Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Lovers of Design

Your friends and relatives will be proud to put these gifts on their coffee tables. They'll learn a lot by reading them too.

The Mill Creek sewer, from “Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City.” | Photo: Joseph E.B. Elliott, courtesy Temple University Press

Each year, publishers release dozens of hefty tomes full of eye-popping photographs of striking new buildings and drop-dead-gorgeous interiors. In addition to keeping your coffee table firmly anchored to your floor, these books offer inspiration for would-be designers and architects interested in taking on their own personal commissions.

We’ve picked out a few of this year’s titles that might get your loved ones’ juices flowing — or yours, for that matter. The best of these, however, offers not inspiration but illumination — a voyage of (re)discovery through a city you thought you knew.

That book is “Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City,” by Joseph E. B. Elliott, Nathaniel Popkin and Peter Woodall (Temple, $40). This beautifully illustrated and elegantly written book peels off the outer layers of buildings and streetscapes we have come to take for granted to reveal the secrets and stories that lay beneath the surface. It also casts a fresh eye on familiar sites, pointing out the histories and meanings hiding in plain sight. Elliott’s pictures almost make Popkin’s and Woodall’s thousands of words redundant — but you need to read the prose to extract the full measure from the photographic poetry.

Parlor by James Rixner Interiors, Holiday House NYC 2015, from “Holiday House: Ten Years of Decorating for a Cure.” | Photo: Marco Ricca, courtesy Pointed Leaf Press

For those whose interests run more towards Architectural Digest than Architectural Record, another new release chronicles a decade’s worth of over-the-top rooms created by more than 75 of the world’s best interior designers, all in the service of breast cancer research. Iris Dankner’s “Holiday House: Ten Years of Decorating for a Cure” (Pointed Leaf Press, $75) traces the evolution of the New York-based philanthropic designers’ show house Dankner launched in 2008. From its roots on the Upper East Side, the showcase has expanded to Lower Manhattan, the Hamptons and London, each year inviting top designers to fill empty rooms with their imagination. Perhaps the illustrations in this lavish book will fire up your own. (A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.)

From “The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design.” | Photo: Leslie Martin, courtesy Chicago Botanical Gardens via Temple University Press

From the inside, we now move outdoors to the place where your children can grow and learn. Lolly Tai’s new book “The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design” (Temple, $75) is a comprehensive how-to guide to creating your own child-centered green oasis and outdoor classroom. Drawing on 20 successful examples from Longwood Gardens on down, Tai explains the principles, practices and process involved in making an enticing and educational garden plot for your children — and your community’s, with a special emphasis on gardens that work in urban environments. You might even get good food out of the experience if you incorporate vegetable plots into your design.

And if these titles don’t grab you (though we can’t think of a good reason why they wouldn’t), may we suggest a visit to the AIA Bookstore at 1218 Arch St.? The bookstore contains a wealth of books, gifts and more for the architecture lover. It even has books and toys for your budding junior architect.