Commentary

Homesick: My Shelter Book Crisis

First, the epitaph.

I've been watching the magazine cemetery fill up with more and more shelter books, from Cottage Living to Country Home to Home.  But my heart broke only for the latest casualty: Condé Nast's Domino. This was a magazine I anticipated so eagerly every month that, not knowing the exact publication date, I'd keep checking its Web site to see when the new issue's cover would be posted online.

What in the pub's DNA inspired such stalker-like devotion?  "Taste without humanity freaks me out," wrote Editor In Chief Deborah Needleman in one of her monthly letters to readers -- and Domino had both qualities, in spades. (I think that's her exact quote, but I'm still too devastated to go through my pile of back issues to check.).

Quirky, warming humanity came through its pages, from witty captions informed by pop culture, to the columns of "Adventuress" Cynthia Kling. She was so easy to identify with, fending off snooty French florists in a flower-arranging course or learning to deal with her sloppy, anti-social tendencies and to host weekend guests ("Sheesh. I'd shopped for gourmet treats and DVDs -- was I supposed to vacuum too?" she wrote.).

Style Director Dara Caponigro was a non-snobby stickler for quality and recycling, part of the mag's team dedicated to teaching in a down-to-earth, non-pendantic way. I found ideas I could actually use, too, from mention of the softest (and cheapest) towels from Target, to an affordable Venetian-like mirror.

I'm apparently one of many, many other Domino fans, as Thursday's  piece on this topic in the New York Times  made clear. Domino targeted a market (younger, maybe "hipper," design-savvy yet budget-conscious) that was not being served by other mags, so its demise seems a particularly dumb move on Condé Nast's part.

And with the whole category of print shelter books down for the count, I'm thinking how silly it is for publishers to shut down magazines whose actual physical presence is so well-suited to reader service. After all, one of the first tips for do-it-yourself/designer-aided decorating is always the same: tear out pages and start a file of ideas. (The always forward-thinking Domino editors developed My Deco File, a way to house virtual clips and photos, on the pub's Web site, which is also going black.) When the economy comes back and home sales get hot again, what magazines will be left to tear pages out of?

But enough about the short-sightedness of publishing executives. Let's get back to the real issue: What will I read now for my monthly design fix?

Two of my other dead favorites were brand extensions  -- O at Home and InStyle Home -- that will presumably live on as occasional design pages inside their still-thriving sister pubs. But that's not enough to get me through the month!

I do subscribe to Country Living, but it's often a bit too fresh-faced for my innate, er, urbanity. So I'm looking forward to seeing what CL's new editor, Sarah Gray Miller (founder of the snarky, long-gone Budget Living, and most recently, editor of O at Home) will do with it. Will she unfrump it, make it younger and fresher?

I checked out the latest issue of House Beautiful, and found some potential in its pages, such as a feature on small steps you can take to make to make a difference in your house. I liked the suggestion to paint baseboards dark colors: "It's like applying  eyeliner --  it will make the walls pop. Plus, it won't show scuffs!"

But HB is still too decorator-centric for my taste. All the main features are interviews with the designers who did the rooms, which leads to questions like: "What possessed you to paint the mantel black?... Is it a first for you?" Now, I could give a flying candelabra for some fancy-shmancy designer's color process. I want to hear how somebody actually lives in a particular room -- how it makes them happy. That's a concept Domino editors apparently understood.

In fact, the magazine's monthly back-page feature, "10 Things That Make Me Happy," allowed design folks to rave about their favorite objects, from food to wastebaskets. With the death of Domino, I've got one less item on my happiness list. These days, especially, that's quite a loss.

6 comments about "Homesick: My Shelter Book Crisis".
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  1. John Gibbs from John Gibbs & Associates, February 6, 2009 at 1:29 p.m.

    One book that has been overlooked was the closure is Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion. The book had an extremely loyal and engaged audience and it was enjoying increase in ad pages.

    Silly decision to pull the plug on this one too.

  2. Robert Wilson, February 6, 2009 at 1:54 p.m.

    And lest we forget...
    The breezy, contemporary "Jewish Living" ceased publication on Rosh Hashanah 2008, after only five enjoyable issues.
    My wife recently asked me why we hadn't received anything from them when we'd paid for a two-year subscription (around $30) - and no refund or alternative magazines were offered (e.g., "Heeb"), instead.

  3. Marcia Chocinsky from Fahlgren Advertising, February 6, 2009 at 2:03 p.m.

    I hadn't picked up a copy of Domino, but your article makes me wish I had. It sounds like it was an enjoyable read.

  4. Mikki Beno, February 6, 2009 at 2:39 p.m.

    What about Metropolitan Home? Have you tried that one? I've subscribed on and off over the years. and though I never tried Domino, I do miss Budget Living.

  5. Judy Margolis from The Ad Place, February 10, 2009 at 3:29 p.m.

    Ms. Fine,

    I always enjoy your reviews, I too was getting both Domino and Cottage Living and was dissapointed when they both stopped publishing. I find it interesting that each of the shelter magazines do actually speak to different demographics in such different ways. Cottage Living has replaced my remaining subscription with Southern Living which is better than Sunset, but not as good as what I lost. I'm eager to check out the Dwell web-site, thank you Cha Mueller.

  6. Mara Schneider from Conroy Media, February 12, 2009 at 10:41 a.m.

    Pointclickhome.com is still alive and well. It seems that a lot of magazines are stopping print publishing and publishing online due to rising production costs. Case in point, CRAFT magazine, will cease print and is now solely online.

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