-as do the growing crop of online interior design sites, which eliminate the professional house-call aspect from the process. "These sites are fabulous, and they keep everyone interested in the subject matter," says Collins Design's Schooler. "I can't see a downside-there's a place for the printed book as well as online content in this market; some books are so visual, and there will always be something to seeing these spaces in the printed form."

Though British design superstar Kelly Hoppen often deals with couture work, her new book, Kelly Hoppen Home (Little, Brown), is more of a decorating primer. "The Web has made things a lot more competitive, as people are more aware of what's out there," says Hoppen. "Bringing out a mass market line in the U.K. really made me aware of how fast the market is moving and how switched on everybody is."

Another famous designer shares her trade secrets this month, when Stewart, Tabori & Chang releases Bunny Williams' Point of View: Three Decades of Decorating Elegant and Comfortable Houses. "A book is still a relatively inexpensive way to get hours of pleasure and thousands of dollars worth of ideas," says the Manhattan-based designer. "People are becoming more comfortable mixing lots of styles and periods-or putting something inherited with something from IKEA. The most important thing, I think, is to remember that none of your pieces are disposable-you want something well-made, with good lines that you'll have for the rest of your life."

In Art of Decorative Details, forthcoming next month from Watson-Guptill, Florida-based designer Cecil Hayes encourages readers to put aside their insecurities and to brainstorm small but powerful ways they can achieve a custom look-whether they're moving, redecorating or simply looking to breathe new life into a room. "If you watch [TLC's] Flip This House , you really see the impact of one decision, such as using granite instead of Formica," says W-G editorial director Victoria Craven. "Books have become more sophisticated as people have wanted to do their own research." Hayes, who began her career as an artist, applies that sensibility to her suggestions. Says Craven: "It's often those extra little details-just buying knobs and handles in different sizes, for example-that really enhance an interior."

C&T's Oh Sew Easy series, which caters to young people inspired by the boom in crafting, will dip into home dec territory this February with Oh Sew Easy Life Style: 20 Projects to Make Your Home Your Own. "Many young people moving into their first apartment or house want it to be a reflection of themselves-which can't necessarily be achieved just by buying stuff from the Container Store," says C&T publisher Amy Marson. Life Style offers organizing tips, fabric projects for furniture and walls, and decorating suggestions for store-bought items or even seemingly worthless junk. "Sometimes you can transform it by simply covering it in fabric," says Marson.

Judging from the number and variety of publishers' forthcoming titles, it would seem that consumers will continue to spend time and energy on their homes-most experts contend that when the market improves, the money will follow. The question, says NAHB's Melman, "is when will we hit the floor and come back-we always do. We're talking about new home sales picking up in the second half of 2008 and 2009." Kermit Baker, senior research fellow at Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, says that the swing back could instate a "new normal" after these last eight years of boom then bust. "Return to normalcy doesn't mean return to conditions over the last few years, but more of the longer-term trends in levels of housing production," says Baker. "It'll probably look more like what it did in the 1990s than during the first half of this decade." But with remodeling spending increasing about 5% a year, the foundation for future growth seems to be a solid one.

The Green Market

The NAHB reports that by the end of 2007, more than half of all home builders will incorporate green practices into the development, design and construction of new homes. "A lot of the things that used to seem far out will be standard," says Stephen Melman. "Look at double-glazed windows, bamboo flooring and other materials that make a home seem safer and better." By the same token, books on green design are becoming more popular-and plentiful.

Popular actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr. has penned Living like Ed , forthcoming from Clarkson Potter in February. Publisher Lauren Shakely says the book will appeal to both fans of Begley's hit HGTV show, Living with Ed , and eco-novices simply looking for a bit of inspiration. "Sometimes people think if they can't go whole-hog, it's not worth trying-if you can't afford the solar panel, you might as well do the Styrofoam cup," says Shakely. "But Ed talks about his own journey and how he got started, and his wife, Rachelle, offers a counterpoint throughout. It's hands-on and incredibly welcoming."

Similarly, Taunton's Green from the Ground Up : Sustainable, Healthy, and Energy-Efficient Home Construction (Apr.) is for "people who have ideas about green living but don't know how to actually put them into use," says Steve Culpepper. "This book shows there's actually nothing mystical about it." Written by David Johnston-founder of the Boulder, Colorado-based green building consultancy What's Working-the reference book offers practical advice on choosing building materials, increasing energy efficiency and improving indoor air quality.

Creative Homeowner's Green Remodeling (Mar.) shows how to make smart, nontoxic choices when it comes to common projects such as replacing kitchen cabinets and installing new countertops. And perhaps the best measure of the green movement's popularity is Wiley's holiday gift: Green Building and Remodeling for Dummies will debut in December.

A Room with a Hue

One design-world certainty is that the color wheel is constantly spinning: "We went from a time when everything was white, and now we're back in a color explosion-everyone likes shocking pink and apple green again," says Bunny Williams. "It's cyclical-people will get bored with that and say, 'Let's go with something else.' " As a result, color books will always be in vogue.

"Arranging color schemes is often the most difficult part of interior decorating to get right," says Tim Bakke. This month's Can't Fail Color Schemes will offer more than 200 examples of successful "color decorating," and its wire-bound design makes it easy to flip through in the store.

Choosing exterior colors can be especially tricky, with a large scale and differing light conditions. Gibbs-Smith comes to the rescue with House Colors: Exterior Color by Style of Architecture . Written by Susan Hershman, the principal of Studio One Design in Oakland, Calif., the book offers suggestions for making selections that are appropriate for your neighborhood and explains how to work with roof shingles, windows and light fixtures.

Taunton's Color Idea Book (Oct.) by Robin Strangis is another photo-driven resource guide, as is the paperback version of Watson-Guptill's popular 2003 title Choosing Colors. "We've gotten so much fan mail for this book," says editorial director Victoria Craven. "And quite frankly, we couldn't keep copies in the office-they kept disappearing."

A Lust for Luxe

Though the pragmatic approach may seem appealing in a down market, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously noted, the rich are different. (Ernest Hemingway's reputed curt-if apt-retort: "Yes-they have more money.") Many publishers insist that the more upscale section of the home renovation/home decorating spectrum shows no sign of wobbles. "Most of our books that have done extremely well are in the $60 to $65 range," says Dan Farrell, president of Antique Collectors' Club Ltd. "For someone who's got a little disposable income, a $60-or even a $100-book is a reasonable investment if you're trying to find different looks." This month, they'll offer The View from the Top, a fully illustrated guide to what they call "grand apartment living," featuring treatments from some of the world's most prominent designers.

"We've always had that moniker 'coffee-table books,' but they may have more meaning and maybe deserve a higher price point than what they've had in the past,'" says Clarkson Potter publisher Lauren Shakely. The Luxury Bathroom spotlights some of the surprising and sumptuous ways people are using that space. A twin title from Collins Design-Luxury Bathrooms (Nov.)- applies a similar philosophy. "It's the one area where people will continue to spend money," says Marta Schooler. "People want bathrooms as a retreat-they don't have to be big, but they do need to feel like a retreat or a mini-spa."

But luxury may not be solely the realm of those contracting others to construct their dream: "Still, more and more, we think there's a market for people who want the air of luxury but who are interested in doing it themselves," says Creative Publishing's Trandem. In February, CPi will publish Black & Decker The Complete Guide to DIY Projects for Luxurious Living: Adding Style & Elegance with Showcase Features You Can Build. "We've spent more time with high-end materials and high-end photography," he says. "It's deliberately aimed at an aspirational market."

 
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