Inspired House

So many shelter magazines, so little time.

Inspired House looks sleek. It reads as if somebody with working knowledge of "nouns" and "verbs" had a hand in editing it, as opposed to many of its peers. Its cover boasts some kind of nü-elegant outdoor kitchen/patio dealie where I'd be happy to while away the lazy summer nights - sort of like Huck and Tom, but with nearby indoor plumbing.

So why is it that the August issue of the publication leaves me feeling somewhat less than inspired? I blame it on category overload. Having been bombarded with 6,372 different shelter magazines since the current incarnation of Magazine Rack was birthed back in January, I'm not sure I could enjoy one even if I relinquished the part of my brain that enables independent thought. If there's any category in magazinedom that could use a serious shaking out, it's shelter. By the way, I live in a 40-square-foot apartment; the irony of having these publications litter my nub of a coffee table isn't lost on anyone.

Back to the topic at hand: My category biases aside, there are definitely more than a few things to like about Inspired House, most notably its matter-of-fact, "here's how you do it" tone. As opposed to competing titles - I'm looking at you, House Beautiful - Inspired House's writers and editors don't feel the need punctuate their every suggestion with a chorus line of adjacent exclamation points. The mag's modus operandi seems to be laying out a premise, illustrating it as much as space permits, and appending those graphics with a few pithy lines.

Equally smart are the August issue's how-to columns and features (though technically, almost every item has a how-to sheen to it). The "Not So Big Solutions" column offers a glut of simpler-than-Cameron-Diaz tips on making a house more energy-efficient, while equally concise blurbs on decking materials, headboards, and lampshades ("don't wear one until you're sure everybody else is as drunk as you are") both entertain and enlighten. The responses to readers' questions add quite a bit as well; the mag might consider doubling or even tripling the space apportioned to the section.

A handful of stories in Inspired House go down as near misses. A piece on how to make small rooms appear larger works well from an advice standpoint, but the absence of before/after photos for tips like "fewer materials unify a space" diminish its overall utility. The story on setting up a confectioner's kitchen seems a bit too niche-y and the overlong feature on "American foursquare" design/maintenance leaves one asking, "What, precisely, is an American foursquare?" Happily, six pages into it, the mag offers a few sentences' worth of explanation for me and my fellow architectural dullards.

So while Inspired House offers a few neat strokes - hey, is that editorial content on the back cover, or are you just glad to see me? - the August issue of the mag fails to jump out of the home-deifying pack. A proposal: Let's set up an NCAA hoops-style elimination tournament for shelter mags, with the losers ceding their subscriber base to the winners and then slinking back into the ranks of professions like dentistry and food-court security. I've got a crisp tenner on one-seed Real Simple covering the spread over just-off-probation Martha Stewart Living in the finals. Inspired House? Right now, it's elite-eight material.

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