Until the sudden closure of Bauer Media in April, Simon Farrell-Green was the editor of HOME, New Zealand’s oldest architecture magazine. Here he explains what comes next.
Being the editor of a major architecture magazine was the best job I ever had. I got it in 2016, after a career spent between Metro and freelancing and copy writing and running a website you probably don’t remember called Eat Here Now. I will be forever grateful to Bauer, and to Brendon Hill, who was then the publisher, for taking a punt on me – I’d never actually run a magazine before.
Bauer was a second family – I think a lot of people feel that way. When I was 16, I used to hang out at Metro with my mum when she worked there; at university I worked in the call centre of its distribution company, Netlink, dealing with the thousands of small retailers about their Woman’s Day allocation not turning up and taking orders for subscriptions, learning how magazines actually get distributed and sold.
At night, after lectures, I went in and processed the returns, which came in on pink sheets of paper with the torn-off mastheads stapled on. (After all that, this is how unsold magazines die.) Around the same time, I wrote my first freelance piece for NZ Home & Entertaining after writing a spoof of the magazine in Craccum. In 2002, Nicola Legat hired me at Metro. Despite leaving for London in 2007, I never really left.
Bauer was, after all, the biggest shop in town with some great brands, lovely people and one hell of a Christmas party. (Actually, that’s a lie. I hated the Christmas party, and routinely pretended it was Mum or my brother’s birthday which are both conveniently in December. Sorry everyone – maybe you knew this?)
That all changed on April 2, when we were called to a meeting via Zoom and told that, effective immediately, the family no longer existed. I sat on our bed because my wife was on a Zoom call of her own, and shook my head in disbelief. This couldn’t be happening. I walked into the living room and said to Hannah, it’s all gone. We’re gone. It’s over. The company was winding up its operations; we were all to be made redundant. A week later, we were, and the final payout landed in our account.
I have a young family, and we’d just bought a new house – we moved on day two of level three. I spent a few weeks grieving, brooding, and talking non-stop on the phone – to colleagues, to architects, to contributors, and the loyal clients who supported the magazine through thick and thin.
Eventually I realised that maybe it wasn’t about the magazine’s brand, despite the fact that it’s been around since 1936. Maybe it was the people; maybe it was the community. Maybe it was the extraordinary dedication of a group of design-obsessed architects and brave home-owners who make houses that are as good as anything I’ve seen produced, anywhere in the world.
The result of that thinking is a new magazine. It’s called Here. (I only have about three ideas, so Here was an easy call – a mate is waiting for the food magazine called Eat and the current-affairs title called Now.)
Here is fiercely dedicated to local New Zealand architecture, specifically its houses, but it’s also about books and art and community and independent business and beautifully designed things you might want to have in your house. It’s about small being beautiful, and things that last and it’s about being thoughtful and careful rather than wasteful and showy. It’s about design rather than budget, whether that’s a lot or a little. It’s about here – New Zealand, this odd little place we live in and always, always underestimate.
Print is in decline, right? You and I are doing this online. Magazine advertising revenues are fucked – three architecture magazines closed within a week or two of the country going to level four, and sole survivor Architecture New Zealand is marginal, according to its editor Chris Barton. Who would be mad enough to launch a new magazine sold in supermarkets right now?
Well, there’s me. As Duncan Greive noted last week, print is no longer the cash cow it once was. It doesn’t support big corporate conglomerates. But magazines do support independent businesses with their roots in community, and an editor who is committed to making a really lovely thing that you might sit down and enjoy the physical experience of reading.
Here is something of an experiment. We might only make one issue. We don’t have an art director: we have a chief designer in the wonderful Sarah Gladwell, and we have guest art directors – first up, we’ve got Tana Mitchell and Emma Kaniuk from Studio Akin – who bring a different, and one-time-only, feel to the main features of the magazine. We’ve started from the ground up on what we think a magazine about houses in New Zealand in 2020 should feel like.
This is not a me-too brand: it’s a whole new way of making a print magazine. It’s warm, fun, accessible and joyful. It’s clean but I also wanted it to be slightly wrong, a bit wonky in places, almost handmade. We’ll mess with it, a lot – stand by for different cover treatments, hand-written headings and collaborations with artists and creators. We’ll have some fun.
I’ve been humbled by the support of the photographers, writers and designers, plus some key advertisers, not to mention a bunch of architects who said yes on the spot to being part of a magazine they’d never heard of. I’ve also been overwhelmed by the incredible support from Tony Edwards and his team at Ovato, New Zealand’s biggest magazine distributor. I will be forever grateful to all of them for their support.
We’re making it from my front room, a converted veranda with two desks and one power point and a rented iMac for production. We’re on sale in a few weeks – initially as a one-off, and then we’ll review. We’d like to keep making it, or we might just go online; we’d like it to have a constant internet presence. We’d like to go fast online and slow in print. Or it might come out when we can get it out. I don’t know – it feels like it’s OK to say you don’t know right now, doesn’t it? I just want to make something. And I can’t sit around any longer.
But that’s all way in the future. Right now, we have an issue to print. And so, despite my reservations, my friend Jo Blair on the Arts Foundation convinced me to run a Boosted campaign, for which I am now humbly soliciting your support. Don’t if you can’t, but if this sounds like something you’d like to see us make, then give us a hand.
And with luck, we’ll see you in the real world, on June 22.