Q&A: Architectural Digest editor Amy Astley on changing design trends and AD in the digital age

Jun 13, 2019

Amy Astley was named editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest in 2016. She oversees all editorial content and has expanded AD's digital presence and social footprint. Prior to this role, Astley was the founding editor of Teen Vogue. She spent five years at House & Garden and nearly a decade at Vogue. Architectural Digest publishes the work of the world's top designers and architects, and Astley is on top of everything that's going on in interiors, architecture, art and digital culture.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating, design and decluttering 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 organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A 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 your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

Our guest today is Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest since 2016. In addition to overseeing all the AD editorial content, Astley is committed to reimagining and expanding
the brand’s digital presence across every platform and format. Architectural Digest has been front and center on the coffee tables of stylish homes for decades and is known internationally as being a top source for architecture and design news and fabulous photographs of beautiful homes. Prior to AD, Astley was the founding editor of Teen Vogue, which launched in 2003.  Astley has spent a great deal of her career immersed in art, design and fashion, including five
years at House & Garden and nearly a decade at Vogue. Astley graduated from the Honors College at Michigan State University. She lives in New York
City with her husband and two daughters.

Hello Washington Post design fans! Thank you for chatting with me today.  I  suspect you are as obsessive about interiors as I am...looking forward to typing fast and answering as many questions as I can!  

How do you decide the AD 100 and why do people fall off the list?

The AD editiorial team takes the list so seriously. We meet all year to discuss, debate, and ultimately decide. We know how important the list is to readers and to the industry. We look for interior designers, architects, and landscape designers who we feel are doing noteworthy, influential work and who we are publishing in the magazine. We seek diversity of all types, including geographic. Once AD100, always AD100 -- like winning an Oscar! Just because someone is off the list doesn't mean they won't be back. We like to make room for new names, new people. We want the list to feel current, and relevant. I added a Hall of Fame to the AD 100, too. 

What is AD Pro? Why do you need a special code to get into it?

AD Pro is our daily digital news source for the industry. Subscribers get access to 100 years of the AD archive, too! Plus a job board, calendar of events, and special access to AD workshops and events. You can subscribe at architecturaldigest.com/adpro

What trends are you hoping will leave us soon?

Well, I have never loved the "luxe hotel room" trend in decorating! Too impersonal and beige for me!

Your magazine has changed a lot over the past few years. How do you see the print edition vs. the online stories? Do you think there will still be a print magazine in five years?

Thanks for this good question. I consider the magazine the central spoke in the wheel of the AD brand. It has authority and access and prestige, and sets the tone for our digital destinations and all our new ventures, such as AD Access, our design-centric trips with Indagare. I am certain there will be a print magazine in five years! It is a vital piece of our story, and a great business, too. Print stories must feel both current and stand the test of time. Online can be ephemeral. 

I much prefer to leaf through print design magazines than to look at them online. And I'd rather tear out a page to keep than pin an image on Pinterest. I think I'm in the minority, though. What do you see as the future of your magazine?

Fortunately you are not alone in your love of leafing through a design magazine! AD has a very robust and growing subscription base. I do agree that looking at houses in print is very satisfying in ways that digital may not always be. Our magazine has a bright future in print. It is a critical part of our brand identity, and our business model. 

What's a day in your life like? Do you go to a lot of the photo shoots?

I don't go to that many photo shoots! I approve and plan all of them, though. It is pretty time-consuming to be on set, and I totally trust our creative teams to land the photos without my supervision. My favorite days at work are days when the film arrives from the shoots. Always magical! My days are crammed with meetings and email! I see my staff all day, and I go out almost every single night to foster my relationships with the many sources in the design, fashion, art, and architecture worlds who are the sources of the houses we shoot. I call my job being a "house whisperer."  Finding photogenic houses is one of the most creative and fulfilling parts of the job. 

Hi Amy! Loved the recent video on Jessica Alba's home. Which other bold-faced names are on your dream list for a house tour?

Thank you for watching our videos! It thrills me that so many of our homeowners agree to share their residence with our readers in this way. YouTube is a fast- growing and important platform for AD. Dream bold face names for a house tour? Tom Ford! In the incredible NYC townhouse he recently purchased which once belonged to Halston and was designed by architect Paul Rudolph.  

What initiatives are you working on for the future for AD related products, services etc. I'm always fascinated by the trips - they must be amazing as you seem to get to see very unusual properties.

The AD Access trips are a new venture, and I am thrilled that you are aware of them! The idea is that we take a small group of guests on a design-centric, highly curated journey with access to private homes, gardens, and people. We have been to Beirut  and Marrakesh and have many other locations planned. I will be hosting a trip to Mexico City in the fall and I am so excited - I have never been there. Dates have not been announced yet but stay tuned and please join us one day, if you can!  We are focused on AD Access and AD Pro (our subscription digital daily newsletter about the design world) right now, along with our web channel Clever, for younger people. But I love to innovate at AD and we are always talking about new initiatives......

A message from a colleague: Have a design challenge? If you live in the D.C. area and are looking to refresh a room in your home, send an email to makeover@washpost.com describing your problem. We may use your space in House Calls, for a virtual room makeover, including free advice from a professional designer.

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Hi Amy and Jura, do you have any tips for how to make your decor stand out when you're on a budget? I'm in the process of furnishing my first apartment but find myself a little stuck because it seems like all of my friends/peers have very similar items and decor in their apartments (think: brass/gold accents, faux marble, all white comforters, etc.) and I think it's because that's what's sold at big stores at prices we can afford (We are all young professionals). I try to shop used and at flea markets and other places, but I find I don't have tons of time to go chase around for individual items. How can I make my decor stand out on a budget so my room doesn't look identical to everyone else's?

Hi, I hope you will take a look at our channel Clever, on ArchDigest.com  It exists to answer exactly this type of question and concern. Hopefully you will find the interiors and the solutions inspiring. I like the way you are thinking -- it is true that a certain "sameness" definitely can creep into interior design, just like fashion. (The Instagram effect - we are all looking at the same influencers and images!) I think that is because people are busy, and when something "works"  -- like all white beds, and so on - it is just an easy fix that people can understand and quickly adopt, at a good price, as you say. The fact that you want to be different means you will find a way! Going to flea markets and garage sales is a great idea. Try the online vendors like Chairish, Decaso, 1st Dibs. Keep at it. Layering your home and personalizing it takes a LOT of time. No rush!!! It is an ongoing process. Try adding books and plants/flowers to your rooms. They add warmth and are not expensive. Good luck. 

Posting my piece on pianos today. There are so many pianos out there and so many people who need to get them out of their homes. It's not easy - you can't even give many of them away and many of them are beloved family heirlooms. Read my article here.

Hi Amy, Would love your thoughts on what kitchen trends today will last and what you think will seem dated in 5 years? Are all-white kitchens on the way out?

Good question, because kitchens are SO expensive to renovate and install. The truth is, I don't see the white kitchen fading anytime soon. You want your kitchen to design to last at least ten years, hopefully longer  - and white kitchens still look very appealing, whether minimal or country-style.  In my own kitchen, I went with a mix of stainless steel, white marble, and warm woods. I think a bit of a mix in the materials feels fresh now, and you don't have to commit to only one thing like all-white or all-steel. Play with "accessories" like pendant lights, open shelves, to change the look. I am seeing a LOT of black  in kitchens now. Like black cabinetry. It looks very sophisticated and you can just paint existing cupboards as a makeover. I am considering it myself! We also see so many kitchens with beautiful light seafoam or minty green cabinets. Also bright vivid blue, like cobalt or a bit darker. It is possible that these slightly trendy or "current" colors will seem dated in 5 years, but cabinets can be re-painted or have new doors put on the face.  

With the advent of online shopping and sites like Pinterest, choices now seem nearly unlimited. If I want a new light fixture for my dining room, instead of the 20-40 options at my local lighting store, I now have literally thousands of choices. How do you recommend people deal with this paralyzing amount of choice when looking to design their homes?

This is a really good question, and I can relate. I too become overwhelmed by choice and end up paralyzed and doing nothing!  This is a common syndrome, for sure! Keep educating your eye by looking at magazines, books, and online BUT you may find that you should take the plunge and hire a professional to help you out at this point. I think that online services like  HomePolish and Decorist and Havenly can be really helpful here. YOu can hire someone to JUST advise you on lighting, for example. The investment can offset the cost of making an expensive mistake. You spend so much time in your home - this is the place to hire an expert eye if you can. 

I see that you are giving the names of the owners of the homes in most of your pieces these days vs. being anonymous. Is this a problem with many wealthy people?

I feel that readers want to know WHO is living in the house. I want AD to feel welcoming and personal. We publish a few anonymous houses if they feel compelling from a design point of view, of course. But I try to avoid that impersonal feel of a real estate catalog! 

Thank you so much Amy! You have shared a lot of great information with us. We look forward to all the new things ahead for AD. Next week we will be chatting about beach houses with Erin Paige Pitts and you'll get to see a gorgeous home she decorated in Bethany Beach that will appear June 23 in the Washington Post Magazine. Bye for now.

I'm sick of gray. It seems like everything from paint colors to kitchens is still going gray. When will this end? Isn't it all going to look dated?

I am seeing so much color in kitchen cabinets now. Blue, lighter shades of green, yellow.....check some upcoming AD's! 

Obviously, AD is the "Vogue" of the design industry. How do you wish the typical homeowner utilizes the magazine for their own design inspiration? In other words, campaign taste on a budget.

I hope that readers take inspiration from the pages of AD and use their own creativity to make those ideas their own. Clever is our digital channel which is packed with stylish ideas for living beautifully on a budget.  I love it! 

Thank you for joining me today WP readers! I appreciate your great questions so much, and your support of AD 

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 and organizing.

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