Let's face it, coffee tables were never meant for coffee. Their main purpose has always been to show off lavish, larger-than-life books brimming with masterful artwork or breathtaking photography. Here are some gift ideas that deserve a prominent space on anyone's coffee table.
‘Always Audrey: Six Iconic Photographers. One Legendary Star.'
It's hard to think of another star that the camera worshiped as much as it did Audrey Hepburn. Here she's captured by lensmasters Norman Parkinson, Milton H. Greene, Douglas Kirkland, Lawrence Fried, Terry O'Neill and Eva Sereny, whose shots of Hepburn span from her teens to her final years. She's shown in ads for evening gowns, outside the Broadway theater where she starred in "Gigi," on the set of "Sabrina," outdoors with a dove on her shoulder and lots more. A photo feast for fans of Hollywood's "Fair Lady."
ACC Art Books, $65; More info: accartbooks.com
‘Americana: Farmhouses and Manors of Long Island’
As the owner of a 19th century homestead in Locust Valley, designer Kyle Marshall clearly has a passion for historic architecture. For this book, he spotlights 15 of the "most intriguing country houses" stretching from Lawrence to Shelter Island. Stunning photos bring to life the magnificent architecture of showplaces like Sagtikos Manor in Islip and Terry-Mulford House in Orient, and Marshall writes in detail about the rich history of each home. And a man named George Washington really did sleep here -- specifically, George Washington Cock, son of Peter Cock, who built the Federal-style manse Casa Blanca in Lattingtown in the late 1700s.
Schiffer Publishing, $39.99. More info: schifferbooks.com
'Mort Künstler: The Godfather of Pulp Fiction Illustrators’
If you missed the Heckscher Museum of Art's recent exhibition of Oyster Bay artist Mort Künstler's work, this book is the next best thing to being there. During the 1950s and '60s, Kunstler was the premiere illustrator for men's magazines like True, Argosy and Saga, creating artwork featuring brawny guys battling beasts and bad guys or dallying with bikini-clad babes. Künstler was also famous for his original illustrations for Mario Puzo's "The Godfather." Getting this book as a gift is an offer no one can refuse.
New Texture, $39.95; More info: newtexture.com
'MGM Style: Cedric Gibbons and the Art of the Golden Age of Hollywood'
There's a reason MGM was known as the Tiffany of studios back in Hollywood's heyday, and it was the genius of Gibbons. who headed the art department at Leo the lion's lair from its start in 1924 until his retirement in 1956. Howard Gutman writes in loving detail about Gibbons' role as a pioneer in art direction, and glorious photos capture the spare-no-expense grandeur of his efforts on the sets of "Grand Hotel," "The Great Ziegfeld," "Marie Antoinette" and dozens of other MGM spectacles.
Lyons Press, $45. More info: lyonspress.com
'They Drew as They Pleased, Vol. 5: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Early Renaissance’
The 1970s and '80s may not have been Disney's peak years, but the studio still came out with crowd pleaser like "The Aristocrats," "Robin Hood" and "The Great Mouse Detective." This edition focuses on artists Ken Anderson and Mel Shaw, who came up with the visual concepts for those films as well as 1967's "The Jungle Book," the last film begun by Walt Disney. The stunning artwork also features Anderson's drawings for his final film "Pete's Dragon" and sketches from Shaw's swan song: He went out with a roar working on "The Lion King."
'Letters From Hollywood'
The missives in this book are far more entertaining than most of the screenplays being churned out of Hollywood. Joan Crawford writes to a friend about being presented to Queen Elizabeth II in October 1956 with "Marilyn you-know-who" and Anita Ekberg, who were "howled at because of their tight dresses." Then there's an overworked Bette Davis' letter to Jack Warner stating her "contract is ridiculous." The cast of characters goes from A (silent screen comic Fatty Arbuckle) to Z (Fox studio chief Darryl Zanuck). There's even a 1937 telegram presumably sent by newly born Jane Fonda (let's assume papa Henry wrote it) asking director William Wyler for a job. Letter writing really is a lost art.
Abrams, $40; More info: abramsbooks.com
‘Country Music: An Illustrated History’
Ken Burns' recent PBS opus charted the history of the music that put Nashville on the map. He and his co-producer Dayton Duncan have put equal care into this companion book which offers dozens of photographs, details on the roots of country music, the stories behind the songs (Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee" dealt with the discrimination his Okie father faced when he came to California) and plenty of surprising anecdotes on superstars including Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn and more.
Knopf, $55. More info: penguinrandomhouse.com
'Hollywood: Her Story'
"I wouldn't hesitate right this minute to hire a talented woman if the subject matter were right." So said Ida Lupino, one of the first actresses to then go behind the camera at a time when women rarely got the chance to direct. She's just one of the hundreds of trailblazing women from United Artists co-founder Mary Pickford, initial female director Alice Guy-Blaché, Oscar-winning screenwriter Frances Marion and a who's who of film stars whose contributions are celebrated in this gorgeously illustrated volume.
Lyons Press, $35; More info: rowman.com
'Anthony Bourdain Remembered'
If you're one of those who still miss the beloved chef and host of CNN's "Parts Unknown," this tribute is a must. Here, he's eulogized by friends both famous (Daniel Boulud, Richard Blais, Jacques Pepin) and not so famous who share memories like Bourdain introducing them to tripe (is that a good thing?) and sing his praises.
Ecco, $35; More info: harpercollins.com
‘Rare Watches: Explore the World’s Most Exquisite Timepieces’
Browsing through this handsome tome will be time well-spent. Author Paul Miquel's fascination with watches is obvious on every gorgeously illustrated page. Dozens of watches from the Bulova Moonwatch worn by Apollo 15 astronaut David R. Scott when he stepped on the moon in 1971 to the "Holy Grail" of timepieces--Paul Newman's Rolex Daytona that sold for $17.75 million at auction two years ago--are on display. There are also pics of celebs from Clark Gable to Jackie Onassis showing off their watches and spellbinding stories, such as the saga of Gandhi's stolen pocket watch.
Octopus Books, $50. More info: octopusbooksusa.com
‘Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll’
Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented the "Play It Loud" exhibit showcasing 130 instruments that gave rock its distinctive sound. This equally impressive book is packed with 179 photos of the instruments and their owners, from Jerry Garcia's electric guitar "Wolf" to the "Pictures of Lily" drum set played by The Who's Keith Moon. Not every instrument on display here feels the love: One of the most striking photos has Jimi Hendrix setting fire to his Fender Stratocaster at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
The Met, $50; More info: store.metmuseum.org
'Visual Galaxy: The Ultimate Guide to the Milky Way and Beyond'
If this book had been around when during my school days, I might not have gotten a C in science. It comes from National Geographic, so you can expect visuals that are out of this world. But it's also written in a fun, easy-to-comprehend style (best chapter heading--"Saturn, Lord of the Rings") that reads like a tour of the Solar System. Learn about the formation of stars and asteroids, the creation of the sun 4.6 billion years ago, the atmospheres on distant planets, solar eruptions, etc. A comprehensive glossary of astronomy terms is, well, astronomical.
National Geographic, $50. More info: penguinrandomhouse.com
'Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: Beyond the Bizarre’
Would you believe, a baboon names Jack worked as a railroad signal operator in South Africa for nine years and never made a mistake? How about a man in Rio de Janeiro who has lived in a giant sand castle on the beach for the past 20 years? They're just two of the assorted anomalies featured in this 16th book in the "Ripley" series celebrating the odd and offbeat. Some entries seem really cool (a 5-foot portrait of Will Smith made out of Rubik's Cubes); others flat-out weird (two salt lakes in the Australia Outback that resemble runny eggs), but all are a hoot.
Ripley Publishing, $28.95; More info: ripleys.com