Lewis Oliver Gropp, a steady shepherd of shelter magazines during decades of turmoil as editor in chief of House & Garden, Elle Decor and House Beautiful, died October 17 at his home in Greenport, N.Y., on Long Island. He was 88 years old.
His daughter, Lauren Gropp Laurie, announced the death. No reason was given.
In 1981, Condé Nast Publications decided to renew its 80-year-old decorating magazine House & Garden and chose Mr. Gropp as its new editor. Like its competitor, House Beautiful, House & Garden was then a middlebrow publication devoted to recipes, DIY decor, and handicrafts.
But Ronald Reagan had just begun his first term as president and the culture was changing. The luxury market – the affluent readers – beckoned. Architectural Digest had already begun describing the good life lived by heads of state, movie stars, and Hollywood luminaries. House & Garden will do the same.
Mr. Gropp was probably not a natural choice to oversee the transition. He was a kind and practical Midwesterner with a modest, Methodist upbringing who collected mid-century modern furniture, appreciating the ethos behind those clean, functional lines. Since the late 1960s, he was editing House & Garden Guides, single-subject magazines on solar homes, building and renovation, kitchens, decorating methods, and home storage. They were useful and popular and met the DIY spirit of the time.
The new House & Garden, launched in January 1983 as “the magazine of creative living”, looked nothing like its old self. He was very big, very tall and very beautiful. The mess of cover lines gone – “Paint your own fabric patterns!” – and pet food and classified advertising. There were no stories about decorating a small space, crocheting towel edges, or turning your closet into an indoor garden.
Instead, there were features about cultural lions’ nests, such as playwright Lanford Wilson’s Manhattan loft, designed by Joseph D’Urso, or fashion designer Bill Blass’s apartment, created by Mika Ertegun and Chessie Renner. Was. And matching stories were articles by Elizabeth Hardwick, Gore Vidal, Rosamund Bernier, and Jan Morris.
This mix probably did not suit Mr. Gropp’s taste, especially as the 1980s wore on and the interiors of the rich became more fussy and more elaborate; The new emphasis more reflected the influence and interests – and social circle – of Alexander Liberman, the Russian-born expatriate and artist who was Condé Nast’s fearsome editorial director.
Yet Mr. Gropp’s great talent was his ability to take the point of view of others and then support and sell that point of view. His editors respected him and advertisers also respected him.
“Lou was incredibly good-natured and open-minded,” said Shelley Wanger, Mr. Gropp’s articles editor, who inspired several writers at his former employer, The New York Review of Books, to contribute.
Stephen Drucker, the veteran Shelter magazine editor who worked for Mr. Gropp in the 1970s, said by phone: “Lou saw himself as a business head. He never thought even for a minute about becoming a star himself. He added, “He showed that you can be successful – and you can be kind.”
In 1984, House & Garden won two national magazine awards for design and general excellence. It was the only magazine in its category – magazines with circulations between 400,000 and 10 lakh – to do so.
However, by 1987, the magazine and its editor had soured between Mr. Lieberman and Condé Nast’s eccentric and obstinate owner S.I. Newhouse. (The stock market would crash later that year, and advertisers were already spooked.) Both men were courting a young British fashion editor named Anna Wintour, whose ambition was to run American Vogue. He gave him the house and garden in return.
Mr. Gropp was suddenly — and, in the industry, famously — fired while on vacation with his family in Newport Beach, California. His dismissal followed the dismissal of William Shawn at The New Yorker and preceded the dismissal of Grace Mirabella at Vogue. Within a year the bombardment of the firings of these respected editors became part of Condé Nast’s story as dire as a snake pit, and added to Mr. Newhouse’s reputation as “the kind of troglodyte who shunned his top talent.” Enjoyed humbling,” as written by Dodi Kazanjian and Calvin Tomkins. In “Alex: The Life of Alexander Lieberman” (1993).
Mr. Gropp was generally optimistic. He always said he did better things as editor of the American edition of the French decorating magazine Elle Decor and then of House Beautiful, which he ran from 1991 until his retirement in 2000. There, he preserved the magazine’s DNA – designed for an accessible broad audience – but broadened its focus and refined its format.
“I always thought of Lou as the Walter Cronkite of the shelter magazine world,” design industry consultant Warren Sholberg wrote in an email. “I don’t believe anyone else from that era had the credibility and gravitas that Lou did. He was a genuinely nice man and never flaunted his stature.” (Although he was an attractive dresser, Mr. Schulberg added.)
Ms. Wintour’s House & Garden, which she renamed HG, became a fast-paced, fashion-driven publication – exclusively providing people with elegant interiors – yet it alienated many subscribers and advertisers. Condé Nast had to set up an 800 number to handle all complaints and cancellations.
However, before the year was out, Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Newhouse decided the time was right to oust Ms. Mirabella at Vogue and replace her with Ms. Wintour. House & Garden was closed in 1993, revived in 1996, and closed forever in 2007, a victim of the housing meltdown and impending recession.
Lewis Oliver Gropp was born June 6, 1935, in La Porte, northern Indiana, and grew up just over the border in New Buffalo, Michigan. His mother, Carol (Pagel) Gropp, was a housewife. His father, José Gropp, dug coal for the railroad.
Lewis studied communications at Michigan State University. As a journalist, he thought he could write about religion; Instead, his first job offer was from Home Furnishings News, a trade magazine. After visiting a Chicago furniture store looking for a job and seeing artworks by Charles Eames, Harry Bertoia, and Eero Saarinen, he had already fallen in love with modernism.
“I’ve never seen things like this,” he told The Chicago Tribune in 1991, recalling the simple furniture he grew up with. He said, “In a small Midwestern town you had no style.” “You had a sofa and a matching chair.”
He moved to Manhattan in the 1960s and married Jane Goodwin in 1965 after meeting her at Riverside Church. In addition to his daughter, Lauren, he is survived by his wife; another daughter, Amy Gropp Forbes; and five grandchildren.
In December 1993, Interior Design magazine inducted Mr. Gropp into its Design Hall of Fame, choosing him for his thoughtful approach to design coverage.
“Design journalism, often fueled by image and flash, has always made its share of shrill pronouncements and hyperbole,” mayor juiceThe magazine editor wrote at that time. Still, Mr. Gropp said, he “has managed to navigate the minefield of industry ego and chintz with honesty, grace and paramount adherence to the highest editorial standards.”
“Not interested in bombastic rhetoric and impressive poses,” Mr. Rouse said, Gropp’s work has always prioritized the celebration of good design.