Elle Decor editor chats about latest book, Southern grace

It's been just two years since decorating magazine "Elle Decor" published its first major collection of the glamorous rooms seen in its pages. "So Chic," as the coffee table book was titled, focused on big names in fashion and their highly decorated dwellings. But the magazine's latest book, "Style and Substance: The Best of Elle Decor" (Filipacchi, $45), has broader appeal, editor-in-chief Margaret Russell explains.

"With this challenging economic situation we’re in, I really wanted to do a book that was reader-friendly and packed with ideas and inspiration. It’s about great design, it’s not about cost… it’s about inventive, in-genius, really creative people and how they live," says Russell, who comes to Atlanta this week to promote the magazine's 20th anniversary. "So there is everything in there from a 350-square-feet studio apartment to a beautiful estate in Hollywood. I’d love to see copies that are dog-eared, flagged and beat-up. It’s not just a pristine coffee table book. It’s meant to be used."

We chatted with Russell about her latest book, modern decorating and Southern style.

Q: With "Style and Substance" showing a wide-range of styles, from traditional to contemporary to farmhouse-chic and even kitschy, what makes an "Elle Decor" room?

A: [It's a room] with a lot of passion and personality in it. Even if you worked with a designer, there’s a great sense of who you are in that room. I love living rooms that have a lot of books and art and collections -- places that sort of show where you’ve been and what you’ve done and who you are. You can tell so much about somebody by walking into their home, or you should be able to. That’s the joy of a well-designed space.

Q: Has the way people care for their homes or use their homes changed since you joined the "Elle Decor" team 20 years ago?

A: I grew up in a house where we didn’t eat in the dining room that often; it was mostly holidays and Sunday dinners. We don’t have the luxury of wasting that space anymore. I think everybody’s very conscious of having rooms that are really lived in and loved. The addition of the great room and big open kitchens into living rooms and dens shows that we’re using the spaces in our houses differently. I don’t know really anybody who has that type of house anymore with rooms that are off-limits to kids. I think that casual aspect is a good thing.

Q: Do you see a return to domesticity in your readers or people you meet?

A: I think in the past year, with the economy going through this time, that more people are staying at home and maybe rediscovering…that return to domesticity. I think for me certainly there’s a sense of doing project-oriented things. At work we have so much in terms of e-mails and calls -- this big technological lump of stuff. When you’re gardening, cooking, painting a room or wallpapering something or sewing fringe on a pillow, there’s a sense of starting something and being finished. There’s something lovely about focusing on something and having the quiet time to do it, and taking pride in something you’ve created on your own.

Q: Do you see differences in the way the South decorates versus the rest of the country?

A: Especially in the South...there’s a sense of elegance and pride in your home and in your garden. And also a sense of history and tradition. Even though I think there’s plenty of cutting edge design in Atlanta, I think that the one word that comes to mind more than anything else about Southern decorating is really grace. Just a a sense of refinement and appropriateness.