I've received some strange inducements to get me to feature magazines in this space. One person wrote a limerick, which fell flat owing to the absence of the word "Nantucket." Another mistook me for a fizzy teenage girl by sending over a four-pack (!) of wine coolers. I can totally be bought, but come on: you gotta do better than that. For future reference, I wear a size-8.5 loafer and count spearfishing and cyber-karate as my hobbies.

I wouldn't have expected that the most clever appeal for Magazine Rack consideration would come from the folks at Fine Homebuilding, who relayed detailed plans for the oceanfront chateau they proposed building for me. I don't know why this surprised me, as some of the funniest people I know work for cardboard-dry publications. Truly, you haven't laughed until you've heard the staff of The Atlantic recite old Andrew Dice Clay monologues after downing a Coors Light beer ball or three.

Having made a new pal at Fine Homebuilding, I resolved to be as much of a prick as possible in my analysis of his mag. I'll show him for being pleasant and helpful! I'll show him but good!

And yet I can't muster anything besides admiration for the mag's annual Houses issue. A gorgeously presented compilation of building and design concepts, Houses surveys bungalow, ranch and cottage with aplomb, appending its every spread with the information (aerobic septic systems, structural panels, a bunch of other stuff beyond my limited comprehension) that fix-'er-uppers need. This is a magazine that sweats the details -- think Architectural Digest for the hard-core DIY set.

Given its Fine Homebuilding lineage, I opened Houses expecting lots of tips about regrouting the shower tiles. The mag, however, has loftier matters on its mind, especially in its first 30 pages. As opposed to reader letters or product piffle, Houses leads with a thoughtful piece on screwy building codes and an essay by a housing developer on the notion of the home as a social asset. Together, they do more to make the reader think than an entire bookshelf of home-redesign rags.

I also appreciate the mag's utilitarian bent. Yes, many of the featured houses stick to a specific motif, but it seems to me that most of the concepts are easily translatable to different spaces and styles. Similarly, the Spring/Summer issue pays more than token attention to lifestyle concerns, serving up ideas for late-life domiciles ("Designing the Best Last House") and ones inhabited by expanding families ("Growing Family, Growing Bungalow").

As for the house spreads, they come complete with specs/floor plans and appropriately descriptive text tips. The photography, as you'd guess, captures every sitting room and sliding shoji-screen door in all their sun-dappled glory. Give the mag's art staff bonus points for a few smaller, creative flourishes, like a rose-red bottom-page sidebar (bottombar?) on environmental sustainability and the way-thin headline fonts.

For the token-negative-comment part of this review, I don't have a whole lot. The writer of the first-person piece on building a dream house comes across as self-consumed as a certain Magazine Rack writer we know: In the two-sentence first paragraph, he drops four "I"'s, three "my"'s and one "me." The headlines get a bit dippy at times ("Seduced by the Shingle Style"), while the "Fixtures & Materials" blurbs deserve more than the 100 or so words they're afforded.

Ultimately, though, Houses is as deserving of coffee-table showcase as the luxe-design titles that have long dominated that coveted piece of living-room real estate. Even if you're as unable as I am to pull off the projects it details without violating multiple building codes and international treaties, you'll still be impressed by the overall package. My Fine Homebuilding crony has good reason to crow.

Published by: The Taunton Press
Frequency: annual (Fine Homebuilding is published eight times per year)
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