Haven’t you always dreamed of owning a Hamptons weekend getaway “inspired” by the Lazienki Palace in Warsaw and the Château de Groussay outside Paris, like the mega-crib featured in this month’s Veranda? Or perhaps you’d prefer a “small castle” in the Netherlands blending “old-world charm and modern-day simplicity,” as seen in Elle Décor? These are places where a $550 waste bin or $20,000 luggage—just a few of the “trinkets” in the latest design tomes—would feel at home. With luxury surging back, high-end shelter magazines once nearing extinction are riding that gilded wave back to the top.
The upturn comes after the 2008 recession bloodletting when a slew of shelter glossies folded amid the ad sales free fall. Today, ad pages in the category’s high end are up nearly 25 percent in the first quarter of 2012 compared to last year—a huge leap considering the magazine industry’s 8 percent overall drop. What’s more, in recent months four new home design titles have appeared on newsstands. With the economy (and housing market) still shaky, what’s different this time?
When Blueprint, Metropolitan Home and Domino were shuttered, readers and young would-be decorators were passionate for their forward-thinking design. Another casualty, mainstay House & Garden was well respected, with Anna Wintour as one-time editor. But with advertisers and publishers pinching pennies, these titles—beloved or not—were unceremoniously axed despite reader numbers like Domino’s 800,000 circulation.
Now the clouds are finally clearing. “The design centers are active again, designers are working again and that’s great for the manufacturers,” explains Traditional Home publisher Beth Brenner. As a result, titles whose advertising revenue had been steadily declining are reporting ad page gains in the first quarter: Veranda’s pages rose 63 percent, Elle Décor 40 percent, Traditional Home 37 percent and Architectural Digest 24 percent.
At the same time, several publishers are testing the waters with new titles. After two successful test issues of HGTV Magazine, Hearst recently green-lit another four. Boutique title Cottages & Gardens launched a New York edition of its Hamptons and Connecticut publications in mid-March. A month later, Condé Nast released Domino Quick Fixes, a newsstand-only, one-off edition that created massive design world buzz despite mostly rehashed content from old issues. (A second Domino special edition will be published this fall.) And last week, New York debuted its one-off title, Design Hunting, based on the weekly’s popular online newsletter with its huge sourcebook aimed at the New York set.
On the advertising front, the upswing links to the resurgence of luxury brands. Titles catering to the uber-wealthy, like W and Departures, reported 17 and 8 ad-page increases, respectively, for the first quarter of 2012. And this holiday season, shoppers flocked to pricey department stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks and Nordstrom, which overall saw 10 percent sales gains over the prior year.
In targeting the wealthy, advertisers are realizing that exclusive shelters provide an ideal vehicle thanks to their “more upscale, older” readers, according to media buyer Carolyn Dubi, svp and director of print at Initiative. “The Internet is not where you want to reach this person. But these books are viable in that they’re not just a bunch of eyeballs—they’re consolidated audiences,” says Dubi.
It also helps that most high-end shelters never abandoned the 1 percenters. “We haven’t gone for a high-low mix to target a different group of advertisers; we’re still focusing on luxury and quality,” says Veranda publisher Jennifer Levene Bruno, who lists jewelry brands David Yurman and Swarovski among the magazine’s newest advertisers.