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Deconstructing Two Issues of a Home Remodeling Magazine

I keep my eyes pealed when my fiancee and I go shopping for house-fire restoration items (from flooring to tile to bathtubs). Just like fashion, food, and automotive marketers, the tile, bath fixture, and marble countertop makers have superb print collateral.

I took two copies of a magazine called CAMBRIA STYLE this week, the Fall 2014 and Winter 2015 issues. I thought you'd find an analysis and deconstruction useful in your own print design work.

I'm approaching this exercise as a two-step process:

1. What is the goal of this series of magazines, as I—a casual reader—understand it?

2. How did the print designer use all available graphic design and printing tools to support this goal?

The Overall Look and Content of the Magazines

I checked out the Cambria website after reading the two issues of CAMBRIA STYLE (almost cover to cover). The Cambria “about us” web page asserts the following:

“At Cambria, we pride ourselves on being the only family-owned, American made producer of natural quartz surfaces. It’s a rare combination in today’s increasingly globalized marketplace. For our customers, it results in quality that can be felt from start to finish, in products and our customers' experience.” (The bold type for emphasis is my addition.)

When I apply this mission statement to my reading of the magazine, I see a company dedicated to quality and natural beauty. The vehicle for this experience is the quartz kitchen and bathroom surfaces Cambria makes, but the real thing Cambia is selling is the sensory experience of quality.

With this in mind I can understand the contents of CAMBRIA STYLE. It is a “lifestyle” magazine focusing on the values to which the readers may aspire (the appreciation of quality in all aspects of life) and the activities that passionately engage members of the magazine audience.

For instance, the two issues include home furnishings (the experience of comfort at home), food and wine (the experience of fine dining), and music. The magazine has a sensual bent, a focus on sensory experiences within day-to-day life. In this vein, two short articles (one in each of the issues) address the experience of “Joy” and the art of the “Great Escape” (“the ones that can be captured and savored at a moment's notice”).

So with this ethos in mind and all available design and printing tools and techniques at hand, how does CAMBRIA STYLE reflect this mission?

Printing Qualities of the Magazines

The magazine is slightly wider than the usual 8.5” x 11” magazine (9” in width). This makes it feel ample. (It also allows for wide columns and a scholar's margin.) The magazine feels big but not awkward.

Right off the bat, the tactile nature of the cover paper coating grabs my interest. Without knowing any more, I would think it is a satin aqueous coating (not as smooth as dull film laminate). The ever so slightly textured surface wakes up your fingers. And this magazine is all about being awake and present for life's pleasures.

The cover feels like a 100# matte cover stock, and the interior paper stock feels like a 100# dull, bright white text sheet. (The text is slightly smoother in feel and appearance than the cover, which has visible hills and valleys when observed under a bright light.) The brightness of the paper makes the large, full-color images “pop” and stimulates your sense of sight (the same way the texture of the cover coating wakes up your sense of touch).

The Magazine Photography

The magazine content shifts from home interiors to food to people, but in all cases the photos are large, bold, and colorful—not loud, but bright. It seems fitting that one issue includes an in-depth interview with a country band called Big and Rich. No images appear contrived or staged. Most of the people in the images either engage enthusiastically with others in the photos or, more often, look squarely at the reader with a relaxed, happy air. This gives a casual and intimate feel to the magazine.

Color Choices Within the Magazines

Color usage in the magazines is understated and sophisticated. Many of the spreads devoted to house interiors and gardening are presented in earth tones, and some of the home interiors are even achromatic, with only subtle accents of color here and there.

Color usage in the text, solid ink blocks, and area screens echoes the hues of the living spaces, whether they are bathrooms and kitchens or pool-side gathering spots. Colors range from evanescent pastels to saturated hues depending on the subject matter of the photos, but there is a visual rhythm from page spread to page spread that holds the magazine together as a unit.

Type Choices Within the Magazines

The designer laid out the magazine using one or two bold, sans serif faces with a modern feel and a few compatible serif faces. (One is a Modern face with high contrast between thick and thin strokes of the letterforms. The other is an Old Style typeface with more gentle transitions between the thick and thin strokes.)

Throughout the magazine, the designer contrasts the faces (sans serif against serif) in subtle ways suggesting an air of sophistication. There are size contrasts (large heads against smaller body copy), contrasts of typeface (serif against sans serif), contrasts of italics against roman type, and contrasts of all-caps type against type set in caps and lower case letters.

The effect of the subtle type contrasts is to give the reader a clear demarcation between separate blocks of information and to guide the reader's eye through the page spreads. This allows for quick identification of important copy and easy assimilation of information.

The Design Grid of the Magazines

For the most part the magazine is set out in a two-column grid with a scholar's margin. The scholar's margin gives the designer a place to set captions, a position to which headlines can be extended, and a larger space for the photos.

Occasionally, the designer reverses large, centered headlines out of the background photos, or provides a three-column layout for a food page, or a page divided into a square. All of this adds a sense of movement and variety to the magazine.

The full-bleed images within this design grid also provide a sense of expansiveness to the layout. (And this visual expansiveness is congruent with the tone and implied mandate of the magazine: for readers to stop and experience the immediacy and sensual nature of life.)

At the end of each issue, the company includes a “Last Look,” with text and a mood-image that spotlights one final aspect of life to be savored.

Good food, good wine, good relationships, and joy—these are the elements of the Cambria life style.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]

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