1stdibs Introspective - Editor-In-Chief - Lisa Newsom
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Lisa Newsom
By Marcia Sherrill

It is a well- known part of Southern lore that Veranda’s (ITALICS) founder, Lisa Newsom, emerged from her childhood in tiny Thomasville, Georgia, armed with a passion for design and design magazines. Legends abound, but the truth is that the precocious child whetted her design appetite by designing her tiny backyard playhouse much to the amusement of her parents because, as the story goes, Newsom rearranged that playhouse with each passing day. She remembers her zeal and monomania saying, “I was learning an important lesson: A room filled with the things we love is a means of expressing ourselves and of establishing a personal sense of style.” She remembers “Magazines and books were the windows to the world when you grow up in a small country town.” That playhouse with its small cache of magazines would become the very foundation of a career that is as unlikely as it is heroic.

Having studied interior design and art, Newsom moved to Atlanta when her husband, Neal, went into private practice as an obstetrician. He also quickly became the in-house M.D. for their growing family of four. Neal was a passionate collector and took the children to garage sales every sleepy weekend. The family thrived, but Lisa was missing something protean, some larger calling. Not content to be a Junior Leaguer socialite, she was eager for a career.

At just that time, a magazine was being born in Atlanta — far from the publishing capital of New York — and Newsom was ready. It was the mid-seventies and Walter Mitchell of Smith Publishing tested Editor Jim Hooten’s idea for a magazine that exclusively featured Southern homes. The response was dismal.

Newsom was convinced the concept was a good one: “At that time the South had very little coverage. Most people thought we lived either in Tara or beside the railroad tracks. There was no in-between.” She compiled a mailing list of friends, garden club members, designers, architects, and the design industry representatives at the Atlanta Decorative Arts Center. The positive response to that list was 45%, which was astounding since the standard average had been 3-4%. Thus, a magazine was born.
Newsstand copies sold out immediately. Newsom later became Editor-in-Chief and worked at the magazine for nearly ten years. When Southern Accents (ITALICS) was sold to Southern Progress Corporation and moved to Alabama, Newsom was left to conjure her own idea of the perfect magazine. And conjure she did.

First was Newsom’s radical insistence of lush images on the most sumptuous paper. Second was her desire to publish her magazine from Atlanta. By 1987, Newsom had convinced Architectural Digest’s(ITALICS) former art director, Chuck Ross, to join her in starting Veranda.(ITALICS) The magazine’s reputation for lush visual presentation was set from its first issue. The publishing industry took note, and almost universally said it could not be done. What was this woman down in Atlanta doing publishing a magazine that was as beautiful as Franco Maria Riccis’ (ITALICS) FMR or Connoisseur? (ITALICS) How dare she? The first issue reached 40,000 people and she has never looked back.

While the pantheon of great publishing companies probably held their collective breaths waiting for the folly to end in disaster, Newsom was fast becoming the darling of the South. She remembers those early years: “There were ten very lean years. I didn’t take a salary during that time. We were up against the big guns and I just minded my own business. I created a magazine that I envisioned and took it one day at a time.” The magazine quickly gained a loyal following in Atlanta and the Southeast, and Veranda (ITALICS) can boast advertisers that have never missed an issue.

Veranda (ITALICS) became more and more successful thanks to Newsom’s vision, a dedicated editorial staff, passionate advertising representatives, loyal advertisers, and talented designers. In 1997, she hired Sims Bray as publisher. As Veranda’s (ITALICS) profile continued to grow higher in the marketplace, Newsom was courted by all of the large companies: “I talked with many major publishing companies over the years, but I wasn’t ready. It was great to get to know the CEOs, but I wanted Veranda (ITALICS) to achieve a certain level: to become an international magazine and a bi-monthly.” She achieved her goals with the March-April 1999 issue. “I knew,” said Newsom, “that the gracious hospitality of the homes we featured had universal appeal.”

When none of Newsom’s children was interested in running the company, she wanted to secure Veranda’s (ITALICS) future. So she was ready when Hearst agreed to buy Veranda Publishing in 2002. Newsom says of this happy marriage: “I first met Cathie Black, President of Hearst Magazines in 1999 when she was in Atlanta for a corporate board meeting. In subsequent years, we would have lunch. While I talked to CEOs and other people at other companies, I felt the chemistry was right with Cathie and Hearst. There were so few independent magazines for these big companies to buy. It is hard to start a magazine, so it is easier to buy one that is already up and coming.” She and Hearst were in synchrony. Newsom says, “Look at the experience of Helen Gurley Brown. She was the guru of women’s magazines, and she still had an office even though she hadn’t been head of Cosmopolitan (ITALICS) for twelve years. Hearst still honored her, and I wanted to be with people like that.” Driven but honorable — Newsom’s kind of people.

Today Veranda (ITALICS) boasts the highest demographics of any shelter magazine in America and is circulated throughout the world.

But the lady at the helm has more goals for the little magazine-that-could. Veranda (ITALICS) recently sponsored a show house at Greystone Estate in Beverly Hills, complete with a celebrity-studded, opening night gala. She and Veranda (ITALICS) have traveled a long way from those two tiny rooms on Maple Drive just off Peachtree Street. She laughs, “We celebrated when we went from one room to two.” Today they celebrate America’s most beautiful rooms.

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