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Does the Shuttering of House & Garden Signal a Trend?

December 12, 2007

By David Sokol

Progressive Architecture, Interiors, World Architecture, Architecture, Nest: Publishing is a fickle business, and the death knell has clanged particularly loudly for magazines devoted to architecture and design. That point resonated last month, when Condé Nast publications president and CEO Charles H. Townsend announced that the December 2007 issue of House & Garden would be its last, citing, “We no longer believe it is a viable business investment for the company.”

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House & Garden had been shuttered once before, in 1993, corresponding with Condé Nast’s purchase of Architectural Digest. The parent company re-launched House & Garden three years later under editor-in-chief Dominique Browning, who oversaw the magazine through its final issue. Observers speculate that the magazine again fell victim to self-cannibalization: In 2006 Condé Nast launched the shelter titles Domino and Vogue Living.

H&G was first published in 1901 by Philadelphia architects Herbert C. Wise, Wilson Eyre, and Frank Miles Day —the only competitor to have more seniority is the 111-year-old magazine House Beautiful. In its most recent incarnation as a luxury design and home-entertaining magazine, H&G’s circulation neared 1 million. “Readership satisfaction by all measures was extremely high,” adds the former magazine’s architecture critic Martin Filler, “but management was baffled by the disconnect between that and the seeming inability to sell advertising.”

Magazine publisher Joseph Lagani resigned in October to work for the online property GlamLiving, and Condé Nast brass did not make an effort to find a replacement. The company has already found new in-house positions for a handful of former H&G employees, according to sources familiar with the magazine, but not all of the 80-person staff has received placements.

Given H&G’s recent track record of anemic page counts and publisher turnover, it is unclear if the magazine’s closure is symptomatic of larger economic phenomena, such as the collapse of the U.S. housing market. The market of shelter magazines remains crowded—even in light of this week’s announcement that Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia would discontinue Blueprint, a competitor to the youth-oriented Domino.

Viewed alongside the folding of other professional design magazines, though, the end of H&G spells a clear cultural trend, says Reed Kroloff, former editor-in-chief of Architecture and currently director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum. Although H&G was not primarily known for its criticism, Kroloff believes that “national media has moved to acknowledge critical evaluation less and less for 20 years now. The biggest loss here is the outlet for Martin Filler and Mayer Rus.”

For his part, Filler says that he regrets silencing dialogue with an audience that had just awakened to the museum building boom and urban advocacy. He adds that Browning deserves credit for raising awareness about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and “doing more on environmental issues than just showing the latest in hemp upholstery.”

But Filler most laments that architects and designers have been denied a forum for debating decidedly unspectacular work: “I was about to write something about George Ranalli’s Saratoga Avenue Community Center in Brooklyn, which is an extremely distinguished piece of advocacy architecture. Now who will talk about it?”

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