Monday, October 31, 2016

120 Years of House Beautiful

Have you seen the November issue of House Beautiful?  A tribute to the magazine's 120th anniversary, this special issue is a celebration of both a classic American magazine and the classic American decorating that it has long championed.  As I'm a contributing editor to the magazine, I might be biased, but the issue really is something special.

I was inspired to take a romp through my old issues of House Beautiful, especially those from 1934, which I'm particularly fond of.  Scroll through those issues, and you'll see that much of what House Beautiful brought to readers back then, such as articles on table settings and household technology, is similar to what the magazine offers readers today. 

Entertaining and table settings. One difference between then and today is that yesteryear's tables were more formal.  Those food and table accessory-laden buffet tables? They were veritable lands of bountiful.

Modern Design.  Along with traditional decor (see below), modernism has long found a welcome home on the pages of House Beautiful.  That dining room directly above?  It was by Donald Deskey.

Traditional Decorating.  The yin to modernism's yang.  In my opinion, the magazine has long done traditional design well, even when design trends gravitated to elaborate draperies and frilly lampshades.

Household Innovation.  The latest in household technology has been championed by HB for years.  In 1934, the magazine touted novel lighting, warming drawers, and cutting-edge glassware.

Fabrics and Wallpaper.  Yes, even back in 1934, House Beautiful featured layouts of yummy fabrics and snappy wallpaper.

The Dog Show.  This is one column that, sadly, the magazine no longer publishes.  But in the Thirties, shelter magazines, including House Beautiful, devoted pages to dog kennels, protection from fleas, and champion dogs, including, from top to bottom, Kenwanna Titi (a Japanese spaniel), Hei T'Sun (a Pekingese), Nunsoe Duc de la Terrace (Standard Poodle), and Clover of Reynalton (English bloodhound). 

And finally, if you're wondering why the covers of the 1934 issues feature the names of both House Beautiful and Home & Field, that's because the magazines merged briefly around this time.


  1. I've subscribed to House Beautiful for years and years but it's never been my favorite shelter magazine. I always much preferred the old House & Garden and now greatly enjoy the UK House & Garden - my favorite shelter magazine.

    Such a shame that setting a beautiful table is now considered "stuffy". Only dinner guests can be stuffy! A beautifully set table can make the simplest meal an occasion.

    I loved the pictures of the parties with punch or eggnog. That was my late mother's favorite kind of party to give. She gave an annual big "eggnog party" until she was at least 80. She always made everything herself and there was never a crumb left. Guests in the past actually ATE - now one can end up with huge amounts of food left after a cocktail buffet as no one eats, just drinks. Mother's table always looked wonderful but she never got the big silver punch bowl and cups she always coveted - had to use glass instead.

    1. I agree with you; I don't understand why "formal" is now equated with "stuffy".

      I bet your mother's eggnog parties were fun, delicious, and beautiful, too. What a nice memory!

  2. Hello Jennifer, I love the looks back you give us at these old magazines, a combination of nostalgia and earned merit that you deserve credit for resurrecting. Always interesting.

    By the way, that photo of the punch bowl and the striped/spiraled pastries seems to start moving on its own if you look at it for a while! It pre-dates the Psychedelic era.

    1. Jim, You're right! I had not noticed that until you mentioned it. Who knew that a punch buffet party could be so psychedelic?

    2. Well, I guess it would depend on what the punch was spiked with!

  3. Anonymous11:45 PM

    Hi Jennifer fellow Atlantan here and I always enjoy reading your posts. I don't have a lot of old magazines but do love reading them. But I do have one that's particularly poignant and after reading your article I've brought it out again to read. A few years ago I was living in Shanghai and on weekends would rummage through old junk shops. One day I found an old edition of House & Garden. I bought it because of two things. One, a cover story about the influence of Chinese design in American homes and the other because of the date (August 1941). This well preserved magazine must have been in Shanghai on the day of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And somehow over the decades that followed in China, the magazine remains in great condition. I'm reading it now and thanks for reminding me the value of these ephemera.

    1. Anonymous, Nice to meet a fellow Atlantan. How unexpected to find a 1941 issue of H&G in a junk shop in Shanghai, something that makes that particular copy all the more special. It's the curious histories of these old magazines, books, and furniture that I always find so intriguing.

      I don't think that I have the August 1941 issue of H&G, so I'm off to find a copy of it. I'm intrigued by its cover story.