The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The new editor of House Beautiful has made some changes — and readers have noticed

Colorful art and furnishings breathe life into designer Anne Hepfer’s Toronto home, as shown in the April 2019 issue of House Beautiful.
Colorful art and furnishings breathe life into designer Anne Hepfer’s Toronto home, as shown in the April 2019 issue of House Beautiful. (Paul Raeside/House Beautiful)
Placeholder while article actions load

Joanna Saltz is the editorial director of House Beautiful, responsible for its print and digital content across all platforms. After relaunching in July, she was named to the top print role of the Hearst magazine in October. House Beautiful, which was founded in 1896 and is America’s oldest decorating magazine, has legions of loyal readers, some of whom have voiced strong opinions about the magazine’s changes that first appeared in the January/February issue.

According to Saltz, the magazine’s home design content is pretty much the same, but what is different is the packaging — paring down headlines, adding more white space and attaching notations to photos to get in as much information as possible. She also streamlined the font of the cover logo.

She is looking to publish content that’s relatable and motivating. “I want actionable inspiration,” says Saltz. “I want readers to see beautiful things, but also make them happen in their own homes.”

Saltz feels this is a pinnacle moment in design, when decorating a house or apartment is something many people are obsessing over.

“The passion our readers have is so exhilarating to me,” she says. “We are a work in progress and we will keep tweaking. There have been hundreds of changes in the past 120 years. And we’ll continue to tweak and see what works.”

Saltz answered reader questions in a recent live Washington Post online Q&A. Here are some of her responses to queries about the changes in House Beautiful and her plans for the future, edited for length and clarity.

‘It’s like your own little restaurant’: Why your hectic mornings need a beverage station

Q: I have been a loyal House Beautiful reader for many years, and it used to be one of the most stunning print publications in the market. Now it seems that the print version is an afterthought and all the focus is on digital platforms, leaving the magazine behind. Is there not room for House Beautiful to excel in both print and digital formats? Do you have to sacrifice one for the other?

A: I’m so sorry that people feel that way. Print is most definitely not an afterthought. In fact, it drives most of what I do every day. I love that we can create a lush magazine featuring amazing designers (like cover star Nick Olsen this month) and create a website that includes brands people shop every day. Also, this is all an evolution; we’ll try some things, and what works will stay. What doesn’t won’t.

Q: How did you decide on the font package for the new magazine? I'm sure you are aware that we are finding it hard to read the new issues.

A: It’s so funny. I didn’t change the font size, the page quality, or even any of the fonts inside the magazine. I really tried to remain true to what was created before me, tweaking the way we used the fonts in the magazine. In fact, over the past four years, the size of the magazine was made smaller overall, and I would love to bring it back to that larger trim size someday.

Q: What is your social media strategy? It seems to have moved away from design and praising designers to pop culture and clickbait.

A: I like having fun. I like people who like having fun. I love design, but I also love having a conversation. I think we should be allowed to take ourselves a little less seriously, while still enjoying great design.

Q: Do you personally attend trade markets to find what's new, or has the Internet eliminated the need? Are your readers more interested in what's new or what works to solve their decorating challenges? Love the magazine. Thank you!

A: This is actually a great question because trade shows and market appointments do take up a lot of time. It’s important for our editors to meet people at trade shows/market, and our audience loves knowing what’s new. But in this day and age, we need to be faster to report on what’s happening. A lot of times, we can’t wait until our print deadlines to report on new products because at that point, the news is old. So you will see that the magazine will help designers and homeowners solve decorating challenges, while still including some news. It’s a balancing act.

Q: The last two issues of House Beautiful are so stripped — of styling, paper, features, even the fonts — that I threw them away soon after they arrived. (By contrast, I keep favorite issues and refer to them over years.) It seems you are planning to cancel print. Is that the case?

A: I’m not killing the magazine! I love it! I want it to last forever! Quote me on that!

Q: Why the arrows over photos in the new issues? Some of us like to use these as tear sheets, and the arrows ruin the photos.

A: I added arrows because there were so many great details in these images that we didn’t have space to report on; frankly, if I added more copy to the stories, the photos would have to get smaller. I think we’ve designed them in an unobtrusive way, but I’m open to evolution. We’ll see how it goes.

Q: I've noticed your Instagram account is sharing more content from other countries (most recently, Russia and Brazil). Are you going to show more homes from other countries?

A: If something is inspirational, I’m happy to feature it. I think social media is so interesting on that front; you can see things from all over the world. I feel like that’s changed the design game, in a lot of ways.

Q: The new layout is very basic. To my mind, the readers of House Beautiful love color, pattern, texture and decadence. What is the inspiration behind this pared-down aesthetic, and why have you chosen to change the direction of the magazine in this way?

A: This brand has been long known for all of those things, and in a lot of ways, I’ve tried to pare down the design of the magazine to let the photos of the spaces shine through. (I think so many of the well stories in March celebrate decadence.) But if you love over-the-top pattern, texture and color, wait until you see the April cover. It’ll start to roll out next week.

Q: I stopped subscribing to a lot of interior design magazines because I felt like I couldn't relate to them. So much of the stuff was custom and to the trade, and let's be real: I can't afford an interior designer, so that stuff isn't going to happen for me. How are you bridging the gap for those of us who want a nicer home, even if we're on a budget?

A: I think it’s important for people on a budget to understand what good design really is. And if you can’t afford to use an interior designer, I want to create a media space where at least you can learn from them. I want you to feel comfortable getting inspired by great talent, not intimidated. You don’t need a lot of money to have a great space (any good designer will tell you that). You just need to make smart decisions, and I want us to help you make them.

Read the full transcript.

More from Lifestyle:

Keeping up with the Washingtons: Historians just found evidence of the first sofa in Virginia

The dish: Why vintage tableware is making a comeback in restaurants and homes

The tidying tide: The Marie Kondo effect hits sock drawers and consignment stores