From the Editor March 2012
Sally wears a top from calliope by caroline sills; Photographed by Jane Ussher; hair by Michael Kent; make-up by Kaitlin Chapman
In New Plymouth, reader David Hill is feeling deflated by his NZ House & Garden magazine. “Your articles describe achievements and successes,” he writes. “Would it be possible to hear occasionally of failures and disasters? These… might make some of us feel less useless by comparison.”
Understand the sentiment, David. There’s no arguing that a rich diet of other people’s successes makes one queasy. The Baz Luhrmann line – “beauty magazines only make you feel ugly” – has become a truism. I’ll even admit that, if you flick through NZ House & Garden and only look at the pictures of polished domestic perfection, you might feel rubbish.
The way to overcome this feeling is simple: keep reading. Because, if you read NZ House & Garden thoroughly, you will indeed find the occasional bracing tale of failure and disaster. Take, for example, the story about the clever, arty Paterson/Wallace house on page 26 of this issue, which opens with a desperately sick homeowner standing in a Wellington storm, watching her home burn after a pot was accidentally left on the stove. The pictures, of course, show only the gorgeous replacement home. We didn’t visit Sue Paterson and her husband Simon Wallace to photograph the grim post-fire years of charred remains and indecision. David might say that this sort of success-oriented editorial judgment makes people feel useless, but I would argue that it works the opposite way because, once you know how gritty Sue and Simon’s life was after the fire, all those detailed images of the beauty they have created out of the mess can’t help but make you feel uplifted.
It’s a bit like the YouTube video of mad avalanche-dodging Canadian freeskier Sean Pettit that my son showed me the other night (youtube.com/watch?v=0fOiKE2UW-g). As a feat of human athleticism, the video is beautiful, but what makes it awesome is the tiny bit at the beginning where Pettit crashes over and over again. When he finally pulls off the perfect descent – filmed with a stirring soundtrack and lingering shots – it feels like nothing less than a triumph of the human spirit.
And, in their own quiet, domestic way, some of the stories in NZ House & Garden are also tales of human triumph. Our homeowners cope with life’s disasters and messy mistakes like the rest of us, sometimes in huge doses. In this issue there are mentions of court battles, business doldrums, shonky electricity delivery systems. You have to read the magazine thoroughly to find them; disaster is not a headline event in NZ House & Garden, as it is in the news media. But the stories of trouble and strife are there among the glossy images, adding an inspirational edge and making readers like David feel much better about themselves.