There's a new man in the 'House'

Editor's good taste shows, minus elitism

February 09, 2003|By Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub | By Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub,Special to the Sun

Make no mistake: Mark Mayfield is no Marian McEvoy.

Mayfield, the editor in chief of House Beautiful who replaced McEvoy in July, comes off as a down-to-earth guy who just happens to have really good taste.

McEvoy never pretended to be down-to-earth. She partied with the "A" list and made the International Best Dressed List along with Halle Berry, Kate Moss and Queen Rania of Jordan. She came by it naturally -- her journalistic roots were in the fashion-focused world of Elle Decor and W magazine.

Although McEvoy made HB bolder, brighter and easier to read, she also ran stories about castles and contessas. The magazine that was once perceived as somewhat stuffy was now perceived as too upscale and out of reach for mainstream readers. In her two years as editor, total circulation was flat and ad pages were down an average of 10.8 percent.

The answer was Mayfield, who media watchers predict will steer the magazine back on a "surer and safer course" to the mainstream.

"I don't mind the label of mainstream," he said in a telephone interview. "My goal and my challenge is to make the magazine accessible and practical, but it is not going to be mass-market. I want to appeal to Middle America and I think we are getting there."

From his first issue (Novem-ber), it was clear that Mayfield was taking an approach that would play better in Peoria without alienating more sophisticated readers. His first column was a balancing act. He pleased the fashionistas, featuring a photograph of himself with design icon Albert Hadley. But he also tapped into Middle America's values with his tale of spending vacation on a Florida beach with his parents, wife and children. His postscript talked directly to readers, asking them to share their design dilemmas.

His January editor's letter featured a picture of him at age 6 sledding with his older brother, Larry. He chats about looking for a house with a fireplace, winter's first flurries, his kids and his wife. We know more about Mayfield in a few months than we did about McEvoy in two years.

Although he says he loves a wonderful upscale look, he also talks about finding great style at good prices at Target, Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn.

"People are intimated by some of the edgy urban furnishings and I don't blame them," he said. "It does not play in certain places in the country."

Unlike many New York editors, Mayfield has lived like the rest of the country lives. He was editor of Traditional Home magazine, which is based in Des Moines, Iowa; and editor of Southern Ac-cents, which is based in Birming-ham, Ala. He also worked in the real world of daily journalism at USA Today and United Press International.

"It's easy when you live in New York to not look past the Hudson because there is so much here," he said. "The designers are so great and a lot of fabric companies are based here. It is easy to get caught up in it and that is the mistake a lot of New York editors make."

But Mayfield said he knows there's a lot of great design elsewhere -- in places like Kansas, Arkansas and Florida. The January issue, for example, includes homes in Boca Raton, Fla., and Fredericksburg, Texas, as well as Manhattan and Paris.

In a post-Sept. 11 world, he sees a return to nesting and a longing for a more comfortable traditional style.

"I think most people now think that home and family has become a No. 1 priority in our lives and that extends to how we live," Mayfield said.

Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub is a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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