Monday, November 15, 2010

Big, Glossy, Addy And Still Pointless, Renovation Style Gives Ideas In A Pointless Way

The Good: Wonderful photography, Great sense of style
The Bad: Addy, Often ridiculously expensive projects, Light on "how to."
The Basics: Another magazine that wastes a lot of trees to tell people with money what they already know, Renovation Style is a real letdown for realists.

I am becoming less and less a fan of magazines. It seems like each and every time I open one these days, I am met with a contradiction of one form or another. In the case of Renovation Style, that contradiction is in the concept vs. the execution of the magazine. The concept of Renovation Style is clearly to give readers ideas of what is stylish and what looks good in living spaces when one is overhauling a space with a budget of about $10,000. Inside the magazine are great ideas, wonderful photographs and articles exploring how to make such overhauls to one’s house. But the contradictions are these: 1. Most people willing and able to shell out $10,000 on a home renovation project have an idea and 2. Those who do not have an idea about what they want to do with their living space and have such an extensive budget to change the look of their house are not likely to get their answers from a magazine. This is why there is a whole industry where contractors and design technicians figure out how to make the space you have into something better. But the people who like the unique looks of the rooms pictured in Renovation Style are also the ones least likely to go to a design technician and say, “I want you to make my kitchen look like the one on page 88.” Instead, they are likely to have ideas and a style of their own.

That said, Renovation Style is yet-another ad intensive magazine where articles and photographs are squeezed in on the few pages in the magazine that do not have advertisements. As well, the projects shown in this magazine are not so much “how to’s” as they are “look at what we did’s!” The difference is all the difference and Renovation Style is a magazine most people will find completely impractical, especially in today’s economy.

Published quarterly, Renovation Style is a 128 page glossy magazine bearing a $4.95 cover price. For that tag, readers get twenty-nine full pages of advertisements, which does not count the insides of the front and back covers. While this might not seem terribly ad-packed, some of the articles illustrating current styles in faucets and fixtures often look remarkably similar to the pictures in the actual articles and there are also some pages which have column ads as well. The result is a magazine which is remarkably insubstantial. There are only five regular departments (two of which are medium standards) and the rest is basically a collection of renovation logs captured for readers to look at.

The five regular departments in this magazine include the welcome from the editor (in the Spring 2009 issue I used for this review, that welcome was advising readers to not sell their homes, but to use the terrible housing market as a time to renovate what they have, a big surprise considering the magazine is Renovation Style and not “Sell Now Before It Becomes Worthless”) and letters to the magazine from readers. Ironically, the letters from the readers essentially mimic the content of the rest of the magazine by including comments from readers and photographs of renovations done by readers. This is another place the magazine pretty simply repeats its format, just the writing and photographs are slightly less professional than in the rest of the magazine. Two of the other departments: “Kitchen Radio” and “Good Idea” are the closest the magazine comes to “how to” sections. In these regular departments, the writing staff spells out changes one may make, specifically to the kitchen (in the former) or all over the house (the latter). Each of these columns is about a page worth of information and in the regular columns, the writing is tight and fairly universal. Readers will not need to know much in the way of jargon.

The final regular department in the magazine is also the most offensive for those shelling out money for this. The magazine creates a master list of designers and products shown in the actual articles as one of their regular departments. This is, essentially, four pages of advertisements so readers may exactly replicate what they see in the other articles. This, alas, includes the contractors (when used) who did the work, so this is essentially a huge section of unpaid advertising.

The remaining pages are the articles and each issue, the articles are essentially photograph-heavy articles that are pictures of the interior of homes. There are only about two articles (out of an average ten) that actually illustrate the “before” as well as the “after” photographically. And herein lies the big issue I have with Renovation Style. Each of these “after” shots makes every room that is photographed look like it is part of a mansion (some, actually are). They have stainless steel fixtures in virtually every kitchen or rooms where the green paints and furniture match the verdant colors of the plants outside. These are ideas and executions for readers who have exceptional taste, a lot of money and people who do the work for them. As a result, looking through most of these “articles” is to simply peek into how the other half lives and realize how far one is from every having that sort of thing. This is reinforced by the advertisers in the magazine, who are – save Home Depot – designers whose products trade on the name and sense of fashion instead of the substance and easy of product use.

As well, I write “articles” because the publication has very little going for it in the writing department. The average article is less than 2000 words and most of them are simple “this is what we did” recollections that explain what one is seeing in the photographs. Most of the articles are not accompanied with a sense of real proportion – though one or two did have floor plans to illustrate just how the whole house was laid out and made over – or useful tips on how to do what the people who did renovate the houses pictured did. In this section, the articles mix very plainspoken writing with a lot of jargon. It’s an article by article crapshoot as to whether or not one can easily read and understand what the specific renovations were or if the reader has to know what a cantilevered roof is.

In short, this is an impractical magazine for most readers, despite the fact that the photography truly is beautiful. And for those who are renovating, if you like the sense of style in here, beware! By the time your project is done, odds are style will have changed and your new house will be out of fashion.

For other magazine reviews, please be sure to read my reviews of:
Stargate SG-1 Magazine
Rolling Stone
Reader's Digest


For other book and magazine reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here for an organized list!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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