Design Evenings with Dwell and Apartment Therapy

Last Thursday, Apartment Therapy held its 61st Design Evenings meetup at ABC Carpet & Home to discuss “The Future of Interior Design on the Web.” Hundreds of design enthusiasts turned up for the lengthy discussion, which delved into the evolution of media in the digital world.

Amanda Dameron speaks with Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan about Dwell’s evolution. “The people who started Dwell had never worked for a magazine before so they were re-writing the rules as they went along, which was exciting. We are untraditional and scrappy, and that’s why we’ve been able to change with the times so efficiently.”

Moderated by Apartment Therapy Founder Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, the conversations ranged from bloggers Margot Guralnick of Remodelista and Lockhart Steele of Curbed talking about the democratization of media on the web, to Dwell’s Editor-in-Chief Amanda Dameron and Stephen Drucker, former editor of Town & Country, discussing how magazines are integrating digital platforms while retaining the beauty and intimacy of print magazines. The panel also included e-commerce experts Scott Ballantyne of fab.com and Charles Myslinsky of keep.com, who talked about creating a shopping experience online that goes beyond catalogue couch browsing. It was clear by the end of the night that a blend of the three is the future of publishing—a combination of community, content, and commerce to serve readers anytime, anywhere, in any medium.

“My main mission is not to be boring,” Lockhart Steele says. “We all know real estate news is so God awful boring! We wanted to be a bit more controversial, I guess you could call that subversive.”
Steele, who started Curbed in 2004 as a neighborhood blog in the Lower East Side, has seen his company expand into a real estate authority on the web, now covering 13 cities nationwide. He left the world of print behind (namely the New York Times Home section) for the instant reader feedback the web is able to provide. “I think people felt intimidated responding to a New York Times byline, even though it was just me. From the first day at Curbed we had people writing in. It’s definitely the best part of my job.”

Editor Margot Guralnick of Remodelista, who previously worked in print for a decade, agreed that “blogs are freeing from an editorial standpoint. Magazines are sales driven; we always had to write up the Starck rug but couldn’t reference the cheaper alternative at Target. Now we can cover the highs and lows.”

Dameron and Drucker noted that print magazines are still essential to the design industry but that new digital platforms have created multiple delivery systems and media companies must diversify to be successful. “Making a magazine is like making a movie. People spend an hour and a half on average with a magazine. It’s an experience,” says Drucker. But it is also a big investment, with magazines spending thousands of dollars on photo shoots to create the glossy spreads that readers savor. But not every story needs at ten-page spread. “The trick for any editor is to figure out what content is best for radio, what is best for paper, and what is best for the web,” he continues.  

Dwell, which now has over a dozen platforms including apps, home tours, and tradeshows, has diversified to succeed as a media company, but says magazines are still essential components to the industry. “Now anyone with an iPhone can go to a furniture fair and upload a story on the web,” says Dameron. “It forces magazines to work harder, to hire better photographers, and go the extra step.”

Steven Drucker and Amanda Dameron, who used to work together at Architectural Digest, defended print. “Images on the Internet are so tiny, sometimes you want that two-page spread. It’s like watching a movie, the pace of it, you take your time with it; it’s an experience.”
Rounding out the evening, Ballantyne and Myslinsky discussed e-commerce (apparently a bad word in the digital realm now). Fab has eight million users in 26 countries with 7,500 designers selling on their site —a far cry from its first incarnation as a gay social network. Its flash sales (another bad word) are giving designers around the world an international outlet, with 89% of their merchandise exclusive to the site. Keep.com is like Pinterest and shopping combined.

What will be the future of digital publishing? What will dominate the design realm in years to come? Everyone seems to agree it will be a confluence of the three, but what seems clear is that content is still king. The destination is up to you.

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