The Way We Lived Then: Metropolitan Home

Victor Prado

How the groundbreaking magazine spearheaded a fight against AIDS.

A legendary editor during a golden age of magazines, Dorothy Kalins founded Saveur and relaunched Garden Design in 1994, served as executive editor at Newsweek and now owns a book-publishing company. But in February 1989, as editor in chief of Metropolitan Home, Kalins spearheaded an issue of the shelter magazine for the ages, enlisting designers and advertisers for a show house to fight the AIDS crisis. We talked to Kalins about Met Home and why the issue was such a powerful industry first.

What was so unique about Metropolitan Home in 1989?
That was the era of House & Garden and House Beautiful, and I was hell-bent on not doing a decorating magazine. We wanted to use real journalists and report on design and architecture as serious subjects.

And the subject of AIDS was becoming tremendously important by that time.
At the end of the ’80s, the specter of AIDS really started affecting us: our friends, colleagues, those we reported on. We thought, What if we could get all the people in our world—designers, manufacturers, readers—involved to create a show house that we’d feature in our magazine to raise money for DIFFA [Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS], which wasn’t well known then.

The cause seems obvious today but was probably controversial then.
Remember, our publisher was Meredith, who published Ladies’ Home Journal, based in Des Moines. And AIDS was not very understood. I called a major soft-drink company about sponsorship, and they said, “Well, we don’t know that AIDS can’t be spread by sharing bottles, so we cannot support this event.”

But some brands stepped up.
Completely. When Kohler and GE came on board, it was unbelievable because it meant you had Middle America supporting you.

Were you scared it would fail?
There were so many doubts. Putting together the house was the easy part, but then we were worried selling tables for the gala wouldn’t raise enough money, so we devised a street of shops and asked designers to create pieces for auction. We kept thinking it would all fall apart.

And it was a success!
Yes, with that first show house and the one we held two years later, we raised $3 million and featured a fabulous home and movement in the magazine.

How did readers respond?
Incredibly. We weren’t sure how they’d take it because it was a national magazine, but people sent checks, even for $25, which we gave to DIFFA and amfAR. That’s when we thought, Well, we have God on our side.

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