MCEVOY REMODELS HOUSE BEAUTIFUL
Byline: Lisa Lockwood
NEW YORK — “All magazines, like all good houses, need renovation.”
So says Marian McEvoy, the colorful editor in chief of the 104-year-old House Beautiful, who unveiled her first completely redesigned issue — February — last month. The March issue has just hit newsstands.
The former editor in chief of Elle Decor, who previously worked at Elle, The New York Times Magazine and in WWD’s Paris bureau, McEvoy is clearly ready for the challenge of bringing the venerable House Beautiful into the 21st century.
With a circulation of 860,000 and monthly frequency, McEvoy is reveling in the heightened pace. Her previous title, Elle Decor, had a rate base of 450,000 and came out eight times a year.
“It’s a big, busy multifaceted staff. We have very fast deadlines,” said McEvoy, adding that she works better under pressure. She attributes that to her training in Paris, working for W and WWD, where there was an intense daily deadline and there was no such thing as “it can’t be done.”
“Magazine people are sometimes at cruise-boat speed,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of patience.”
McEvoy succeeded Louis Oliver Gropp, the well-respected editor in chief who ran House Beautiful for 10 years.
“It was a clean and neat succession,” she says. “Lou retired and it was a natural thing. It was not an uncomfortable transition.” Gropp had preceded McEvoy at Elle Decor as well.
Last year, House Beautiful trailed Elle Decor and Architectural Digest in ad pages. House Beautiful carried 1,174 ad pages. With four fewer issues, Elle Decor carried 1,200 ad pages, while category leader AD had 1,860 ad pages. House & Garden carried 1,135.5 ad pages.
Through March 2001, House Beautiful’s ad pages are off 4.5 percent, but Hearst officials say advertisers hadn’t had a chance to see McEvoy’s first issues — which were heavily under wraps.
Advertisers have since taken notice.
“It looks great. It’s so much better than we remembered it. It really looks beautiful and she’s going in the right direction,” said Sam Shahid, owner of Shahid & Co., an ad agency here. “You see her imprint. I loved what she did at Elle Decor and she’s bringing the same sensibility, but it’s different. She’s always had good taste.”
Shahid added that he’d definitely recommend House Beautiful to his advertising clients.
Stepping into McEvoy’s office, visitors are greeted with a barrage of color. On the walls, she uses colorful markers to show what’s on deck for upcoming issues; there is a marker-and-paint set on her desk and red and pink roses in vases.
The office reflects the sensibility of the magazine.
“I like color,” she said, “I like modern and pretty. I like people who are smiling and enjoying their houses. Does it [the magazine] make you smile? Does it give you an idea?”
Comparing her new post to that at Elle Decor, McEvoy said she doesn’t want the magazine to be exclusively “New York-esque” or “California.”
“House Beautiful has a broader national audience. I’m going all over the South, to Seattle, and to parts of Florida that are not the obvious ones. When I was at Elle Decor, it wasn’t the first thing on my mind,” she said.
McEvoy said she’s bringing a few new fashion photographers to the magazine, including Oberto Gili, Eric Boman and Fernando Bengoechea, whom she says know how to bring people into a room to give it a certain sense of style.
She also said she likes a wide range of styles, from 17th-century Spanish to 20th-century American.
“I’m into everything — it has to be personal looking. I won’t show you an empty room. It’s dumb for a decorating magazine,” she averred. “It has to be well done. It has to be an idea that’s copyable somewhere. I don’t want this to be sacred.”
McEvoy says she’s getting a good response from readers on the redesign, and receives about 80 to 90 e-mails a day, which she answers every morning. She said people seem to appreciate her use of light, putting more white space on the pages and the fresh topography. They also like the inclusion of children on the pages.
McEvoy said she leans more toward the visual: “I can write and draw. As a magazine editor, you have to be tilting slightly to the visual. Most of your magazine readers won’t read every word, but will look at every picture.”
The magazine currently has a median age reader of 47, but McEvoy is convinced it will start getting younger. Among the features she’s added to the magazine are Swatch Watch, in which one piece of furniture is shown upholstered in nine different fabrics; Charlotte’s Web, a guide to the best home-related resources on the Internet; and Designer Challenge, where a well-known decorator is dispatched to a mass market retail outlet to furnish a room in less than two hours.
For now, she’s touring the country with the new issue, showing her favorite slides and speaking to Junior Leagues, designers, trustees and patrons of the arts in cities such as Fort Myers, Fla., Washington, D.C., and Seattle.
While McEvoy acknowledges that the competition to see new houses first is as intense as ever, she said she has no problem getting good houses. She said there are certain houses that she gets dibs on first, but if she doesn’t love it, she’s not going to run it.
“You’re not going to like everything you see,” she said. “My look is going to be very feminine. It’s friendly glamour. It’s not off-putting. I like a house that looks like effort has gone into it. I want joy, color and fun, and humor is an important part.”
But she said she’s not interested in getting houses just for the sake of making news.
“If I put Monica Lewinsky’s love nest in the magazine, I’d have five readers left,” she said. “We don’t put celebrities in general on the cover. My reader doesn’t care that this is Christy Turlington’s room. To put her on the cover does not assure me of sales.”