It's not clear when modernism began or whether it has ended, but for the sake of simplicity - and for their book Modern Retro (Ryland Peters & Small, $116) - authors Neil Bingham and Andrew Weaving focus on household items designed from 1920 to 1970. One practical reason the furniture, lighting, soft furnishings and other decorative items produced during the period make wonderful collectors' items is that many classics have never gone out of production, which makes it easy to create the style. Organised by decade, the book not only places the designs within the context of world events, it also shows how best to combine products by such luminaries as Charles and Ray Eames, Arne Jacobsen and Eero Aalto with flea-market finds and high-end contemporary pieces. Newcomers will learn to recognise certain items favoured in stylish homes, including, and these are just from one featured room, the Nelson Coconut chair, the Bertoia Diamond chairs and the Eames ETR table. The names on the contents page of Creative Homes (HarperCollins, $230) explain the selection process of the 40-odd homes featured within. From restaurateur Tetsuya Wakuda to fashion designer Akira Isogawa to artist Ken Done, the candidates have shaped an aesthetic that is recognisably Australian. So too their homes - whether a high-rise apartment, a beach shack or a converted warehouse - which exude an Antipodean style that is broadly comfortable, unpretentious and sunny. Most useful are the design notes about each home. Written by Karen McCartney, founding editor of interiors magazine Inside Out, they include tips on how to pick 'mismatching' dining chairs - ensure they are the same height and of similar wood; how to combine different periods and styles of furniture - link them by colour, proportion or material; and what to do with classic linen tea towels - use them to upholster dining chairs. As a teenager, Andree Putman stripped her room of all its bourgeois associations and left just one piece of furniture: an iron military bed. At 20, she insisted her mother purchase two chairs by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and a ball-shaped lamp of Isamu Noguchi. Such was Putman's aesthetic conviction, her influence grew to include not only private spaces but also Morgans Hotel in New York, Air France's Concorde and the film set for Peter Greenaway's The Pillow Book. In Putman Style (Assouline Publishing, $350), author Stephane Gerschel takes readers into the world behind the French designer's prominent work, showing that she was as comfortable mixing with intellectuals (Jean-Paul Sartre) as with artists (Andy Warhol) and fashion designers (Karl Largerfeld). However, Putman - who designed the penthouse of Forty One Hengshan Road in Shanghai, owned by Hong Kong's Pearl Lam - deserves some credit for the book's interest: she supplied many personal photos that take readers behind the scenes. Standard and limited-edition versions of Putman Style are available at Lane Crawford, IFC Mall, Central. The numbered copies cost $5,900 each.