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Habitually Un-Chic Magazine: Architectural Digest

by habituallychic

11 . 07 . 07

I have made it a point to try to always be positive on my blog but this week I’m having a hard time, especially after the news about House and Garden. While I would never negatively critique someone else’s decorating style, I feel that in light of this week’s discussion about shelter magazines in the comments section of my Say It Isn’t So post, I am finally going to address my hatred of Architectural Digest.

Let me clarify that I only hate the American version. My firm has been featured in the German, French, and Spanish versions and they are all fantastic. So full of life and interesting interiors while the American version remains soulless and limpid. And what better place to illustrate this point than with the apartment of jeweler Nicholas Varney, Carleton Varney’s son, that was featured in the December 2006 issue.

I’ve actually been inside this apartment for a party given by Nicholas’ girlfriend at the time, who worked for gallery owner Larry Gagosian. My friend and I remember being very impressed with the color scheme and of course the art. It looks like it has changed a little since that night but what struck me about the Architectural Digest feature was how boring and flat they managed to make the place look. What’s really weird is that I remember the main wall color in the photo below being bright green like the pole and not beige. They could have repainted it but I also wonder if they toned it down for the magazine.

I know it’s very hard to shoot homes with so many windows due to lighting issues and the apartment does have amazing views of the Hudson River but it’s almost like they focused on the view a little too much. There is so many wonderful works of art and interesting pieces in the apartment, it’s such a shame that they didn’t focus in on any of them or shoot any vignettes. Nicholas Varney is an amazing jewelry designer. Why is there not one shot of his designs anywhere? How about a few beaded necklaces in a pretty bowl? A ring on the nightstand? Anything, that would have added a lovely personal touch to the feature would have been a nice!

I know each shelter magazine has their own look and feel but I don’t hear about anyone running out to the newsstand to look for the newest issue of Architectural Digest like they do with Domino, Elle Decor and the late House and Garden. There is nothing exciting about it. It doesn’t teach you anything. They shoot homes the second they are finished being decorated and sometimes, right before the “for sale” sign goes up. Any sense of warmth or personality is wiped clean. We get a subscription delivered to the office but I’ve never seen anyone read it. The magazine goes straight to the bookshelf to die.
There have been rumors for a while that they were going to replace the editor-in-chief, Paige Rense, but so far no luck. Then it occurred to me today that not only does Architectural Digest desperately need a make over but I know exactly who they should hire to do it! Dominique Browning! She’s available and if anyone has the ability to turn AD into an interesting and inspiring magazine, she does! Does anyone else second that idea???

Comments Closed

  1. Mrs. Blandings November 7, 2007 | 10:20 pm

    Chic – As I said in my comments yesterday, this poor old doyenne of design mags has a case of dementia. She has no focus. Every month there are so many – uninteresting – commercial projects. If I wanted to see hotels, I’d read Travel and Leisure. Celebrities galore. Properties on the market. There’s barely any editorial direction. I’m shocked it’s been allowed to languish for so long. I kept my subscription far longer than I was interested; like a bad boyfriend, I kept thinking if I stuck with it, it might turn around. I finally let my subscription lapse this summer. I did send a letter, as I don’t think you should break-up by just not answering the phone. Maybe HG’s fate will be a wake up call.

    p.s. I actually thought the Varney layout was better than anything I’d seen there in a while. I wish I’d seen it as you had.

  2. Habitually Chic November 7, 2007 | 10:26 pm

    Mrs. Blandings, I love your break up analogies. Perfect timing.

    I have been wanting to write about AD for a while and the Varney apartment seemed like an interesting way to address it. It is a good feature unless you have seen the real apartment. I agree with you…I hope H&G’s demise is AD’s wake up call to change.

  3. zim loy November 7, 2007 | 11:46 pm

    You are so on the mark! My take is that AD is a shelter magazine for people who aren’t interested or familiar with interior design. They love to have it on their coffee table. All my design-savvy friends knock it, although we love all the other shelter mags. It is the ONLY design magazine I don’t subscribe to. Like Mrs. Blandings, I did for years, then finally let it lapse because I was so bored by it. They make even the great designers’ work–like Victoria Hagan or Stephen Sills and James Huniford–look flat and uninteresting. I will miss H & G!

  4. Suzy November 8, 2007 | 2:37 am

    I definitely second that motion – I need a new magazine to look forward to each month. I don’t think I’ve ever bought this magazine, even though I have seen it on the shelves here. I guess nothing in it has ever appealed to me. It’s incredible that it has managed to last so long if these sentiments seem to be from the majority…

  5. kate (pm) November 8, 2007 | 3:55 am

    I third that motion! AD has always come across as souless… often worse than hotels! Which makes the interiors seem quite sad when you know it’s suppose to be an actual home (even a seldom used one).

    I am very, very rarely too peek at it on the newsstand (and I flip through a lot of magazines. A whole lot!).

    I’m going to miss H&G, too. I do hate the idea of pushing someone out of a job (after all, it’s not really life or death), BUT I sure wouldn’t mind seeing Dominique freshening it up. Interesting & intriguing idea there, HC!

  6. Brilliant Asylum November 8, 2007 | 5:13 am

    Back in design school, AD was my bible. I had saved my parent’s issues from the 1980’s and marveled at how timeless the designs seemed 15 years later. Now, I think it is a waste of shiny paper. I hope they get the hint v. soon.

  7. RJH dl H November 8, 2007 | 6:46 am

    Many years ago there was such a limited choice of interior magazines,there were fewer good interior designers and interior decorators and it was all about the people one knew and being an editors lap dog to get some coverage.

    Thank goodness for the mutitude of new talent and the tsunami of interior magazines on the shelves today and thanks to the internet we can make our own choices of what we want to see,for example HC!

    I have stacks and stacks of AD editions of the 70’s,80’s and 90’s and then it stops,some of them are truly wonderful and superb and are a true collectors item for one that appreciates great bygone quality!

  8. Two Four Six Eight November 8, 2007 | 9:17 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. annechovie November 8, 2007 | 1:15 pm

    I agree with you completely. If Domino and Elle Decor are fresh, young and hip, then I’d have to say that AD is all geriatric pablum stodge. The “Coldwater Creek” of shelter magazines. I’d love to see Dominique Browning take a stab at transforming it!

  10. Habitually Chic November 8, 2007 | 2:59 pm

    Zim Loy, I agree with you about AD being boring. They use some great photographers so I wonder if the flatness is something that happens in production. I really wish they would stop whatever it is they are doing and change it up!

  11. Habitually Chic November 8, 2007 | 3:00 pm

    Suzy, I am really surprised it has lasted as long as it has too. I don’t know any designers who read it anymore or even regular folks for that matter.

  12. Habitually Chic November 8, 2007 | 3:03 pm

    Kate, it is like a sad brochure for a luxury hotel or real estate firm. The really weird thing is how different it is from the foreign versions. They are wonderful. I hope the publishers wisen up and make a change.

  13. Habitually Chic November 8, 2007 | 3:09 pm

    RJH dl H, I was talking to a friend about how the internet does seem like the future for design information. It’s so immediate. You can see something in a store and post about it the same day.

    But I will always love leafing through magazines. I can’t imagine taking a flight or traveling with a stack of magazines to read.

    I hope the passing of H&G will lead the publishing industry to realize that there is a hole that needs to be filled. I love ELLE Decoration and Australian Vogue Living and I hope that we could see some new magazines like them here in the US soon.

  14. Habitually Chic November 8, 2007 | 3:10 pm

    Annechovie, I LOVE your Coldwater Creek analogy! How perfect! I hope the publishers read that one!

  15. Layler November 8, 2007 | 4:56 pm

    Yup, I’m chiming in here, too. Used to read it and subscribed for a while, stopped in the mid-90s. Kept every issue.

    Except for the celebrity home glimpses (which now I can just get online for my voyeuristic jollies), there’s nothing interesting or special about AD anymore.

    It’s one of those old boy magazines that was an American institution and everyone USED to read it and grew up with it, but now it’s just not something you pick up anymore.

    Dominique Browning may very well be the one to kick it into the 21st century and compete with the big shelter mags.

  16. Fairfax November 8, 2007 | 7:10 pm

    Over on Mrs. Blandings, someone anonymous said that we should read AD because it only shows the best and we should educate our eye. But if it’s the best and it’s truly boring or just too much of the best, then what’s the point? I think that most of what’s in AD is so unattainable for the majority of people that it’s better just bwing skipped. I liked HG because it was a middle ground (which Anon. said was the death of good taste). But it did show some very high end, but also C&B or Target. The best and the best I can afford are two totally different things.

  17. katiedid November 9, 2007 | 1:23 am

    A little shaking up never hurt anybody. I like your idea HC about some new blood! 🙂

  18. Anonymous November 9, 2007 | 3:10 am

    another brilliant suggestion from Habitually Chic – hire the editor that brought a magazine down to bring UP another magazine!! ha!! This is just more crazy Chic logic. Lemmings, unite! Praise the logic: to save a magazine, hire the one person who just killed a magazine! Brilliant! total waste of time and bandwidth.

  19. Anonymous November 9, 2007 | 4:32 pm

    I find AD perversely comforting, actually. I always think, ‘well, if this is what having lots of money means, then I have no interest in money.’ The homes are soulless. Big yawn.

    Elle Decor and Australian Vogue make me wish I had money and Domino makes me wish I had money and lived in a loft above La Esquina.

  20. Anonymous November 11, 2007 | 9:34 pm

    I bet Donald Trump thinks AD is “pure class.”

  21. Anonymous November 12, 2007 | 5:55 pm

    I wasn’t a huge fan of H & G under Browning (not enough interiors; the editorial focus seemed diffuse). I also disliked her Lady Bountiful “Gather ’round, children, I’m having an insight!” essays. However: What actual evidence is there that she bears the most responsibility for H & G’s failure? How do we know it wasn’t the publisher’s fault? I’d like actual evidence, not “Well, I don’t like her picture”-based conjecture.

  22. maison21 November 17, 2007 | 7:40 pm

    well said, chic. lots and lots of us in the design world agree with you completely (tho if AD wanted to publish my work, i sure wouldn’t say no).

    anonymous 11/11/2007 really hit the nail on the head with their wry “trump” comment!