I was once such a household schlub, an ex-boyfriend called me "Slobba"; he was "Meticulo," in our version of a Shakespearian "Odd Couple."

Then my husband and I hit the real estate jackpot, when the up-and-coming Brooklyn neighborhood where we'd bought a co-op gentrified way beyond our expectations. Embarrassed yet delighted, I began furtively checking out home design mags for tips to make our place suitable for a nabe where Hollywood "It Couple" Heath and Michelle also live.

When Domino debuted last year, I found a level of literate quirkiness in its pages that suited my ambivalence about becoming house-proud and benefiting from gentrification, a process which too often replaced useful stores with gourmet cheese and tchotchke shops. Unlike BetterHouse This and BeautifulHome That, Domino has run features trying to duplicate the shabby gentility of the house in the movie "The Royal Tennenbaums," for example.

And even thoughthe mag uses its Condé Nast fashion legacy to good effect, featuring photos that might have appeared in Vogue (April's "Accidentally Inspired" compares '60s style icon Lee Radizwill's evocation of an "opium den" with a modern-day "Moroccan-inspired lair"), Domino isn't snooty. Instead, it's like a friendly, helpful fashionista friend, educating me about topics on which I've been clueless--ranging from flipping houses to how to buy art without feeling intimidated. There's even fodder for my social consciousness with the monthly feature "Giving Back," a roundup of ecologically correct products and shopping venues--as well as places to send your useless crap after you've cleaned out your closets.

As a shopping pub (sister to Lucky and just-killed brother Cargo), Domino doesn't just showcase beautiful rooms; it explains what elements make them so darned good-looking, and how readers can obtain those elements.

That practical, step-by-step approach informs most of the features, like the December article on how an editor redid a guest room on a deadline, with visitors due in a week.

Domino is as gorgeous as most style-conscious Condé Nast books,but its photos are tempered by such real-people touches as Chinese food carton on the floor. And real, quirky people--not the socialite airheads you might think--populate its pages as well. Take the Dallas-based couple, the Wrubels, whose colored-drenched design esthetic was inspired by living in Rome. Lucy Wrubel is a social observer, too: "Every Italian man owns a pair of red pants. They're like khakis there," she says.

A certain level of airhead fluff does rear its giggly head in the March feature, "Diary of A Renovation." Here, the homeowner, a model, almost doubles the cost of her budget--from $55,000 to $100,000--because she hates the paint colors she's picked, can't measure her air-conditioner correctly, and assumes--get this--that the contractor's estimate includes the cost of a refrigerator. At first I thought it insensitive of the editors to show expensive mistakes that most readers probably couldn't afford to make. Later, I realized the feature was meant as an object lesson of how horribly wrong home renovation can go--but it also shows that some stereotypes about dumb models are correct.

Similarly, the April issue includes a decorator citing the Strand, my favorite New York discount bookstore, as a great place for his clients to outfit "a library, "because they can instantly stock a huge space with gorgeous, high-end books." Books as colored design elements instead of, well, reading materials? I wonder: have I gone over to the dark side with this whole design thing?

Still, much of Domino shows it's possible to have both good design and smarts. That's a goal for me as well, as I continue with my version of "The Taming of the Schlub."

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