His House Beautiful
House Beautiful’s Mark Mayfield believes that mainstream doesn’t mean mediocre—neither in his home in Pelham nor at the helm of the nation’s oldest shelter magazine
By Joanne Furio Photogtaphy by Phillip Ennis
Mark Mayfield is slightly bemused as he explains how some hosts apologize for their dÃ©cor when he visits their homes. Perhaps that’s because the 49-year-old editor-in-chief of House Beautiful, when the roles are reversed, makes no excuses for his Restoration Hardware dining-room table or his Pottery Barn patio furniture. Nor for the fact the home was decorated by “amateurs”—Mayfield and his wife Monica.
“Having a beautiful house is not about living pretentiously,” says the six-foot-two-inch-tall Mayfield, standing in his dining room, where fine art and antiques mingle with Mitchell Gold chairs sensibly covered in Hinson & Co. slipcovers. “It doesn’t have to be an incredibly expensive house, as long as it’s got good bones and good decorating. We’re talking about good design.” In fact, only one of the eight rooms in his Pelham home—the study—bears the mark of an interior designer. “This house is me,” he says. “It’s very comfortable and lived in.”
Mayfield was hired three years ago by Hearst Magazines to take over House Beautiful in Manhattan. He and Monica, a fellow journalist, could have opted to live in a luxury city apartment. “I’m not Mr. Urbanite,” says Mayfield, who had previously worked at USA Today and Traditional Home. “That’s just not who I am.” Instead, the couple chose a 2,200-square-foot house in Westchester, which they proceeded to decorate in a practical yet sophisticated style to accommodate them and their two daughters, Madison, 10, and Alexa, 2. (Mayfield also has two grown children from a previous marriage.)
“House Beautiful is my job,” Mayfield says. “It’s work. I have a lot of interests and they’re not all decorating.” (When not editing copy or selecting photos, Mayfield enjoys reading, writing, jogging, travel, and antiquing.)
He and Monica are, however, in the process of restoring the exterior of their 1917 center-hall Colonial, designed by architect Charles Lewis Bowman, who is famous for his Bronxville Tudors. The restoration, which began in June with repainting, should be completed this fall with the scaling back of overgrown plantings and the addition of new ones. Part of the project will entail decorating the master bedroom, which Mayfield admits flies in the face of advice he has given readers. “I always tell readers to pamper themselves first. But we did the opposite and then never got around to it.”
This month Mayfield is unveiling a redesigned and revamped House Beautiful, which will include more reader interaction, more products, more editors’ picks, and more makeovers. On Mayfield’s desk are more than 6,000 letters with photos from readers begging for decorating help, a testament to the nation’s makeover mania.
“It is not enough to publish gorgeous rooms,” he says. “In a world of competition where people are really attuned, they want information fast and given to them directly. â€˜How can I pull a room together?’ they ask. “They can look at the photos and learn how to do it.”
Mayfield has already made his mark by returning the 109-year-old House Beautiful, the oldest continuously published shelter magazine in the country, to its traditionalist roots. His predecessor, Marian McEvoy, before she was replaced, was criticized for making House Beautiful a splashy, star-studded vehicle that seemed more about beautiful people than beautiful interiors, a move that alienated many of the magazine’s more mainstream readers. Mayfield has also opened up the magazine’s pages to designers from all over the country, not just those in Manhattan. “You can publish a magazine with nothing but interiors of New York,” he says, “but it leaves out the rest of the country.”
And though he may not be Mr. Urbanite, Mayfield is proud to say he is Mr. Traditional. In fact, in an industry that prides itself on being cutting edge, Mayfield does not flinch at being dubbed “mainstream.” “I don’t mind the label,” he says. “I have a sense of what people out in the country want—beyond New York and L.A.—because of my background.”
Mark Mayfield hails from Birmingham, al, where his parents still live. As a child, he dreamed of very faraway places—space, in fact; he wanted to become an astronaut. Later the University of Alabama alum fancied himelf a novelist, “but journalism took over,” and that led to newspapers and magazines. Mayfield worked at three different newspapers in the South before joining United Press International in Atlanta in 1980. Two years later, he was hired to help launch USA Today, starting as a rewrite editor. Eventually he was promoted to the position of Atlanta bureau chief, where he says he did “a little bit of everything.”
“In the beginning we got a lot of criticism for being too visual,” says Mayfield of USA Today, which was groundbreaking in its emphasis on photography and graphics. “For me it was fabulous and really turned me into a visual editor.” He worked at the newspaper for 10 years, before leaving in 1993 to become the editor of Art & Antiques, then based in New York, the job he credits with immersing him in the world of decorating and design. “The homes where we viewed art collections were gorgeous,” he says. “I started to deal with decorators, and I found that I loved it.”
Two years later, he joined Southern Accents (Birmingham, AL), then Traditional Home (Des Moines, IA), before going to House Beautiful—“a magazine I loved,” he says.
Once he and Monica began shopping for a place to live, he discovered he loved Westchester, too. “This area is gorgeous,” Mayfield declares. “It sometimes feels as if you are thousands of miles from Manhattan.” Pelham, in particular, he adores because of its vibrant—and historic—downtown.
“One of the things I love about Pelham is that the whole village is probably the way it was 60 years ago,” says Mayfield, who reports he has seen too many villages bulldozed to make way for generic communities and malls. “I grew up where there was really a strong sense of place. I think Westchester—and Pelham in particular—is very similar in so many respects. There is a strong sense of place and pride.”
Their home, nestled between two much grander houses (apparently they followed the real-estate credo, “Buy the smallest house in the best neighborhood”), is one of seven in Pelham that Bowman designed before moving on to his seminal Tudors in the 1920s.
When the Mayfields bought the house, they had no idea Bowman was so renowned; they simply fell in love with the home’s architectural details. An American classic with white clapboard siding and black shutters, the house boasts rooms bordered with both floor and crown moldings. The floors are hardwood, and, in the center hall, a Dutch door at the back opens onto a columned porch, which the Mayfields have decorated with comforting reminders of the South: white rockers, potted ferns, and hydrangea.
The living room, designed in a palette of soft golds and greens, is conducive to entertaining; it is divided into two seating areas: one that includes a Thomas O’Brien silk velvet sofa; the other, a sofa from Restoration Hardware. “I like the idea that you can live with very inexpensive pieces,” Mayfield says. “I like what they have at Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware. They have brought pretty good style to the entire country. Still,” Mayfield is quick to add, “that doesn’t mean I want a house full of it.” Indeed, in the fine-boned dining room mixed in with the Pottery Barn items is a pine hutch by Guy Chaddock of Bakersfield.
The hand-hewn 19th-century dough bowl that adorns the dining room table is a Monica find from the couple’s year in Iowa. And the 1930s mahogany chinoisserie china closet, which has no pedigree, nor recognizable brand name, is his find from their time in Birmingham. Mayfield got it because he liked its look: “It doesn’t have to be â€˜important.’”
What is, however, “important” is the Kevin Reilly chandelier in the dining room for Holly Hunt—a visual sleight of hand that combines real candles with recessed electric lights on a simple wrought-iron frame. “It was one of the first ones made,” he says.
Between the kitchen and dining room is the original butler’s pantry, with its copper sink and wall of built-in cabinetry. Mayfield considers the room “one of the best features of the house” and shuddered at a suggestion he once received that he take down the wall that separates the pantry from the dining room. “Yes it’s a bit boxcar-ish,” he admits. “But if you live in a house like this, this is what you get.”
In the center hallway, Mayfield points out a watercolor that he and Monica had
stumbled upon in a junk shop in
Upstairs are three bedrooms and a study created by
With a Rolodex filled with the country’s top decorating talents, some of whom are good friends like interior designer Vicente Wolf, Mayfield could have easily enlisted a pro to complete other rooms in his house, but he didn’t. “Monica and I have always done our own decorating, so there’s not the need for a designer in our case. We are in effect our own decorators, and we prefer it that way.”
Someday, Mayfield says, he would like to “bump out” the kitchen, but imperfection is something he can live with. “There is no perfect house. If it is a perfect house, you probably wouldn’t want to live in it.”
Joanne Furio is a Cortlandt Manor-based writer who specializes in design.