We carry so many elements from our childhood into our adult lives, and at times it’s easy to forget why we like the things we do. We gravitate to our favorite color when selecting accent pillows. We opt for floral wallpapers to adorn our walls. We do these things without even considering the days of selecting Crayola colors to draw the garden planted outside the window of our childhood home. Our favorite children’s books are one of the biggest influences on our design styles that folks tend to forget. For many of us, books are our first window into how other people live and decorate their homes, whether that’s Eloise doodling on the walls of her plaza suite or Lyle the Crocodile relaxing in the clawfoot bath of his East 88th Street brownstone. Our early childhood impressions form the basis of our taste preferences. Some of the best interior designers out there think back to children’s books when designing very grown-up spaces. Here are my top 14 children’s books to inspire interior designers, whether you are reading to your kids or taking time out to reflect on your childhood.
14 Children’s Books to Inspire Your Interior Design
1. If You Lived Here: Houses of the World
What could be a better book selection for a future designer or architect than this? If You Lived Here is a book that shows how people live all over the world. Consider it the childhood guide to global architectural styles. Step through the threshold of an American log cabin, Southwestern-style pueblo, and Moroccan riad from the comfort of your cozy window seat.
2. Staying at Sam’s
We all remember our first slumber party as kids. The excitement of getting to stay over at a friend’s house is met with bewilderment when you realize other families get to eat dinner on TV trays in the living room or have to make their beds or don’t allow shoes on the carpet. Staying at Sam’s teaches us that our standard of living is not the same as everyone else’s and the importance of designing welcoming guest accommodations.
3. Busy, Busy Town
Busy, Busy Town chronicles the lives of Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm as they run errands to the post office, supermarket, and other businesses around town. It teaches a great lesson to kids — adults are busy! When it comes to designing a home that functions, designers consider all of these errands and how to ease the transition back home. For example, is there an easy entry point to bring in groceries, a mudroom to unload after sports practice, or a sizable front stoop to receive packages? After all, we’re busy and don’t have time to falter or dilly dally.
“In an old house in Paris, that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls, in two straight lines.” The Madeline series shows us communal living quarters in France as we follow the title character along on antics throughout the 20 arrondissements. When it comes to designing shared spaces, you need to get creative — establishing a sense of community while providing enough privacy and necessary function. I still can’t get over the bathroom with a dozen sinks! “We love our bread, we love our butter, but most of all, we love each other.” Still relatable. We all need some bread and butter at the dinner table, right?
5. Miss Spider’s Tea Party
In Miss Spider’s Tea Party, Miss Spider can’t understand why she has such trouble trying to invite her insect friends into her web for a spring soiree. She doesn’t want to eat them but just have them over for cakes and maybe a side of neighborhood gossip. When it comes to our homes, it’s important to recognize how interior design affects our mood. For example, a spider’s web could feel very unwelcoming to a housefly. Our goal when hosting is to create spaces that put our visitors at ease.
6. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
One of my personal childhood favorites is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the story of two siblings running away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Can you imagine a better place to stay in the city? During their stay, they get roped into the mystery of a bargain sculpture that could be worth millions. It’s no wonder I grew up to move to NYC and work at Christie’s auction house! This book is an excellent first look into understanding the value of art and collections.
The Eloise books follow the title character as she enjoys her life from the penthouse suite in the Plaza Hotel alongside her nanny, pug, and turtle. I think we would all enjoy that, no? The books became so popular that they even inspired a suite copying the storybook pages in the real-life hotel. I believe there is a lesson to be learned here in luxury and creating that vacation feel at home.
8. Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss has crafted a whimsical rhyming world central to childhood, from The Lorax to The Cat in the Hat to Green Eggs and Ham. The architectural stylings of Dr. Seuss — with their oddly sloped roofs, multiple off-set levels, wacky color schemes, and precarious placements — fall somewhere between a European village, grand Victorian home, and shanty. If anything, I think the Seussical world is a reminder to have fun in your design plans and never take any room of your home too seriously.
9. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile
Lyle the Crocodile lives in a house on East 88th Street in New York City, working as a nanny of sorts. However, his neighbor Mr. Grumps (don’t we all have a neighbor like this?) doesn’t like him and threatens to lock him up in the zoo. This book is a story about winning over your adversaries, but it also reminds us that our homes go way beyond our front door. When designing interiors, you can’t overlook your neighbors, community, and landscape. Sometimes this means creating connections to the outside or positioning windows away from those next door.
10. The House of Four Seasons
One of my favorite books as a kid was The House of Four Seasons. The basic plot was that the family repainted their house every season to match the changing environment, and spring brought a brilliant combination of yellow wood siding and bright purple shutters. These pages quickly became the mood board for my dream house, and I am still a big fan of the yellow and purple combination today. As adults, we don’t give our preferences a second thought. However, revisiting some of our childhood favorites may offer some insight into why we choose the things we do.
11. A Place to Hang the Moon
Children (and even adults) need a sense of home to feel secure, especially when the world outside the front door is uncertain. A Place to Hang the Moon follows three orphans evacuated to the English countryside during World War II. In their quest for home, they search to redefine their understanding of security. This book shows that home is more than just a place to hang your hat. It’s a cornerstone of our well-being.
12. The Wolves in the Walls
“Lucy hears sneaking, creeping, crumpling noises coming from inside the walls. She is sure there are wolves living in the walls of her house.” In The Wolves in the Walls, Lucy feels that lurking creatures threaten her home. However, no one in her family believes her. Taking the scary bedtime story to another level, this book explores what it means and feels like to have our homes threatened — be it wolves or termites. We invest in our homes, so it’s only natural we have a stake in defending them.
13. The Little Blue Cottage
The Little Blue Cottage is the story of a summer vacation home. Every year, the cottage awaits the return of the little girl. They spend their summers keeping each other company and enjoying their seaside views. However, one year, the girl doesn’t return. When it comes down to it, our homes are not complete without us. The textiles, accessories, and furnishings sit dormant until we step inside and bring life and energy. We have a truly symbiotic relationship with our homes.
14. Goodnight Moon
“In the green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of — the cow jumping over the moon.” Goodnight Moon is an interior designer’s sweet dream book. (Yes, pun intended.) In this little picture book, a sleepy rabbit takes inventory of all the room’s accessories to wish each item goodnight. I think this is an excellent reminder of the importance our collections of objects hold in our design plans. Each one comes with a unique story or purpose behind it — including the children’s books.
Designing to Evoke Childhood Comforts
We search for a sense of comfort and protection in our homes, and sometimes those elements that bring the most comfort come from the past. It’s the familiar motif from the pages of our favorite picture book or our go-to marker color that creates a warm sense of welcome when we cross the threshold. I encourage you to revisit some of your favorite children’s books (either by yourself or with your own kids) and see how much you borrowed from them when designing your own home. You may just be surprised.
Amity Worrel is an award-winning interior designer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked on high-end interior design projects for celebrities and tastemakers in NYC, LA, and the Bahamas. In 2008, Amity decided to bring her passion for diverse design back to her hometown of Austin. Her spaces pull from timeless design concepts ranging from coastal contemporary to cozy cottage to Austin eclectic. Emotional connections, functional flow, and a touch of humor remain central to every interior design scheme. Her work has been published in national and local publications, including The Wall Street Journal, House Beautiful, HGTV Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Austin Home. In her free time, she loves perusing estate sales and diving into design history. Learn more about Amity.