Sophie Donelson of House Beautiful magazine | Home Front

Sophie Donelson
Nov 03, 2016

Sophie Donelson is the editor in chief of House Beautiful magazine, which celebrates its 120 anniversary in its November issue. Donelson was tapped to lead the longest-published home magazine in February 2015. The magazine, which debuted in 1896, still has a print circulation of 816,000, but like most publications, it has expanded its online efforts to reach readers. It has nearly 7 million Facebook followers and 1 million on Instagram.

Donelson is here to answer your design trend questions and celebrate House Beautiful's birthday.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than ten years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

How fun it is to have Sophie Dow Donelson, editor in chief of House Beautiful on the chat today. Have you read my recent article about her and the 120th anniversary of House Beautiful? Here it is.  Sophie is on top of all that is going on in the design world so now's your chance to ask her about your own design dilemmas or what she discovered poking through all those old issues. Let's chat.

Hi Jura! Excited to be here with WaPo – lots of good questions rolling in, let's do it!


I've collected small colored glass objects from all over the world (bottles and figurines mainly) and used to house them all in a tall glass-fronted cabinet. In a recent move I gave up the cabinet, and now have far less space to display these objects. What do I do with the half-collection that isn't on display? Save it for posterity in a box? Give them away? I am not organized enough to want to swap out the items occasionally so whatever's not on display now is not going to ever get seen.

I love something I saw at designer Molly Leutkemeyer's house in LA recently – it's a tabletop display case, like a shadow box. Save your very favorites and try displaying them in something like this Clarus Large Brass Glass Display/Jewelry Box

What's your favorite color for a large one bedroom with lots of light? Doubles as a bedroom and eating area.

Lots of paint and color questions rolling in. Our monthly Paint column in House Beautiful is HUGE in this November issue, packed with ideas. It’s the #1 most popular column in the magazine and I count myself as one of the MANY staffers who have relied on this for ALL our own choices at home!

Here are a few great slideshows for ideas:

This and even this fun one!

For the past couple of years, House Beautiful seems to be completely ignoring the Christmas holidays. Traditional Home, and the majority of the other decorating magazine have holidays features so I am curious to know why House Beautiful does not. All the British decorating magazines have beautiful December issues which I will be buying. I am a long time reader of House Beautiful, so it is somewhat sad to have seen this happen.

I think you'll LOVE our December issue which arrives right around Thanksgiving. I can't speak for for past editors, but, I personally always want to fit in a lot of year-round decorating ideas, not just seasonal ones. Next month will have both!

(Sophie here, but posting an earlier question we received!)

I am looking for a sofa that will be used every day, perhaps for as much as 8 hours a day (I tend to work on my laptop while sitting on it). We don't have pets or children but I definitely don't want anything too fussy. I'd like it to be comfortable and not too low. Not saying that price is no object, but am willing to pay for quality. Also, how long should a sofa last? Can you steer me towards brands? Thanks!

And here's my answer:


Hi sofa shopper – how exciting! So, a sofa can last a lifetime – and beyond. Well-made sofas have wood frames and the cushions made from feather-wrapped foam. (The percentage of feathers to foam is what makes it firmer or squishier.) A sofa is EXACTLY where you should dedicate a chunk of your budget since it'll get a lot of action – especially yours it sounds like. If you're working with a designer, consider A. Rudin, a 4th generation family business that still hand-makes its furniture. Baker furniture is another great American brand, you can browse styles online and find a retailer through the site. Good luck!

Jura, you asked me about MY living room – what about YOURS? What color is it? And, have you updated it since you've lived there?

Sophie: You are so funny. Well, since you confessed, I will too. You could say my living room is hopelessly stuck in the 1980s. That was when Mario Buatta shared with me his favorite Benjamin Moore butter yellow color. This color had no name - just a number - and now I have to have it specially mixed. I had my living room repainted this year and we went with the same yellow. It's happy and bold and we still love it.

Cobbler's children... another question here is from a design writer confessing she doesn't know what to do with her own place.... I hope to get to that one shortly! 

I’ve wondered this often because most of the items in the magazine are priced way above my means (or "to the trade"). Is the magazine's audience primarily designers and people who can afford these items (as in, potential shoppers for these items)? I’ve been a loyal HB subscriber for about five years. I enjoy House Beautiful magazine a lot, primarily because shows a lot of home interiors (my primary interest is interior design - I do not cook, travel often, garden, or personally enjoy doing DIY projects), and because the images are so pretty to look at (such nice use of color and design). However, to be honest, recently I have felt like I'm looking at someone else's magazine, not a magazine that was meant for me.

Great question. House Beautiful has 800k+ American readers (though it's passed along to as many as 4 million each month), 90% consumers, 10% designers and trade members. But nearly half our audience works with a designer, be it an independent interior designer or architect or a design service at a retail store. For us, to-the-trade products represent the best in quality and often the most innovative ideas. Think of how fashion magazines cover couture – readers can (and tell me they d0!) enjoy the inspiration and the "you saw it here first" element. Most of what we see in trade introductions is passed down to retail shortly thereafter.

But we're also the #1 shopping magazine for home, with LOTS of shoppable pages each month.  I'll continue to work hard (even harder!) to find those items for passionate home-lovers like you!

I love our Room and Board sofa - and they have clean lines. Not cheap, but not out there and a quality product.

I happen to be looking for a yellow that doesn't scream "YELLOW!" too loudly (LOL). What is an off-the-shelf paint color that is similar to the one you chose for your living room?

Benjamin Moore Sundance is kind of close

For the poster who wanted to display small collectibles, you can also get wall-mounted curio cabinets, which won't take up any floor or table top space.

thanks for that...

Studio Green paint looks almost black on swatch but is pictured in same story looking like a mid-tone gray green on some shelves. What the heck....?

Studio Green is SO that color! First off: it is either truly black or green depending on the light (that's also why designers love it). Secondly, you have photography and printing to contend with. This is why we ALWAYS suggest buying sample pots and testing in your space before committing.

We worked with a professional designer 10 years ago to do our living room and were delighted with the results. We still love it, but you know how it goes, we'd like to shake it up more than just changing a few chairs and pillows. (It doesn't have window treatments.) Of course it's best to work with a designer, but I hope this is an easy question: Is it too risky to repaint a new color? Currenly white, we're thinking gray. It's s a large, open loft-like space, living, dining, entry, reading area -- the all-in-one space. (I'm looking for a "no problem, knock yourself out" response...

Go for it! Also: why not give your designer or the firm a ring. They probably very well remember your project and could recommend a terrific gray! Gratis, I'd hope ;) Tell them Sophie sent you. 

Otherwise, indeed: go for it. Buy some sample pots or giant swatches and place around the space. The right color is really about the combination of color and LIGHT, so, test it out first! 

I want to paint my ceiling a light blue. Does a paint color look more intense on the ceiling than on walls? Should I go lighter than I might have planned? The walls will be a darker, complimentary blue.

Indeed – exactly what you said. Again, test, test, test it! But yes, in general, since most ceilings don't receive much light, it can read darker. 

Love me a yellow room. BM Pale Daffodil comes out a scrummy buttery yellow. It's warm and delicious if that's the sort of yellow you want

Worth checking out! Thanks.

Are there any tips you have for decorating a nursery/child's room? We don't know the sex of the child and it will be shared with our daughter, 3.

Well, it's YOUR room, they just happen to sleep there ;) If you spend time in that room (I feel like I LIVE in my son's room...), then do something you enjoy. It's a fun place to take a risk or have a little fun, with color or art... Susanna Salk did a great book on kids rooms – get inspired there?!

Hello and thank you for answering questions! We have a huge open basement with a wine/bar area, home theater area, and a nook with a table for the kids to play games/do legos/craft/etc. But we still have two spaces that are open and empty and we'd love to fill them. One is between the bar area and theater and the other is a long, narrow area in the other half of the room that has very large windows that take up about half the wall. It's great for light, but hard to know what to do with it. Do you have any creative ideas (beyond "pool table") for either of these spaces? There are no walls - everything is totally open!

Lucky YOU that you have so much space! Immediately thoughts: plants. How about a pair of waist-high planters brimming with something leafy. Or, a few potted palms. So many great planters and urns on the market today, Ballard Design – and plants can act as "sculpture" for very little budget!

I’m not a great cook, but even with my skill set and small kitchen, I can make a turkey, stuffing, broccoli, and cornbread. I’d like to have a large buffet-style gathering at my home of friends this month, but that’s not going to be enough food to feed everyone. Is it tacky or too much of a burden to ask guests to bring a side dish to share? If people don’t know how to cook, will they be alienated by my request? And if people show up but don’t bring a side (or just bring a bag of chips) then will my party guests feel like I have personally let them down? Any other ideas??

A few ideas. 1) Absolutely throw a party. Entertaining at home is a blast and guests feel so honored to be invited. 2) Why not make the simplest, easiest, most comforting thing you can – think baked mac and cheese and a fresh green salad instead of biting off the turkey project? People are there for the company, not the food. 3) Absolutely fine to encourage others to bring something. Let them know what you're making and then give them a choice (like, a vegetable side or a dessert) – or an out ("or bring wine!")! 

I'm planning a kitchen remodel and initially was planning to have an island that matches the cabinets and counters. It's going to end up being more money then I want to spend, and I don't think it's a sound investment. Would a large cart on wheels (appropriately proportioned and a complimentary material) be a good alternative? Any other ideas? White cabinets, white cambria ella counters, and I haven't decided on hardware/fixtures yet.

A cart on wheels totally works. I'd definitely recommend a fresh coat of paint SEE THIS! and new counters (Cambria is good; check out Dekton, too, though!) Between island, counters and paint, it'll feel brand new!

Overwhelmed by all your smart questions and your passion for home and design – thanks all and thanks Jura! We address these challenges in the magazine every month – the Experts (designers sound off!) and our Paint column are two places for answers; the feature stories are packed with insights and ideas, too! Thanks again, all!

Sophie - you were fabulous and thanks so much for taking the time to chat with our readers today! Love this "Well, it's YOUR room, they just happen to sleep there."  We will be watching the magazine to see what happens in year 121. Meanwhile, next week same time, same place catch Jessica Romm Perez, editorial director of Domino for another fun filled hour. Bye for now. 

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Sophie Donelson
Sophie Donelson is the editor in chief of House Beautiful, the longest-published home magazine.
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