London’s MidCentury has been helping 1950s and ’60s vintage furniture enthusiasts decorate their home in a tasteful way since 2011. Interview with editor Tabitha Teuma.
Baron: What’s the story behind MidCentury Magazine?
Tabitha Teuma: Biannual publication MidCentury came about through my interest in 1950s and ’60s furniture and architecture. Having edited an arts journal for a couple of years, I was looking to start my own magazine and I could see that, despite several US titles, there was no UK publication covering the subject. I’d go to furniture fairs in London and see an array of magazines from the States, with advertisements for New York dealers (that I certainly couldn’t get to!) and articles on homes in California or Cincinnati, but with little mention of Modernist architecture in Britain or even Europe.
I wanted to create a quality magazine for people like myself; the content needed to strike a balance between specialist and coffee table. For me it wasn’t about grabbing a bargain, it was more about educating myself as to what I was seeing, putting it into a historical context, finding out how to make a canny investment purchase as well as getting some seriously inspirational eye-candy.
I found a design agency with a personal interest in the subject, who agreed to design the first issue for a minimal fee, and the website was built for us by a friend. The print was paid for by advertising revenue: I promised to drop a significant portion of the print run through letter boxes in high value 1950s and ’60s homes in London and give out copies of the first issue at London’s biggest mid-century furniture show. This event also functioned as our launch.
The magazine developed over the following two years and we approached some high profile figures within the publishing industry for their comments and opinions on our business. This led to our partnering with renowned design agency Esterson Associates, who re-branded MidCenturyand designed issues 05, 06 and 07. We commissioned a new website (midcenturymagazine.com) around the same time, which allowed us to engage more regularly with our readers through article posts and links to social media.
B.: How does that translate to an editorial policy?
T. T.: As Editor, I aim to stay true to the design principles of originality, authenticity and quality embodied by the architects of Modernism, and also celebrate those contemporary designers inspired by Modern design. In order to create a quality magazine, I value above all original writing presented alongside specially commissioned photographs. The content strikes a balance between specialist and coffee table, providing a deeper insight into the subject than a conventional interiors magazine – we aim to appeal to serious collectors as well as people with a looser interest in the aesthetic of the period. We add historical context as well as a contemporary standpoint, and offer a guide to investing, buying and sourcing from furniture retailers across the price spectrum.
B.: Why choose print? What kind of paper do you use and why?
T. T.: I feel that there’s still a place for print – especially in the independent magazine market. Although I think it’s important to have a strong digital presence, I feel that the visual nature of the product means that, for many, they like to have a tangible item on their bookshelf. And the content is for keeps – something to refer back to – and this still works best in print. We use type fonts from the ‘50s: principally Jeanneret, used by Le Corbusier, Century and Futura. The magazine is printed on 130gsm paper with a silk finish – we’ve often considered using uncoated stock for the inner pages, as this tends to be the preference for independent titles at the moment, but for me, the silk coating gives our photographs more depth, particularly in the darker tones. We have however replaced the rough matt UV coating on the 200gsm cover stock with an 250gsm uncoated paper for our recent issue 07, to give the magazine a better quality feel and this works well with the flat spot color (which changes every issue).
B.: What has been the readers’ response?
T. T.: An increase in appreciation and popularity of mid-century design means that ‘mid-century’ has become a valued genre in its own right, earning what we believe will be a permanent place in the design canon of furniture and architecture. Our readers are loyal and supportive, it’s like a club; our main challenge is getting more people to discover the project.
B.: Good print mags get a lot of love, but this isn’t always reflected in sales or advertising. How are your sales? What is your advertising philosophy?
T. T.: We have a fairly conventional ad sales strategy, which is outsourced to an organization in central London. Ad sales have grown issue on issue, and we’re increasingly attracting the bigger brands onto our premium pages. The house-designed Directory at the back of the magazine allows smaller businesses to advertise at a budget that suits their means. We select our advertisers carefully and have been known to turn prospective advertisers away in the past if their products are at odds with our ethos (i.e. those selling unlicensed reproduction furniture).
Subscriptions and single-issue sales have increased issue on issue; these mainly come through our website or from our presence at design shows in London. We only distribute the magazine to specialist outlets – design stores, furniture dealers, museum shops and the occasional specialist bookshop. We view this type of targeted distribution, done on a small scale to avoid wastage, as a marketing exercise with the intention of converting buyers to subscribers in the longer term.
B.: Can you give us a tour of the UK niche media scene?
T. T.: There is a growing niche media scene in the UK, especially in East London, where organizations like MagCulture provide talks and a review service for independents.
B.: Upcoming projects
T. T.: We will be also focusing on producing content for the new website (midcenturymagazine.com). We would like to partner with some of the European Mid Century design shows and intend to pursue this objective over the coming months.