The Shelter Mags Play Musical Chairs

This week, Megan, Joni and Linda discussed the current state of our favorite shelter magazines, the musical chairs of top management and what changes may come to the magazines, and what we would like to see (or not!).
We spent a lot of time discussing the problems with Architectural Digest and why no one seems to like the publication. We specifically discussed the two photographs below. We all agreed that in many cases, the rooms themselves are fine, it's all in the presentation and photography.

From AD, February 2007. Designer Penny Drue Baird.

From AD, November 2006. Designer John Barman

So, join us and please let us know what you think. What changes would you like to see as the editor's-in-chief all take control of their new publications, and what changes would you NOT like to see!

Also, WE HAVE A WINNER in our Bobby McAlpine book giveaway! Christina at Greige, come on down and claim your copy of "The Home Within Us"! Congrats! And a big thanks to Bobby for providing the giveaway!

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Will be interesting to see who will take over at Elle Decor. It is one my top favorite magazines, so their choice had better be great!
Teresa (Splendid Sass)
Terry said…
AD: icy cold, not inhabited by humans, folks like me not welcome. There are not places where I can imagine myself, ever. I'll look if one is handy but it never makes me happy.
scone said…
AD has become the Lawrence Welk of the design world. Good luck changing that culture.
Anonymous said…
I don't care for AD and it's difficult to explain why. Previous 2 comments cover it--"never makes me happy...the Lawrence Welk of the design world." The interiors that are chosen are so pristine--just plain inaccessible. The design mag readers may be at the upper end of the scale, but AD is just unable to connect to this audience. There isn't the personal narrative quality of Elle's or HB's choices--that's what people identify with. Readers want good design with a story, a personal voice. AD interiors look like no one lives in them--no story.
Lauren said…
can't wait to see how it all turns out. total faith in Margaret for a good AD turnaround.

I agree about AD's photography... I also think that all of their photos use a lot of professional lighting vs using more of the natural lighting for the atmosphere. Their photos have that frozen/ still look whereas HB and ED feel so real. I know when we had our BHG shoot the photographer was really concerned that we try not to use any professional lighting because it lacked that natural quality that sunlight has.

AD just has that removed quality that Margaret will fix. hoping for good things!!! (and also was shocked- who will be elle decor?!!)
Teacats said…
AD catered to the High Hollywood trade -- those actors/directors/producers etc. that had projects upcoming -- and to the high-end real estate market there. Most of the time it was selling houses! When the real estate market burst and fell in California -- no wonder that the magazine was moved to New York -- and will no doubt cover the East Coast high-end actors (screen and Broadway) and the high-dollar real estate! I do hope that the redesign of the mag will come soon -- and certainly change its old tired face! On the other hand -- Town & Country served the Old Money Elite -- which then married fresh young wives that had to be "seen" out-and-about -- more of a Society magazine -- it will be most interesting to see how Mr. Drucker breathes fresh air into the rarified atmosphere! LOL! As for House Beautiful -- its strength lay in its fresh columns from Mr. Drucker's designs -- like The Barefoot Contessa or the Paint Colors or even the contested Show Us Your .... a feature I love as I am such a nosy old cat LOL! My personal favorite remains One Day Makeover -- just from the sheer voyeurism of watching a decorator at work! It will be fascinating to see the contest of the Top 100 -- and which Hearst mag will triumph! As for Meredith's Traditional Home -- it has become was too predictable -- "gee, yet another room with old furniture BUT LOOK -- MODERN art!!! LOL! "See we ARE hip too!!" Even says so on the magazine's tagline on the spine. Disappointing these days -- and yes! that dining room in the May issue on pages 100-111 is simply blah. They could afford a florist?? Or a stylist??

Jan at Rosemary Cottage -- an old-style real-pages-in-my-hand decor magazine and book addict
Visual Vamp said…
I like the photo collage you did for this post.
Deborah Needleman would have been cool for Elle Decor, but the WSJ snagged her.
xo xo
Bruce Barone said…
As a photographer, I am curious to see where AD goes with a new vision.

Nothing compares to natural light to reflect reality--and warmness.

Most often with artificial light we get an enhanced picture of the coldness and artificiality of many of these spaces.
femme hesse said…
All of these mags need to be offering something in their printed issues that cannot already be found on the internet. It's not just the economy that is making it difficult to gain advertisers, it is the less expensive, and sometimes more effective blog ads.
I don't personally like browsing through actual online magazines. I do, however, enjoy looking at all the photos on blogs. These mag editors would do well to work more closely with those who have a prominent online presence and offer "suprise giveaways" of an art print or some such thing, that requires the actual purchase of their magazine. A sort of "golden ticket" you might say.
While my reply may not contribute to the direction these magazines should go artistically, I do think it could help them sell magazines, which is what they're in business to do :)
I am a masthead Editor for Better Homes & Gardens as well as editing my own site, .(I am obviously not working as much as I use to, hence, the new homestyle website!)

Our magazines over at Meredith Corp. are reinventing themselves, but I promise, at the end of the day, the ones that will survive will offer unique and wonderful articles that you can't find online. Stick with it mag lovers!
Agreed, agreed. I was a subscriber for years, and I remember only 2 homes I could live in. One was Don Imus's. My issue with AD is also one of style, these homes just have too much STUFF for my taste. There is nowhere for the eye to rest.
Anonymous said…
I have to agree with the comments above -- the darn thing really does feel sterile. It feels like I'm looking at a Westin hotel brochure the few times I've picked one up. Photos seem too sharp, too perfectly lit, too staged and the whole thing just looks stuffy. Not accessible enough for Joe Schmoes like myself to take inspiration from in order to ever attempt our cheaper version, and that typeface they use gives me a headache.

Other than that, it's a wonderful magazine. :)

-- H.A.
Anonymous said…
I would have edited this one down to half an hour or so.

Also: AD is published by Conde-Nast, not Hearst.
louisa said…
It would be clear and obvious to any designer or design consultant why AD is not an inspiring publication performing to its potential. If AD would hire a designer, who could could easily articulate and explain problems and solutions, rather than rely on the free suggestions of the general public, they could easily be a successful publication. You pay for what you get! Good luck AD, I hope you figure it out.

If you don't, feel free to get in touch.
louisa said…
It would be clear and obvious to any designer or design consultant why AD is not an inspiring publication performing to its potential. If AD would hire a designer, who could could easily articulate and explain problems and solutions, rather than rely on the free suggestions of the general public, they could easily be a successful publication. You pay for what you get! Good luck AD, I hope you figure it out.

If you don't, feel free to get in touch.
Linda Merrill said…
Anon - thanks for pointing out I had the publishers confused. Appreciate it.

Also, it was officially announced today that Elle Decor executive editor Michael Boodro has been promoted to Editor-in-Chief, effective August 25th. Michael has been executive editor since 2009 and had previously worked in that role from 2004-2006. He then went to Martha Stewart Living as Editor-in-Chief. Anita Sarsidi has been promoted to Design Director and Florentino Pamintuan has moved up to Creative Director. Vicky Lowry will become Executive Editor. More musical chairs in the industry!
Marnie said…
Have you all tried to get Dominque Browning as a guest? I devoured her book Slow Love in one afternoon and am a regular reader of her blog Slow Love Life, which I always enjoy.

My daughter just gave me an itouch so i am listening to all the old skirted roundtables as i work, as i knit, as i sit.... lots of interesting talk. thanks.
So interesting to hear your voices on this issue. Certainly Russell will revive the "dead and stuffy" AD. I have not read the American version for long time but always buy the Italian one, so much alive and refreshing (of course it helps that I am Italian! but at times I also buy the German one, that is also great and innovative).
Thanks ladies for entertaining and educating us.
Kathy said…
I love Traditional Home. I am not a designer I am a homemaker who sees within the pages of TH a warmth,security and stability that comes from the predictability of the decor. I see my home as being a strong and sturdy foundation which my family can push off from. The decor provides the warm part. I would like my home to have a little freshness and interest but mostly my home is our base and must support and hold the family. I want it livable, beautiful, comfortable, warm and secure.
I guess I'm one of the few that likes that magazine. My other favorites are House beautiful and Veranda.
Anonymous said…
Kathy, nice comment and so true. While I don't subscribe to Traditional Home, I purchase it occasionally. So Linda, the photos of the dining room in the May issue doesn't move you. Does yours look better? I doubt it. The dining room (if I have found the correct picture) is lovely and looks more beautiful, fresh and inviting than the "rescued from the fire" look seen in the McAlpine home in Montgomery. Traditional Home is not trying to be cutting edge, but simply a reflection of fine taste and quality built homes furnished with quality decor. It's not likely that "flea market design" will appear there in an attempt to pass it off as great design.
Anonymous said…
AD looks archaic and museum like. The homes do not draw you in.

Anonymous said…
I had a subscription for years to AD. I stopped it 2 years ago, because they were show casing more and more modern homes. That just wasn't my style. I sometimes browse one at the bookstore but haven't bought one in 2 years.
Their style has really changed. Not appealing anymore.

Thank you for your lovely visit to my blog. I am now following your lovely blog.

Anonymous said…
T&C is a magazine that has always appealed to those with children in boarding school,who enjoy an international lifestyle,have daughters who are debs,go to only the best doctors,have taste in fashion and decor, but are quiet, old money. If that doesn't describe you - or you cannot enjoy "peeking" at that lifestyle then the mag has not been nor is it now for you. But then why do you enjoy "peeking" into other peoples homes?What is the difference? A voyeur is a voyeur!
"Museum like" that's a perfect description. All great shelter magazines feature homes at the very top end and at least the average person can dream a little and obtain a little of what's offered - but AD is so out of bounds that it's not even interesting - no warmth. There has to be a reason for interior design besides just a "show".
OK, here I was just crushed because Traditional Home was trashed. I live for Joni's posts and then that. I have not posted for a while ..too busy battling lung cancer. Now I at least know one of the reasons why my blog never took off. I have tons of other shelter mags that go back 10 yrs. but I keep going to TH for my posts. Crushed or not, I have to say I still covet those issues of TH. I just cannot wrap what brain I have left around "flat". To me TH is about families, some empty nesters but the kids come home to visit. If those homes are stiff and not worthy, then please Lord let me be unworthy!

I agree with everything Joni says in her posts but this time I just can't go there. And when I am able to post again I will still be looking at those back issues of TH with love.
Ellen said…
This was a really unenjoyable gossip session fueled by your ignorance of shelter magazine history & your obvious personal biases.

There's an unwritten rule among the shelter magazines that there's no or very little crossover of designers between the magazines. It has nothing to do with ASID membership. The editors each have a stable of favorite designers they featured so what's interesting to me is to see if they'll migrate their favorite designers to their new publications.

Architectural Digest was never intended to be a "how to" design magazine geared toward the masses. It's always been a "how the other ones live" magazine, unless you were one of the other ones.

The most interesting thing to me about the change at AD is that it will be the first time the stewardship of this magazine has changed in nearly 40 years; Paige Rense virtually created AD out of a small trade publication and turned it into a very successful, very upscale niche publication. Its success - and, in the opinions of many, its failures - are all the direct result of Ms. Rense's taste and editorial decisions. It will be up to Ms. Russell to find a way to maintain this publication's niche while making it interesting to the readers who are interested in buying the products advertised within its covers.

Margaret Russell and Stephen Drucker are celebrities in limited circles only - Bravo TV and Food TV viewers - and also in your minds. Paige Rense Noland has plenty of public presence as well, just among a different crowd. Also, you mentioned that a public persona of the editor is critical to the survival of the magazines, and that's easily disproven. There are countless magazines out there that predate Elle Decor (for example: Good Housekeeping, Better Homes & Gardens) whose editors aren't public figures. If Elle Decor thrives or fails under its new stewardship it won't be because of the editor's fame or lack thereof; it will be on the basis of his talent and editing acumen. Yes, the publishers and owners may be urging their editors to have more of a public persona in these desperate times, but that won't be the reason a publication lives or dies (what it means for the editor's job is a different question).

In fact, I'd wager that Margaret Russell at the helm of Arch Digest may spell the doom of that magazine because she may turn it into something it's not, and then she'll be out of a job and she won't be a "celebrity" anymore.

Traditional Home appeals to the tremendous audience of people who prefer their homes to be, well, traditional, and that's a big chunk of the population. Sure, it's more interesting to see edgy design and what's new and all that, but I think TH does a remarkable job of showcasing updated takes on traditional design and they're always featuring new talent as well as the established designers.

By the way, the editor of Traditional Home, Ann Omvig Maine (or, in your parlance, "Ann Who?"), has a long career as an editor at shelter magazines; they may not be the ones you read but they include Renovation Style & Country Home.

Town & Country shouldn't even be in a shelter magazine conversation; it happens that an experienced magazine editor who used to edit a shelter magazine is now at the helm and the discussion ends there.

I don't know anything about Veranda so I can't comment on it.
Anonymous said…
I have to admit, I am not fond of Architectural Digest as it appears to be "too professionally done". What I mean is that the rooms do not have soul or show the owner's personality. On the most part, they are not very inviting to me. The rooms are usually all very large, have high ceilings and do not feel like a home. Our realtor sends us a subscription every year as a gift and it is the only magazine that I get that I might tear out a few pages or none and automatically recycle it. On the other hand, I adore House Beautiful and Veranda and there are so many pages that I love that I keep the magazines for years and refer back to them. I also enjoy Elle Decor and Renovation Style. Most of us cannot afford the glamourous large homes featured in Architectural Digest, and even if we could afford them, prefer to be in a house that feels like a home rather than a mansion. I would love to see it change to become more similar to Veranda.
katiedid said… has taken me a bit to compose my thoughts.

First hope for AD is that Margaret can take it more in the direction that House and Garden had, which was geared much more toward international celebrity. And not just "movie stars". The celebrity came from creative influence, like Bulgari, Swarovski, and so on. AD has always been international in scope, but somehow the main editorials were there because of the fame of the person, not their creative influence. The people in HG had wealth, but were interesting, multifacted AND approachable. HG had vibrant photos with much clarity and color. No yellow filters here. The photos had a layering which spoke to the soul of the person living there. Can you tell I miss HG with a passion?! Elle Decor has the same strength, and I think Margaret could bring this vitality back to AD.....I hope so!

Regarding your comments about TH...the main thing that bothers me about the magazine is that the lead editorials are scattered throughout the magazine. There is no clear cut layout to it. I don't want to flip through all of the smaller articles to get to the big ones. But once I do find them, they are much better than they used to be. TH seems to have gotten away from the traditional repro (everything just looked so "new") look they used to have and many of the homes are more interesting than they used to be. I guess I am talking about the "Brooklyn Confidential" pages in the front of the September issue....some of these homes were much more soulful than the lead editorials.

I guess I will always be a magazine junky....I get them all....and I will never get rid of my HG collection (or Domino for that matter!)

Great discussion!
Dovecote Decor said…
Interesting conversation, in the interest of brevity, I agree with the consensus that AD is unapproachable, sterile, overly modernist. While other magazines, like Elle Decor show formidable properties, I feel like I can take cues from the top designers and architects who assemble these rooms. I can apply a vignette, color scheme, furniture placement to my own situation. No one is relating to the editorial choices and photography at AD. Good luck Margaret!
LiveLikeYou said…
Stuffy, formal, uninviting, boring,it's not real life, void any feeling or emotion, too orderly and utterly, utterly boring photography!! I would rather see a messy room with people in it. I will never pick up that magazine.
I have subscribed to AD for years. Sometimes I literally thumb thru it and toss it in the trash. Other times I am thrilled with the whole edition. Yes, most of the time none of us can imagine living in any of the homes featured, but isn't that the point? I don't want to see what is in my neighbor's home in a magazine. I want to see inside those places I will never set foot in. I may not always like an entire space, but have found myself being inspired by that space.

Being a designer sometimes means creating rooms that are not my style, but my client's style. It is at those times I am glad to have magazines like AD to study and brush up on those styles.

I can't say there is one magazine out there that can be all things to all people. Isn't it nice we still have a choice of magazines and they haven't all disappeared? said…
Agree w/previous & ongoing consensus re AD--it's sterile, irrelevant and just not-happy-making.

But two points on balance: first, for all who have read the Edith Wharton original "Decoration of Houses" (sidebar to thank Alexandra Stoddard for her updated version), remember Wharton & Ogden's point that the rich can do a great service to all by championing the best in design. I may have the means or desire to afford the same thing, but I can use the model. Of course, we can also be inspired by the tightwad element (looking directly in the mirror now) but AD has the clout to give us the best and most breathtaking. The question's become--does it have the editorial know-how to take our breath? Not recently.

Second point: a personal one (and true for many, I'm sure)--it was AD that first opened my eyes to the joy & fun of designing a room that is thrilling to see and comforting to use. For me, it occurred at Donner Lake in a beautifully furnished private home rented for a wedding party. Although the home I grew up in was well-run, understated and appropriate, and even included elements of elegance that hardworking American parents would permit into the budget, our home interior was not the result of a design plan. My mother used to say that one the happiest day of her life was when she learned the word "eclectic". So when I stayed at this lake house out West, with its intentional interiors, abundant custom upholstery (!!!) and copies of AD, I connected the dots that AD = the model for wonderful & achievable design, and I was smitten. (And so was my mother.)

I hope Margaret will bring AD back--and take it forward. AD should be breathtaking and should use its power to open the eyes and hearts of today's newcomers to design.
I'm so excited to see what kinds of changes are made over at AD. It's been getting stodgy! I can't believe I've only just now found your blog. I'm looking forward to reading your designer interviews!
Linda Leyble said…
So many of my clients have stopped subscribing to AD mainly because the hype that supercedes it and on the front cover does not match what's inside any more. It's sad because the designers and others profiled are quality - just not the presentation. Linda Leyble
Mike Springer said…
AD needs a major overhaul. I was just looking at some of my grandmaothers issues from the 70's and the overall feel isn't much different than today.
I love H.B.!!! I only know Newell Turner from his house project featured in H.B. I'm sure he has some great ideas but for the most part I would leave it alone.
Unknown said…
Funny AD had almost double the subcribers of any of the others and every one thinks no one read it..