O At Home

Like Playboy and Penthouse, shelter pubs are all about the pictures--beautiful, artfully lit shots of rooms and products arranged to provoke desire and dreams, but, unlike skin mags, also meant to provide practical examples and ideas.

The newest home decorating pubs, additions to a ballooning category that may be full to bursting, have toned down the dreams and punched up the utility. Domino, launched in 2005 as a sister to shopping mag Lucky, is very much a here's-the-800-number-where-you-can-get-that-look book. Since its debut in 2003, the semiannual In Style Home has balanced its focus on celebrity homes with tips on how readers can steal the elements of movie-star style for their own abodes.

Like In Style Home, O At Home (which began quarterly publication in 2005 after a semiannual launch in 2004) is an extension of a mega-popular brand. Its winter issue likewise aims to balance glamour and usefulness.

So, set among gorgeous layouts meant to inspire product lust (that whimsical painting of a hot chocolate and marshmallow sea! Those bright fish pillows!) are practical tips from "Oprah's favorite design expert," Nate Berkus, in an excerpt from his new book, Home Rules. For example, if you haven't bought a new mattress in ten years--I haven't--get thee to a Sleepy's, pronto. And the regular column "Who Says...," meant to debunk decorating myths, shows a glammed-up laundry room--an interesting, though perhaps impractical, idea.

Still, this issue slants a little too much toward the aspirational. The decorating case histories all feature expensive homes whose owners worked with design professionals (and not always to good effect--Oprah, why is your guest bedroom seemingly infected by hideous brown-squiggly-thing prints?). Readers of O--and by extension, O At Home--are said to be more upscale and sophisticated than viewers of Oprah's TV show, but the homes featured in this issue seem beyond the reach of most regular folk.

As a counterbalance to this upscale focus, some of the features echo the socially conscious, personal-growth-oriented tone that is Oprah Winfrey's trademark. The department "Women Who Make Beautiful Things" profiles design entrepreneurs who have partners in third-world countries. Another regular feature, "The Good Works Makeover," fulfills Oprah's humanitarian bent; this issue shows how a decorator transformed the bland offices of Club Sunshine, a kids' support program, into a warm, cheerful place to play. And in an inclusive touch unusual for the holiday pages of most magazines, O At Home gives Jewish readers our own two-page layout, showing how to set a lovely Chanukah table, complete with menorah. Mazel Tov!

To be truer to its readers, though, O At Home could function a little less like a wish book, a little more like a down-to-earth guide to the good life. What about adding do-it-yourself decorating stories like the premiere issue's "When The Paints Come Marching In," O Managing Editor Sudie Redmond's thoughtful case history of how she chose the right paint colors despite some performance anxiety? I, for one, could use this kind of help as I struggle with my own design issues--such as how to fulfill my taste for bright colors without making our place look like the home of Bozo and Clarabelle, Mr. and Mrs. Clown.

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