What really is a coffee table book? In essence, they're any book you keep on your damn coffee table. But we're talking about illustrative books with a focus on art united by a motif or theme.
As Robert Klanten, founder of leading illustrative book publisher Gestalten, told us: "We publish books with the hope that they may help a person to understand who they are, what they really care about and aspire to be." Hopefully these glimpses into what books we own gives you a better understanding of the people reading them.
A Man & His Watch
"There are a bunch of beautifully illustrated watch books out there, but A Man & His Watch by Matt Hranek is more than that. It speaks to the nature of watches as deeply personal items like few other such books do. Rather than history and technical explanations, it features a collection of individual watches of all kinds with stories from their actual owners about their significance. Each watch featured is a visual treat accompanied by a charming and digestible anecdote." — Zen Love, Staff Writer
Beams: Beyond Tokyo
"Beams went from a tiny store in Tokyo to a global fashion powerhouse, with part of the lure being how hard it is to get in the states. For over 40 years, Beams has consistently released timeless, well-made clothing, home goods and accessories across its off-shoot brands like Beams Plus, Beams Boy and bPr Beams. Some of the brand's highlights are its collaborations with popular brands like Levi's, Clarks, Arcteryx, Danner, L.L. Bean — you get the picture. Beyond Tokyo rounds up some of the best Beams collaborations with their backstory and essentially creates a wishlist for Ebay and Grailed digging. Notable fashion people, like Sofia Coppola (just look at the style in Lost in Translation!) and Bape creator Nigo, offer insight into Beams' influence on themselves and the rest of the world." — Tyler Chin, Associate Staff Writer
Bill Cunningham: On the Street
"When I worked in NYC, I used to see [Bill Cunningham, the late New York Times fashion photographer] at events and on the street fairly often. We spoke a few times, and he took my picture at least once. He was a very kind and pleasant man. When this book came out I had to get it as I always enjoyed his work in the NYT and the trades, and it also brings me back to those days in the city." — Scot Bondlow, Pacific Northwest Advertising Director
"At $120, this book is a hefty investment (I purchased a used copy, which was still around $80). It's also, quite literally, hefty. But if you're interested in poring over some pretty incredible cabin designs in a range of remote locales, Cabins beats an Instagram or Pinterest rabbit-hole every time." — Caitlyn Shaw, Product Manager, Growth
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes
"I grew up on Calvin and Hobbes. Unfortunately, my original books are either tattered or lost. That's why a few years ago I purchased this complete guide. There are four separate books, which I constantly rotate in and out (or on and off) of my coffee table. Why? Because there isn't a better light read than a classic Bill Watterson comic." — Tucker Bowe, Senior Staff Writer
Flannery O'Connor: The Cartoons
"No one can do southern gothic quite like Flannery O’Connor, which has cemented her as an all-time favorite for this fellow Georgia-native. Before she wrote any of her novels or short stories however, she made linoleum cut comics for her school’s newspaper. This collection of her cartoons offer great insights into her strange sense of humor, and serve as a great appetizer to her body of work." — Scott Ulrich, Editorial Associate, Editorial Operations
Buy Now: $54
Home: The Foundations of Enduring Spaces
"Before leafing through the pages of the New York School of Interior Design’s interior design codex, I was under the impression the title of 'interior designer' was more of an advanced hobby. Not anymore. Though it can be dense at times (subheadings like 'Anatomy of a Wall' and 'Collaborating with a Drapery Workroom' abound), I’ve never encountered a book as beautiful as it is actionable. This isn’t a book of hand-wavey interior design with vague suggestions to pops of color or material contrast – it’s a textbook that spells out how to build rooms that people want to be in, from the ideal mounting height of a sconce to the average dimension of a six-seater oval dining table." — Will Price, Assistant Editor
"As much as I love coffee table books, I don't love them on my coffee table, which has a tendency to get overrun with various remotes, gaming controllers and other random junk that doesn't have a permanent home in my apartment. That said, I picked up this book last year and kept it close at hand for inspiration during my training cycle for the New York City marathon. Published by the Parisian running boutique Distance, Iten brings readers to a small town in Kenya, famous for producing some of history's greatest distance runners." — Jack Seemer, Deputy Editor
"I have lots of love for this coffee table book by Liu Bolin. He's known as the Invisible Man and his work amazes everyone who sits at my couch and flips through it. I consider it something akin to an adult I Spy, Bolin being the object that you must spy. Honestly, the man really blends in — it's incredible." — Nghi Ho, Advertising Sales Planner
Long Story Bit By Bit: Liberia Retold
"One of my absolute favorite photo books (that happens to look great on a coffee table) is this one by the late Tim Hetherington. As one of just a couple photo journalists behind rebel lines of Liberia’s second civil war, Hetherington was able to get access to places and people that shaped and molded a country marred by violence and unrest.
What’s phenomenal though is what he did with that access. The photos are beautiful, revealing and deeply impactful. The associated text are miles more compelling than your average photo book and proves what an impressive storyteller Hetherington was. It’s a gem of my small but mighty photo book collection." — Henry Philips, Deputy Photo Editor
Permanent Coffee Break Vol. 1
"My current favorite coffee table book is Permanent Coffee Break Vol. 1 by Timothy Leeds. He's a documentary street photographer in San Francisco, who spent time to curate all the photos in this book. It just published earlier this year and is filled with awesome black and white photographs." — Meg Lappe, Creative Project Manger
Buy Now: $40
"I picked up this book on the giveaways table at a previous job. It details the work, history and cultural impact of Vitra, known for its production of furniture and collaborations with prolific designers and architects, including Zaha Hadid, Osamu Noguchi, Verner Panton and, of course, the Eameses. At 369 pages, it's comprehensive, but it is beautifully designed with lots of photography, drawings and various paper stocks and finishes, so it's easy to want to return to and keep flipping through. I look at it for inspiration for choosing furniture for my apartment as well as for designing magazine and book projects.
An excerpt I like: 'Vitra sees designers not simply as contractors but as authors. [...] Collaborations are always a subtle synthesis of artistic freedom, production know-how and industry knowledge.'" — Sherry Wang, Senior Designer
Buy Now: $30
"Surf Shacks is just what it sounds like: an intimate look at the surf shacks of creatives and prominent surfers. Originally a running series from Indoek, Surf Shacks really exudes how important a surfer's living space is to them in terms of proximity to and inclusion of the beach. While the interior design each of them employs widely varies from coast to coast, we surfers share the common thread that there must always be a place for boards and an outdoor shower. I'm pretty jazzed up about Surf Shacks Vol. 2, which is due out this October." — Ryan Brower, Commerce Editor