Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Has Dwell Magazine become irrelevant?

As someone who has built a life around being a proponent of Modern Design, I find myself supporting and gravitating towards companies that have similar philosophies.  In October of 2000 I remember walking by a news stand in NYC and seeing the Premiere Issue of a new magazine called Dwell.  The cover was bold.  A big steel box of a house with a woman and her dog sitting in front of it.  The heading under the title said 'AT HOME IN THE MODERN WORLD' in all caps with a lovely sans serif font.  The features listed on the cover had tag lines like 'Design for Real People' and 'The Most Beautiful Vacuum Cleaners on Earth'.  I was drawn from the start and picked up a copy.  

When I got it home I read the first issue from cover to cover and salivated at both the publisher's mission and the editor's opening remarks.  They were brilliant.  Lara Hedberg (publisher) led with the tag line : From the Robie House to Our House and talked eloquently about we should aspire to create homes that fulfill our deep longing for meaning and beauty.  Editor Karrie Jacobs went a step further.  She wanted to stage a minor revolution.  Her beautifully written introduction talked about how the design community has a desire to try and show architecture as this perfect and unattainable being.  Dwell was aiming to give it back to regular ordinary people and this inspired me.  From then on, I waited on every issue and saw the magazine grow and develop to reach thousands of new readers every month.

By 2006 each issue was the size of a local phone book filled with page after page of enviable goods and projects.  Despite the change in editors (I believe they are currently on their fourth in 12 years) there seemed to be a continuity of thought that made me believe I could be part of this revolution.  Year after year went on and slowly the mission changed. It seemed that the book was getting thinner and thinner as advertising revenue across the industry tanked.  The magazine started to lend their name to conferences and consumer partnerships (such as a tile line with Heath ceramics) and the revolution started to fizzle.  It seemed that all of the energy of the original mission was now going into generating revenue to keep the ship afloat.  Today the magazine arrives about as thick as the original issue, which is pretty thin.  I used to devote a solid two hours to reading each volume and now it takes me all of eight minutes.  All of the original tenacity and gumption have been replaced with project after project of designs that seem as impractical and unattainable as the designs they once condemned.   

Now I suppose you could argue that shelter magazines as a whole are tanking.  Domino closed and even Martha Stewart couldn't sustain the popular Blueprint brand.  But I would disagree when you see books like Elle Decor, House and Home, Elle Decor UK, Living ETC, and Inside Out growing by the month. Even Atomic Ranch and Modernism haven't lost their luster through the recession and I even found myself picking up recent issues of Architectural Digest, which is amazing in and of itself.  These books have survived by focusing on their core audience and not concerning themselves with trying to grow beyond their brand.  I think this is a lesson Dwell could definitely learn from.

Of course there will always be people discovering Dwell for the first time and falling head over heels. But for my part I will not be renewing my subscription and I am very sad to say that.  I wish the magazine went back to it's original desire to show the average person about meaning and beauty in the home as opposed to finding the craziest places around the world which most people will never even come close to living in.  

Karrie Jacobs once wrote that Dwell wanted to demonstrate that a modern house could be a comfortable one.  If only it were so.


  1. Probably stating the obvious, but Dwell is still good for UnhappyHipsters.com - if you've never seen that site, then you are in for a treat.

  2. Very much enjoyed unhappyhipster.com. I think alot of the comments are right on.