Monday, October 19

Your Questions for Margaret Russell

For two decades, editor in chief Margaret Russell has infused ELLE DECOR with a singular sense of sophistication while preserving its mission to inspire designers, architects, and homeowners with the best in interior and product design. This year ELLE DECOR is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Last week I had the pleasure of touring the ELLE DECOR and Metropolitan Home offices. It was amazing actually to have a moment with Margaret Russell in her office and to get a behind the scenes glimpse of my favorite magazine. When I asked All the Best readers to send me questions for Margaret, my inbox was inundated within a matter of hours. After combing through the emails I came up with a few that seemed to be the most popular. I hope you enjoy Margaret’s answers as much as I do.

What is your take on the future of the magazine industry? What lies ahead and what will it take to keep the greats like ELLE DECOR alive?
It’s certainly a fascinating—and deeply challenging—time for magazines. It’s no longer enough to be creative; editors must be focused and smart about running their businesses and managing their staffs. Successful magazines will exist on multiple platforms—print, digital, books, TV and whatever we haven’t yet imagined.

We have learned that you can’t just post a print magazine online. Most people I know read magazines for inspiration and sources and go online to research and to shop. We are in the process of delivering more—and more diverse—content at

We’re constantly tweaking the magazine, and will continue to do so, and we’re always open to suggestions from readers. It’s funny that the majority of e-mail we receive is regarding subscription concerns. I’d love to read more reader opinions on what we produce, not how it ends up in your mailbox.

Also, I’m curious regarding how much people would be willing to pay for a subscription to make sure their favorite magazines continue to exist. For instance, many people commented on blogs that they would have paid more to support Domino and House & Garden. would readers pay for online access to archives, sneak previews of design product launches, or special content? This is what it will take to make a successful magazine brand—focusing on community, content, and communication.

What do you consider your greatest achievement
I’m not old enough to have a greatest achievement!

What steps did you take starting early on that eventually led to sitting at the helm of a national publication?

I was raised by parents who had a high level of expectation for my older sister, my younger brother, and me (my sister is an actress and a theatre producer and my brother is a litigation partner at a law firm). There was simply no question that we would always do our best, regardless of the project.

After graduating from Brown, my first job in publishing was as an editorial assistant at Glamour, and I’ve been fortunate to work with talented people ever since. I’m not embarrassed to admit I really like to work; in fact, it gives me great pleasure. I have a passion for design, architecture, and decoration and I love all aspects of magazine publishing—styling, writing, and editing. ELLE DECOR has been an amazing opportunity.

Who are your style icons?
Icon is a big word—stylesetter might be better. In random order, some of the people I find inspiring are Ralph Rucci, Muriel Brandolini, Michael S. Smith, Linda Fargo, Inès de la Fressange, Carolina Herrera and Carolina Herrera Jr., Deeda Blair, Sarah Jessica Parker, Vicente Wolf, Anh Duong, Lee Mindel, Bunny Williams and Madonna.

What do you think of design blogs and what is your take on the future of magazines vs. online content and the role of blogs?
I read several design blogs, though I’ll admit I don’t do so as regularly as I once did. And I’m not a Twitter type of person though someone might pressure me to be at some point. I’m hoping it will go away before that happens.

Some design bloggers have a truly extraordinary depth of knowledge and simply amazing files. I’m inspired by people who keep track of interiors, designers, and trends, and then create their own online reports that synthesize the content they’ve gathered.

Anyone who feared design blogs would hasten the demise of shelter magazines didn’t consider that most blogs swipe magazine photos; I have no patience for bloggers who post images without crediting the magazine and photographer (all of our online images are now watermarked), or for cranky anonymous commenters who care less about good design than about seeing their snarky sound bites online.

Design bloggers have added a significant and valuable new dimension to the design world.

What is your favorite luxury in life?
Time. Time is such a luxury. I never seem to have enough of it because there’s always so much that I want to do.

What do you consider your must-have classic design books
There are so many books I that I find inspiring, though not all are what I would describe as classic; here’s a list of what I go back to time after time:

Mark Hampton On Decorating Legendary Decorators of the 20th Century
Billy Baldwin Remembers and Billy Baldwin Decorates
The David Hicks books, those he wrote as well as Ashley Hicks’ books
Vintage copies of Fleur Cowles’s Flair magazine
Vogue’s Book of Houses, Gardens, People (1968)
The Original Eye by Philip Core
The Finest Rooms by Katherine Tweed
Lee Radziwill Happy Times
The Elements of Style by Stephen Calloway and Elizabeth Cromley
Erica Brown’s Interior Views
Le Style Givenchy by Françoise Mohrt
Parish Hadley: Sixty Years of American Design
Les Décorateurs des Années 40
Horst Interiors by Barbara Plum
Every Room Tells a Story: Tales From the Pages of Nest Magazine
Marella Agnelli’s The Agnelli Gardens at Villa Perosa
Anne Bony’s compilations of Furniture and Interiors grouped by decade; I have a few in French, a few in English, of the ‘20s through the ‘80s
And, look for Duane Hampton’s April 2010 book from Rizzoli, Mark Hampton: An American Decorator

And over the years I’ve learned so much from sales catalogues from auction houses; they are an amazing resource for anyone interested in design and the decorative arts.

Profile by Ronda Carman


Mrs. Blandings said...

A terrific interview - I am printing off this list of books!

Janell @ House of Fifty said...

Thank you for this interview! I do envy your chance to visit the offices and have a chat with Margaret!

pve design said...

Yet another wonderful profile! A lady to admire and one that has such style. I still love that chunky gold bracelet she sports!

katiedid said...

Margaret Russell has always been an inspiration to me. Elle Decor is and has been one of the best. It sounds like Ms. Russell has a firm grasp on what is needed to keep Elle Decor alive and I look forward to many more years of one of my most favorite publications. Thanks for the write up!

Styling by Coty Farquhar said...

Hi Ronda,

This is brilliant!!

I so admire Margaret Russell's honest answers to your questions, especially about bloggers and images belonging to magazines. It is a little bitter sweet, I do feel for the photographers who do not get a credit, but I must admit I have learnt about many magazines through bloggers that I never knew existed and I'm from the magazine industry.

The best answer from Margaret is in reply to your question, What is your favorite luxury in life? Time, I agree with her 100% and it is a total luxury. She is quite an amazing woman.

Thankyou Ronda for supplying such a wonderful interview today. You have just inspired me more than you will ever know.

Coty Farquhar

Greet Lefèvre said...

Thank you so much for all the work you did to share this amazing interview with Margaret Russel with us all!


Tina Steele Lindsey said...

Wonderful interview. Such energy from it, and even from her photo. It seems no matter your position, a common thread for everyone is not enough time. Very personable individual, very gracious individual. Thanks Rhonda!

D A R R E N said...

Such wonderful questions and deeply interesting perspectives on design and the editorial world. ThankYOU!

Karena said...

Beautiful interview and a beautiful woman. A style icon of our time.

Velvet and Linen said...

Thank you to you and Margaret Russel for this interview.



Great interview Ronda! I had so much fun reading Margaret's answers.

Margaret Russell is for me what I like to call "The New Lady" a modern renaissance woman who works hard, and who knows what she wants - A contemporary class act!