The Style Files: Sophie Donelson

Sophie Donelson has been editor in chief of House Beautiful since 2014. In the time since, she has built a loyal following who love the energy and point of view she has brought to the beloved shelter magazine. Prior to her post at House Beautiful, Sophie held senior editorial positions at Elle Decor and at Martha Stewart’s Blueprint. She has also written about design and living for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Departures. Each month, I eagerly anticipate the latest issue of House Beautiful and always enjoy the candor of Sophie’s editor’s letters.

Just last fall, Sophie published her first book for House Beautiful, Style Secrets: What Every Room Needs, a handy manual which breaks down the different elements that make a room inspiring, beautiful, and successful. The beautifully-illustrated tome is filled with hundreds of photographs from projects by many talented designers. It just so happens that Sophie and I share the same publisher and editor at Abrams, which is super exciting. If you’ve ever met Sophie, then you know just how smart and charming she is. I hope that you’ll enjoy getting to know more about her!

Paloma Contreras: How would you describe your style?

Sophie Donelson: Evolving! Varied at best, scattershot at worst. Multi-ethnic, peripatetic, patterned, layered, messy.

PC: How would you say living in New York has influenced your aesthetic?

SD: I have to heed Marie Kondo’s advice more than I’d like. In lieu of collecting chairs, sculpture & objet, I limit myself to 2-D art, textiles, and china. And shoes.

{A Verdant Room by Ashley Whittaker, featured in Sophie’s book, House Beautiful Style Secrets}

PC: What does your home say about you?

SD: That I’m more interested in creative pursuits than perfection. That I’m a parent. That I’m not afraid of color. That I’m too busy to obsess over it… though there’s nothing I’d rather do!

{A Colorful Interior by Katie Ridder as Photographed for House Beautiful and as Featured in Style Secrets}

PC: Where do you turn for inspiration?

SD: As a magazine editor and author, I’m a trafficker of inspiration. My role is to keep my heart and mind open to new ideas and to be on high alert when originality is nearby. But as a homeowner, I try to filter out the noise of other people’s ideas and concentrate on developing my own voice.

{The April Issue of House Beautiful}

PC: Who are your personal style icons?

SD: I admire plenty of people’s style but I can’t say I iconize anyone.

{A Pretty Dining Room by Meg Braff as Photographed for House Beautiful and as Featured in Style Secrets}

PC: What trait do you most admire in a person?

SD: Vulnerability, sincerity, compassion.

{A Chic Bedroom by Benjamin Dhong as Photographed for House Beautiful and as Featured in Style Secrets}

PC: What is your guilty pleasure?

SD: My Delta status

{A Vibrant Sitting Room by Mark D. Sikes as Photographed for House Beautiful and as Featured in Style Secrets}

PC: Who or what has been your greatest professional influence?

SD: My readers – and I’m not trying to be sweet! It’s never lost on me the massive privilege it is to have millions of people enjoy the work we create at House Beautiful. Readers have a choice and when they choose YOU, you better make it worth their while!

{A Chinoiserie-Clad Bedroom by Miles Redd as Photographed for House Beautiful and as Featured in Style Secrets}

PC: What is your idea of living “la dolce vita”?

SD: Finding and sharing joy wherever you are. An Aperol Spritz or three. The times we take our kids somewhere posh and they don’t embarrass us–even better if there are Spritzes.

{A Classic Kitchen by Benjamin Dhong as Photographed for House Beautiful and as Featured in Style Secrets}

PC: What can we look forward to next from you?

SD: Monthly House Beautiful issues, yearly design books and an Instagram a week–on a good week!

{A Bold, Color-Driven Living Room by Nick Olsen as Photographed for House Beautiful and as Featured in Style Secrets}

Go-To Outfit: Workweek: A multicolored Marni dress, tall boots or heels, lipstick. Weekends, Amo jeans and an oversize stripey oxford. Ponytail, moisturizer

Scent: Something meant for men

Piece of Jewelry: My 1940s bow-tie diamond ring.

Color I Never Tire Of: Rust, aubergine, chartreuse—all the “redhead colors”

Flower: Moss

Indispensable Design Element: Big art

Era for Design: The Twenties.

Dream Project: A garage or workshop of my own. The scent of WD-40 is a turn-on.

Fabric/Textile: All. Of. Them.

Hostess Gift: Breakfast for the next day – Coffee, scones & good butter.

Meal: Nori wraps with steamed root veggies and avocado. We’re pretty healthy.

Drink: Almost only ever silver tequila or champagne. Negronis if I really need help.

Way to Unwind after a Long Day at Work: See above.

3 Things I Love About My City: Diversity. Anonymity. The subway.

Weekend Destination: Maine

Hotel: The LA guest room of my food editor Lulu Powers.

City: LA

Museum: House museums, all of them.

Artist: Van Eyck, Hans Holbein (Elder), Albrecht Dürer – the haunting Northern Renaissance painters

Song that Always Puts Me in a Great Mood: Ramble On, Led Zeppelin. Circle Down, Ayer.

Prized Possession: Four small paintings by my godfather

Risk Worth Taking: Having kids.

Greatest Extravagance: Childcare.

Go-To Color Palette: Redhead colors.

Rule to Break: Don’t invest in nice decor when you have little kids. I call BS! These are the years we’re all stuck in the house, when better to enjoy it?

I can never have too many… Instagram followers – it’s @SophieDow in case you were wondering 😉


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  1. I always read the Style File entries, but this is a favorite. I’ve been subscribing to HB since I was in high school. I love Donelson’s frank answers and what she’s said makes me appreciate the magazine even more. Both of you, thanks and keep it up!

  2. Wonderful post and love HB! Really fell like I got to know Ms. Donelson and “like” her even more from this profile! HB never disappoints and her hard work is much appreciated. Also just had to say that the latest issue, The Creative Life, was one of my favorites. I like a “calm, neutral space” now and then but please keep the creativity and color coming! Even when the decor isn’t my taste, it seems the decor pictured in HB always offers rooms that are creative, thought provoking and well done. Thanks for the post Paloma!

  3. LOVE this! Sophie is the REAL DEAL! It is so refreshing to be around her wit, energy, and frankness….with a big dose of humor. To be so good at what she does and to be so down to earth with her taste level is truly a gift to the Magazine World! HB scored a gem!