A good coffee table book, with its carefully curated images and great weight, captivates readers. It can transport you to another place, time or dimension as you get lost in the pages.
Fortunately, coffee table books are no longer relegated to just lying flat in the middle of a living room table. Styled throughout your home, they act as a visual display of identity as your choices reveal an insight into your personality, values, hobbies and interests.
Where should you start with choosing and styling a collection? We asked Brian Bolke, who co-founded Forty Five Ten and later established The Conservatory with stores in Highland Park Village, Houston and New York. Back in 2012, he also had a quaint bookstore in Highland Park Village called Chapter Two. As anyone who knows him can tell you, he loves books, evidenced in part by the impressive selection offered by The Conservatory.
“Books, and the collection of books, really do speak volumes – pun intended – about the person. It defines their home and personal space,” he explains.
When it comes to styling, Bolke considers stacking a very personal decision, but certainly has his preferences. “Without exception, I like horizontal pyramids, many times in color families. I always mix my stacks of books with memorabilia and crystal objects, sculptures, trinkets, all nice and carefully balanced to look very random. This takes hours, he says with a smile. That process involves deciding whether or not to include the book’s jacket. “I look at the book with and without the cover and decide.” It’s that simple.
Like any true bibliophile, Bolke believes that books have real value and meaning. “When I choose to give a book a valuable place in my life, I consider it a ‘forever’ decision. A lot of times it defines my vision at that moment, and even when I look back at these books years or decades later, it’s like a time capsule.” So, here’s a glimpse of Brian Bolke circa 2023. All of his selections can be found (where else?) at The Conservatory.
Photographer Steven Klein, a fashion provocateur, captured some of the most iconic, reality-bending images of our time. This one-and-only monograph on his work includes 464 pages of images originally published in Interview, W and Vogue, etc., featuring faces from Madonna to Brad Pitt.
“I’ve been somewhat obsessed with Steven Klein for 20 years. “One of my most prized possessions is a Steven Klein photograph of Tom Ford from my husband for my 40th birthday,” says Bolke before adding a caveat. “Caution: This book is outrageous – slightly NSFW.”
“Lisa Perry: Fashion – Home – Design“
“Lisa Perry and I became friends years ago when I bought her fashion line and she came to Dallas for a trunk show,” Bolke recalls. “She soon invited me to her Manhattan penthouse, a simple affair with a massive Jeff Koons sculpture on the terrace. I was simply blown away by the world she created for her family, unwavering in her thematic interpretation of modernism. Every project in this book is literally better than the next.”
Known for her 60s-inspired clothing and accessories collection, Perry invites readers into her personally curated spaces, from the Manhattan penthouse Bolke mentions to her residences in Palm Beach and Villefranche-sur-Mer.
“The stars in you“
Shambhala Publications Inc.; $18.95
“I’m absolutely passionate about astrology and all forms of tarot, crystals, divination – all of it,” shares Bolke. “Dallas-raised Juliana McCarthy makes it feel within reach. Perfect for the bed.”
Subtitled “A Modern Guide to Astrology,” this book provides a new perspective on astrology fundamentals and teaches devotees how to read their own birth charts. Think of it as a tool to increase self-awareness and learn how to read the road map of the stars.
“Nick Cave: By the way“
Art book; $65
Nick Cave never shies away from the big themes, including cultural justice. As a socially responsive artist, he shifts easily between visual and performing arts through a wide range of media, including sculpture, installation and performance. This definitive volume includes his art, essays and commentaries.
“I’ve been a fan of Nick Cave for years and was lucky enough to visit his studio in Chicago. This book shows his originality, and it also absolutely forces you to think,” says Bolke.
Monacelli Press; $55
“When we opened The Conservatory at Hudson Yards, we partnered with Lewis Miller and created a beautiful flower shop at the entrance. It brought so much joy to so many people, Bolke recalls. “My Dallas career started with opening Avant Garden in 1995, and flowers are near and dear to my heart. Lewis’ Flower Flashes are truly emotional explosions of the unexpected, and they are completely original. He brings joy to the masses.”
This book is a kind of visual diary, and tells about the phenomenon of designer Miller’s flower blink. The stealthily arranged floral art installations brought New York City to life in the most unexpected places, from trash cans to the John Lennon Memorial in Central Park.
“Alaïa Before Alaïa“
“One of the earliest memories of Forty Five Ten I treasure is a now 23-year relationship with the house founded by Azzedine Alaïa. A designer’s designer, there will never be another like him,” says Bolke. “I will never forget that he cooked to the buyers in his kitchen, surrounded by huge, sleeping Saint Bernards as his team anxiously paced the showroom, as the collection was never ready in time – but dinner always was.”
Highly regarded as a fashion genius, Alaïa’s (1935-2017) rise to icon status began in his native Tunisia, continued in 1950s Paris and, of course, led to his statement New York show in 1982. This never-before-seen insight into his enigmatic visionary chronicles transcendent rise through archival material, private photographs and other treasures.