House Beautiful’s EIC on Why ‘A Woman’s Touch’ Is Good for Business

Back to school for the kids, and back to Michael's for the media set.

House Beautiful EIC Sophie Donnelson and FishbowlNY's Diane Clehane
House Beautiful EIC Sophie Donnelson and FishbowlNY's Diane Clehane
House Beautiful Editor in Chief Sophie Donelson and FishbowlNY’s Diane Clehane

It’s back to school and the cool kids have returned to the cafeteria! The media mob was out in force at Michael’s today despite the soul crushing heat. I was joined by Sophie Donelson, editor in chief of House Beautiful since January of this year. The tireless and terrific Alexandra Carlin, Hearst’s vice president of public relations arranged our tête-à-tête. As a longtime fan of the magazine and a homeowner who gets completely overwhelmed at the prospect of having to buy living room curtains, I was eager to get Sophie’s point of view on how she makes the daunting task of decorating without divorce. After discussing the finer points on how to get your spouse to sign on to your design choices with the minimum amount of angst –“You’ve got to know which rooms are important to you, focus on those and let him have his own space,” counseled Sophie, we got down to business.

Having arrived for our lunch bearing copies of the September and October issues with their requisite cheerful and beautifully executed color coordinated interiors and cover lines, Sophie was brimming with enthusiasm about her still new-ish job as EIC. While her CV boasts impressive credentials in shelter magazines — she was “fresh out of college ” when she began working for Newell Turner (who is now once again her boss) at Hamptons Cottages & Gardens and has held senior editorial positions at ELLE DECOR and Martha Stewart’s Blueprint, she told me she feels most at home at Hearst. “The culture of Hearst is very unique. There is a complete lack of ego. Everyone is so even keeled and people want you to succeed. They root for you,” she marveled. “I never expected it.”

Perhaps that’s because she’s off to a roaring start. The July/August issue — Sophie’s official first issue  — was the biggest July/August House Beautiful ever with a native advertising series from Sherwin-Williams and a multi-page insert for Pottery Barn. Only the second female EIC in the last twenty-five years, Sophie told me it’s “a women’s touch” that has helped beautify the magazine’s pages and lure more advertisers. “There’s an element of prettiness people expect from House Beautiful.” The book is an inviting mix of the accessible and the aspirational that taps into readers’ desire for “shiny indulgences” and innovative ideas on how a well decorated home can enhance one’s overall enjoyment of life. “We forget living here that in most parts of the country people are entertaining at home — hosting the big game, family dinners and special occasions,” said Sophie between bites of salad nicoise. “It’s about living well.”

Advertisers are also liking what they see. “They know when I’m talking about the kind of light I like in a bathroom for putting on makeup, I know what I’m talking about.” To wit: beauty advertising is up one hundred percent with new business from L’Oreal and Neutrogena since Sophie’s arrival.  And speaking of bathrooms, Sophie is planning a first ever ‘Bath & Beauty’ issue for November highlighting all the different ways her readers can create their personal sanctuary in their homes. “Kitchens and bathrooms are always smushed together. I felt like they needed to be treated separately. Kitchens are communal and are for the family. The bath is where women go to escape. It’s their alone time.”

I asked Sophie why she referred to her reader as female. “At the end of the day, it’s a women’s magazine,” she told me. “And it’s multi-generational. I write articles about life levels — there’s empty nesters who are upgrading and downsizing and then there’s couples in their thirties who’ve just bought their first real home.” Sophie did say that the thirteen percent of her audience that is male is “very vocal” and “diehard” about the magazine. Not doubt they’ll have plenty to say about the cover story ‘Paint Colors Men Love’ in the October issue. Regardless of gender, said Sophie, “Our readers know good content and the magazine is the ultimate dog-earred decorating magazine.”