Before there were collages of product and collections of quotes, there were often words on the back pages of decorating magazines. House Beautiful was the first shelter magazine that I began buying and reading when I was just out of college. Part of the pleasure of reading House Beautiful was not only exposure to the creativity of design, but turning to the back page and reading Dee Hardie’s tales of her family’s life in an old farmhouse in Maryland. Her life was not extraordinary. What she did was pay attention. Well before it was a catch phrase, she was present in her life. She appreciated the significance of what turned up in her children’s pants pockets, and by telling her stories she made me pay a little closer attention myself.
I enjoyed Dominique Browning’s editor’s column for HG for the same reasons. And I read with equal delight the entirely different narrative of Mayer Rus when he wrote The Testy Tastemaker for HG. He told me once that writing the column filled him with anxiety. (There’s a local columnist who once said that writing a regular column is like being married to a nymphomaniac; it’s fun in the beginning.) But the thing that all of these writers brought to their trade, was a very personal view of home and design. Michael Boodro’s editor’s letters for Elle Decor come the closest today, (though I always wish they were longer) but this sort of narrative is largely lost.
Dee Hardie died last week from heart failure; she was 89. I so regret that I did not make the effort to try and meet her, or at the very least write to let her know what her stories of everyday life meant to me. I owe her a lot. I feel sure there would be no Mrs. Blandings without her.
Many thanks to Meg Fairfax Fielding of Pigtown Design for sending me Hardie’s book, Views from Thornhill courtesy of Book Thing a few years ago.