Home & Garden Magazine Sampler
How well do major Home and Garden publications do
when it comes to advocating simpler living?
by Sheri Boggs
The Pacific Northwest Inlander
March 7, 2002
It all started with a conversation in our editorial meeting about the
simplicity movement. One of our staffers told us how, when the magazine
Real Simple first came out, she was thrilled to have a monthly resource
on voluntary simplicity. Her delight turned to dismay, however, when she
realized that this magazine, which claims to embrace simplicity, at times
reads more like a Sharper Image catalog. With that in mind, we thought
it would be interesting to browse through a handful of home decorating
magazines on their interpretation of simplicity. Admittedly, some of the
magazines we looked at are not necessarily shooting for simplicity as
an editorial value, but in every case there was some element of simplicity
that the magazine seemed to reflect. In some cases, it was an emphasis
on vintage elements (re-using materials, an important tenet of simplicity),
a commitment to earth-friendly practices or, more often than not, a visual
interpretation of simplicity with clean lines, natural materials and lots
of space. We used three criteria to evaluate the magazinesaesthetics,
affordability and sustainability (or earth-friendliness)on a four-star
simplicity meter system.
Organic Style is a lot of fun to peruse. The layout and photo composition
are soothing, elegant and spare, and we enjoyed the pieces on tile
made from recycled glass and the advice on how to make your home
healthier for kids. The issue we looked at also had a splendid article
on Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet For a Small Planet (whose
new book, Hopes Edge, we review in this issue) along with
some good articles on harvesting windpower and switching from conventional
to organic gardening. The one troubling thing about Organic Style
is that it is clearly for the upscale consumer; its as if
Town & Country and the Utne Reader got together and had a little
One of the articles, Armani Goes Green, reflects this
dual emphasis on sustainable agriculture (in this case hemp) and
high fashion, but its most noticeable in a gushing piece on
the Sophie chair, made of sustainably harvested wood and natural
fibers, which sells at $585.
Simplicity Meter: **½
We like Organic Styles organic style, but had to dock points
on the affordability of said style.
Oh boy. Where do we begin? We picked this one because under the
title Cottage Style is the promising line Return to the Simple
Life. And yet the cover photo shows a bedroom that can only
be described as a Mary Engelbreit print on a sugar high. We counted
32 different patterns jockeying for position in this one small room,
including two different carpets, a busy print comforter and the
deliberately chipped bed railings and wooden chair. Not only that,
the entire magazine suffers from an over-reliance on pink, especially
on a spread entitled Fairytale Perfect. The pink and
green dining room was one thingevery horizontal surface, and
many of the vertical surfaces as well, seemed crammed with pink
objects of one kind or another. The bathroom, however, made a few
of our staffers recoil in horror. Gaudy cabbage rose wallpaper,
a bathtub lined with knickknacks and a strong ruffles-and-roses
vibe culminated in the good-taste sin of running a puffy ruched
valance (matching the wallpaper) across a leaded glass window with
a stained glass floral inset. This bathroom needed a simplicity
makeover, beginning with replacing the windows with plain old glassall
the better to see the harbor view in the distanceand a liberal
application of ecru paint.
Simplicity Meter: *
The only area where Cottage Style shows any simplicity is in using
antiques (re-using materials). But that one good is almost immediately
outweighed by all the bads: this look is cluttered, expensive and
Martha Stewart Living
Martha is many things U. Ubiquitous. Upper class. Ultra-tasteful.
We thought this magazine would make an easy target, as our editors
are mixed on the charms of Martha. While she is a juggernaut of
marketing acumen and a fearsome doyenne of the domestic, we have
to admit, her magazine is the Ultimate guilty pleasure. The recent
100th issue features a pleasingly simple assortment of delicate
hellebores on the cover and the visual language of the magazine
evokes an oasis of restful good taste. If you can overlook all the
advertising, youll find that the recipes are much simpler
than youd think (even I could make the rice pudding tarts
with blood oranges), and the articles often honor the values of
Simplicity Meter: **½
Its a lovely magazine, and theres no denying Marthas
taste, but there are a lot of ads, and the reader is approached
throughout as a consumer.
Why did we pick this one? Nest does not purport to offer the reader
much in the way of simplicity, yet we were drawn to its quirky die-cut
design and quasi-nostalgic cover. Edgy, young and hip, Nests
philosophy can best be summed up by the text of one of its many
ads: The Whitney Biennial is coming. Carry your ass over there.
It should be good. See art by the young and the hung. We liked
the Chris Ware comic in back, Dan Savages article on Amsterdams
Black Tulip Hotel, which caters to a strictly gay S&M crowd,
and the article on the thrift store digs of Dolores Deluxe and Vince
Peranio (longtime associates of John Waters). There was even a piece
on an austere Paris apartment encased floor to ceiling in white
resin, furnished by nothing but a sofa and two chairs made of clear
PVC and cushion springs. Very simple. But very self-consciously
Simplicity Meter: **
But four stars for originality.
Check it out anyway.
This is overall a solid little publishing product, containing articles
on the building of a natural New Mexico home, on the renovation
of a farmhouse for a chemically sensitive woman, on choosing locally
grown eggs, and on how to plant trees and ground cover to minimize
energy costs. The writers and editors are well versed in sustainable
living practices, and we even learned a new term, baubiologie,
or the practice of incorporating a breathing wall into
a home. The one thing we didnt like was a section of articles
early in the magazine that read more like ads
assortment of like-minded products much like Oprahs O
List. But overall we appreciated Natural Homes strong
book review section, the emphasis on only accepting ads from reputable
natural living companies and its text-heavy content.
Simplicity Meter: ***½
These folks know what theyre doing, and it shows. This is
an attractive publication for people who are serious about building
and living in
In our search for good magazines espousing the values of simplicity,
one was a particularly serendipitous find. A quick glance at the
pages of MaryJanesFarm showed that this magazine was exactly what
the cover promised: "Simple Solutions for Organic Living."
Instructions on re-covering ironing boards and how to throw together
a decent one-skillet supper were interspersed with articles on garage
sales, a catalog of organic products you can order and pages and
pages of helpful hints. The overall design was both simple and lively,
incorporating a public bulletin board sensibility in many of the
sections. Best of all, there was a noticeable dearth of advertising.
We were already impressed and then we noticed a lot of the helpful
hints were sent in from readers in Moscow, Pullman, Spokane and
Lewiston. Curious, we went to look at the masthead and discovered
that this fine magazine is, in fact, published in Moscow, Idaho.
"The magazine is selling really well, and it sells so easily,"
says MaryJane Butters, publisher and editor in chief. "After eight
years, I've found something that really works."
Butters has been fascinated with the concept of organic fast food
ever since moving onto her farm in the rolling hills outside Moscow
16 years ago. Her line of organic foods for backpackers, produced
at her Paradise Farms, has already been a popular staple at REI.
In recent years, she has expanded into marketing her organic soup
packets and baking mixes to cubicle dwellers and dorm-room chefs.
These days she's hoping to reach the average home cook who wants
to eat healthy but seldom has the time to keep such a commitment.
And this is where MaryJanesFarm comes in.
"It just sort of evolved. It started out as a catalog for the food
we sell," says Butters.
"But I kept wanting to add things. We have this area on our Web
site where our customers write in and I wanted to put this in the catalog,
as we were calling it then.
I'm also a voracious magazine reader - at one time, I was subscribing
to 55 different magazines - and I had this long list of annoying things
about magazines and that helped me form a concept of how I would want
to do a magazine. As it stands now, it's one part catalog and two parts
The magazine has only been out on the stands for about two months, but
it's already taken off. Butters says that in addition to Auntie's, the
magazine is also being carried by the University of Idaho bookstore, Tidyman's
in Moscow and at Global Folk Art and Huckleberry's in Spokane. A crew
from the Food Network also just visited Butters at her farm to film a
segment to air next fall.
While the first section of the magazine, the catalog, is technically
advertising, it's refreshing that the rest of the magazine is almost completely
free of ads. We did find one ad, but it's for a local cottage enterprise,
Cowgirl Chocolates, which is run by Moscow artist Marilyn Lysohir. All
in all there's a really nice community feel to the whole endeavor, and
it helps illustrate Butters' philosophy of doing business.
"Everything about this is different. We're not using a lot of middle
people. When you stack up a lot of middle people, things like loyalty
just go by the wayside, pricing becomes more of an issue, and it's just
a real dog-eat-dog situation. That's not how I wanted to do things,"
she says. She adds that the printing costs for a smallish run are rather
high, but as the magazine expands she'll be able to put the magazine out
using web press publishing, which will help production costs considerably.
Realizing that her first issue is a big hit, Butters is already mapping
out the second, "I dreamed up the second issue while lying in bed,"
she laughs. "I lay there for two hours because it was nice and warm,
and I visualized the next issue page by page. I finally got up and lit
a fire and then fed it all into my computer. It took about three hours.
After that I called my graphics person and said, 'Okay, I'm ready to
start working on the next one.' "
Simplicity Meter: Simply Irresistible!