Showcase houses aren’t a new concept for shelter magazines. Generally viewed as a natural—and expected—extension of a brand, it’s not atypical at this point for a magazine to participate in the nearly three-decade long trend by building part or all of a house of its own.
Tasked with demonstrating to their readers design schemes that encapsulate modern design trends, showcase houses have been increasing in frequency, especially in the last decade, with brands like House Beautiful creating its inaugural wellness concept home this year.
But as the trend expands, it takes on new forms from brand to brand and from year to year. By changing the location, design, or theme of the house, shelter magazines can make their showcase homes stand out among shared audiences, serve as destinations for people to visit, and remain profitable revenue sources for the brands.
The first of its kind
Southern Living, a pioneer in this experiential brand extension model, is on nearly its 30th year of building an Idea House, and has near cult-like followings for its homes that draw upwards of 20,000 visitors in person, proving that a project as expansive and daunting as building and marketing a home is profitable.
Sid Evans, editor-in-chief of Southern Living and Coastal Living, says that back when the Idea House project was first conceptualized, “that was a pretty radical concept at the time for a bunch of magazine editors,” to be able to represent a house in its entirety rather than just writing about or photographing it.
Focused on creating quality builds and showcasing beautiful designs, the brands are ultimately concerned with generating inspiration for their audiences, with an emphasis on southern charm or coastal relaxation for the magazines’ specific reader-interests.
For both SL and CL, their Idea Houses offer revenue streams from more than one area and lasts far beyond than the initial construction and display of the house.
As with many showcase homes, the SL and CL Idea Houses come together with the help of partnerships from builders, who secure the lot and build the home, the designers, who bring their own high-profile social followings, and advertisers, who supply products. Along with the investment from the magazines themselves, the sponsors and the brand see a return from a variety of locations that lasts far beyond the house’s initial construction and display.
Evans says that revenue is seen from the public home tours, which, this year, run between June 15 and November 8, advertising via print and digital coverage, and the sale of the house plans—which are sold through a separate house plans business extension consisting of over a thousand blueprints available for purchase.
For sponsors, the real profit comes when readers want to incorporate the ideas from the house into their own homes.
“I think that they tend to see a very strong bump in sales and that’s why so many of the sponsors come back year after year,” says Evans.
Editorial coverage of the Idea Houses begin during the construction phase of the project, which allows for readers to become engaged with the journey of building the home. Evans says that the sneak peaks on the brand’s Instagram and Facebook feeds drives engagement and drives readers to the actual house for public tours, which at $15 per person, provides revenue for the brand while a portion of the proceeds are donated to a local charity.
For SL’s 2018 Idea House, which is located near downtown in Austin, TX, Evans says he expects the outpour to be even higher than average, while the 2018 CL house is located in the smaller community of Habersham, South Carolina and is expected to draw a comparatively smaller crowd.
“Last year we had a house in Bald Head Island, which you have to take a ferry to get to. So it’s a little bit more remote, a little bit harder to get to. I think that house still had over 10,000 people who went through it,” he says.
A showcase home with a family in mind
The Whole Home Project by House Beautiful takes the idea home concept one step further. By incorporating a the theme of wellness and healthy living throughout the entire house, the Whole Home still features an aesthetically-pleasing design, but it also utilizes everything from color and decor to fixtures and appliances to bring peace-of-mind to inhabitants.
“It’s not just a house that looks pretty so you can say you did it, but it’s a house for living in and loving. I feel like this Whole Home Project is the truest expression of that that we’ve undertaken in terms of a project like that,” says Sophie Donelson, editor-in-chief of House Beautiful.
The magazine has experimented with design-oriented showcase homes in the past, and has an ongoing concept kitchen project called Kitchen of the Year that is on its 11th year, but the Whole Home Project is a first of its kind for the brand as it highlights a very specific objective throughout an entire home.
The initial concept didn’t include the construction of a physical home, however. Inspired by friends and family who Donelson saw seeking wellness and healthy living hacks from sources outside of their homes, she originally planned on creating an editorial series that offered inspiration in how to bring these themes into readers homes. Comprised of four chapters: calm, health, unplug and detox, and revibe and recharge, the editorial project was called “The Whole Home Report,” and held spots within different print editions, but didn’t extend beyond that.
“Leave it to the sales and marketing team to say, ‘Let’s not stop there. Let’s build a house!’” says Donelson, who agrees that it was an obvious extension from the editorial platform.
Securing the builder and the kitchen designer for the project was an easy next step for House Beautiful. “When they heard this idea of a wellness and happiness home, they really latched onto it,” says Donelson.
“This is a space that someone will buy and they will live here,” says Brenda Saget Darling, associate publisher at House Beautiful. “It is seriously thinking about what their needs are, and [wellness] is a topic that resonates with everybody, which is why we had so many sponsors come on board almost immediately.”
As a principle, the magazine wanted its partners to be on the same page with the mission of the Whole Home Project, and worked to find specific advertisers who practiced similar wellness and happiness initiatives in their own businesses.
“What was the most amazing thing was that everywhere I went, every one of our partner sponsors had some kind of wellness initiative that they wanted to share,” Saget Darling tells Folio:. “It just organically evolved.”
Once the Whole Home is revealed in the November print issue of House Beautiful, the house itself will be open for the magazine, the sponsors and the subscribers to visit and tour until the house itself is sold. Rather than selling tickets to public tours, Donelson says that she plans to invite local subscribers in the Atlanta area to a series of events while also hosting charity events with the local Ronald McDonald House.
Securing successful partnerships
Both Southern Living’s and Coastal Living’s idea houses and House Beautiful’s Whole Home Project prioritize national sponsors within their showcase houses as a way to illustrate how various products could work in a reader’s home.
However, the brands take different courses of action when finding sponsors.
For House Beautiful, about 75 percent of the advertisers it’s using in the Whole Home Project had worked with the brand before. When approached about the new project, Brenda Saget Darling, associate publisher at House Beautiful, says that they had no issues getting them to sign back on as well as landing new partnerships.
“From an advertising point-of-view, it has been a phenomenal success,” says Saget Darling. “There’s been a significant increase in revenue from the perspective that all of our ad partners either significantly increased their spend from 2017, but it also garners new advertisers that we had never carried before.”
Many of the Whole Home Project sponsors were required to pay sponsorship fees, which Saget Darling says was a real revenue driver for the brand, but the partners receive their fair share of marketing from the deal.
“Editorial coverage is part of their package and our hope is that they have a story to tell,” she says. Beyond individual features both print and digitally, the sponsors will also have access to the house itself to host events and tours, be given visual content for their social pages, and in some cases, are given category exclusivity within the building of the home itself.
SL and CL generally approach their sponsors after creating a rough concept for the home including its location, design and materials that will be used. And while the brands have storied histories with sponsors, they don’t always repeat those partnership if they feel the brands don’t best represent the design of the homes.
“We’re very picky about where we’re going to build, what kind of community we want to be in, what kind of location we want to be in, and who we’re going to be partnering with,” says Evans. “One year, a house might have really extensive outdoor spaces, which would appeal to outdoor-oriented sponsors, and then another year we may not.”
Another similarity between the brands’ showcase houses is how they register the success of the projects. All of the brands will be looking for clicks and page views on their digital channels as well as engagement on their social pages, and finally newsstand sales.
“We want the feedback from the readers to be great, we want to hear good things from them,” Evans tells Folio:. “That is something that we can quantify through the mail that we get, through newsstand sales, through the digital traffic that we see, the way that people respond to it on social media, the number of people who actually go see the house in person. So there are a number of benchmarks.”
House Beautiful anticipates a fallout years to come between readers integrating these ideas into their homes and the other brands and companies following in its footsteps.
“I really hope that we are credited with being the first media brand, if not the first entity, to really pioneer a house for wellness and happiness,” says Donelson. “And then I do hope that there will be copycats!”