Paige Rense Retires
The announcement that Paige Rense will finally, finally hand
over the reins at Architectural Digest is the coda to an era that climaxed before collapsing into the recent closings
of Metropolitan Home and House
& Garden. Chintz no longer rules. Nor, for that matter, do dogs, who stood in for that frilly
fabric as the humanizing touch in the more modernist spreads in MetHome, as we liked to call it. “Shelter magazines” will continue to exist, but the days
when they ruled the domestic market are gone, and Rense had become an empress
without a realm.
In its day, Digest did rule. I only wrote one article for
them, back in the early 1990s, but I always aspired to be admitted into that
fat “book,” or advertising-swollen magazine. Not only did they pay what to me seemed like a ridiculous amount of money for few words strewn among the lavish photographs (not to
mention the expense account, of course), but every architect designing houses
aspired to be in that magazine. Making it into Digest
meant a ride on the gravy train of rich clients, or at least so most designers
thought. The pesky little problem
was that most of the designers whose work I would want to write about might
want to be in Digest, but they
did not want to design in such a way as to be natural candidates for the
magazine. And, truth be told, it
did not come naturally to me to write in such a way that I might find my words
in print there.
I did do a lot of writing instead for Metropolitan Home and for almost two decades was listed as a contributing editor on their masthead. For a while, I was their agent from the avant garde, the purveyor of
mainly West Coast weirdness. As
long as there was a dog in the scouting shots, decent-looking furniture, and
the indefinable, but distinct sense of hominess, even the work of the purveyors
of Dead Tech or Neo-Constructivism had a chance in that magazine.
But MetHome was an
outlier, a magazine that started by showing modern apartments in New York and
that wound up surfing the trend toward Neo-W Hotel modernism, only to be
outmaneuvered on that wave by such upstarts as Dwell. Over
the decades, Digest lorded it
over all. It was not the fanciest
of magazines (that would be Town & Country), nor was it particularly beautiful in its design, writing, or photography, but it somehow caught what every middle class
homemaker wanted to make and the home to which arrived arriviste wanted to come home to.
It is easy to make fun of Digest, and even easier to dismiss it as
just a decorating rag. But that
would be to dismiss the immense skill of the designers who did create the
interiors Digest showed. It would also miss the fact that the domestic stage sets on display there were infinitely more successful at creating a seamless, sensual, and
sensible environment than most architects are capable of even imagining. You would also miss Rense’s not always
infallible, but consistent, ability to find the most successful of all these
rooms and give them room in her pages. Whomever fills her shoes, and her pages, will have to figure out how to
take us home again in a world in which the ceaseless hunting and gathering of
an electronically enabled global economy has turned homemakers into homepage
keepers and in which Ebay trumps any designer discount.
P.S. For all the Gehry, Libeskind, and Las Vegas haters out there: Wow. I did not know that trying to make a measured assesment of a building could be a task as arduous as arguing for Obama's American-born status in Wyoming. Can't wait to read what y'all make of the above. — A.