Everybody's a Critic

Domino Effect

Domino When the late, great House & Garden magazine was abruptly shut down last November, Conde Nast made subscribers like me an offer: Send in the card for a refund or we’ll finish out your subscription with Domino magazine instead. I took the passive route, slightly curious about what was supposed to replace H&G editor Dominique Browning’s obvious passion and interesting taste.

I got my first issue of Domino this week, and I can assure you, it’s not about passion or taste.  I’m kind of puzzled as to what it’s about.  Given the tone of the writing and the tame, childish graphics, it seems to be directed at really young people…like ten year-olds who aren’t too interested in houses or gardens. 

I do have an idea, however, what the editors are gunning for… jobs at Glamour.  There is much more about beauty and fashion here than there is about anybody’s domestic arrangements.  We have a puzzling travel diary from Lauren Bush (who? and what’s she ever done?) about when, on a flight, she applies lip balm.  We have pages and pages of photos of eco-friendly fashion designers and shopkeepers and their boring brown clothes. In a section called "Nesting," we not only have a full page about the "perfect 10" beauty products, we also have another page of advice about cleaning our make-up brushes and neatening up our make-up drawers.  This last article, I think, might prove particularly useful to the Rant’s perfectly groomed readership, who like to keep their tools in tip-top order.  Now, get out there and dig in the dirt….but do not fleck your make-up!

And this is in Domino’s "green" issue.  Well, here is what’s NOT green and what’s NOT sustainable: treating the house like fashion and redoing the joint as often as you change shoes.

Here’s what else is not sustainable: Laura Turner Seydel’s gaudy 6,200-square-foot house in the Atlanta suburbs that appears in a feature called "3 Green Houses."  Could Domino possibly be more clueless?  I don’t care how many hemp bedspreads the woman buys or how well-meaning she is, Atlanta is the world’s capital of thoughtless sprawl.  I guarantee you that every moment Seydel is not in the house, she is in her car, and that is not sustainable. I guarantee you that the air conditioning blasts half of the year, straining to keep that giant box cool in Atlanta’s sweltering heat.  And that is not sustainable.   

Of course, the most irritating piece of all is by Cynthia Kling, who decides to go Barbara Kingsolver one better and rough it by spending two weeks eating entirely locally–stuff produced within 100 miles of wherever it is that she lives "right here in upstate New York."  The very idea!  She has to enlist an actual cooking friend "to show me how the farmers market really works." The tone is so breathless, you’d think she were describing some Anthony Bourdain-type lizard-eating spree in the mountains of Southeast Asia.  The real laugh is that Kling’s column is actually called "The Adventuress." 

Give me a break!!!  It’s freaking Europe here in upstate New York!  These days, you cannot swing a cat without hitting a fantastic open air market, or somebody making incredible cheese or delicious wine (Hosmer Dry Riesling, yeah!), or another cute college-educated 24 year-old farmer dying to introduce you to a new vegetable variety.  The revolution’s already happened, years ago, and only somebody with little interest in food or wine could have missed it.  Yet this kind of thing is somehow supposed to reconcile us to the loss of House & Garden’s fantastic "Larder" page and Jay McInerney’s wine column. 

Replacing House & Garden with Domino is all about driving out the sophisticates and crowning a bunch of silly naifs in their place.  A slap in the face of every adult really interested in food, home, garden, and the state of the planet.  Dear Conde Nast, I want my money back now.

Posted by on February 22, 2008 at 3:32 am, in the category Everybody's a Critic.
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33 Responses to “Domino Effect”

  1. Kathy says:

    I got a subscription to Domino free as a result of something I bought on Amazon. I just couldn’t relate to it, but I thought it was just me, who doesn’t really think about the fact that the wallpaper on her walls was really old when she moved in almost 20 years ago, and hasn’t changed it yet.

    Someone must read it, or someone is propping it up.

  2. Frances says:

    Michele, you are my favorite…cannot swing a cat without hitting a fantastic open air market….it’s the attitude. Thanks for making fridays fun.

    Frances at Faire Garden

    still missing Sign of the Shovel

  3. susan harris says:

    Your description of the “green” McMansion reminds me of a talk I heard recently about a conference to take part here with representatives from around the world – lots of people coming to DC from Asia, etc. THen with a straight face the speaker told us the conference would be green, of course, so the attendees would be shuttled around in an electric bus. Oh, yeah, that’s important after they’ve all flown thousands of miles to get here.

  4. tai haku says:

    articles on an actual “bourdain-type lizard-eating spree” = the magazine I want to read.

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Yes, there are so many boring mags out there now. They all must have 22yr olds editing these things.

  6. karen says:

    Wow, you put the rah in rant.

  7. Peg says:

    I also had a subscription to House and Garden. I did not get the Domino offer I don’t think…but in any case most of my sub. had been fulfilled.

    Just this past week, however, I got a free issue of Architectural Digest in the mail, with a card suggesting that, as a former subscriber to House and Garden I would surely enjoy it…

    Now that’s more like it! It is no replacement, alas, but at least it’s a classy mag. But I won’t be subscribing. This coming year I have cancelled a few subs (like Home, which is useless, and Elle Decor, which is lovely but a bit chi-chi for me) and gotten a couple new ones that had special money-saving subscription offers: Better Homes and Gardens, and Martha Stewart Living (which I really only get for the gardening articles and recipes), in addition to This Old House, Cottage Living, and, for the first time, The New Yorker (because of an excellent sub. offer).

    Is it just me or do a lot of people fixing up fixer-uppers and creating flower beds from scratch have an addition to DIY and home/garden magazines?

  8. Benjamin says:

    I was all excited when I read the title to this post because I thought it was going to be on the game or the bond girl. Instead, it’s about some clueless, horribly written, run of the mill publication the likes of which inundate us. A kind of magazine one would read while playing a game or talking to a brainless bond girl in a futile hope to intellectualize the circumstances.

  9. Amy Stewart says:

    Brilliant.

    I think all the presidential candidates’ nieces and daughters should have to write essays about lip balm and that’s how we’ll decide this thing.

  10. carolyn Adessa says:

    Michele……. I totally agree. After 2 issues, I was begging for my money back. This mag seemed utterly pointless to me. I thought that it was because I’m a senior citizen. Apparently, even the young agree.

  11. eliz says:

    I can’t think of a home/garden publication that is truly compelling. It’s telling that your favorite column in the old H&G was McInerney’s and then you mention Bourdain. Food and wine seem to lend themselves to funny writing and strong opinions in a way that, at least in the magazine world, design does not.

    Yet, in Buffalo we have enthralling flame wars about architecture on blogs all the time and here on the Rant we find controversy and passion in compost.

    Go figure.

  12. mj says:

    Great review of a frivolous publication. With a couple exceptions. I’m pretty sure the line between sophisticates and naifs is a fine one. And second, why does the young farmer have to be cute and college educated? I know some folks of the older generation whom are neither and are very “green”. Its a way of life that comes naturally to them . And maybe not so naturally to the wine and cheese snob. I get it, wine and cheese grown locally is good, yum, move on.
    Enough snobbery.
    Also, can someone answer how the cute college educated farmer is paying rent, college debt, health care, truck payment etc. with the $3 qts of heirloom tomatos? I know, I’ve been trying it, it’s not really realistic. Now what I really need is a man with a big fat not-so-green job to financially prop up my environmental habit, cause in the end a sophisticate really hates to be poor. It cramps ones style.

  13. I receive three magazines in the mail to satisfy my at home reading needs : Garden Design, Fine Gardening and Sunset.
    Sunset still wins my subscription money for a Home and Garden magazine.
    Unfortunately it is a regional magazine so folks in the mid west, the south and the east are left out to find their own great regional magazine.

    I do go to my local bookstore/ cafe and flip through the mounds of other house and garden magazines.
    Those that I enjoy most are the European House and Garden mags such as Elle Decor from Italy.
    This month Metropolitan Home did a very nice article on Scott Columbo’s Marin County garden ( my ‘hood ) .
    I walk by this garden often and the photographer did it photographic justice .
    The article that accompanied it was pretty good too.
    I have picked up Domino magazine while browsing in the cafe but it has never spoken to me.
    I find the graphics unappealing and the articles empty.
    But if I ever need to figure out how to organize my make up drawer, I certainly will seek out this magazine. Sounds intellectually stimulating !

  14. Alexa says:

    Where is Dominique Browning now?

    After reading Paths of Desire (which I just mooched–bookmooch.com–an exercise in sustainability), I felt compelled to Google her and came up with nothing new. You can bet your @$$ I’ll subscribe to the next mag she edits, if that is her next step. She is amazing.

  15. Mrs. Style says:

    I read this same issue over lunch yesterday and just about barfed my chili back into it’s bowl. The out of control, mindless consumerism in a “green issue” made me sick.

  16. Weeping Sore says:

    What a delightful breath of fresh air your review is. It’s depressing that “sustainable” and “green” have been reduced to hip cliches. It’s delightful that many people still know the difference.

  17. Wow, you can rant! It’s funny…if you’re being funny. Otherwise, it’s a little scary. How about a nice glass of wine?

    Robin at Bumblebee

  18. jodi says:

    I loved this rant, Michelle. One of the best I’ve read in a while. Haven’t read the magazine, nor do I intend to, but your description just seems to echo the dumbing down of a number of publications. It’s as if magazines and newspapers think no one reads. We do. We just prefer a little intelligence in what we’re reading, so we’re moving, many of us, to blogs and other online, up to date sources of info. At least that’s my theory.

  19. Mj, no offense to the crusty old organic farmers–I love them, too. I was just trying to think like a Conde Nast editor. And definitely, if they were going to recognize this movement, they’d be happy that some cute young boys are in it.

  20. Reading Dirt says:

    I must say I’m getting tired of — and suspicious of — the McGreen wave I’ve been seeing. I see lots of “green” labels, and logos with soft green leaves on them and the word “sustainable” worked in, but I don’t see a whole lot going on that’s much different in the businesses that claim to be “green” and “sustainable.” The recycling bins by the front door? Schools around here have been doing that for over two decades now. C’mon.

  21. melissa says:

    I subscribe to Domino because I’m a potter who wants to be “on trend,” but just barely. It has gotten more flip over the two years that I’ve subscribed and is a very very consumerist publication. I think that it is geared towards the mid-20s hipster crowd- and youngish interior decorators. I’m about to be 33 in a month, and I feel old and fuddy-duddy reading it. I give all of my copies to a friend who thinks that it is a breath of fresh air.

  22. Margaret says:

    I’m a young woman of 27 (not devoid of taste), who adored House & Garden and cannot stand Domino. It lacks any sort of substance, and I feel as though it panders to the younger demographic.

    I believe it’s produced to model the editorial aspects of ‘Lucky’ magazine, so I can only assume that it’s specifically geared towards single ‘girls’ who’ve just landed their first jobs, and cannot wait to use their hard-earned checks (and trust funds) to pay for their rent. This magazine teaches the art of becoming a consumerist, and does not educate, or inspire, in any other way. Domino magazine truly lacks imagination and wit!

  23. Lucky and Domino were both designed as advertorials – basically catalogs for shopping — any editorial thrown in is just to fill that page count out. If you like shopping and catalogs, you’ll like these mags — if you like substance, look elsewhere.

  24. Ed Bruske says:

    In fact, other than the boneheaded remark about local milk not causing a lactose reaction, the piece on local foods was one of the more realistic I’ve read in the popular press, especially the part about farmers markets being elitist and over-priced. Even here in the food bloggosphere, writers are loathe to tackle the price and class issues at work in the local food movement. So I found this writers take, although a bit breathless at first, rather refreshing. And do you really have that many famers markets in Upstate New York you can’t miss with a swinging cat in the middle of February? Or do you need a frozen cat?

  25. Ed, even a big vegetable gardener like me needs the farmer’s market in the early spring, since I apparently prefer to fret about what kind of greenhouse to put up, rather than ever putting one up.

    I haven’t shopped or cooked in DC, but the organic produce at my local farmer’s markets is less expensive than organic produce shipped in from California to our supermarkets. And if you’re not fussy about organic, the locally grown produce is a complete bargain. So I don’t buy the elitist argument. Not at all.

    You’re probably right that not much is happening at my farmer’s market right now at the butt end of winter–they move it indoors, but I’m assuming that the only vegetables being offered are squashes and potatoes. I don’t need to go because I grow my own of those. But, given the production schedules of monthly magazines, it’s safe to assume that Cynthia Kling wrote her piece a few months ago, when the farmer’s market cup was running over.

    Another thing that annoyed me about her piece was her claim that she used more gasoline shopping this way…without ever mentioning that that might be because she was reporting a story. I see nothing inefficient about buying a week’s worth of local food at the farmer’s market near you.

    Also, since you are a city-dweller, you may not quite grasp how important it is for the rural landscape that there be people to farm it–and farm it sustainably. Those small farmers who show up at the Saratoga Farmer’s Market keep my part of the world beautiful. So I give them as much of my business as I can.

  26. Michele Owens says:

    Ed, I guess I have more to say on this subject: but “elitist and over-priced” compared to what? I mean, have you looked at the price of a box of cereal lately? It’s not elitist, but it’s sure over-priced, considering what lousy food it is. On the other hand, I was in Detroit last summer, where there are loads of vegetable gardeners who are far from rich–but who are keenly interested in eating well.

  27. Ed Bruske says:

    Local foods represent 1 percent of the money spent on food in this country and if you sliced up that 1 percent, I think you’d find it sharply skewed toward the well-off and well-educated. In other words, the elite. In terms of meeting calorie needs, that box of Cheerios is by far cheaper than anything you can purchase at the farmer’s market. Locally produced calories–grains, which you see very little of in the farmers markets, or cheeses and meat, which you do–are extremely expensive compared to what you find in the typical grocery, thanks in large part to our taxpayer-supported system of commodity agriculture. Here in D.C., there have been attempts to establish farmers markets in the poorer areas of the city–the so-called food deserts–and they have failed for want of customer support. Efforts are being made to estalish markets that accept food stamps. But all you need do is take a quick stroll around the local farmers markets on any given weekend and you can readily see which demographic slice of the pie chart is represented and which aren’t.

    From friends and fellow food bloggers I get the impression there are vast disparities in pricing that may very well be determined by what the market will bear. Last summer a head of broccoli at a new market down the street from me was going for $5. Recently I purchased a pork shoulder roast at $6.95 a pound. When I trimmed away the skin, fat and bone, the edible portion came to $13 per pound. I can by wonderful Niman Ranch pork at the local Whole Foods–not local, but produced by loving hands on family farms–for $3.45 a pound.

    What’s the answer? Maybe if we doubled, tripled, quadrupled the number of local farms, local foods might begin to compete with supermarket fare. Personally, I would like to see local food supermarkets operating on a daily basis–not just on Sunday–and year-round–not just May to November. But I question where those farmers are going to come from, how they are going to afford the land. It may yet happen, but maybe not without some sort of cataclysmic collapse that forces everybody back to growing food.

    Meanwhile, I think the local food that we do have is aimed at an elite segment of the population, they are the ones driving the local food movement. The rest of the country is still shopping at Wal-Mart.

  28. Michele Owens says:

    Ed, a few things may explain our differing points of view:

    1. There is no Whole Foods in my part of the world (stupid Whole Foods). So there is no cheap, high-quality pork here to compete with the local product–though I find the $5 a pound shoulder bacon at Saratoga Apple is worth every penny. However, in my part of the world you can, for example, buy a quarter of incredible grass-fed beef for $4.25 a pound. Considering that half of that quarter is expensive cuts, that’s a bargain.

    2. Land is also still cheap enough in the rural areas here to allow for novice farmers. And, as you know, you don’t need 1000 acres to make a living from vegetables. The right 10 will do.

    I’m sure that the diets of the educated are on the whole better than the diets of the poor–though I have educated friends whose decisions in feeding their kids seem like child abuse to me. And there’s a huge locavore movement in downtown Detroit, the poorest big city in America. But that is a city with rich gardening traditions. Maybe DC is different?

    Anyway, the people I spoke with in Detroit were planning on setting up farmer’s markets around the city beginning this spring. I’ll let you know whether they find ready customers for their produce or not.

  29. dirty girl says:

    Sorry to bring this back to magazines…
    But I am surprised no one mentioned The English Garden. That is one of my favorites – its worth checking out. Beautiful photos and ALL gardening and landscapes. Its certainly not MY backyard – but it gives me a lot of inspiration and thats what its all about.

  30. mj says:

    I agree with Ed. Whole foods and the whole idea of local/organic appears to be supported by the moneyed elite, just take a walk around there and be a little judgemental and take a look at who is shopping. There is a Wild Oats(WF) in Park City UT where I’ve spent some time, complete with all the literature on the walls about eating local. Not for nothing, but where is the local food coming from, the surrounding DESERT of Utah? Ok there is a little food being grown there but at last summers farmer’s market, 1/2 pint of cherry tomatos were going for 3$. You can bet that Wild Oats’ decision to put a store there was based on $$$$ alone. Its trendy.
    On the flip side, a sort of anomaly, in Rochester NY where I’ve also spent some time, the Rochester Public Market (100+yrs old) has loads of local produce and a customer base of half latte sipping ladies and half inner city minorities waving food stamps. All co-mingle regularly on any given Saturday morning. Produce there is cheap. Or you can drive down the road to a Wegmans supermarket and purchase veggies that the farmer just dropped off there that morning, but that stuff is far more expensive. go figure

  31. Michele Owens says:

    Okay, mj–I am definitely operating in a more Rochester-type environment, and that clearly colors my feelings for farmer’s markets. I think they are wonderful.

  32. Jessica says:

    I’d like to respectfully disagree with some of these posts. Look at America today–the obesity is staggering. While yes, it’s sad that a oolumn called The Adventuress takes readers on a tour of farmer’s markets, clearly this is needed in our McDonald’s fueled society. Also, of course Domino promoted consumerism (it named itself a “shopping magazine for the home”), but there was the Q and A where the style director answers refurbishing questions and there were also many features on playing with space and reusing furniture. Not to mention the many features on decorating for comfortable living in studio apartments (yes, people in their twenties are excited to decorate, and why should they wait to buy a five bedroom house to get serious about it?). The whole point of Domino is to be relatable, to show that great style is achievable for everyday people, and that’s what made it great. The language is relaxed and informal without sacrificing information and ideas. Reading it was like a breath of fresh air and I will miss curling up with it every month.

  33. Given that you’re a fan of H&G and Dominique Browning, you might be interested to know that her new memoir SLOW LOVE: HOW I LOST MY JOB, PUT ON MY PAJAMAS & FOUND HAPPINESS will be published later this spring. Publisher’s weekly raved today: “There is such feeling and care on each page of Browning’s well-honed memoir—her rediscovery of nature, her avowal to let love find her rather than seek it, tapping satisfying work at her own keyboard—that the reader is swept along in a pleasant mood of transcendence.”

    http://www.amazon.com/Slow-Love-Knocked-Pajamas-Happiness/dp/1934633313

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