House & Garden makes a comeback Return: Old-timer in the 'shelter' field is back on the stands after a three-year hiatus. One of its best articles is about the evolution of the picture window.


August 25, 1996|By Sandy Coleman | Sandy Coleman,BOSTON GLOBE

There's something strange that happens when you become a homeowner; a madness overtakes you. You could be a perfectly happy apartment dweller, carefree, unconcerned about the roof shingles over your head or the siding surrounding you. Sure, you notice some bushes and flowers outside your building, but you have no inclination to know what kind, no concern about how they are arranged.

Buy a house and your mind is taken over by thoughts of entryways and how to improve them, yards and how to landscape them, walls and how to paint them.

And for every aspect of the madness, there is a magazine to encourage you. Home, Garden Design, Metropolitan Home, Traditional Home, House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Country Living, Better Homes and Gardens, and, of course, for every reader who owns a glue gun, Martha Stewart Living. The list goes on longer than the list of supplies you want from Home Depot.

And, this month, there's a renewed kid on the block in an already crowded neighborhood of what the industry calls "shelter" magazines. Conde Nast's House & Garden has returned to the scene with a September issue after a three-year absence.

In 1993, Conde Nast discontinued House & Garden, which was founded in 1901, after acquiring Architectural Digest. The idea was to fold as much as possible of what House & Garden had to offer into Architectural Digest.

But readers and advertisers weren't satisfied. House & Garden publisher David Carey likens the change to Coke's decision to come out with New Coke. Remember how well that went?

House & Garden returned to the newsstand Aug. 13 with an impressive 372 pages, 207 of them ad pages, and an estimated circulation of more than 500,000.

But with so many magazines already out there, is there room? Carey says definitely yes.

"Part of the magazine's position speaks to the fact that there are a lot of titles out there," said Carey. Readers and advertisers are tired of niche publications that fragment coverage rather than take a broader look, he said.

"People are clearly very focused on their homes and gardens. There's a whole generation who ran away from home who are now embracing home," said Carey.

The new magazine, which this month features a piece on childhood homes by John Updike, includes cooking and entertainment coverage; "Object Lessons," a regular feature on furnishings; and "Domestic Bliss," a look at the latest trends in the marketplace.

One of the best articles in this issue, "A Touch of Glass, Reflections on the Picture Window," is written by Michael Pollan. The writer sees more than meets the eye in the architectural shift from the popularity of the picture window of the '60s to today's signature window. The choice of windows says a lot about the times, Pollan points out.

While the picture window allowed suburbanites to take in the world and allowed passers-by to look into their worlds, the writer contends that the signature window "manages to impress the neighbors without engaging them at all. Like the fenestration on DTC the front of a church, the signature window opens a house to the pure light of the sky while withdrawing it from the unhappy world of the street. This new window seems exactly the right gesture for these uneasy times, being a window that averts its gaze from both landscape and community, preferring instead to give itself to fantasy."

The "Domestic Bliss" short on how the Pottery Barn will be changing the look of its products come fall is interesting for those of us left wondering where we'll get our distressed pine now. The Pottery Barn is going from the farmhouse look to a more sleek, more urbanized look.

There is also a silly feature on people who love vacuuming. Although those who lust for dust may be out there, I don't want to read about them.

House & Garden caters to readers who enjoy indulging in the meaning of house and home, as well as picking up a few design and decorating tips. Overall, the magazine works well in that it gives readers more than just pictures and quick bites of information to take in. However, there are places where it definitely goes overboard. Do we really care about the significance of screws?

Shelter coverage

Looking at the other shelter magazines currently on the shelves, the August-September issue of Elle Decor features an article on women collectors. Traditional Home looks at how Boston interior designer Greg Cann gave his small Back Bay apartment character and a feeling of space.

The August-September issue of Garden Design, eye candy for nature addicts, features a fun look at Pearl Fryar, a South Carolina man who has made trimming bushes an art form. Fryar, who taught himself topiary, has hundreds of bushes and trees on his 3-acre lot that he has shaped into swirling, pointed and spiraling masterpieces. Mr. Scissorhands spends 50 hours a week on his shrubs -- after he works his regular job.

Briefly noted

Emerge has a cover story on Cornel West; Vibe celebrates its third anniversary; Shape celebrates its 15th with a collector's edition featuring a review of the hottest videos and celebrity bodies; Jazz Times has moviemaker and clarinetist Woody Allen.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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