Entries in Paige Rense (2)

Friday
Feb042011

Architectural Digest, Margaret Russell, Daphne Guinness, Digital Publishing Futures 

[ED: The article that follows, published in yesterday's Times, contains a quote from the incredible and ever-fabulous Joan Kron, author of the classics "HIGH-TECH" and "Home-Psych", and also of the article "The House & Garden Blues", which I've reprinted here with her kind permission. Read both. The images are of Daphne Guinness' Manhattan apartment, taken from the March issue of Architecural Digest and included only as an example of work that most likely would never have appeared under the direction of Paige Rense.]

"'The Age of Elegance' states the cover of the March issue of Architectural Digest, sounding somewhat hopeful. The bright pink affirmation declares a new brief for a once-mighty title that has been struggling, and a statement of intent from its new editor, Margaret Russell, who was until last summer the very steady helmsman of a competitor, Elle Décor.

Like the wardrobe of a successful movie mogul of a certain age, Architectural Digest telegraphed money, but not always taste. Its new editor, Margaret Russell, hopes to add both.

Like so many shelter magazines, Architectural Digest has not been a happy home of late. Once the leader in its glossy domain, it has lost market share — nearly half of its pre-recession ad dollars — as well as its relevance to buzzier titles, or what’s left of them, anyway. And when its longtime editor, Paige Rense Noland, retired in June, it wasn’t much of a surprise when Ms. Russell was announced as her replacement. The only question was to what degree she would renovate the iconic magazine, which had rolled out inexorably month after month, decade after decade, largely unchanged. Would she gut the place? Or just repaint?

It was noon on a recent weekday, and Ms. Russell, telegenic and wasp-waisted in a black-and-white wool dress, pivoted neatly about her silvery new office on a high floor of the Condé Nast building at 4 Times Square, wearing one black surgical boot and one knee-high Prada platform boot — a mash-up of footwear that was part lady editor, part X-Games survivor. (Ms. Russell, 52, is a former jogger who has spent the last two years in a cast for various foot injuries.) 'Tell me I don’t look like "That Girl," ' she said to a photographer, raking her dark hair with her fingers.

In a world where appearances are currency, it is worth noting that the not-quite-finished office, designed by Michael Smith, President Obama’s decorator and one of Ms. Russell’s best friends, presented mostly reflective surfaces." [1]

"There were purple peonies on a mirrored desk and a hunk of pink crystal on a mirrored side table. White narcissus nodded over Ms. Russell’s lunch, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich sitting on its white paper wrapper. When she was done with it, Ms. Russell decanted two bright red Tylenol capsules from a silver pillbox, a present from the decorator Rose Tarlow, and swallowed them with some Diet Pepsi, noting that on the card accompanying her gift, Ms. Tarlow had written, 'Bigger job, bigger headache.'

But it would be a mistake to think that Ms. Russell is in any way hobbled. With a reputation as a disciplined steward of Elle Décor, her home for 21 years (10 of which she spent as editor in chief), she is tough enough for her new responsibility: a complete housecleaning of a powerful magazine that has lost much of its wattage. Thrifty (note the peanut butter and jelly) and exacting, Ms. Russell is also well poised to enter the corporate culture of Condé Nast, which is newly schooled in belt-tightening.

'Someone asked me, when I got the job, if I was scared,' she said, the March issue sitting on a table before her. 'Why would I be scared? What possible decorating disaster is going to come my way?'

The magazine’s white-bannered cover and manly title still look familiar, vaguely European, like an auction catalog. Michael Smith had the money shot on the cover, with a sumptuous gold-and-silver living room.

Inside, the pages have been tweaked — lightened and brightened — for a 21st-century reader. A slightly younger reader. Captions, once clouds of adjectives and atmosphere, now briskly emphasize sources.

The magazine is also, for the first time, rather stylish. There is work by Commune, a California design collective, and a feature about the home of Muriel Brandolini, a decorator known for her high-bohemian style, tucked in among more-sober offerings, like a traditional-looking Mississippi house by Richard Keith Langham.

Architectural Digest has been many, many things: a record of power, of the good life as lived by presidents, titans of industry and Hollywood royalty, a catalog of important historic homes. But it has never been exactly modish, particularly in the last two decades. Its photography had begun to seem unsophisticated, too flat and bright; its layout stiff and dated, redolent of the 1980s, its heyday. Like the wardrobe of a successful movie mogul of a certain age, it telegraphed money, but not always taste.

As one decorator observed, 'Everything looked like a hotel lobby.'

Not that it mattered. Ms. Noland once told a reporter, 'People are much too concerned with having good taste. I mean, it’s not a character flaw if you don’t have good taste.' " [1]

"Joan Kron, a journalist whose 1990 profile of Ms. Noland in The New York Times Magazine described a gutsy, largely self-invented businesswoman who ran away from her adopted parents at 15, recalled a Tina Brown dictum to describe AD’s gestalt. 'It’s the idea that every issue of the magazine has to have something vulgar in it,' Ms. Brown said. 'I think Paige understood that intuitively, and so there were always these over-the-top places. The whole thing about AD was that it was like some kind of dream.'

 

Advertisers, noting an affluent readership that was nearly 50 percent male, doted on it. And so it was that Architectural Digest enjoyed a long, long run at the top of the shelter heap. 'It owned the upscale shelter category,' said Martin Walker, a media consultant.

 

Thirty-five years ago, when it was a trade magazine covering the building industry, Ms. Noland reconfigured it as something more luxurious, and by the 1980s, advertisers were flocking to the Los Angeles-based publication. In the middle of that decade, House & Garden was redesigned in imitation of it, infuriating Ms. Noland. When Condé Nast bought Architectural Digest in 1993, it folded House & Garden, for the first time. The company exhumed it a few years later, and Ms. Noland reportedly said, 'I killed it once, I’ll kill it again.'

 

Her focus was simple — she showed the work of the designers who were outfitting the halls of power — and she ran the magazine fiercely, like the head of an old-fashioned Hollywood studio, rewarding her favorite architects and designers with regular features, enfolding writers like Judith Thurman, Peter Haldeman and Nancy Collins in generous contracts. She offered golden handcuffs, and her contributors and the designers themselves were grateful to be encircled by them.

 

'There was that sense that you owed your best work to Paige,' said Victoria Hagan, a Manhattan decorator first featured in AD in the mid-1990s." [1]

"Being in Ms. Noland’s glossy pages could make a career. Or at the very least, it could bring steady work, Ms. Hagan said. Other shelter magazines came and went, but Architectural Digest was a magazine people kept on their coffee tables. Inevitably, there emerged younger designers who had no interest in paying homage to Ms. Noland, preferring to spread their work around; as a result, AD began to show its age.

 

'Decades ago, I was inspired by it,' said Steven Gambrel, 41, whose work has been published in Elle Décor and House Beautiful, among other magazines, but not Architectural Digest. (Not, that is, in Ms. Noland’s version; a Long Island house of his once appeared in the German edition.) 'It was an icon of the moment, for a long moment,' Mr. Gambrel said. 'Then it became something I found mostly unhelpful because I thought the images were based more on personality than on design content. You want variety and energy, and that was something that was not encouraged at AD. We don’t have to comment on whether that’s a good system or bad system. It just limits what you see.'

 

Robert Couturier, an AD veteran, was more blunt: 'It had been turning into a really nasty magazine in the last 10 to 15 years. And yet I think it’s a very important magazine, because unlike the others, it’s read by men, and if you were in it, it was always recognized and noticed.'

 

Mr. Couturier, who said he had no great liking for Ms. Noland ('I don’t think she liked me very much either,' he added), was nonetheless awarded a place in the AD 100, the magazine’s guide to design professionals. Like a kind of high-end Zagat of design, the AD 100 was a priceless imprimatur, the gift that kept on giving.

 

'Any list that you’re on is always nice to be on,' said Mr. Smith, who, like Mr. Couturier, was listed in the AD 100 but did not consider himself an AD loyalist. 'Architectural Digest used to be the shelter magazine of record. I once said to Paige that I wouldn’t be a decorator if it wasn’t for AD. I pored over the magazine as a kid. It was this glossy thing, more like a book — a bookier product! — that seemed otherworldly, and that she created from nothing. But in the last 20 years, there have been so many other venues mining the same territory. Not just shelter magazines, but places like Departures or W or Town & Country, that were getting into the decorating game.'

 

And then the recession hit." [1]

 

 

"The last few years have not been kind to any of the shelter magazines. Advertising pages, the measure of a magazine’s financial health, have plummeted in double-digit percentages, as companies with dwindling revenues scrambled to pare their budgets in a recession-pinched economy. Many titles disappeared, from century-old grande dames like House & Garden to scrappy upstarts like Domino, which closed just shy of its fourth birthday, and copycat upstarts like Martha Stewart’s Blueprint. When the dust cleared last year, Architectural Digest was one of a handful of high-end survivors, that is, national shelter titles with affluent readers publishing more than six issues a year, along with Elle Décor, Dwell, House Beautiful and Veranda, each with a distinct ethos and readership (recessions are nothing if not clarifying) and a markedly different financial back story.

Ms. Russell’s fashion-forward Elle Décor and the practical, sunny House Beautiful, which had been rebooted in 2005 by a new editor, Stephen Drucker, finished last year with ad pages close to their 2007, pre-recession highs; Architectural Digest, Dwell and Veranda were down by almost half.

Circulation, however, was less volatile. For the most part, readers stayed loyal to their domestic bibles. Some titles, like House Beautiful, even drew new readers, growing to 906,349 in the first half of last year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, from 873,278 in the first half of 2007.

'The category has rebounded if you’re sitting at House Beautiful or Elle Décor,' said Jack Hanrahan, a media consultant and publisher of CircMatters, an industry newsletter. 'If you’re sitting at Veranda or Architectural Digest, you’re waiting for that second wave to come.' (Mr. Hanrahan described Dwell as even more troubled. Citing circulation figures that many media buyers view as questionable — numbers padded by giveaways — he included it in his 'Troubled Ten,' a list of magazines on shaky ground.)

Elle Décor is now in contract to be bought by Hearst, the publisher of House Beautiful and Veranda, as part of a package that includes a portfolio of media. All three magazines have new editors. Mr. Drucker, who had re-imagined the dimly suburban House Beautiful into a very successful ideas book, was assigned by Hearst to rework another struggling title, Town & Country, which he will turn over to Jay Fielden, editor of the short-lived Men’s Vogue, at the end of this month. Mr. Drucker’s style director, Newell Turner, took his place at House Beautiful. Elle Décor’s new editor is its longtime executive editor, Michael Boodro. And Veranda hired Dara Caponigro, who worked at House Beautiful and Elle Décor before becoming a founding editor of Domino.

'It’s been really sad to see some of the magazines closing,' Mr. Turner said. 'And it wasn’t a good thing for the industry. But I think it’s allowed the remaining magazines to find strong positions that distinguish themselves from each other.'

Tom Wallace, Condé Nast’s editorial director and the man who summoned Ms. Russell to an exploratory interview lunch last June, noted: 'No business succeeds by standing still. Particularly one that is devoted to design.'

'If it’s any good at all,' he continued, 'it will foment progressive change within the design community.' He praised Ms. Russell’s 'refined aesthetic and sound judgment,' as well as her hardiness, resilience being as valuable a quality in the editor of a shelter magazine today as an eye for a nicely appointed room. Certainly it’s a quality that her predecessor, Ms. Noland, had in abundance." [1]

"'After spending 10 minutes with Margaret,' Mr. Wallace said, 'I could tell she had the constitution that could handle the rigors of publishing.'

'She’s from Connecticut,' is how Jonathan Adler, the designer of cheeky home accessories, describes Ms. Russell’s smiling toughness. He and Ms. Russell bonded as judges of the Bravo series 'Top Design,' and she was on her way to dinner at his West Village apartment two years ago when she broke her ankle getting out of a taxi.

'She stiff-upper-lipped it all night,' Mr. Adler said, waiting until the following day to visit an emergency room. 'Cut to two years later, and she’s still hobbling around in a high-heeled cast. The thing about Margaret is she’s so gorgeous you expect one thing, but then you find her sweeping up after the DIFFA Awards,' he added, referring to the ceremony held by the design industries’ AIDS charity. 'When you’re that good-looking, people project onto those high heels. But, my God, she’s a hard worker.'" [1]

"Ms. Russell now lives in a formerly rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper East Side, off-limits because she is wary of too much intimate scrutiny from strangers. (Her role on 'Top Design' brought unwelcome admirers, she said.)

'It’s very white,' she will tell you. 'White upholstery, Saarinen table, a very white bedroom. The crazier my life in the office, the more I wanted my home life to be serene.'

Not that she’s home much. She’s up at 6, at work by 8:30. 'I go out every night,' she said. 'Some of the best stories come from running into people at parties. The day doesn’t end at the end of the day. And, in truth, I’m not a great cook.'

She is seeing someone, she said, and smiled a Cheshire cat smile. Ms. Russell is not an over-sharer.

The new Architectural Digest comes with a new staff, which she hired this summer, some of them Elle Décor alumni. The generous writers’ contracts are gone. 'I did not renew them,' Ms. Russell said. 'And the company exercised its right to terminate contracts that were still current. It was determined that they were not a feasible business model.'

An inventory of articles, about four years’ worth, may or may not find its way into the magazine. For its archives, however, Ms. Russell imagines limitless digital forms. 'There’s a wealth of material that can become iPad apps,' she said. 'Our biggest project is the Web site. That reader is a different reader, and for them we can be so much more service-oriented.' [1]

"'Evolution, not revolution,' she added, 'is what we keep saying. Preserving and respecting the brand’s DNA. At its essence, AD is still a dream book: it’s about the dream of living well.'

Last November, Ms. Russell’s employers held a party for her at Riverpark, the new Tom Colicchio restaurant. Tucked into the bottom of a glassy high-rise on the East River, the restaurant shares space with pharmaceutical and biotech companies like ImClone (a company made famous by another media personality, Martha Stewart).

For those who didn’t come in town cars, it was a bewildering hike to the far eastern edge of the city. Andy Cohen, a senior executive at Bravo; Richard Meier; Bunny Williams, Jamie Drake and Nate Berkus were among the guests who paused politely for a photo op with Ms. Russell, who was wearing her uniform: a black satin Prada dress with a nipped-in waist, one black surgical boot and a high-wattage smile.

Later, S. I. Newhouse Jr., Condé Nast’s 83-year-old chairman, shyly toasted Ms. Russell in a speech marked by long pauses. After a particularly extended silence, Mr. Newhouse drew a breath. 'House & Garden is dead,' he declared finally. 'And AD isn’t.'

Wherever Ms. Noland was that night, she must have been smiling." [1]

 

ALL TEXT [1] AS IT ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN "MARGARET RUSSELL UNVEILS THE NEW ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST" WRITTEN BY PENELOPE GREEN FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES, FEBRUARY 3, 2011; ALL IMAGES OF DAPHNE GUINNESS' NEW YORK APARTMENT, PHOTOGRAPHED BY THOMAS LOOF, PRODUCED BY JAMES REGINATO FOR ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST, MARCH, 2011

Friday
Dec312010

The House & Garden Blues, New York Magazine, April 28, 1975 [ORG. POSTED 9.19.10]

"The House & Garden Blues" by Joan Kron, ©1975, reprinted here with the kind permission of the author:

“Come the decorating revolution, the first big furniture-mover to “get it” might be Mary Jane Pool. The radical unchic will break down her eight-foot high office door, lacquered mercury gray (Benjamin Moore); put their feet on her gray (Formica) Parsons table (custom made); defoliate the Reigar begonias (Jean-Jacques Bloos); empty the wicker hampers (imported from Colombia); dump the potpourri (imported from San Francisco) on the gray wall-to-wall; scribble “Down With Ambience” on the mirrored screen (Sutton Glass); and detain this curly-headed (Kenneth) \ pen pal of the National Association of Manufacturers in a lock-up with old plumbing and a view of a trailer camp.

But the editor-in-chief of House & Garden will not live decoratively impoverished for long. If Mary Jane Pool could survive working under Diana Vreeland at Vogue, she can make over a jail. Before you can say “the positive power of color,” it will be “pretty, pretty, pretty.” Cells will become “living-baths”; beds will become “banquettes”; floors will be stenciled with bitter coffee; cracked plaster walls will be called “the timeless art of pargeting”; everything in sight will be slipcovered somehow; trees will be grown indoors; and classes will be given in basket-weaving.

When the transformation is complete, she will make a deal (her specialty) to have Horst (her favorite photographer) take pictures. And as always, he will keep taking them until Mary Jane Pool says they are right. Then, to avoid a fate worse than death (letting the pictures fall into the hands of House Beautiful, the New York Times Sunday magazine, or Architectural Digest), she will escape down a rope of flowered sheets (smuggled in by her average readers-38.3-year-old suburban women) and hurry back to her office, because as anyone in or out of Conde Nast can tell you, Mary Jane Pool doesn’t trust anyone else at House & Garden to decide which of the 400 photos to use.

Welcome to fantasyland. The tasteful, wasteful, wonderful, knife-in-the-back-page world of the shelter magazines. Perhaps you’d recognize them if I called them decorating magazines, since they’re devoted (in the religious sense of the word) to the aesthetics of the home. How to decorate your lean-to by emulating the palace of Versailles.”

“I’m not laughing at the shelter magazines. I’m laughing at myself for loving them so. Other people have their detective stories, sci-fi, or skin magazines. I prefer a penthouse to Penthouse. My favorite escapist literature is a shelter book. But I’m particular — I like to look at high-priced spreads. That’s why the “mass” shelter books, like 60-cent Better Homes and Gardens (circulation 8 million), 60-cent American Home (circulation 2.6 million), 75-cent Sunset (circulation 1.3 million) and 95-cent Apartment Life (circulation 550,000) don’t grab me. They are too affordable.

Give me the “class shelters”: $1 House Beautiful (circulation 871,000), $1 House & Garden (circulation 1.1 million), and the even classier, rejuvenated Architectural Digest (circulation 150,000), which is so toney it costs $2.95 and is sold only in high rent districts.

My shelter magazines and I have been through twenty-odd years of trends together: dark green walls, beige wall-to-wall, earth tones; Shibui; Frank Lloyd Wright; Robsjohn-Gibbings; the living kitchen; pattern-on-pattern, super graphics; family rooms; dining areas; his-and-her baths; and innumerable how-to’s that I still don’t know how-to. And now I am preparing to integrate the Bicentennial look into my all-white banquetted living room.

A prurient interest in decorating is called “nesting voyeurism” by anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell. He uses about ten shelter magazines in his course at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. “We analyze houses,” Birdwhistell says. “If there’s anything important in the species, it’s nest building. Even if it’s fantasy. Most of the houses in those [decorating] magazines are no more for people than the clothes in Harper’s Bazaar. They’re metahouses. Not real. It’s folklore, like Emily Post.”

I’d better not seat Birdwhistell next to House & Garden editor-in-chief Mary Jane Pool at a dinner party. “We at House & Garden are reporting about living in America. Living, living, living,” she says.

Nor will I seat her next to an important decorator who says, “The shelter magazines are managed fantasy.” But it’s no figment of anyone’s imagination that Americans spend $21 billion a year on furniture and appliances. And they buy more than basic survival furnishings. They buy, or try to buy, what sociologists call “impression management.” Status. Each according to her insecurity — often above her means. Keeping up with the Armstrong-Joneses.

To integrate all these purchases into our lives, we need decorating advice. “The houses in the $1-and-up decorating magazines,” says Birdwhistell, “are for the insecure upper-middle class who have never learned to nest, just to live on a stage. They have departed so far from the original nest that now nesting is almost by prescription.”

And the prescriptions are being written by the editors’ of the decorating magazines.”

“Missouri’s Mary Jane Pool rules the roost at Conde Nast’s’ House & Garden. Forty-five and holding, she looks a bit like Elsa Lanchester. Small boned and fair skinned, she’s up to the minute, as her Elsa Peretti belt buckle and curly hair prove. She understudied for years at Vogue (also a Conde Nast publication), where she started in 1946 after being runner-up in Vogue’s Prix de Paris. She went from art to merchandising to promotion director to executive editor.

Pool-watchers say her executive style is in the tradition of Vogue-the Queen Bee school. “She goes to the furniture markets like the goose with seven goslings behind her… she’s insecure. She wants no identification for her editors. House & Garden is one of the few books that don’t use by-lines on decorating features. She doesn’t want any of her people to have clout in the market. She makes every decision. The editors are always saying, ‘I’ll have to ask Mary Jane.’ She hires talented people and locks them up. She wastes them because she’s afraid of competition.”

To her credit, it’s said that when she came to House & Garden in the late sixties, she uncluttered the look of the rooms in its pages. “In those days,” said one shelter buff, “the look in decorating was pattern-an-pattern. There was so much of it, you could have slashed your wrists.”

Nowadays, H. & G. is strong on decorating, food, entertaining, and how-to. And of course, since 1946 it’s had its House & Garden color program which ties in with hundreds of manufacturers. Get ready for the pale look. It’s on its way, says Mary Jane Pool.

Ms. Pool is known to be extra opinionated about more than color. “She has a fetish about banquette living,” says one Pool knowledgeable. “She was instrumental in promoting slipcovers. She also likes diagonal furniture arrangements, fat pillows that match the sofa, baskets, purple, and cool, crisp cottons. Which isn’t bad,” says the informer. “It’s just not the only look.”

But it’s come to be called the House & Garden look. “There is no such thing as the House & Garden look,” says Ms. Pool. “For years we’ve been telling people to do their own thing, and now they’re doing it.”

House & Garden has more opportunities to editorialize (“We don’t preach”) about design because it has its own photo studio (unlike House Beautiful and Architectural Digest). Editors do room mock-ups to push merchandise tie-ins with manufacturers. Freed from the constraints of real homes done by idiosyncratic decorators, the H. & G. decorating squad can synthesize ideas that they’ve picked up from the professionals. The end result is a book that holds together graphically, but it might be compared to eating chicken a la king four days out of seven. H. & G.’s studio rooms are often soft, puffy, and pale, or one color. The same favored accessories are used over and over. H.& G. comments on art by what it leaves out. You’ll see more pictureless walls in its pages than in any other decorating magazine. (Behind the art policy is Conde Nast’s Alex Liberman.)”

House Beautiful is a Hearst publication. Editor Wallace Guenther is a 45 year-old Hugh Hefner look-alike. But he’s very cordial. A sophisticated hayseed, he runs the H.B. show from behind a cluttered Herman Miller desk. Guenther calls himself “a beige person.” He took over the 79-year-old magazine in 1969. He came direct from Los Angeles, where his career progressed from copyboy to sports writer at the Los Angeles Daily News, and, at the Los Angeles Times, from copy editor to editor of the Sunday Home magazine.

“People care about religion, politics, and decorating,” says Guenther. So these days H.B. is stressing decorating, remodeling, and table settings. Under his leadership, H.B. has retired pattern-an-pattern (“The readers told us they didn’t like it”). Instead, he’s giving them Eclectic (“which people can’t pronounce”), renamed “The Mix” (which they can), The New Romanticism, and Country Chic.

It’s hard to figure out what H.B. is against decoratively. It shows the work of more designers than H. & G., especially the lesser knowns. This contributes to the generally fluctuating level of taste in the book. Shelter-watchers define H. & G. as society-oriented and H.B. as celebrity-oriented.

Architectural Digest is both. A typical A.D. mix might include a baroque castle, an Italian palazzo, a few fabulous penthouses, some celebrity digs — recent choices were the Robert Redfords and Barbara Walters. “Your name keeps coming up,” I told 41-year-old A.D. editor Paige Rense. “Yes, I know, we’re the hot one.” Fifty-five-year-old Architectural Digest, a bimonthly, has put heavy emphasis on interiors for the last twelve years.

“When I was growing up at Hollywood High,” says the vivacious Ms. Rense, “Billy Baldwin was my hero instead of Alan Ladd.” Rense did her basic training in advertising, public relations, and freelance writing. When she came to the Los Angeles-based A.D. five years ago, she was considered just a “little editor,” until she started biting into the other shelter magazines’ readership and pushed circulation from 55,000 to today’s 150,000. Its readers, “an affluential audience,” have a median income of S37,970 a year. A.D. is so toney, editor Rense calls H.B. and H. & G. “mass” magazines.

“Our objectives are different from theirs,” she says. “My aim is to be like a European art book, like Connaissance des Arts. We don’t do how-to stories, or predict trends. No Architectural Digest blue this month. We show what the top designers in the world are doing.”

And they’re not doing budget jobs for the most part, although, Rense says, “We won’t show houses just because they’re expensive. I turned down about twenty million-dollar houses in the past year.” But no matter who the celebrity or how expensive the decor, Rense, like Pool, has pet hates. “I’ve seen all the Boston ferns I care to see. I won’t show leopards on the floor. But I can’t fight the zebras, there are too many of them. My most hated color is bilious green. I won’t run shag rugs, and I crop out all little white ceramic frogs, porcelain cheetahs, and acoustical ceilings. One got in once, but it won’t happen again. We’ve changed art directors since then.”

You can’t be too demanding in this business. Well-designed houses are to shelter magazines what blood is to vampires. “The magazines,” says one shelter-watcher, “are as empty as paper bags looking for something to put inside.”

“But special is hard to find. “I rejected five or six hundred homes last year,” says Paige Rense. If decorating magazines reject so many homes, how do they find the right places? Generally, the magazines find houses before they’re finished, via word of mouth and scouts.

House Beautiful and House & Garden, which are edited in New York, have scouts all over the country. Architectural Digest has six scouts in New York-photographers, writers, social butterflies, architects, and designers. And just to make sure she’s not missing out, Rense comes east herself two or three times a year to pop in on the “New York interior-design who’s who”; they give her guided tours of their latest work. “I prefer the resident not to be home when I come looking,” she says. “It’s ghastly when the owner is there with the tea and cakes and you can see it means so much to them.”

Mary Jane Pool makes European and cross-country tours as well. Like Paige Rense, she inspects homes that have been staked out by scouts beforehand. But you don’t need 007 to tell you that when Pool heads west, she heads for San Francisco designer Michael Taylor.

House & Garden seems to have the Michael Taylor franchise,” Paige Rense says. “But there’s enough of his work to go around.” Let’s hope so, because to make matters more’ complicated, you’ll never see the same house in two shelter magazines if the editor can help it. Getting the best house is paramount, and virginity is a prerequisite. “We like fresh material,” says H. & G.’s Mary Jane Pool. “Our policy,” says H.B.’s Guenther, “is, we don’t want any other decorating magazine to have the rooms first.” A.D.’s Rense says, “We must be the first in the world to show it.”

The exceptions to that rule are Interiors and Interior Design magazines, small-circulation trade publications. Another exception, under certain circumstances, is the New York Times Sunday magazine, which publishes two pages of “Design” each week. “I can’t take those two black-and-white pages in the Times seriously,” says A.D.’s Paige Rense. But she won’t use anything that was shown first in the Times’s once-a-year decorating supplement. H.B. and H. & G. have similar attitudes.

Vogue and Town & Country compete too; both show expensive residences in their pages. And the shelter magazines forbid previous publication of their homes in these magazines as well. It’s enough to make a designer a nervous wreck.

The interaction involved in placing a home in the shelters takes the footwork of Fred Astaire. Then why suffer?

Because there is no better way to certify your taste and acquire status than by getting your home published in one of the shelters. Especially for decorators and designers. With designers, it’s publish or perish. They need the certification more than the clients. Even Mrs. Onassis allowed her den to be published for the sake of her designer, Harrison Cultra.

So why not your house?

Let’s say you just completed your living room. It’s divine, if you say so yourself. All your friends say it’s pretty enough to be in House Beautiful. Unless you were born with a dramatic imagination or have hired one, your chances of getting your house published are slim. The rule is, don’t call us, we’ll call you. But if it’s really good, they’ll all call. Then you have to choose just one magazine.

Okay, the match is made. If the house is promised to Architectural Digest, the designer or owner has to pay for the pictures himself and supervise the shooting with an A.D.-approved photographer. (They pick up the tab, however, on celebrity homes.) But if it’s going into H. & G. or H.B., the publication sends the photographer and foots the bill. (With the Times it depends.)

If the house is promised to House & Garden, there may be some changes made-just a little artistic license. First, enough plants and flowers to open a florist’s are brought in. Then some throw pillows .are added; napkins enough for a year of dinner parties; assorted coffee-table knickknacks; some paintings, preferably abstract; and no fewer baskets than the gross national product of some emerging nation. Somehow, when H. & G. gets done, it has its look.

“Do you make major changes in a room when you photograph it?” I asked Ms. Pool. “Very seldom,” she said without batting an eyelash.

House & Garden is not the only magazine that pins leaves on trees-it’s standard procedure. But the consensus is that House & Garden has raised the practice to an art.
Now they’ve taken the H.B., A.D., or H. & G. picture. The famous approved photographer has spent the day, or two or three, shooting from every angle. The fact that a hole has been burned in the carpet is quel dommage.

You’ve survived the photo. You sit back and wait impatiently for the issue. Let’s say you gave your house to House & Garden. Chances are they’ll be back to rephotograph. Mary Jane Pool has a reputation for finding something very small in the corner of the picture that turns her off. It’s often the flowers. “She used to love amaryllis,” insiders say. But one day, the story goes, the amaryllis in the photo was listing to the side. “Amaryllis is supposed to stand up,” she reportedly said. “Reshoot it with narcissus.”

But even· if Ms. Pool approves the flowers, H. & G. could still stage a comeback. Maybe editorial director Alex Liberman nixes the art. So they reshoot the picture with a new painting. And another truckload of fresh flowers, etc. Again you wait for the issue. Actually, they were never crazy about your house, but they didn’t want anyone else to have it. Or maybe the interior designer has fallen from grace. Who knows? You’re still waiting.

Even when the shelter magazines do print the pictures, there are complaints. “They reduce your work too much or just use part of it” is the standard cry. That’s why so many people want to get into Architectural Digest, where each home gets star treatment. A.D. won’t run just one room.

Graphically, each magazine has its own style too. Graphic designer Milton Glaser describes A.D. as “discreet … no excess … like an art book. I’d like to read it.” Glaser says House Beautiful’s layout is “busy, cluttered, confused. One picture is mortised into the corner of another. Words are overprinted on photos. Confusing change of typefaces. Shopping information is separated from the pictures, making it virtually unavailable. Hard to read.”

And ditto for House & Garden, he says. He’s equally unsparing of the covers. “A disaster.”

But Mary Jane Pool is not worried about her covers. What she’s worried about is Architectural Digest. According to the grapevine, House & Garden is about to get a major overhaul by Alex Liberman. It’s not that sales are slipping. It’s not that ads are slipping. What’s slipping are the best houses — into the hands of Paige Rense and the pages of Architectural Digest. Now the knock-out Firestone house by designers Easton and LaRocca is going to A .D., and that’s the last straw basket.

There is one way for Mary Jane Pool to get even. Paige Rense wants any of Truman Capote’s houses more than anything in the world. Will Mary Jane beat her to it? Tune in for the next twelve months.”

 

ALL TEXT TAKEN FROM “THE HOUSE & GARDEN BLUES” AS WRITTEN BY JOAN KRON, NEW YORK MAGAZINE, APRIL 28, 1975; ALL IMAGES TAKEN FROM THE OCTOBER, 2010 ISSUE OF ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST