Home & Garden 2012: Dirt and Charm
The proliferation of shelter magazines proves domesticity and print are both alive and well.
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Don’t expect much on the particulars of how to remove dirt from a new generation of housekeeping publications. Instead, be prepared to wade right into the muck, and celebrate it.
“Are you, reader, walking soil?” asks the opening piece in the inaugural issue of Taproot. “Yes, you are walking soil.”
The essay quotes poet Walt Whitman, describes spreading a dead uncle’s ashes, and is mostly about a road trip across the Midwest to a soil collection on display in a historical society. The glorification of dirt doesn’t end there: The entire issue is themed, “Soil.”
Taproot and similar new publications are works of art in their own right, target a younger readership than traditional housekeeping magazines, and charge audaciously high cover prices to avoid the clutter of ads. The proliferation of magazines oriented around a back-to-the-land sensibility isn’t much of a surprise. But as print publications fold en masse, these new shelter magazines, like the DIY aesthetic they cover, are thriving.
Taproot launched in March and charges a hefty $9 per issue. Publisher Jason Miller, who came from a natural toy company, expects to break even within a year. He says his readers, of the eco-home sensibility, tend to have disposable income.
“I think we have probably a lot of conscientious downshifters – people who could earn more doing certain things, or not stay home with their children,” he says. “But they’ve made conscious decisions to live differently.”
Kinfolk, a gallery of photographs and thoughtful mini-essays and observations, is also dedicated to highlighting that difference. It’s a collection of musings on food-based gatherings, without the traditional guidance offered by housekeeping magazines.
“There is a younger demographic branching out from the norm and stepping out to try something other than going to clubs,” says Nathan Williams, the editor. “Our idea is to inspire you. Maybe after you’ve gotten to that point, go pick up Martha Stewart Living or another magazine that gives you all the how tos on the table placements and the name cards.”
The $18 quarterly, now in its third issue, couldn’t easily be transposed onto a computer or iPad. There’s something irreplaceable about the saturated colors on matte pages, and the sheer weight of a 135-page periodical. An iTunes app, however, allows users to download the magazine.
“It’s tapping into this interest in returning to more traditional, older ways of doing things,” Williams says. “While we’re spending more time on Facebook and Twitter, people are wanting to balance that with the time spent around the table.”
That’s not just a theory. Kinfolk organizes a dinner in a different city each month; last weekend about 30 contributors and readers shared a picnic on a farm near Austin, Texas.
Housekeeping magazines have a long history of curating culture, going well beyond utilitarian cooking and cleaning tips. The work of John Steinbeck, Willa Cather and F. Scott Fitzgerald appeared in McCall’s, and that of Evelyn Waugh and Edith Wharton in Good Housekeeping.
Seeing a hole in that kind of broad cultural curation, San Francisco-based Anh-Minh Le and Meg Mateo Ilasco launched Anthology nearly two years ago to great success.
“We’ve got stories to get you in the mood to make things,” editor Le writes in her welcome to issue 6, themed “Handmade at Home.” The issue provides instructions on making a paper bunny sculpture, a piece on decorated bikes in Amsterdam, and a story about homesteading in North Carolina.
“One of the challenges for a lot of titles that have closed was maintaining ad dollars,” Le writes by email.
So Anthology skipped the ads, instead thriving on subscriptions and a $12 cover price. “Anthology was conceived for print, and our idea from day one was to create something physical, not digital,” Le adds.
The century-old tradition of domestic publications meant to make home life a little more creative, comfortable and empowering is, in many ways, still just that. The new magazines espouse a determined mission to reject high-tech frills and distractions.
Williams opens the second issue of Kinfolk with instructions on how to read it. “The images, stories, and ideas are simply not conducive to a quick peruse,” he writes. “Set aside some quiet time in the evening to read this volume, to curl up with a blanket and soak it all in.”
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