Whenever a reader sends me a note telling me that they’ve found something in the magazine that resonates with them and how it helped them, that’s when I know I’ve done my job.

— Sophie Donelson

GDG often has the opportunity to take our readers behind the scenes of design studios, collection stories and stylish soirees, but our favorite pieces turns the tables on editors, making the typical interviewer the interviewee.

Sophie Donelson, the 23rd Editor in Chief of House Beautiful, delivers a warm and witty voice combined effortlessly with HB’s long time tradition of excellence. Donelson’s sense of style and humor is evident through her cheery voice and smart pops of color, but her responsibilities are as big as her personality.

Whether it’s choosing a cover or approving the next color trend, Sophie has to make fast decisions informed by an ever-beating cultural pulse. Sitting on the 27th floor of New York’s glass-prismed Hearst Tower probably does feel glamorous, but Sophie doesn’t stay seated very often.

This wonder woman sizes up the stories and images shared with the publication’s 816,000 print subscribers and 7 million digital readers, which is no small feat. In her ‘spare time’ Sophie also published Style Secrets, a brightly colored, hardworking handbook that shows readers how to create the rooms of their dreams, down to the smallest detail.

Sophie breaks down Style Secrets and opens an interior dialogue with GDG editor, Holly Speck.

Holly Speck: Your book, Style Secrets is filled with pops of color – right now we are seeing greys and neutrals everywhere! How do you suggest easing clients into comfort using more color?

Sophie Donelson: I think it’s both – people like myself and designers that I know enjoy both color and neutrals. Sometimes you want a room to bliss out and color isn’t right for you right now. We publish lots of beautiful creamy rooms, but that being said they don’t tend to be the rooms that people talk about. Vibrant colors resonate in our memory because we all have a natural predisposition to color. From flowers to a whisper pink pillow cushion, you can’t help from double tapping on an Instagram (post) with color. It’s this instinct of happiness brought by color that brings a smile to your face.

I think as we are living in a world of neutral, watch to see what makes you feel, when did you immediately double tap.

HS: Speaking of ‘double-tapping’ Instagram – How do you think social media has affected interior design?

SD: Oh the Double tap! You don’t even know you’re doing it, your head is speaking through your body. It’s a learned reaction that we have developed that causes a fascinating immediate feeling through our fingertips.

What’s exciting is how interior design has been thrust into the general public’s interest through social media. Magazine readers are design obsessed and that’s our choir we don’t have to preach to them, I’m really interested in the new populations of people for whom design has all of a sudden become an interest. It’s now in our face more frequently pushing people to invest in their home again, something that had more prominence historically.

Now, everyone has an Instagram worthy corner of their home or table, or a bloom or two in the corner, not everyone has a living room that is House Beautiful appropriate, but everyone has a moment of beauty in their life to share. Not everyone hosts parties or guests, but design via Instagram is a way of bearing our soul on a small level.

It inspires you to buy that thing – to clean out and do better without the intimidation of ‘interior design.’ I love how it affected the industry, maybe people will try something out and discover it’s hard, it’s a challenging thing to do. It’s important to remind people that “to the trade design” isn’t something you can be good at without formal training or help.

HS: Each chapter of your book features an aspect that ‘every room needs’? Is there one that stands out the most to you personally?

I think the Glitter & Gleam chapter stands out to me personally. This idea of light and bringing light into a room, especially natural light through mirrors or water. I think there’s some romance to capturing light in the space, and it’s critical.

I visited Bunny Williams and John Rosselli, and while I sat in their sitting room I remember counting at least 17 points of light from candles, to a fireplace, to a sconce, to a table light. All of the light was so low and subtle, but added an incredible ambiance and warmth. What can be more primal than humans gathering around light? It feels wonderfully transporting when it’s done well.

HS: When it comes to decorating ‘rules’ is there such a thing, and if so is there one you break?

There are absolutely guidelines that, when followed, lead to decorating success. Let’s think of them as “best practices.” I always tell everybody the easy decorating advice – declutter, but I’m the worst at it! I love things! I read everything I should read on a topic, but generally less is better. However, I can’t help myself because I am a junk junkie. I love antique shops and I’m a constant collector. I would need multiple homes to give all my junk the space that it deserves.

I have a zillion odd objects, small pieces of art, little sculptures, and things collected, inherited, found, and received. I try to relegate them to a few tableaus and shrines throughout the house, but my three-year-old has a passion for “re-merchandising” them.

Just this morning I was surprised to find my wallet stuffed in a piggy bank!


HS: What’s one thing you learned while writing Style Secrets?

SD: The need to take my own advice. I write these things and I stop and say, ‘oh my gosh, can I just go home and pull the trigger and buy a dresser? Obviously, no!’


HS: Any last thoughts?
SD: I’m thinking about the mantra of the magazine, and I must say that I feel really lucky to be at a brand that I believe in. And maybe that sounds trite, but I truly think that if you have a home you love and spend time in, that it’s the biggest reward. It’s so fun to help readers pull their own home together and help them make a way of living that feels authentic to them.