Elle Decor

I'd like to propose a new rule for chi-chi shelter and luxury publications that celebrate consumption in all its glory: words should be dispensed with altogether. Seriously. You know that the handful of readers who can afford the home treatments flogged in such titles are simply ripping out the pages that catch their fancy, thrusting those pages in the general direction of their on-retainer interior decorators, and saying, "Do this." Clearly, the words are beside the point.

Such is the case with the June issue of Elle Decor, which attempts to make up for in shiny pix what it lacks in originality and verbal dexterity. There's nothing here you haven't seen before in any number of luxe-livin' publications, but man, do the mag's designers ever present it elegantly.

Even a section that on the surface sounds duller than toast--an eight-page spread on summer house gifts--positively pops off the page. The layout is clean, and makes every featured item look a hell of a lot more stylish than it probably is. Actually, I'm tempted to drop in on my drunken Jersey Shore buddies with one of the recommended gifts--say, the branch kamagong-wood salad servers--and videotape their reactions for posterity.

Maybe that's the problem with Elle Decor: nearly every "story" elicits the exact same reaction. After poring over the feature on style-savvy outdoor pools, I thought: "pretty." A run through designer Robert Stilin's East Hampton's house: pretty. A room-by-room romp around designer Kristen Panitch's Los Angeles abode: pretty. I have nothing against mindless picture books, but after a while the routine gets tired.

On the other hand, these editorially minimalist photo spreads are considerably less painful to peruse than any of the accompanying chunks of text. A spread on designer Susan Harris' house on Long Island Sound includes the single worst descriptive sentence in the history of recent American journalism: "With the help of decorator Lynn Morgan, Harris has filled the room with comfortable upholstered pieces, slipcovered in SeaCloth patterns that look as if they might have been produced by some unlikely love child of Billy Baldwin and Lilly Pulitzer, boldly colorful and reassuringly rational at the same time." So wait... Billy Baldwin's a designer now and he's boinking a Pulitzer? I'm ashamed to exist in a civilization where I can get arrested for jaywalking, but not for reproducing such utter inanity.

Then there's the lead sentence in another house spread: "In all of America, there's nothing quite as heartwarming as a historic, white-painted Colonial tucked away in a pretty New England village." Oh yeah? What about fuzzy baby ducks? The section headings also linger in the neverland between cliché and platitude, offering up inspiration in the form of "What's Hot!," "Trend Alert," and "Great Ideas." Again, I plead: Pesky captions, be gone! Fie, banal subheads! No more words! No more words!

Okay, I'm willing to waive the requirement for the editor's note, which does an admirable job of framing the debate over including design knockoffs on the mag's pages. And surprisingly, some of the June issue's best moments occur when it leaves the living room: an item on a super-size retail emporium in Los Angeles, five shots of garden gates, a pretty (natch) Cote d'Azur travelogue.

Overall, though, Elle Decor seems little more than a comely package--an ornately wrapped and ribboned gift box that ultimately proves to be empty, if you will. It'll spruce up your coffee table, but it doesn't have much practical use beyond that.

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