Beyond Buildings


Paige Rense Retires

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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.


Rothschild Interiors


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.


Architectural Digest


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.




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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.