House Beautiful bills itself as the longest-published home magazine. But Sophie Donelson, its editor, hadn’t planned to put the age of the magazine on the November cover. “When you are 120 years old, you don’t need to tell people how old you are all the time,” says Donelson, 36, who was tapped to lead the publication in February 2015.
As the anniversary approached, though, she got so immersed in reading archival issues that she changed her mind. “I felt I owed it to the brand to share some of the amazing things we discovered in these old issues,” Donelson says.
House Beautiful, which debuted in 1896, still has a print circulation of 816,000, but, like most publications, it has expanded its online efforts to reach readers. It has nearly 7 million Facebook followers and 1 million on Instagram.
“We try to find the common denominator about living comfortably, beautifully and going beyond decorating,” Donelson says.
Donelson spoke to me by phone last week about the magazine and about design trends from her “pretty girly, pretty happy” office in New York’s Hearst Tower. (She has a custom pink office chair that doesn’t show pen marks from her pink editing pen, a floral Kate Spade carpet and a fiddleleaf fig plant. Catch a tour of her office on Facebook Live.)
Q: I know you’ve been digging around old House Beautiful issues and posting the covers on Instagram. What surprised you about flipping through them?
A: There are no new ideas. There are no new gimmicks. We found the most amazing things in these old issues. We have been talking about stainless steel for a decade now as a trend in the kitchen. Yet, here were stainless-steel countertops in the 1950s. There were lots of things like that.
Q: Are print design magazines here to stay?
A: I would say unequivocally yes. People enjoy that sense of sight and beauty in print. They like to see big pictures. They like stuff, and they like shopping. Readers tell me they like the sense of completion, of picking up something beautiful and enjoying time with it and then finishing. How great is that?
Q: Your current issue has many pages of blue and white rooms. Why does blue and white decorating endure?
A: It’s magical, and you can’t screw it up. People always say it’s so fresh and modern: Meanwhile, it’s actually the oldest color combination in the book. It has a cross-cultural appeal. Not only is it foolproof, it’s something that rings so American. My team would say it’s also Dutch and Delft and Chinese export and Murano glass and Moroccan tile. But isn’t that mix very American? Co-opting a world’s worth of decorative details is what American decorating is all about.
Q: Nobody mentions collecting antiques anymore, but buying vintage is still all the rage. Why?
A: Vintage things strike authenticity to millennials and younger people. In an age when you can Google anything and find it, to stumble upon a sort of one-off piece is special. It’s finding something you haven’t seen before that is exciting.
Q: What’s it like to be the editor of a major design publication?
A: I feel a responsibility to make people aware of what’s happening out there. We have a very diverse audience, all over the country, so we like to show projects from all over. We are not about monetizing your home and flipping your house to earn money. We are about going home every day and loving your life and waking up and feeling proud to have friends over or feeling a sense of security in your home. This takes time and effort and love, and investing in your house should be investing for you, not somebody else. We try to show you how to do that, whether it’s a crazy wallpaper or the perfect paint color.
Q: What color is your living room in Queens painted?
A: My living room is Farrow & Ball’s Brinjal. It’s a really dark merlot or eggplant. It’s a color that I think actually looks very attractive on me personally, and I wear it a lot, too.
Q: Will you share a few of your current favorite design tips with us?
A: Right now, I would add something with a small-scale print or pattern. I love the British sensibility of layering a small-scale floral or polka dot that seems sweet or whimsical with what you already have. I love shopping online, but I do think you need to sit on a sofa before you buy it. Use the best you have, break out that wedding china. Enjoy your nice things. Now is the time to live.
Sophie Donelson will be joining the Home Front chat on Thursday at 11 a.m. Submit your questions here.