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House Beautiful

Here is the letter I wrote to House Beautiful magazine. I emailed this with the subject line: ‘Ouch! Did anybody else feel that?’ When I was looking where to send the letter, I realized that HB doesn’t have a Letters to the Editor section in their magazine! They seem not to be a request for feedback, or seek a relationship with their readers or encourage community… So, I sent my letter off to “Reader Services”. Let me know your thoughts!

Dear Reader Services:

So, I am finally sitting down to enjoy my December/January HB… When, low and behold, I get to Editor Newell Turner’s page! Now, I have never meet the man, but I did follow the renovation of his country home (heck, I even blogged about it: http://guymeetstabletop.blogspot.com/2010/06/telling-stories.html), and he seems like a nice enough guy… But now, I don’t know! Yeah, I chuckled about the fashion foibles he mentioned (we all have VERY scary pictures of ourselves!), and I agree: one has to learn and laugh. But then there came the subtle mocking of some very popular design elements: Chinese garden stools, zebra rugs, sunburst mirrors, and slipcovers (really?!?). Hm… where did we see these things, let me think… I know! It was in issue after issue of HB magazine! Why, there was even a section in the magazine called “Everywhere We Look”! Had the readers only known they were being set up, I don’t think they would have embraced these “trends” turned “fads” or the magazine so fully.

The big difference between an unfortunate pair of bell bottoms or a velour pullover is that they probably didn’t set the buyer back too much. But home furnishings are expensive propositions, and ones not undertaken lightly. I can only speak for myself, but I think of my furnishings as investments. I look for inspiration (yes, from fickle design magazines!), I make sure I really like what I want to purchase, and then buy the best I can afford of what I want. With mild tweaking, the stuff has got to last!

I know I am fairly secure in my taste, and in what I like, even my zebra stenciled cowhide rugs (I couldn’t do the real McCoy’s, it’s something about the heads! But mine ARE lined and framed in felt… Did you just exhale in an exhausted sort of way?!) – two of them mind you, overlapping and layered on sisal (“… everywhere we look, sisal…” – and said not with excitement, but with exhaustion). Now, I don’t have a sunburst mirror, but I DO have a large Syroco sunburst clock that belonged to my parents that hangs over their Baker sideboard that I also now have. In fact, I have the whole dining set that I grew up with: the Baker Finn Juhl table and the Michael Taylor knock-off chairs! It’s actually really cool living with so many elements from my own childhood.

I also know that these “fads” have roots that go deep into the history of design. We’re not talking painted wall graphics or carpeting on walls here. Some might even call these “fads” timeless. So to say that these things are elements to mock, or roll eyes at, or talk about  “… not with excitement, but with exhaustion”, smarts a little. On the last page of the magazine, Alexa Hampton is looking forward to animal print velvets (tiger-stripe silk velvet: check!), but this is a trend alert for 2011?!  And Suzanne Rheinstein is excited about paint in off-beat colors? Sybil Connolly notwithstanding, I think we’re getting ready here for another set up!! And lastly, in Windsor Smith’s editorial, there are white slipped-covered sofas and an ottoman (… everywhere we look, ottomans as coffee tables…) with a slipcover!  Now, there was a bit of back peddling on Newell’s part. He said that, in and of themselves, these elements were “not big mistakes” and do “have a valid, happy places in design” and I thought, “Okay, he’s going to redeem himself in the final sentences!” Then came the comeuppance: “… it’s just that they got overused or used in the wrong way”  and if we follow the advice on the following pages, we won’t be “gullible victims… but a part of the fascinating evolution of design”!

I’m guessing Windsor used the slipcover in the right way? I wonder what the wrong way of using slipcovering looks like… Covering children? Pets? Yes, that seems a little wrong… Overused? Really?! Maybe the reason why is because we saw editorial after editorial of these things in your magazine. We subscribe, we read, we’re inspired, we save, we shop and finally purchase… and now, apparently, we get a little bit of ridicule- from the editor of the magazine! I wonder if Oly is aware of what was written on the facing page of their ad? They aren’t rugs, but they are zebra pillows!! Did they feel it, too? Hm… Gullible victims? I am stunned! So now the readers of HB are gullible victims?!

A design magazine should help readers revamp and reuse their investments. Not everyone is in a position to start from scratch, not to mention that starting from scratch isn’t a very “green” way to decorate. I would try a little more inspiration rather than ridicule in the coming issues…

Just some random ramblings from a longtime reader,
Robert Beukema

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