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Bilhuber Points 'The Way Home'

An eager crowd gathered to meet top American decorator Jeffrey Bilhuber at a book-signing in Southport, Conn. Fans of his third and latest book, “The Way Home: Reflections on American Beauty,” published by Rizzoli , were charmed to learn that Bilhuber's first priority is his son. At 5 p.m. on the dot, Bilhuber excused himself to telephone Christoph, age four, to say goodnight.

Bilhuber says Christoph's birth made a good life better. "I thought it was going to be much more tumultuous," he says, "But life just went up a level and stayed there." His theory is that our lives -- and the homes we live in -- are in constant evolution. The mementos we inherit from our parents and grandparents, and those we pass onto our children, keep us connected to the past and to the future. "Our homes are central to the narratives of self that we construct and pass on to our children," he writes in the introduction.

"The Way Home" focuses on 12 families for whom Bilhuber has created homes across America. Introducing his clients by name, he leads us into their living, dining and bedrooms. His charmingly written essays give insights into his vast knowledge of design and art. More than two hundred photographs demonstrate how he uses color, fabrics, different styles of furniture and accessories to create interiors that look as if they have always been there.

Most remarkable is the way in which he chooses to show us these rooms. Rather than the impossibly tidy spaces delivered up by most design magazines and books, Bilhuber's rooms look as if the inhabitants will be back any minute. Sofa pillows are squashed or on the floor, beds are unmade and the remains of breakfast are still on the table.

There's a reason for this, of course. Bilhuber believes that focusing on atmosphere rather than on objects is what matters. "Americans have to understand that they can cross-pollinate styles and forge their own way," he says.

Since the arrival of Christoph, Bilhuber's own home has evolved, just like those of his clients, to encompass the needs of a child. "Our lives evolve ... as our needs change," he writes. "My only son is the heart of the way home," he says.

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