An Interview with Pilar Guzman, Editor-in-Chief of Martha Stewart Living

Apartment Therapy Design Evenings - 04.11.12

Pin it button big

What: Apartment Therapy Design Evenings
Who: Pilar Guzmán, Editor-in-Chief of Martha Stewart Living
Attendees: 225
When: Wednesday, April 11, 2012, 6:30pm
Where: ABC Carpet & Home | 888 Broadway NYC

We had a packed house here in NYC for our April guest, Pilar Guzmán, Editor-in-Chief of Martha Stewart Living! Read more about our evening below, including step-by-step instructions from our two fabulous "Reader How-To" presentations.

Reader "How To" Presentations


Pin it button big

(l to r: Robin, Maxwell, Isabelle)

This month, we decided to mix up our short design presentations with a focus on "How To" presentations. We enjoyed two casual yet instructional presentations - see links below for full instructions on these How-To's!

Robin's Terra Cotta Pot Pendant Lamps


Isabelle's DIY Drum Shade

Main Presenter

Watch the full evening's presentations above, or read our transcript below!

Pin it button big

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan:
Thank you, everyone, for coming tonight. We're excited about our new format this evening with our "How To" presenters kicking things off. Please let us know what you think of this new format via our Meetup site, or with an email directly to Cate.

I'm also excited to announce the launch of our 2012 Small, Cool Contest. This contest is one of our most popular ones of the year, and this year we've received over one million visits per day to the contest. We have over 60 entries this year, so please check it out when you get a chance.

Also, we thrilled to announce the launch, just this week, of our new Outdoor channel! Our family of sites keeps growing, and this one sprung from years of outdoor posts that needed their own home.

Finally, everyone here tonight is going home with a Martha Stewart gift bag, so don't forget to grab yours on the way out.

Maxwell:
Tonight I'm thrilled to welcome Pilar Guzmán, Editor-in-Chief of Martha Stewart Living magazine. In this role, she is responsible for the iconic, award-winning lifestyle magazine's editorial direction.

A highly accomplished, visionary editor, Ms. Guzmán was founding Editor-In-Chief of Cookie, a groundbreaking, award-winning magazine for modern parents that ceased publication in late 2009. Prior to joining Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Ms. Guzmán co-founded the parenting website Momfilter.com. Before founding Cookie, she was senior editor at Real Simple and executive editor of One, an architecture and design magazine.

Ms. Guzmán has also been a contributor to a number of different publications, including The New York Times House & Home and Dining sections, I.D., Metropolis, Wallpaper, and Marie Claire, and was the design and architecture editor and columnist at City magazine. In addition, she has been interviewed extensively by national broadcast and print media, including Good Morning America, The Today Show, Entertainment Tonight, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Associated Press. Ms. Guzmán launched her career in journalism writing a travel guide to Italy before working as a food critic and lifestyle writer for the New York Daily News.

Please join me in welcoming Pilar to our design evening.

Pin it button big

Maxwell:
So, I'd like to start off by asking you a bit about your upbringing in L.A. You came from a family in film, correct?

Pilar:
Yes, both of my parents were in the film business. My dad did set design back in the 50's, and then he went on to become a Director. His original training was as an Architect back in Chile. My mom, who's Italian, was a singer, actress, and theatre performer.

Maxwell:
So it sounds like you grew up in a home surrounded by creativity, beauty, design, and of course, food!

Pilar:
Absolutely. It was a true entertaining house, we are a very "open door" family. Both of my grandmothers did a lot of cooking when I was growing up, and they were very welcoming to anyone who came into their kitchen. Both Chilean and Italian cultures are very much about beauty and art as well, so that influence was very present. We always lit candles for dinner for example, even when we got takeout. Everything we did was an opportunity to get folks around the table. For these reasons I feel very home at MSL.

Maxwell:
So how did you find your way to NYC?

Pilar:
My first visit was when I was a kid - since my mom acted, we had reason to be here. I never liked L.A. weather, so New York really suited me well. I went to U.C. Berkeley, but I had a lot of friends, and reasons, to go to New York. I knew publishing was my thing, as writing and pictures were my first love, and publishing was in New York. So the move made sense.

I cold-called Gourmet magazine in 1993 - I was that anxious. I didn't get the job, but the will was there!

Maxwell:
So what was your first job?

Pilar:
I was a travel writer for the Berkeley Guides, which is kind of like a young person's Fodor's. I ate my way through Italy writing for them, it was fabulous. Then I became a Photo Editor at Mademoiselle, but it didn't seem like the right spot for me.

So I took a job at RG/A, which was focused on motion graphics at the time. I was a ghost writer for the CEO. At this time I was also doing food reviews for Microsoft Sidewalk, then I did stints at Epicurious, Real Simple, NY Times, and I.D. magazine. Eventually I launched One, which was kind of like an American version of Wallpaper. This was when the dollars were flowing and a launch was an easy thing to do. Let's see, am I missing anything? After this is when the Cookie opportunity came up.

Maxwell:
And with Cookie, you really brought about the birth of a new kind of parenting magazine.

Pilar:
That's true. It really started because I was pregnant at the time, and I really felt like there were no parenting publications out there that I could relate to. All the existing mags, and "What to Expect", with that woman wearing what looks like a quilt on the cover! It just didn't speak to me. With Cookie we were aiming at a magazine for women who have a point of view, an intellectual life, etc. That kind of publication just didn't exist.

Maxwell:
So were you trying to speak to a more urban audience? Or do you feel Cookie was really speaking to all parents?

Pilar:
I think it was originally more of an urban idea, but it definitely took hold with a much larger audience. There was this perception at the time that good parenting and aesthetics just didn't go together, which was completely absurd to me. You can meld the two and not just do what you're "supposed" to do as a parent.

At the time, Fairchild (under Condé Nast) had identified this niche. The idea was for an upscale parenting mag - they were thinking W Baby, but I felt that was a bit too far. We didn't want to have Kate Moss on the cover! But they did grab the ideal of a more modern approach to parenting.

We shared a lot of DNA ( and a floor!) with Domino, so that aesthetic was definitely prevalent. It was about curating your life, not in a superficial way, but in a very specific way of expressing who you are. We wanted to get away from the paranoia and fear and celebrate family life once again.

Maxwell:
So you did that for a short while, and then Cookie closed quickly, so you moved on to the next thing?

Pilar:
Yes it was short lived, although we were happy to put out some real stories about parenting. Its perception of being a precious time in one's life hadn't represented that it's not all that in previous mags, so we definitely shed light on that. Now with mommy blogs and such, it's much more out there. But that wasn't the case at the time. It's definitely a less lonely place now.

Maxwell:
So how did you find your way to Martha Stewart Living?

Pilar:
I subscribe to a lot of MSL newsletters, but one day I got one from "Stewart, Martha" and thought, huh, this is a bit different. Martha wrote me a personal note about coming to work with her.

MSL was one of those publications that, when I was first reading it in my 20's, I was blown away by the photography and ideas presented. There just wasn't anything else out there like that at the time. It represented the best of everything, in the best light, and it really spoke to me. It was a true convergence of beauty and service. It was very inspiring, and also very practical.

Maxwell:
It really is a beautiful and polished magazine. There's something about the art direction that dares to go further. It's edgy in its own way.

Pilar:
That's very true, I think we are indeed unwittingly edgy. We start from Martha and it all grows from there. It really represents an intellectual curiosity about beauty, and the right way to make beautiful things. It's also a very rigorous, purposeful brand, which also speaks to me.

Maxwell:
You have a way of looking at small things in such a significant way. For instance, in one of your articles you looked at soap dishes and elevated them to a whole new level.

Pilar:
It's that pursuit of the undiscovered thing that we love. Martha so admires chefs, crafters, and masters who follow a rigor that she appreciates. We look at life events - moments - and find the beauty and excitement in them. Take the Easter egg cover we just did, for example. We took a sacred holiday and made neon eggs to represent it! Edgy, yet also beautiful and appropriate.

Our craft department really loves pushing the limit. They're always taking cues from culture. People connect to the brand in a very emotional way, so we need to find that connection in every article.

Maxwell:
So what do you feel is your bigger pull - words or pictures?

Pilar:
Well, I'll always be a real stickler for words, as is Martha. It all works together. It's a curated collection of images and ideas each month, and one really can't exist without the other.

Q&A WITH THE AUDIENCE

Pin it button big

Hi Pilar. So I've been 100% obsessed with Martha Stewart Living my whole life. I never really realized why until you talked about the process. In the magazine, process images are just as intricate as standard photography. It elevates the process piece to a whole new level. No one does it like you guys, no one. So, I guess I don't have a question, I just wanted to lavish you with praise. So, thank you!

Pilar:
Thank YOU!

So I love MSL just like everyone here, but on another note - do you see Blueprint ever coming back?
(loud applause from the audience)

Pilar:
You know, I don't have an answer to that. I haven't heard any talk of it lately. One of the opportunities is that we know that audience is out there, so we try to speak to them a bit. Not exactly in the Blueprint voice, but we do try to reach them. The great thing about MSL is that we're popular with people from their 20's to their 70's.

You mentioned something about American aesthetic. Yours is very different from other magazines. How do you define it?

Pilar:
The great thing about this magazine is that it highlights what's great, right in our country, while pulling from a variety of cultures, which is what our country is made of. Our Founder really pulls from everywhere, and this is what helps to define the aesthetic we represent, which is truly American.

As someone who loves the physical nature of magazines, what do you see as the balance between digital and print in the future?

Pilar:
There was an article in the N.Y. Times a few months ago about the pressure on print to be bolder, richer, deeper. I've always carried around my MSL mags from apartment to apartment, so I feel like this is one magazine that really gets that. I also feel there's the idea of keepsake, which isn't as tangible with digital. We do think about how our stories translate in both mediums, though, that's definitely top of mind.

Overall, we increasingly feel like every page counts, so we do think differently about the printed page. I like to think of the magazine more like a book, anyway.

Maxwell:
So I'd like to end with the question to you of, what's next?

Pilar:
We've got so many ideas brewing. One big one is video - since process is so big with us, we've been thinking a lot about that medium and how to use it.

Maxwell:
What do you think of digital mags?

Pilar:
Well we do it, and for me I really think of the digital version as a type of light box, as the pictures look so amazing.

Maxwell:
Thank you so much for spending time with us tonight, Pilar.

Join us at next Month's meetup when we speak to Tina Roth Eisenberg, known in the blogging world as Swiss Miss!

• Special thanks to Kayne Elisabeth Rourke for transcribing our Meetup!
• Special thanks to our volunteers, Amy Patrick & Kortnee Mcclendon!
• Images: Apartment Therapy

Thanks to our host and sponsor, ABC Carpet & Home!
Thanks to our April wine sponsor, Hanna Sauvignon Blanc 2011!

More posts in this series

Maker Talks

3 Comments