Amanda Dameron, Editor of Dwell Magazine, To Speak at the Mercantile Library

On Thursday, May 11, the Mercantile Library will be hosting its Hearth & Home lecture. The event traditionally features bestselling authors and media personalities that write about the art of living. This year, the featured speaker will be Cincinnati native, Amanda Dameron, editor in chief of <i>Dwell</i> magazine.

Cincinnati Magazine: I understand that you grew up here in Cincinnati, which means I have to ask you the quintessential Cincinnati question—

Amanda Dameron: What high school did I attend?

CM: That’s right!

AD: I graduated from Walnut Hills.

CM: And then you attended University of Cincinnati?

AD: I did. I have a degree in English. When I was at UC, I was a copy editor at The News Record and I also did a couple internships. I interned at a skateboarding magazine—I knew nothing about skateboarding—where I learned that editing is really my love. After I graduated, I did a publishing program at Columbia. It’s a program that started at Radcliff and has traditionally been the program that filters young people into book and magazine publishing.

CM: Why architecture?

AD: At that time, I would have taken a job anywhere but I ended up in an unpaid internship at Los Angeles Magazine and I worked at a bookstore. At the bookstore I was in charge of art, architecture, photography, and fiction. At that time, Conde Nast had two magazines in Los Angeles—Architectural Digest and Bon Appetit. I applied for a job that I was not qualified for but they kept my resume on file. Conde Nast called me a month later for an editorial assistant position. But I was so excited when they called that I forgot to ask which publication it was for. I showed up that day not knowing but I grew up with two magazines in the house—Bon Appetit and Architecture Digest so I felt comfortable with both. It was Architectural Digest and I got the job. That’s how I ended up on this path. I just wanted a job in magazines and to get my foot in the door.

CM: How did you end up at Dwell?

AD: When I started at Architectural Digest, Dwell had just launched. I remember that first issue being passed around. It was a scrappy start-up and I loved the irreverence of it. Architectural Digest was very rigid and so I loved Dwell’s humor. I was really enamored and I tried three times to get a job there but they didn’t even respond. Finally, there was an opening on the digital side. Fortunately, I had kept a foot in both worlds. When I started in magazines, nobody knew what a blog was. Big magazines considered online to be a place to drive subscriptions but I gleaned where things were going. So I learned and soaked up as much as I could from digital. When a digital job opened at Dwell, they offered me an independent contractor position. I went through ten years of archives and created a custom taxonomy for organizing the images with metadata and then they offered me a full time job. I was on the digital side for the first two years and then they figured out that I had print experience so I became the executive editor and then the editor in chief. I’ve had that last role for six years.

CM: You mentioned the irreverence that Dwell possessed from the very beginning. How important is it to you to maintain that voice?

AD: Very. One thing that’s important to our editorial focus is this notion that we try not to talk about design with a capital D. It’s meant to be a discussion about embracing good design thinking. It’s not always about buying things. Even if you can’t afford to buy all these high-end brands, we hope that that through our stories people can interpret that in their own way. In order to have authority, especially today, you need to have a more informal or relaxed idea of yourself. Not getting mired down in “we’ve always done it this way,” is important to being successful today.

CM: Cincinnatians have a strong appreciation for design, especially mid-century modern. The illustrator Charley Harper worked here, we have the big annual mid-century modern show at the Sharonville Convention Center, and exceptionally livable neighborhoods with a wide variety of attractive and historic residential architecture, including some fantastic mid-century ranch-style houses. Why do you think that era of design appeals so much to Cincinnatians?

AD: Mid-century modern is especially popular for a variety of reasons. I think Mad Men had a lot to do with it. But the era also represents a real moment of optimism in our country. It feels good to remember when we were strong and people had jobs and could afford houses. Even the colors and the shapes of that time reflected a relaxed point of view of what was possible. Remember, this was a time when we were leaving the planet and exploring the moon! Anything was possible. Because of that, there is a lot of affinity for it. Cincinnati is a very progressive city and has always been in relation to arts and culture. Look at the campus of University of Cincinnati and you see the work of incredible architects. It’s larger than just a mid-century modern conversation. I consider it to be an especially vibrant and artistic community.

CM: You wrote a wonderful piece about Ryan Santos’ new restaurant Please. Ryan has a design background and you gave him serious credit for re-using a historic building with a lot of integrity—maintaining many of the original details and materials. How important is that subtle shift from not just re-purposing an older building, but staying true to it’s entire ethos?

AD: There’s a lot of incredible architecture in Cincinnati and that’s why Ryan’s project is so important. It shows that you can embrace the past but that there is great opportunity to go yet further. I especially hope that Ryan’s example can show developers that the right way to do this is not to just retain the façade and slap up dry wall. It’s about looking at the sound construction and material choices that were made in the 18th and 19th century in Cincinnati. Those should be respected and can be re-worked. Cincinnatians are proud of their heritage and how important the city has been and continues to be and so I see a great future not only for the structures that exist but those that are yet to be reinvigorated.

CM: What can we look forward to hearing at The Mercantile Library’s Hearth & Home lecture?

AD: I’ve been thinking about what I can provide that would interest people. I’m flattered to just be asked, honestly. I can provide a behind-the-scenes look at magazine making, certainly. I can also talk about my view of how design and architecture publications have changed over the years and I can talk about my own experience growing up in Cincinnati and how that’s shaped my outlook. I have worked in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York but I am a Midwesterner. I will always be that. People ask me all the time where I’m from and when I tell them, they always say, “Oh, that makes sense.” I hope that means that I am an honest and down-to-earth person. I’m very proud to be from Cincinnati.

Tickets are still available:

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