Commentary

House & Garden

Unlike its fashion sisterhood at Conde Nast, (the latest Vogue actually weighs in at 4 pounds) the September issue of House & Garden is entirely portable, no door stopper. Still, it's thicker than usual, and boasts a purple and gold cover promoting ''Exotic Luxury and Global Style.''

I guess we can thank a variety of upscale furnishings advertisers for the added plump. So I was absolutely gobsmacked to read Editor Dominique Browning's letter about ''smartsizing.'' Hey, you're an editor in chief--practically a publisher! How can you possibly make fun of rich people and their vulgar habits? She does, though, in an amazingly straightforward and honest way.

Beyond mere McMansions, what Browning's addressing is the penchant toward the 27,000-square-foot houses in the new ''feudal Connecticut'' in which ''there are dressing rooms, spas... elaborate gymnasiums complete with climbing walls, swimming pools, tennis courts, their own skating rinks... carousels... putting greens... Perhaps every generation of wealth addresses the same question: How much is too much?''

As the inhabitant of a two-bedroom apartment in New York City that could probably fit inside Mrs. McMansion's infinity tub (her husband's is separate), I could not agree more.

Browning's concept of smartsizing means that ''people need different dwellings at different stages of their lives. It means that thinking trumps showing off.''

I'm sure it has not eluded Browning that the need for supersizing and ''showing off'' is exactly why many of her readers pick up the magazine, not to mention what allows her high-end advertisers to stay in business.

So are the advertisers apoplectic? Probably not. Because as I thought about it, I realized that the rich are different from you or me: someone like Laurie David (wife of Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm") is introduced with a straight face as a ''contributing editor committed to eco-conscious living.'' (Never mind the house in L.A., and the lavish spread in Martha's Vineyard, and the inevitable private plane trips between them.) Such people think that other people's excesses are excessive, not their own. To be honest, though, the issue promotes a higher level of domestic hypocrisy: why can't we all just get along and be comfy?

And on to the show. The mixed message/straddling two worlds/high-low theme remains throughout. On the ''Fabric Obsession'' page, the editors "imagined a decadent study fit for Anna Freud,'' complete with a $5,100 white leather chaise.

The ''Vanity'' page, which purports to talk about the reemergence of '80s style, is little more than an ad for Chanel.

Less disappointing is the ''Things We Love'' section. I indeed love the 9' x 6' rug that spells out the letters in ''Shag''--although I wouldn't pay $8,995 for it.

For holier-than-thou-ers who make fun of other people's hypocrisy, here's the rub with this magazine: It's much more fun to look at ''an old Paris apartment with theatrical proportions and stunning 19th century details'' (it gets 10 pages) than slog through the article about buying energy-saving appliances (a real snooze.)

Don't hate me because I hate Jay McInerney. The now middle-aged author of the early '80s phenom, Bright Lights, BigCity, has for some time written the wine column (''Uncorked") for HG. He never ceases to offend, or to make it all about him. Honestly, I went into this column, about Ann Colgin's wines, with an open mind. But I could not get past the fourth line before he started describing Colgin as a ''babe'' and being jealous of her husband. Apparently, she has redefined the concept of Napa cabernet, but do we really need to know that Jay finds himself '' racing through a series of steep switchbacks up Pritchard Hill in Colgin's little Mercedes (my girlfriend, Anne, sitting in my lap.)'' P.S., reader, he married her, (an heiress) but that's another story. Meanwhile, by the end of the column, the now-hitched Jay writes that Colgin complains that her husband will only allow her to travel with carry-on bags. Here's his witty aside: ''Confidential to A.C.: I'd let you check as many pieces as you wished.'' It's enough to make you want to spit out your Syrah.

By contrast, a piece by Rick Moody, who has also taken his share of knocks among the literati, practically sings. He's vaguely embarrassed about the luck that allowed him to buy a summer place on Fisher's Island, where he now lives almost year-round, and has started gardening. He describes the precariousness of his new obsession: ''One year the tomatoes are unstoppable and the ladybugs swarm like they've been watching 'The Ten Commandments.' The next year your water bill is outrageous, the tomatoes all crack, but you have never had sugar snaps that tasted so fine. But it's failure that keeps you coming back.''

Rounding out the issue is a smart and incisive review of architect Cesar Pelli's new Minneapolis Library, and a piece on collecting exotic things, like snuff bottles.

After all, collecting ''turned ivories'' or ''American portrait miniatures'' does not require a home of at least 20,000 square feet--just the purse strings required to run one.

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