House & Garden Bites The Dust Once More

The December issue of House & Garden magazine will reportedly be its last.
The December issue of House & Garden magazine will reportedly be its last. (Courtesy Of House & Garden - Courtesy Of House & Garden)
By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

House & Garden magazine died yesterday for the second time in its 106-year history.

The official announcement came from Charles H. Townsend, president and CEO of Condé Nast publications, which also publishes the "shelter" magazines Architectural Digest, Domino and Vogue Living. He cited the "unexpected" October departure of House & Garden's last publisher, Joe Lagani, as one reason. And he added, "We no longer believe it is a viable business investment for the company."

Translation: The magazine chronicling "the well-lived life" was losing money.

The December issue, headlined "Never Go Out of Style" and featuring glam cover girl Aerin Lauder (granddaughter of Estée), will be the last. And will be stilled, although yesterday it still featured a pop-up ad floating over a photo of Gwyneth Paltrow lounging on a Thomas O'Brien ottoman. "Wait Subscribe Today" it flashed, offering 24 issues for $24.

Insiders in the New York world of swatches and settees were of course desperate to be published in House & Garden, but many thought the magazine had of late become a kind of global grab bag of everything from high style to intellectual high art to the kitchen sink. Some speculated that Condé Nast's start-up interiors magazine, Vogue Living, which will be published twice next year and has the powerful Vogue brand behind it, may take up some of House & Garden's tasteful territory.

House & Garden had previously been killed in 1993, another shaky time in the economy and the year Condé Nast acquired upscale Architectural Digest. Design mavens mourned for three years, until, out of the ashes, House & Garden returned to newsstands in 1996 to record the latest decorating boom under the editorship of Dominique Browning.

Browning, still on board, walked into a morning meeting yesterday and was told that her magazine, with 950,000 subscribers, was no more. The 40 editorial staff members and 40 advertising staffers got the word shortly after.

"I was shocked," said Browning, who became known to her readers for her piercing pale blue eyes and struggles with a famously crumbling house and marriage. "We were the gold standard. We published great design and we always held out for the great project."

The news rattled the French doors of New York's decorating elite.

"It's a sad thing because another voice is gone," said old-guard designer Mario Buatta. "But the magazine was changing too often. I think sometimes they were trying to be too avant-garde, and it turns a lot of people off."

"The loss of a magazine is sad because, in this high-tech world, I fear that printed words are evaporating," said designer and author Charlotte Moss, who has bookcases of old House & Gardens dating to the 1920s. "This magazine had a shelf life. It was always open-minded and refreshing. Where are all these homes and gardens going to go now?"

Washington designer Darryl Carter was never published in House & Garden but called himself a fan.

"They had a distinctly diverse point of view. There was a multi-dimensionality in terms of their representation of design venues," Carter said. "A number of magazines now are very, very specific in what design they publish. House & Garden had modern, transitional and edgy all together."

Think of poor Murray Moss, owner of a hip SoHo store and one of the country's experts on modern design, who had been selected as a House & Garden guest editor and had just turned in the January issue. Now it will never be printed.

"I guess it will always be the phantom issue," said Moss, who is not convinced this is the real end. "House & Garden is a great brand. They might come back like Gucci or Prada or the Plaza or any other large brands that have gone through transformations or changes of ownership."

Said Donna Warner, editor in chief of Metropolitan Home magazine: "You can't deny that the real estate slowdown and the sub-prime mortgage crisis has affected advertising for many shelter books. . . . People just aren't buying as many high-end appliances, furniture and European imports."

But she also wasn't ready to bury a competitor. "You never know. They've done it before and they could come back again."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company