Having recently celebrated his first year as Editor-in-Chief of Condé Nast House & Garden and graciously agreeing to host three talks at the first Cape Town HOMEMAKERS Expo Virtual Event, we chatted to Piet Smedy about the changes to the House & Garden brand over the past year, where he sees Africa continuing to take global design and what he has gotten up to at home during the lockdown.
You have been at the helm of Condé Nast House & Garden for a year already, taking the title through a rebrand in the process, what has your first year as Editor-in-Chief been like?
The past year has been incredible in terms of growth, both for myself and for the House & Garden brand. Repositioning a legacy brand like House & Garden (the brand itself has been around for over a century, and in South Africa for 22 years) was an amazing opportunity to open it up to a whole new generation of readers and establish the magazine as a relevant guide to living with style.
This year, of course, has been one of the most challenging the publishing industry has ever faced, and we’re certainly not in the clear just yet but I could not have been blessed with a more dedicated (and tenacious) team that makes every issue not only possible but successful.
Africa has historically been somewhat behind the rest of the world when it comes to trends but is now starting to lead the way. What are your favourite trends and designs that have come from home in recent months and where do you hope to see us taking the world next?
Africa is the most exciting place in design right now – fact. Over the past few years, we’ve seen African designers, especially black designers, taking ownership of their designs, embracing what it means to be African and have an African aesthetic rather than falling back on tired European ideologies. Laduma Ngxokolo, Donald Nxumalo, Thabisa Mjo, Mpho Vackier, Simpiwe Mlambo: these are but a few of the designers who are championing multiple African design identities and much-needed representation of black African designers in the broader conversation. This is not a trend, but a paradigm shift and I believe that is why African design has never been more important.
When it comes to putting the magazine together, how do you balance globally and locally relevant content?
Providing a platform for local designers to showcase their work is and will always be our first mission at the magazine. Of course, offering readers insight into international homes, trends and product releases is a cornerstone of House & Garden and will continue to be, but over the past year we’ve shifted our gaze to be a lot more inward, and by that I mean towards design from both South Africa and the continent.
Which books, sites or people do you read/follow to keep up to date?
I get most of my news from Instagram, which I check every morning to get a snapshot of the news – design and otherwise. There are the usual suspects – Architectural Digest, Dezeen, Designboom, Highsnobiety – but I love the content coming out of The Cut, too, and of course, anything and everything by Kinfolk and Cereal. Oh, and if you haven’t yet, do yourself a favour and watch the ‘In Residence’ series of videos on Nowness – they’re fantastic.
What do you think has been the greatest redefinition of home due to COVID-19?
I think we’ve had to re-evaluate what we want, and need, from our homes like never before. Because they’re not ‘just’ our homes anymore – they’ve had to become our offices, our temples, our gyms, our restaurants – and even with easing lockdown regulations, I don’t think that will change. The concept of home as a sanctuary in a very confusing, sometimes erratic world is something I think will stick around for a very long time.
We did a bit of a dive into your social media, and see that you have launched a “one-man lockdown apartment redo”, how is it going?
I’ve been living in my apartment for two-and-a-bit years, but it was really after the hard lockdown that I actually got to experience the space properly, and decided to make changes. I did an interior renovation when I moved in, so the changes were entirely cosmetic this time round: out with the pistachio walls and minimalism and in with storm blue and white, restored mid-century pieces and an obscene amount of greenery. If there’s one thing I’ve taken away, it’s a whole new respect for painters! Seriously, paint cans should come with a ‘don’t try this at home’ warning – it’s hard work.
You are also a “proud plant parent”, what tips do you have for keeping your plants and garden thriving?
Leave them alone. The number of casualties I’ve had due to overwatering is all the evidence I need to know that the best thing you can give your plants is some space. Plant parenting is a study in patience.
If you could live in any home you have featured in House & Garden, which/whose home would it be?
The London home of Dean and Dan Caten (the founders of DSquared) that was designed by Dimore Studio. It was the April cover of House & Garden. I actually based the current colour of my walls on that apartment. Otherwise, anything by Kelly Wearstler.
Four Quick Fire Questions:
Which item in your home can you not live without?
My very small art collection. From the crushed Marlboro box piece given to me by the artist Kurt Pio as a house-warming gift and the oversized botanical pieces from Pezula Interiors from my mother, to the Renee Rossouw I bought with my first editor’s salary and the rather odd fried egg print that was sent to me by a dear friend (and former colleague at GQ magazine) now living in Copenhagen, each piece has so much sentimental value. I’m hoping to add work by Banele Khoza and Lulama Wolf in the near future.
Outdoors or indoors?
Indoors. Specifically, in the kitchen. That’s my happy place.
Braai or gourmet meal?
Can’t it be both?
DIY or buy?
Buy. You’ve never met someone worse at following instruction.
If you would like to keep up to date with what is happening in the global and local world of living with style, subscribe to House & Garden here.