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Interview with Karen McCartney – Author & Editorial Director of Temple & Webster

From an Honours degree in the History of Art & English from University College London, to her current role as Editorial Director of online retailer Temple & Webster, Karen has cultivated an exceptional career in the interiors and design arena. As the founding editor of InsideOut, Karen and her team were responsible for creating the innovative, design-focused magazine and building it into the well-established and highly respected magazine it is today.

Karen has since written three books on architecture and design and is a guest curator for Sydney Living Museums – previously known as the Historic Houses Trust of NSW. Her most recent book, ‘Superhouse: architecture and interiors beyond the everyday is a personal selection of exceptional architecturally designed houses from all around the world.

You were the founding editor of InsideOut magazine and you’ve spent most of your career working in magazine publishing, what is the greatest change that you saw during that time?

Interestingly during my time in publishing, more stayed the same than changed. There was always a drive for innovation and exciting creative executions, both in editorial and marketing, and a strong relationship with advertisers. The focus was on the readers and how to keep them engaged, loving the brands and ensuring a strong sense of connection with them. We were also exploring the content journey and how to engage the audience in a relevant multi-platform way. Quality content was always at the heart of any shift in its delivery.

At the end of your time at News Life Media you were heavily involved in digital projects, did this make the transition to your role at Temple & Webster easier?

Digital projects, such as the creation of the website to accompany body+soul magazine was a steep learning curve for me and yes, it did help me transition to a fully digital business like Temple & Webster.

If you had to predict a new trend/turning point for the digital/online industry in the next five years, what would it be? 

I think there is a consolidation of successful online brands as they create a multiplicity of touch points with their audience. Look at Net-a-Porter with it’s high-end magazine that rivals Vogue in terms of content and design delivery. There is a desire for online brands to offer a tangible experience, something in the ‘real’ space be it a pop-up shop, a magazine, an event. I think these cross-overs will become more prevalent as successful brands strengthen and assert a more broad-reaching presence.

Do you think it is important for businesses to have an online presence, whether that be a whole website, a simple blog or even just on social media?

It is very hard for brands that don’t engage to some extent because everyone now expects to be able to search online for more information. I always find it strange when I can’t immediately locate a digital presence of some sort.

It is a way of expressing, not only information about a brand, but creating a personality through the visual experience, the content, the tone of voice.

Do you find much difference in writing for online, than for print media?

I like the immediacy of writing online and somehow find my style is lighter, more direct and maybe more personal. It doesn’t go through an official subbing process the way print does although, Victoria Baker (the Temple & Webster site editor) reads everything with a beady eye for accuracy.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for online publishing?  

Making sure your content is relevant and gets surfaced. Grabbing attention can be a difficulty and some great things don’t get the traction they deserve.

You recently released a new book (a third for you) and you are a guest curator for Sydney Living Museums, how do you manage your time?

I have always said that an editor’s brain is a bit ADHD. We are good at having 100 things on the go and that serves me well for the number of different projects I have on the go. I am a quick worker, make decisions fast but try and give concepts and ideas time to percolate. I also work with great teams, either at Temple & Webster, the Sydney Living Museums or on books with talented designers, photographers and editors who make the process enjoyable.

Your new book, ‘Superhouse: architecture and interiors beyond the everyday’ is your personal selection of exceptional architecturally designed houses from all around the world. I’m sure you’ve seen some amazing houses over the years, how did you decide what made the cut?

Much of it is instinctive and highly personal. When you look at a lot of projects you get an eye for what is great. I also research the architect’s body of work and get a feel for the overall aesthetic and philosophy, the connection to nature and the level of innovation.

Being involved in such creative and innovative projects, how do you continue to find new inspiration? And what are your go-to resources for inspiration?

Inspiration is such an elusive concept and for me is less direct, less cause and effect and more mysterious. The book I am creating at present, is a collaboration with photographer Sharyn Cairns and stylist Glen Proebstel and we have been shooting in New York, London, Paris and Antwerp as well as Australia. It is a very different topic, more conceptual, but by having an open mind, researching, listening to people, following leads and at the end of the day having the judgment to know when something is good. It is coming together really beautifully and promised to be a really special book.

When you aren’t working, what can we find you doing?

It is strange that I work more now than I did when I was in a full-time job but I love what I do so often it doesn’t feel like work. For me a good weekend is a walk with my neighbour Jacqui Fink, a dinner cooked by my husband David Harrison and a gritty Brit drama.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I am afraid I don’t think like that. Feeling that the best is over would be too sad. I am a very forward looking person who is lucky enough to have enjoyed (or learnt from) every phase of working life. My main highlights in life are my marriage and my two children – they provide a bedrock of happiness that makes everything else possible.

You can buy a copy of Karen’s new book ‘Superhouse: architecture and interiors beyond the everyday’ here.

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