Deborah Needleman, Founding Editor of Domino Magazine

Deborah Needleman, Founding Editor of Domino Magazine

Kayne Rourke
Feb 16, 2012

Watch live streaming video from apartmenttherapy at

What: Apartment Therapy Design Evenings
Who: Deborah Needleman, Founding Editor of Domino Magazine
Attendance: 240 (RSVP full)
When: Thursday, February 2, 6:00-8:30pm
Where: ABC Carpet & Home | 888 Broadway NYC

We enjoyed another great design evening in NYC, starting with a "kick-off" presenter and followed by our featured speaker, Deborah Needleman, Founding Editor of Domino Magazine. Read more about it below the jump and view the full evening via our Livestream recorded feed!

Please visit and join our Meetup site - we look forward to seeing you at our next Meetup in NYC!

Kick-Off Presentation

We started the evening off with Andrew Erdle of Good Erdle. He launched his modular ceramic planter business at the New York Gift Fair the previous weekend.

Andrew's modular planters are ceramic (white stoneware clay) with a matte finish, and are food safe. They sit on 3 legs and do not have drainage holes (purposely) so he recommends filling the bottom with rocks for drainage.

The modular form of the planters allows them to be combined in a variety of ways, as shown above. He suggests having them weave on a conference table for an interesting display - with the 3 legs any cords or wiring can easily snake underneath the planters. And with no drainage holes, there won't be any wet cord disasters!

Learn more about Andrew's planters at:

Main Presentation

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan:
As many of you here tonight know, we launched Apartment Therapy back in 2004, and just relaunched our site with a new look and feel in January. We rolled up five sites into two - Apartment Therapy and The Kitchn. We know change can be hard, but so far we've had great feedback, so thank you to all of our readers.

We've been running these Design Evenings for several years now, and this year we are looking to broaden our scope of design stories and products that we feature. We believe in design as a lifestyle, so opening up our discussions to a broader range of guests just makes sense.

Tonight's speaker is an example of this. I am delighted to be joined up here by Deborah Needleman, renowned expert on style and design. Deborah was the founding editor of Domino Magazine and is currently Chief Editor of WSJ Magazine and creator of the Off Duty section of the Wall Street Journal!

In addition to all this, Deborah coauthored: 'Domino: the Book of Decorating'. She was named a "Top Talent to Watch" by Women's Wear Daily, and her writing has appeared in the New York Times and Slate.

Deborah believes "decorating can be life-enhancing" and in her latest book: 'The Perfectly Imperfect Home: How to Decorate & Live Well' (November 2011), Deborah highlights 80 essentials everyone needs to create a well loved, truly lived-in home. And tonight, Deborah is giving away two copies of her book!

Please put your hands together and welcome Deborah Needleman.

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan:
I first got to know Deborah when she was at Domino. When we talked earlier this week Deborah told me a bit about how she got started as a photo editor in D.C. I thought we could start our discussion there so we can learn a bit more about your path and what lead you to where you are now.

Deborah Needleman:
Sure. I started as a Photo Assistant and slowly worked my way up. Basically, girls kept getting pregnant, leaving and never coming back, so I just kept moving up. I really liked working in magazines and enjoyed doing research as well. At some point, though, I realized there was nowhere else to move up to, and there weren't other magazines in D.C. that I wanted to work for. So I moved to New York and worked for a men's magazine.
Eventually Home & Garden relaunched and I went to work with them.

What was it like working for fashion magazines? Seems like it would be very fun and exciting.

Working for magazines is a very collaborative effort, which I enjoy. In fact, when we were both at the blogging conference last week, we talked a lot about how magazines are a dying industry, which is too bad because they foster a great working environment.

It's very different from a blogging office, where it's pretty quiet all day!

Exactly. So anyway, I came to NYC and landing a job at Home and Garden. And at this point I had really just been doing what I enjoyed, but I didn't know my true path. It wasn't until I turned 40 that I really started to hone my career and think about where I wanted to go. So I started at H&G and then quit to become a garden designer.


Hah, yes. And I was bad at it. I just can't see in 3D. So I went back to magazines and wrote gardening articles. Writing is easier and clearer to me. You can also control the experience a lot more, so to speak. You can pace the organization of an article and the way it unfolds.

It's funny because I was reviewing the Apartment Therapy Mission Statement...

Oh yeah?

...and I found parts of it to be similar to Domino's philosophy, which speaks to me much more clearly. At magazines, the Editors are bossy. They have to be to keep things organized. I used to look at shelter magazines and just didn't see a connection to them at all. They were, and are, too formal, too perfect. Domino was the antithesis of that, much as Apartment Therapy is.

So how did Domino start?

At the time I was obsessed with Lucky Magazine. I felt like it spoke directly to the people who read it, not just to designers and models. It was accessible and beautiful at the same time. And I loved it. It was a completely service-driven magazine, including costs, where to buy things, etc. Shelter magazines never give any of that up. I saw this format and felt like it should be translated for the design world. I felt strongly that a great part of this type of service is extracting good information from the stylish set - designers, etc. - and translating that for a larger audience.

So you mentioned to me that someone had this type of idea at Conde Nast, correct? And they asked for you to pitch it?

Yes. I had never been an Editor, so it was a long shot. But I was friends with the Editor of Lucky at the time, and she encouraged me to really think about my idea and flesh it out. She said that Conde Nast had been throwing this idea around but they weren't sure of how it would work just yet. So I started to lay out key sections, etc. By the time they were ready to interview people, I was fully ready with my pitch. And that sold them.

So you got the job, and you mentioned to me that you had difficulties at the start in terms of hiring your team.

I'm not a style expert, I'm a passionate amateur. But I needed experts to contribute. So I found people - good people - who were willing to share their knowledge. We built a tremendous team.

When Domino folded, people felt the loss of the "dream team" you put together, right?

It's true. Almost none of the team members found another job for over a year. We had built a truly unique place and it was hard to find that again.

And you didn't expect the magazine to fold, right? You were kinda caught off-guard?

I had heard rumors that we may close, but honestly, I didn't fully expect it. We were such a hit from the consumer point-of-view. It was just always a hard sell from the business point-of-view, which, in the end, wins out in the decision-making. Home furnishing companies are just smaller, in general, than fashion houses. So, the advertising spends are less.

So it closed, and you wandered around for a bit.

Yes. And it may sound weird, but there was a bit of relief and exhaling after everything happened. We had been working so hard, all the time, and all of a sudden, that stress and pressure disappeared. It was bittersweet.

So I'm sitting around, doing a lot of nothing, and the Editor at Clarkson Potter calls with this "80 things" book idea.

What about the Domino book? Where did that happen in the timeline?

It was done while the magazine was still going strong. We pulled folks off of the magazine to work on it. We sat around my dining table and pulled it together.

And it turned out to be quite a hit. As we can tell from the audience's reaction earlier tonight, you have a lot of fans, still, for all-things-Domino.

So let's talk about your new book. It's a bit different, with all hand drawings. How did that come about?

As I've mentioned, I'm not a design expert, but I know what I like. So I started to look into why certain houses feel so good. I pulled out those items and highlighted them. In the book we have a bunch of made-up words to get to the heart of these feelings. Words like "jollifiers" and "glammifiers". Some rooms are super glam, and some have a little bit of glam sprinkled amongst more simple elements. The key is that they all have something that makes them work. And that's the heart of what we want to get to.

These elements you're talking about remind me a lot of Apartment Therapy - it gives passionate amateurs something accessible to draw from and be inspired by. You mentioned to me when we met up that the house you grew up in didn't have those kind of special elements?

It's true. It was a great place, don't get me wrong. It just didn't have that special something. Those whom I pulled onto the dream team each came from homes that were truly lovely. By that I don't mean that they were all wealthy or anything. They just had parents who cared about their space and expressed it in various ways.

In your opinion, what is it about decorating that goes beyond the aesthetic?

There's a feeling to spaces, and fashion, which brings an emotional element to the design. I see it in fashion, where a model may have messy bed head while wearing the latest high fashion. It's the "look beyond the look", if you will. And in design, it's what gives spaces their personality.

Fashion is a good example, as models easily bring life to the clothing. In interior spaces, without people in the shots (and often there aren't people) it's hard to feel the essence of the space. Especially from traditional shelter magazines.

Exactly. There's this belief that design has to be perfect and organized, the combination of which often leads to staid and lifeless environments. But a little bit of mess, or imperfection, along with a clean, organized space can be lovely. It gives calm as well as structure to the home. 'Cause let's face it, a stark, perfect home can be offputting.

True. And I believe that working on one's home is working on oneself. It represents you.

And how you want to interact and welcome others.


Outside my childhood home in New Jersey.

We lived in an area that used to be an apple orchard. They leveled all of the trees and built our neighborhood. It was weird, everything felt like it was the same age, in a way. Everything new, nothing old, vintage, or representing an original time. It was a bit lifeless.

Images of the first and last Domino issues.
I was really happy when there was someone on her 50's featured on the cover. I also love the handwriting on the cover.

Various covers.
When starting Domino, we came up with various cover ideas. As you can see, there was a bit of web design influence here. We wanted to marry glossies with web access, but had to refine that a bit.

This green room is very English and girly.

Sara, the Creative Director, has a classic yet quirky space.

This hand-made bed shows the mess. It's casual, and shows a lived-in space. In European magazines this type of lived-in styling is much more prevalent than here.

Dara (who is now the Editor of Veranda) has a bold, modern look.

This is my upstate house.

We created rooms to provide ideas to our readers. This is an example of one, with hanging & leaning art.

An example of a painting project.

We liked to show appreciation for small spaces. This space shows twin beds as a way to maximize space.

How we translated clothing into an interior space.

Off Duty (WSJ Section)
The (Wall Street) Journal approached me to work on a new Style section.

Are you putting it together visually? It looks very Domino to me.


The photos are great, very beautiful and juicy.

WSJ Magazine The same idea of what can you extract from the pros to give to the readers applies here.

This shows how we like to do a funny mix of designers, musicians, etc.

Raf Simons (Jil Sander Designer)
Even though we have different types of people featured, our goal is to find an interesting energy to each feature. That's what ties them all together.

New Book: The Perfectly Imperfect Home.

This is the Duchess of Devonshire's sitting room. Although it's grand, there's something that's quite cozy about it. In every featured room, we're always looking to answer the "What can we pull from this?" question. It's grand, yet has faded chintz, stacked books, etc. The Illustrator for the book is Virginia Johnson, she's amazing.

Charlotte Moss Room. It's fancy, yet with an odd chair, which gives it some personality.

Black & White of grand old lady's house. Note the dog food featured - eccentric and whimsical, yet very telling of the occupant!


Thank you for being here tonight. So I wanted to ask about the goal of some of these images and projects. Do you feel they are meant to be educational, letting the audience know about certain designers or celebrities and their specific style and advice, or are they meant to be inspiring to readers overall?

Well, we're not showcasing these folks to help their careers, that's definitely not the point. We want to feature spaces that "feel" real, so readers can connect with them, noting the elements that make them a comfortable, successful space, and how they can do the same in their spaces and lives.

Shelter magazines traditionally existed for high-end trade and those types of clients. So they weren't accessible, as we were talking about earlier. This format brings life to the spaces through visuals of the occupants as well as the lived-in feel that they have.

Exactly. We're trying to bring pleasure to our readers, through accessible design.

I'm curious who your favorite American furniture designer is?

That's probably a better question for Maxwell. Being a passionate amateur, I'm really more interested in the mix of things versus one specific designer over another.

I see a lot of vintage in your photos. Young American designers are doing reclaimed items as the "new" vintage, which seems to be a style you're drawn to.

Why isn't there as much interest in design in the US?

I think design has gained great popularity and interest here, but making items here is another story. It's tough, as we don't have the proper labor force anymore, and it's just too expensive as compared to other countries.

Most folks here loved Domino when it was around. And now we've got a bit of a void with it gone. Where do you suggest we look to now for great, accessible design

Well now design is way more available than it was. Stores, online resources, shows, and of course the design bloggers have made knowing about and accessing great design a lot easier. When it comes to publications, I'm not sure how to answer that.

What's interesting is that Domino online is alive and well. It started about 2 years ago again and has skyrocketed. Do you think, given the interest online, that they may relaunch the magazine? I've heard rumors.

Honestly, I know nothing about it. But funny enough, yesterday someone at Conde Nast asked me for the Domino Facebook & Twitter passwords. I had to explain to them that we didn't use those when the magazine was around! I have a feeling they've relaunched it online again to test it out. It's basically old content that's being recycled. They may also be thinking about doing a bookazine, which is a print publication that's on the newsstands for about 3 months. But honestly, I'm not aware of any plans to fully relaunch.

I heard it may be a mix of old and new content and relaunch as a quarterly. But who knows I guess.

Since we're speaking of magazine content online, I was just thinking about the online publication Lonny. Do you think it could ever be successful as a hard copy print publication?

To be honest, I think it would be very hard. It's amazing what they've done online, but knowing how much it cost to print Domino, I would be shocked if they found a way to make the publication work offline.

I think the drawings in the book are wonderful. What is your relationship with the illustrator

Her name is Virginia Johnson. She's a textile designer, and she's amazing. She did the Kate Spade book series a while back, which I loved, and knew I wanted to work with her. She lives in Canada, so we did all of our work online. I was concerned at first that it would be difficult, but it went incredibly well. We'd basically send her 4-5 images, tell her what was important in each, and she'd pull out those key points to feature prominently in her drawings.

Her drawings are very Daily Candy-esque to me.

Yes, I talked to her as well. But her drawings really were too representative of that style.

Do you think the design mags for the 99% will remain online

Honestly, I have no idea. I still believe in print and the power of holding pages in your hands, but who knows if it will last. I have to say that I love the images on the iPad, but still, it's not exactly the same.

Magazines are definitely more controlled. To control your own experience, online is better. The web can be visited daily, where magazines are a little bit less, and then books a little bit less than that.

Congratulations to the four raffle winners of Andrew's planters and Deborah's book!

• Special thanks to Kayne Elisabeth Rourke for transcribing our Meetup!
• Special thanks to our volunteers, Georgie Hambright & Brittney Davenport!
• Images: Apartment Therapy

Thanks to our host and sponsor, ABC Carpet & Home!

Thanks to our February wine sponsor, Elios Wines!


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