Sofa so good for H&G's first 50 years

In recent years the words House & Garden have conjured up a reassuringly comfortable world of well-plumped cushions and floral chintz. In reality, Britain's leading interior design, gardens and food magazine, 50 this year, has always been rather more adventurous than you might expect - a pleasing mix of the new and the traditional. In 1947, Cecil Beaton's theatrical decor was compared with that of a Modernist flat in London's Highpoint; 50 years on, Richard and Ruthie Rogers's soaring, open-plan house complements a feature on Arundel Castle.

Like Vogue, House & Garden is a US import from the Conde Nast stable. American House & Garden first appeared in 1902, but England had to wait another 45 years for its own version after the war interrupted its planned launch in the late Thirties. As it was, austerity didn't stand a chance when in February 1947 the first polite, elegant copy of British House & Garden, price three shillings, descended on the nation's occasional tables. On its cover was a masculine, dark-green study with striped, swagged curtains, a rose-strewn carpet and a bright-red chair. It looks startling and modern even by today's standards, as does the cover of the subsequent issue, depicting two metal garden chairs posed against lemon-yellow walls. Thanks to the continuing paper shortage, early readers were rationed to four copies a year, with only seven colour pages. It was only in 1952 that the magazine began to appear monthly.

House & Garden has only ever had four editors, giving it a rare continuity. This is largely owing to the remarkable 36-year tenure of Robert Harling, at its helm from 1957 to 1993, after briefer stints by the founding editor, Anthony Hunt, and Michael Middleton. Harling's successor, the first woman in the post, is the high-spirited and youthful Sue Crewe.

The debonair Harling described editing House & Garden as "the most exhilarating non-toxic drug ever concocted outside a pharmacy" - so much so that, even at the age of 84, he is reported to have hated retiring. An elusive figure, about whom little is known, Harling arrived at House & Garden on the recommendation of James Bond creator Ian Fleming, with whom he served first in naval intelligence during the Second World War and afterwards on The Sunday Times - in between his stints editing the design magazines Typography, Alphabet & Image and Image.

Harling's vision shaped the House & Garden of today: the bold, two-line title; the international flavour; the plethora of photographs and classic typography. His stated preference was always for period houses and decoration, but he "steeled himself" to feature contemporary houses by architects such as Hugh Casson, James Stirling and Basil Spence. The result was a stimulating, sophisticated brew: Bridget Riley's Op-Art effects and David Hockney's fantasy flat alongside John Fowler's graceful country-house variations, Nancy Lancaster's gardens and Geoffrey Bennison's gentleman's- club look for Terence Stamp. Bold room sets by Olive Sullivan (H&G's lively decoration editor 1956-86) fizz with colour next to an article on garden paving around the world by Peter Coats who - amazingly - served as gardening editor from 1948 to 1990. (Coats's and Harling's dandified dress - cravats and drainpipe trousers - was a source of great delight at Vogue House in the 1980s.)

Harling presided over a tremendous transition in taste from the spiky Fifties (Terence Conran makes an early entry in 1951) through the swirling, geometric Sixties, luridly coloured Seventies, ritzy Eighties and back- to-the-natural Nineties. The magazine was the window for everyone in the design world, from David Hicks to Michael Hopkins, providing a fully illustrated history of the English room over the last 50 years. Under Harling's stewardship the circulation grew from 40,000 in 1957 to a then-high of 140,000 when he retired.

For many years House & Garden had the field of smart decorating to itself. By the Eighties however, as house prices galloped, a feverish interest in all aspects of design arose. House & Garden found its status threatened by a whole raft of brave new decorating magazines - The World of Interiors, Elle Decoration and Architectural Digest, to name but a few. Sue Crewe believes that House & Garden's strength is its ability to reflect the ethos of the time. Like its readers, House & Garden rapturously embraced the born-again country house look in the Eighties and like them, was reluctant to abandon it again. By the early Nineties, it was looking rather tired.

Today, a fresher, more vibrant look is back in vogue, which Sue Crewe is only too happy to reflect - along with giving prominence to young designers, and promoting the more tranquil and even one-room living its readers are moving towards. In the celebratory July issue she has gathered together 70 eminent architects, decorators, cooks and gardeners - "a visual 'who's who' of British design at the end of the millenium".

For the readers, it is a bumper-sized version of what House & Garden does so well: Mediterranean effects in an English garden; Mogens Tholstrup's Chelsea pad; an Irish castle's gardens; travel; shopping; modern picnic food. The formula evidently works: last year House & Garden's circulation overtook that of Homes & Gardens, its more down-to-earth 78-year old sister, while this summer it has soared to an all-time high of 168,000. A gratifyingly happy birthday indeedn

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Account Executive / Account Manager

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive / Account Manager is ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Social Media Account Writers

£12000 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This social media management pr...

Ashdown Group: Deputy Editor (Magazine Publishing) - Wimbledon - £23-26K

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Deputy Editor - Wimbledon...

Ashdown Group: Editor (Magazines/Publishing) - Wimbledon - £26-30K

£26000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Editor (Magazines/Publish...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones