At home with the style setters
We aspire to the visions of perfection they feature in the pages of their magazines, but what of thei r own homes? Lesley Gillilan drops in on the editors behind three of our top interiors magazines
Sunday 14 December 1997
At Clare Weatherall's Edwardian terraced house in Brentford (she is editor of Period Living & Traditional Homes, or PL&TH) we sink into plump cushions on upholstered armchairs, share a china pot of no-nonsense tea served on a tray, and talk about the "curse of the plastic window merchant" and other home-improvement issues. "I'm fascinated by other people's clutter," she says. "But I like things neat and tidy myself." She apologises for her jeans and T-shirt. She got drenched on the way home and had to change.
Tyler Brule, the managing editor of Wallpaper*, has no chairs. He doesn't drink "hot beverages", and offers me no substitute. We sit on the floor, surrounded by islands of laundry-in-waiting, stacks of still-Cellophaned Klein vests, and a collection of geographical globes - their Arctic poles protruding from their boxes. The seat of his trim black "pants" (he is from Toronto) is soaking up house dust from the plastic sheeting covering his new floors. He is wearing Prada leather loafers, no socks, something Brylcreemy on his hair. A real man-about-town, he jitters with urban tension and probably jet-lag.
He took over the lease of his rented W1 apartment in "mid-Feb" but what with visits to Bali and Stockholm, and the sale of Wallpaper* to Times Inc, he hasn't had time to furnish it. He makes do with distributing a shopping-list of design icons around its empty shell - a Mies van der Rohe leather daybed over there, a Knoll chair here, and Eames in a corner; a banquette in the bedroom and a remote-controlled pop-up television in a box. "I hate to see TVs in living rooms."
My series of at-home chats with the some of the top dogs of the "home interest" media was a fascinating insight into what makes these mag-azines tick and the engines that drive their par-ticular corner of the market. Elle Decoration is summed up by its editor's own prescription for living: "I'm a beauty snob but I like a high level of slovenliness, too. I find over-decorated rooms scary, they are too fixed, but I'd rather have a lovely blanket than an unlovely one."
(A recent issue's viewing of the new Conran homewares collection invites the reader to lie in with Terence, four blondes, a couple of tattooed androgynes, Dune indigo cushions and a breakfast tray, swaddled in a crumple of pure cotton bedlinen, scattered with Django stoneware.)
Clare Weatherall believes that modernising an old house is like "fighting nature ... it's not a logical decision". But the British, she says, "are secretly romantic, they love their history and they like homes which allow them to relive something of the past. But you can't be too precious - where do you put the TV?" (PL&TH's current issue offers tips on insulation, how to make a window seat, and pre-Raphaelite silks for stylish windows.)
Tyler Brule defines his target audience as "people who have outgrown The Face, Sky and Arena; they work in record companies or something like that and have just bought a flat in Kensal Rise for pounds 127,000 and don't know what the hell to do with it. They know they like Prada loafers and really skinny jumpers from John Smedley, but they don't know what kind of fridge they want." (Wallpaper* advises on the art of the inner-city vacation with a 10-point guide on going nowhere, takes you inside the new British Library, and profiles Swiss design team N2.)
In this weighty, still burgeoning, sector of consumer publishing, these glossy journals help feed Britain's voracious appetite for home improvement, bring on attacks of the I wants, bombard us with habit-forming product information and, more to the point make us feel that our own homes are a bit naff. When Ilse Crawford asks her subjects to reveal the contents of their fridges, do they ever admit to hard cheese, cold spuds and a half-eaten tub of coleslaw, past its sell-by date? Of course not. The kind of people who make it on to these pages have Smeg coolers crammed with Key Lime pie, broccoli rabe and near-empty bottles of Campari.
The magazines themselves have become part of the decor - strewn across coffee tables, or displayed on bookshelves. The one you choose - House & Garden, Country Living, House Beautiful and, oh dear, Essential Kitchens, Bedrooms and Bathrooms - speaks volumes about your aspirations, if not your pocket. And in some respects, the pressures they bear are more tyrannical than that of glamorous fashion magazines. Changing a room in order to keep up with the whimsical ins and outs of seasonal trends is a great deal more trouble and expense than changing into a new frock. And, just to confuse the issue, the distinction between frocks and furniture is increasingly becoming a blur. Imagine, then, the pressures borne by protagonists of the wall-to-wall, top-to-toe lifestyle package.
"One of the things people often say to me is 'I bet you have a lovely home,'" wrote Ilse Crawford in the foreword of the November issue of Elle Decoration. It's a fair assumption. Architects, after all, don't tend to live in Barratt-built brick boxes. Clare Weatherall often makes references to her own domestic arrangements in her regular editorial, "A Letter from Home". But when I asked her to send me some pictures of her home as a prelude to taking part in this article, she said: "Oh no, do I have to? It'll be so embarrassing if you turn me down."
In Wallpaper*, it would be difficult to tell whether Tyler Brule's private space ever makes a guest appearance. It if did, the place would be styled out of recognition with a delivery van full of designer props, lined with shag pile and a rent-a-crowd of vapid babes of both sexes.
With the exception of Min Hogg, grande dame of Conde Naste's The World of Interiors, I known of no confirmed cases where editors have put their own homes on display to their readers. The writer commissioned to do the job (he was "honoured", he said, "but wary") fawned his way through the piece - describing Min as "kind and crusty in almost equal measure" and her "dec" home as a "riot of high-class clutter" - while trotting out a disclaimer of sorts. "This is a desperate measure to get more colour into the April issue."
Ms Hogg was quoted as saying that, "it's bloody hard to find exciting new houses in Britain." Yes, but magazine editors, all of them bloody fussy, are not easily turned on. "Oh dear, what a pity about those dreadful lampshades," they might say, when presented with snapshots of a proud home owner's sterling efforts in the interior design department. "Mmm, we might just get away with it with a bit of styling ... but is there enough decorating ideas?"
Styling, incidentally, is the art of deception: hide a damp patch behind a vase of flowers; re-arrange the furniture; edit out the pipes and the power sockets. "In photographs, there are ways of making things look nicer than they really are," admits Ilse. I am, therefore, comforted by the rawness of her own slightly cruddy kitchen ("I like to have somewhere where you don't have to be precious, where I can stick any old thing on the wall and not worry about it"); the pair of elderly trainers airing on her bathroom window- sill; the hillock of clothing thrown casually on her bedroom chair. What does she have in her fridge? Lots of fruit. Half a can of dog food.
I am able to report that Clare Weatherall's style of period living does not extend to slaving over an Aga, or preclude the use of microwaves or dishwashers. ("Who wants to go back to scrubbing dishes with sand?") She vows to remove "that horrible light fitting" in the hall.
And not only is Tyler Brule a slob ("actually, I'm an absolute pig"), but, in his kitchen sink, I find a handful of grey socks soaking in several inches of water beneath a film of socky scum. "Oh, that's a dyeing experiment that went wrong," he explains. The editor of Wallpaper* dyes socks?
It's like discovering that Naomi Campbell's thighs are rippled with cellulite and she suffers from outbreaks of pre-menstrual spots. And if I am enjoying the moment, it's not a case of Schadenfreude, but one of relief. If these people are not enslaved by their own editorial hype, their own visions of sartorial perfection, then why should we be? Ilse Crawford agrees, adding that she feels no pressure to measure up to any standard by which homes may be judged. "The more you see places in magazines the more you realise that trying to make a home look like someone else's is never going to work," she says.
"It's about creating something you feel comfortable in. When I launched Elle Deco eight years ago, style was not about living but about status symbols. There's more confidence now, and people are seeing their personal space as a place where they can be themselves."
People read magazines, she adds, because they are looking for ideas; but often it's a way of focusing those they have. "It's also a form of escapism. The homes we feature have to be inspirational in some way and allow you to dream. I look for things that are a standard-bearer of quality but I'm very interested in how people live as well as what they live with. Aesthetics are not enough."
Clare Weatherall doesn't think her house is up to Period Living's standards. "But it's enthusiasm that makes a house interesting," she says. "And I'm not sure that you can be editor of any title unless you are passionate about the subject matter. The magazine has to be a treat, but it's also about making a connection with your audience.
"A lot of our readers are doing up old houses and some of them are living through horrendous building experiences. We try to be there to hold their hands, give them a bit of hope. Other people's homes are the most popular element of the magazine and the interest is in thinking 'my house will look like that one day.' "
Only Tyler Brule - an ex-war correspondent who made a career change after being injured in Afghanistan - confesses to being under pressure to produce a private space worthy of public exposure. "A year ago, I'd never have expected to sell Wallpaper* to the biggest media company in the world. Our office has to be fantastic; my house has to look good, too."
! Ilse Crawford's book 'Sensual Home' was recently published by Quadrille, priced pounds 19.99
THE LOW DOWN
Editor: Tyler Brule
Owned by: Times Inc
Mission statement: The Stuff that Surrounds You
Circulation: 45,000 (uncertified)
Cover price: pounds 3
Cover line: Nutcracker Suite
Contents: A 90's take on 50's minimalism; Swiss furniture-makers N2; a celebration of the godfather of Scandinavian modernism, Alvo Aalto.
Extract from editor's foreword:
"...we feel that the only way forward is for Wallpaper* to have its own jet. While our parents Time-Warner have got a rather predictable Gulf stream V on order, we feel the future of publishing will play itself out in the mink and walnut cabins of our customized 737 that will be both editorial office and modish mile-high club. Every day will see our asterisk- covered aircraft swoop onto another capital city to gather intelligence for the next issue..."
Period Living & Traditional Homes
Editor: Clare Weatherall
Owned by: Emap Elan
Mission statement: For everyone who loves living in a period home or decorating in a traditional style
Cover price: pounds 2.60
Cover Lines: Home Comforts, A water mill in Wales, a Georgian sandstone cottage, and a 13th-century ex-monastery. Curtain inspiration. Beautiful, tough papers. Stencilling tricks.
Extract from editor's foreword:
"Welcome to the December issue, home of all things festive. I wish you joy and peace, and that your roast potatoes may be crispy on the outside and succulent within (not the state of grace mine ever achieve, I have to say - soggy and fat-laden on the outside and pebble-like on the inside, more like)..."
Editor: Ilse Crawford
Owned by: Hachette/ Emap Elan
Mission statement: The magazine for the modern home
Cover price: pounds 2.60
Cover lines: Make Your Home a Pleasure Zone. Stay Cool this Yule. Easy Modern Homes, Paris Antwerp London. Contents: a Mayfair bachelor pad designed with overtones of Bond; Ideal Christmas escape - to a cabin on the lakeside in the middle of the woods; A bus ride to heaven - church architecture of the City of London; Gadgets for grown-ups
Extract from editor's foreword:
"December is generally a blur, so there isn't time to be overcomplicated. This issue of 'Elle Decoration' gives you all you need to keep your cool at Christmas. Indulge yourself with simple, sensual pleasures. Our A-Z of Christmas should give you a few ideas - from incense to satin sheets, quince honey to hot toddies."
TYLER BRULE: WALLPAPER*
"I like this apartment because it's got a certain continental grandness, yet lots of modern virtues. The shutters are amazing. What I want to achieve here is a realistic international style. I'm not a minimalist although a lot of the objects I like are vehicles of minimalism.
"Most of the things I've chosen for the apartment are not designed for residential use. They are heavy-duty, stainless steel-framed industrial things - the kind of stuff you'd find in the lobby of Chase Manhattan Bank. I want to be able to throw my suit-cases around and bump into things without worrying about damaging the furniture. I also want the place to function as a vehicle for getting me going in the mornings.
"For me, it's important to have a sort of motorway between the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen, so I can race from one to the other. I don't do breakfast, particularly if I've got a plane to catch (God, I'm always late for planes), but a really good shower is a must. I don't do tubs, either.
"The living room is going to be all white and the rest of the rooms will be a mixture of toast, biscuit and taupe. In the kitchen, you won't see any appliances - I want it to be a clean, machine-free space. And I'm looking at a fantastic bed with a triple mattress - the kind of bed you'd want to stay in all weekend."
CLARE WEATHERALL: PERIOD LIVING & TRADITIONAL HOMES
"I knew as soon as we walked up the garden path that this was the house. Why? Because it was the only one we'd seen that didn't have plastic windows. It was, however, infested with fleas, and the kitchen was lined with horrible oatmeal tiles, and crappy 1970s kitchen units. We ripped up all the carpets, sanded all the floors, stripped all the walls - I had woodchip under my fingernails for months.
"My husband, Richard, and I did all the work ourselves, so I've got real sympathy with the 'why am I here' element of doing up a house and the fantastic sense of achievement of getting it finished. But it's like having a baby; by the time you start thinking about having another one, you've forgotten all the awful, painful bits.
"My look, if you like, is strong bright colours and traditional British comfort. I'm not a great fan of wallpaper, and I'm very keen on Arts and Crafts. We found the kitchen dresser in a barn in Leicestershire; the pictures all come from junk shops; the old- fashioned runner on the hall floor sets the tone for the rest of the house. It looks so much better than fitted carpets, even if it is a bit draughty in the winter."
ILSE CRAWFORD: ELLE DECORATION
"What I really like about this flat is that it is Architecture. The building is early Georgian and the Georgians were modernists; their interiors were stripped down to the bare essentials, but were well-planned and nicely worked out. If you get the basics right everything else comes together instinctively.
"All I've done since I moved in three years ago is cleaned up the shell. I bought the most expensive paint I could afford at the time and the whole place is wraparound Casablanca by John Oliver. It reflects the light beautifully. Nice paint is worth the money.
"In the end, interiors are living, thinking, working places and it's important that you make all of those things as rich an experience as it can be. I believe that your home can change the way you feel about the world; one eye sees and the other feels, and it's about balancing the two. Objects that feel good are obviously going to be more enjoyable to use.
"My favourite is a mix of modern and traditional. I'm very attached to my huge comfy sofa, but the choice is a practical one rather a design decision. I try to limit my belongings to the things I actually use, unless they've got massive sentimental value, because I don't have time to look after them. I'm not very tidy. And I can't imagine life without a dog."
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