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WITH PAIGE RENSE
NEW YORK, OCTOBER 2007
The name Paige Rense is synonymous with innovation. During her 37 years at the helm of Architectural Digest she has used her creative wits to lift the magazine up from its limited niche-like origins to its present status at the apex of interior design magazines. A visionary and an iconoclast from the very start of her stewardship of AD, Paige continues to bring interior design to the forefront of our national mindset. She is credited with a series of industry shaping firsts, including opening doors to celebrities’ private homes, attracting the best photographers in the field by crediting them for the first time in the magazine, putting together a winning combination of great writers and design featuring prose by Gore Vidal, Arthur Miller and Kurt Vonnegut, and publishing designers own homes alongside celebrities and titans of industry. Rense turned AD into a monthly coffee table book that is collected like the antiques and art that is found within its glossy pages.
From her always-questing mind comes her latest first, Architectural Digest's Open Auditions. Paige says, "I am always looking for the next great project, the next great designer struggling in anonymity, the next exciting idea. I'm often asked, 'How can I get my interior into the pages of Architectural Digest?' Most people think it's nearly impossible or you have to have a long list of credentials. Open Auditions opens the door to all."
Rense's enthusiasm for the project is both obvious and contagious. "This is the kick-off of our national search for fresh design talent and material for the magazine,” she explains. "We start in New York on October 10 and 11; head to The DCOTA on January 29 and 30, The Pacific Design Center for March 26 and 27 and then finish up at Design Center Houston on May 6. The editorial team and I will then choose semi-finalists whose names and at least one photograph of work will be posted on our website."
Paige digresses. "We have always relied on interior designers and we were lucky to start with great ones like Anthony Browne and Angelo Donghia — they were the first to believe in our vision." AD was the first shelter magazine to feature an interior designer's home, a move that eventually led to the creation of the AD100.
This is a far cry from the early days, when Rense took over as editor-in-chief at AD after the untimely death of Bradley Little. With only two issues a year, the magazine operated on a shoestring, with writers being paid a pittance. "We had to convince them that it was worth it," she recalls. "Asking, 'would you mind commissioning the pictures?' They did it only after I'd explained there was no photography budget."
Recalling those early years, she vividly remembers her siren call to talented photographers. "This was at a time when photographers wanted only to shoot models." Rense says she lured them in even though, as she says, "a sofa only sits there."
Thankfully, the photographers took the work seriously. Photo credits started showing up in the magazine in an era, she remembers, "when precious few magazines were giving photo credits." Rense's acumen began drawing photographers ineluctably. This was key, she says, for it was "the photographers who made it truly glamorous."
AD had made the interior shot an object of beauty, and it soon transpired that a spread in Architectural Digest became the trump card for talented photographers. Still, why not combine the two? The idea for celebrity style was born at AD, with Hollywood legends such as Joan Crawford, Ingrid Bergman and Robert Redford gracing their pages. Rense admits that at the beginning the idea was so novel that she started by asking interior designers about all of their projects and clients. She was also never above dropping a celebrity a personal note. "All they could say was no." She laughs.
Under Paige Rense, Architectural Digest Celebrity Homes spawned a national fascination with celebrity living that gave rise to interior design pages in InStyle and Vogue.
Rense still sends only a photographer and maybe a photo assistant. "We'll just send out a photographer, for it is their talent that ennobles the magazine. I want the photographer's eye and the designer's vision." This is a woman who has the unwavering sense to unleash real talent.
From the early days, when writers were paid perhaps $250 for a feature story, Rense remembers those early journeyman writers and believes that the early emphasis on prose has certainly paid off, with the AD roster of writers (Gore Vidal, Arthur Miller, Kurt Vonnegut etc.) reading like a list of Pen Faulkner Award winners.
That's as it should be, says Rense, who states emphatically that "it can't just be about gorgeous photographs or brilliant content. We have always desired a winning combination of the two: great writers and great interiors."
Looking back at her decades of accomplishment and her own fascination with beauty and design, Paige waxes lyrical about the profound influence of her artist-husband, Kenneth Nolan, in helping articulate her love of color. She says she is disappointed by the lack of bold color employed by designers today, saying that the design world seems to be serving up great swatches of neutrals.
She understands that designers can be overwhelmed, even intimidated, by the perceived obstacle of great art but urges them to be more daring.
Paris holds a special place in Rense's heart, as she fondly recalls the restaurant Voltaire on the Rue Voltaire and the city’s splendid hotels. Still, she laments, those days are behind her, saying unequivocally, "I don't want to get on a plane anymore and sit on the tarmac for 8 hours; traveling is horrible now." A passionate gift-giver who declares emphatically that she is happiest giving donations to the Lang Foundation, a famed California pet rescue. In a life of giving, Rense gives the ultimate gift to the unknown with the formation of Open Auditions, by which an obscure and lucky someone (talented to be sure) will be honored with a spread in AD. Rense has promised that the winner will indeed make it into the magazine. "This is not a publicity stunt or a phony TV-style gambit. And if we're lucky, semi-finalists and others will also be published."
This is Brave New Design World thinking. It’s also her mission and her mandate. Paige Rense's reign keeps the design world on its ever-changing toes.
CAN YOU GIVE US AN OVERVIEW OF ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST OPEN AUDITIONS?
On October 10th & 11th from 9-5, the Architectural Digest editors and I will review photographs of residential interiors — at least two of the major rooms, from pros and non-pros. New York is the kick-off of our national search for fresh design talent and material for the magazine.
We'll then go on to Florida at the DCOTA Winter Market, Jan 29-30, 2008, California at the Pacific Design Center, March 26-27 and finally at Design Center Houston, May 6. At the conclusion of each market event, I and the editorial team will choose semi-finalists whose names and at least one photograph of their work will be posted on our website: www.architecturaldigest.com
IS IT TRUE THAT THERE IS NO GUARANTEE YOU’LL FEATURE THE WINNER ON THE PAGE OF ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST?
No. The winner will make it into the magazine. If we're lucky we hope semi finalists and others will also be published.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO HOST AN OPEN AUDITION?
I’m often asked, “How can I get my interior into the pages of Architectural Digest?” Most people think it’s nearly impossible or you have to have a long list of credentials. Not true and Open Auditions proves it.
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR DESIGNERS LINING UP OCTOBER 10th & 11th?
Professional or not, anyone can line-up for a chance to meet with the judges but they must have two photographs of each room in a finished interior. No slides or laptop presentations.
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