Home & Garden

House Beautiful editor's design secret: trial and error

One of Newell Turner's first interior design decisions was bedroom wallpaper with vertical stripes of rust, navy, cream, avocado, powder blue and a hint of bright orange. He says it went perfectly with the rust-colored shag carpeting.

But that was the 1970s, and he was a teenager, so we'll cut him some slack. Since then, Turner has honed his design eye and turned a childhood interest in interiors into a successful career as a shelter-magazine editor. In April, he was named editor in chief of House Beautiful. The July/August issue, the first with Turner at the helm, is on newsstands now.

Before being named editor, Turner worked as the style director at the magazine for four years. Before House Beautiful, he worked for a number of shelter publications, including House & Garden and Metropolitan Home.

Despite 25 years of experience in the design business, Turner is the first to tell you he's no pro at decorating.

"I'm not a designer; I'm an editor," he says. He has to test and experiment and make mistakes just like everyone else, he says. Fortunately for readers, he likes to share what he has learned.

Three years ago, Turner built a 1,200-square-foot house in New York's Catskills Mountains from scratch and documented his experience in a personal blog and a yearlong series for House Beautiful called Twilight Field (www.housebeautiful.com/decorating/twilight-field). Both provide detailed descriptions of Turner's design process, and they include tours inside his now-completed, cozy weekend retreat.

Turner spoke to us by phone and e-mail from his New York office about his new job, his personal decorating style and his obsession with furniture placement. Here are edited excerpts:

Question: Congratulations on your new job. How have the first few months been?

Answer: It's been amazing. I was with (former House Beautiful editor) Stephen Drucker for the last four years, so it felt like a natural transition. Rarely do new editors come into a new job without wanting to change things and put their own stamp on everything. ... But I worked very closely with Stephen to create the House Beautiful that you see today ... so my stamp is already on it. At the same time, I believe magazines have to stay current, always question what they're doing and evolve.

Q: Is the theme of your first House Beautiful issue as editor ("Is small the new big?") a nod to a personal philosophy of yours?

A: We have done small-space issues before, but it is something close to what I believe. You should buy a house or an apartment to fit your life, and not the other way around. So many people build huge houses and end up occupying three rooms. There's so much wasted space.

Q: You mentioned on your Twilight Field blog that interior designers are worth every penny. Can you elaborate?

A: In the long run, they can save you lots of money by helping to prevent mistakes. Designers are masters at conceiving spaces and arranging furniture in rooms. It sounds like a simple thing to do, but it's not. I'm obsessed with furniture placement. It's extremely important, and I think that's something that a lot of people don't understand. All good design starts with a good floor plan. If you don't start with a good floor plan, you're constantly struggling with problems and trying to correct things that aren't right.

Q: Any advice for picking paint color?

A: You always hear people saying to buy sample pots and test the colors on the wall. But I suggest buying a piece of foam-core board (available at craft stores or anywhere that sells school supplies) and painting that. Color changes at night, so you can move the board around the room to see what the paint looks like at different times of the day. You really want to know what a color is going to do before you use it.

Q: What is your current favorite paint color and the last place you used it?

A: Blue. A lot of people think blue rooms are icy and chilly, but they don't feel that way to me. The last place I used it would be the public living space in my house upstate (Sherwin-Williams' Hinting Blue).