Book Review: Summer Thornton’s Wonderland

To know me is to know my love of coffee table books, and today I have a really good one for you! Summer Thornton’s brand new release, Wonderland: Adventures in Decorating, is bursting with incredible imagery and her fresh, adventurous take on decorating. Summer is all about fantasy. She talks about how she’s always been a dreamer and is never content to prioritize utility over beauty – an ethos that is reflected in her designs in the most lovely way. Her rooms are full of eye-catching details, colorful patterns, layers and depth, whimsy and delight. They invite you to escape from reality into…well, a wonderland!

I love that right off the bat, Summer encourages everyone to buck trends, not look to what’s popular or what’s “right” in decorating, but just to follow their own instincts and decorate with what they like. That resonates with me so much. Add in her love of color and mixed patterns, her penchant for florals and a fancy lampshade, and her positive outlook towards book hoarding, and it’s no wonder that I loved this book from the moment I turned the first page! At one point she writes that pattern makes her feel at ease, and I don’t think I’ve ever related to a statement so strongly in my life.

The book opens with a tour of Summer’s 19th century Victorian townhouse in Chicago, which is a perfect encapsulation of the two sides of her design personality: a romantic, old world sensibility, mixed with a bold, fearless sense of adventure. I was thrilled to see that while the home needed a gut renovation, she put a ton of thought, hard work and effort into preserving and salvaging as many original details as possible, while ensuring that anything new was made to look like it had been there all along. Nothing pains me more than seeing a beautiful old home turned into some modern, soulless monstrosity, so once I saw that she was honoring the history so faithfully, I became an even bigger fan! While the bones of the house feel original and retain an old-world sensibility, Summer’s decorating brings freshness and vibrancy. Drawing inspiration from fairy tales, romance, and travel, Summer created a home that feel like an escape from the everyday. From  the leopard stair runner to the latticed garden room, the loads of colorful textiles to the hoards of books and old portraits, the townhouse is an absolute delight of mixing and layering.

Summer shows her range with chapters diving deep into her decorating of an excessively formal, sophisticated apartment in a landmarked Art Deco building, followed by a section on a tropical oasis in Florida decked out in citrus shades. In the formal home, she showers rooms in silver leaf, watery hues, and silk on walls and carpets, while adding substantial furniture to keep things grounded. Light is reflected throughout the space with high-gloss lacquered walls and vintage Murano glass lighting. An array of sumptuous textures and statement-making design elements (like a bold plum sofa in a pine-paneled study!) keep the refined home feeling from feeling stodgy. While decorating the beach house in shades of lemon yellow and tropical lime, Summer includes brown wood and other grounding pieces of furniture to add substance and keep things from being too light and bright – ie, too contrived and predictable. Here she recommends that the items in a home look collected and layered over time, not bought all at once from one source. That is SUCH an important piece of advice! And when you see the Gracie wallpaper in the bedroom of this beach house…you will keel over. Lovers of modernism will enjoy the last section, where Summer showcases a city co-op with strong colors, clean lines, and edgy details.

Summer’s work is really different from anyone else I’ve seen of late, and this book really made me fall in love with her style. Summer mixes color and pattern in unexpected ways, designs very thoughtfully, and brings nature into all that she does (lots of Secret Garden vibes!). The rooms in the book were styled by Mieke ten Have, a well-known stylist that unbelievably, I was actually lucky enough to work with on a shoot last year. Mieke’s unique talent cannot be overstated – she is a magician and I’m not exaggerating. She takes a beautiful room or shoot and turns it up to 100. I think she’s especially incredible with florals, and with Summer’s love of nature, Mieke’s styling is a perfect match.

As an object, the book is just as beautiful when you remove the dust jacket (but I LOVE the dust jacket). The vibrant purple cover and spine with iridescent title creates a perfect preview of what you’ll find inside the pages.

The book truly has it all – style and substance. It’s beautifully written with Antonia van der Meer, and as mentioned, the photography is stunning. Summer worked with a few different photographers – principally Thomas Loof and Melanie Acevedo, with work also by Annie Schlecter, Josh Thornton, Kirsten Miccoli, Werner Straube, Bjorn Wollander, Carmel Brantley, Alicia Fierro, and Alina Tsvor. The layout makes it easy to read, and I really liked that a lot of vignettes and details were showcased alongside full room shots – a perfect mix for a design book (especially one as full of special details as this one). Summer’s perspective is singular, fresh, and surprising. I didn’t know what I’d find as I turned the pages, which made it a delight to move through – and truly spoke to her philosophy of design as a trip down the rabbit hole!

Thanks so much to Rizzoli for the review copy!

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