MyFixitUpLife Interview: Editor of HGTV magazine Sara Peterson

Editor of HGTV magazine Sara Peterson talks about developing the award-winning magazine, working with on-camera talent, and what DIY in her family means. 


Mark: You are back inside MyFixitUpLife and there is nothing to me like sitting down with a magazine.


Theresa: There isn’t?


Mark: I love sitting down with a magazine, even when I edited magazines back then.


Theresa: You know I want to call you on that, that’s wrong, because you like to do everything standing up and there is nothing like sitting down with a magazine for you, because you don’t do that.


Mark: Because I don’t do it.  I will admit mea culpa to that.  I often read at the kitchen counter and weird habit, I start from the back.


Theresa: You do, yeah.


Mark: I flip backwards.  It makes the stories hard to follow; and then the room was beautiful.


Theresa: Well you’d be doing very well if you were reading in Japanese, because that’s how they write their books, but I don’t think that’s how we’re doing it here.


Mark: I believe that our guest, Sara Peterson, who is the editor in chief of HGTV magazine, might bring a different approach to her publication.  Sara what do you say?


Sara Peterson: I hear that a lot.  A lot of people read magazines like that.  I do that sometimes.  You’d be surprised how many people read magazines like that.  As far as putting the magazine together, publishing we’re going to stick to front to back.  We’re very chronological around here.


Mark: I believe it and with the absolute, staggering, sheer number of stories you have in there on just an awesome variety of topics I realize …


Sara Peterson: That’s because the readers have responded well too and that was always the mission from day one, we wanted to call ourselves a home lifestyle magazine and not only do a great job representing this super popular brand called HGTV, but make its own magazine that was very dense and very multi-topic.  When it came to life at home it had to be more than just decorating and makeovers, although we love those, but we have to topic that you deal with every day as a homeowner, or a renter.   You’re dealing with lawn mowing.  You’re dealing laundry.  You’re dealing with light bulbs, all kinds of stuff that you need to be aware of and that you need help with all around your home.  We always thought of it as a multi-topic home lifestyle magazine that could help you with your daily life at home, not just as you’re going through a big project like remodeling your kitchen.  How do you get through the day to day a little better with some home tips and advice and friendly, fun help.


Theresa: I love that and I have to ask you, because you created this magazine from a TV network and the whole thing.  How much of the magazine has spilled into your own home life where you’re at home and everybody has little things they have to fix up and little problems they encounter?  Are you just like an encyclopedia of every HGTV tip that’s ever been created?


Sara Peterson: Yeah, not just for the magazine to test things out.  I was trying some cleaning tips that someone gave us in an article.  I was testing those out the other day.  We’ve got a bunch of tools in the office I wanted to test out.  There were some design ideas that came in from a very crafty person, with some paint ideas and I love to paint so I wanted to try those.  We are constantly, as editors with all this talent around us, we are constantly bombarded with all these great ideas that we want to try in our own homes and then hopefully share with readers.


Theresa: You’ve been a lifestyle editor for a while, but working, being the editor of HGTV magazine, do you find that more of your friends and family are calling you up, like the doctor that you’re friends …


Sara Peterson: I tell them to go and read the magazine and watch HGTV, that’s’ where all the answers are.  Sometimes I do … we at the office, I would say we try, when you ask me where we get ideas, how do you get ideas for the magazine.  We talk a lot about it just in the office.  We share all kinds of stories.  What are we all doing at home? What are the problems that are coming up?  What battles are we doing in our yard? What can we not figure out in our own homes?  What do we need help with? And that generates a lot of story ideas and then we meet with the HGTV host and also the DIY network host, because we feature both of those talent pools in the magazine.  We ask them the same questions.  What are you working on in your homes?  You are a real person with a real house, you must have real problems.  Tell us about yours?  Are you remodeling, or anything?  Have you learned anything during that remodel?  Sometimes story ideas come from that, what they are doing in their own homes and just what people are asking them more and more about.


Theresa: I love this, because I’m looking at part of the October-November issue and it looks like a picture of Sabrina Soto that’s cleaning under her couch.  That’s hilarious to me.


Sara Peterson: We were talking to her.  She lives in New York and sometimes she is easier to get together with and talk, because we’re in New York too.  We were at an event and she was talking about how much she likes to clean and how it’s a stress free activity for her and she gets all of her energy out.  I said that’s a great story because we don’t want to just talk about how you decorate your home and what pillows you buy.  How do you live in your home and how do you keep it running smoothly and how does it keep you happy and energized and proud.  She said I love to clean, I really do.


I said let’s do a story about that.  I want to hear all your cleaning tips and she said oh, I’m a neat freak.  I organize everything.  I have labels in my closet.  I said that sounds great!  That is a story.  She vacuumed.  She cleaned her mirror.  We went over there with a camera and it turned out to be a great story that has a lot of real life tips.  This is a very talented designer, who is on television, but you know what, she cleans her own house.  She has a squeegee and a cleaning closet like you wouldn’t believe, so I want to know from her.


Mark: Is it tricked-out like a SWAT team trailer?


Sara Peterson: She has a closet that has a shoe organizer on the back of it and then little tags.  All the pockets are filled with all these neat products and tools and things like … I learned so much.  She uses a lint roller to clean off her speakers.  Things like that, little tricks like that are just so valuable to people that clean their houses hard and they are always looking for better ways to do it.  I thought it was great for readers to see how the pros do it.


Theresa: That is definitely something everybody will want to check out in the October-November issue.  There is something else too I’m curious about.  Thanksgiving with a twist.  Now shaking up your holiday, I’ve seen so many … every year …


Mark: Tablescaping …


Theresa: All this stuff.  How are we going to shake it up?


Sara Peterson: It’s a holiday that doesn’t come with a lot of activities, right?

Theresa: Yes, well eating.


Sara Peterson: It can be a little slow and we were talking about that in the office.  How can you? … Because we want to have fun at home, because if you are not having fun at home, where are you having fun?  You’re having people over, you’re hosting Thanksgiving, or you’re going to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving.  What are some ideas that some other stylish people, or creative people that we know, what are they doing in their own homes?  It goes back to what are people … how are they living in their own homes and can we get any ideas from them.  We just started asking a bunch of people, what are your fun twists on tradition.


Maybe you don’t serve a pumpkin pie, maybe you sell pumpkin ice cream on brownies, I don’t know.  Maybe you have a special table top decoration.  Maybe you plan a fun game with the kids and I think we got a lot of fresh ideas.  I’ve certainly done Thanksgiving decorating stories for years and years and years and I know how it’s easy to be cliché and you’ve think you heard it all.  We really try to get fresh, fresh never heard of those ideas before.  I want it to be a fun magazine that lifts your spirits and you feel like, oh that was entertaining.  You’re learning a lot along the way, but it’s supposed to be a fun, light entertaining read.


Theresa: The one thing I do for Thanksgiving and Mark and I get …


Mark: You should see these hand signals going on over here.  I don’t know …


Sara Peterson: I gesture a lot too.  I can totally picture it.


Mark: I’m going to steal third in another couple of hand gestures.


Theresa: You know, we’re married and there’s a lot of gesturing that happens.  For Thanksgiving one thing that I like to do every year is to stuff a pumpkin because I’m a vegetarian and I don’t do the whole turkey thing.  That’s my twist on it.


Sara Peterson: What do you stuff your pumpkin with, stuffing?


Theresa: No, with vegetables and actually with the pumpkin.


Sara Peterson: Oh, that’s good.


Theresa: Taking all the pumpkin out of inside the pumpkin and cooking it and making this delicious …


Sara Peterson: See if we had asked you we would have totally put that in the story, yep.  That sounds great.  I’m not just saying that because I’m on your show right now.


Theresa: Either way, it’s fine.


Sara Peterson: How long have you’ve been married?  Did you say how long you’ve been married?


Theresa: How long have we been married honey?


Mark: We’ve been married four years, four years of bliss.


Theresa: Yes, it’s blissful bliss.


Mark: Every day is perfect.


Theresa: It is perfect!


Sara Peterson: I know.


Theresa: It’s like Sesame Street; every morning we start off with a little song.


Sara Peterson: Every project you do is flawless.


Theresa: Oh yeah.


Sara Peterson: Every home improvement repair job you’ve ever tackled has gone without a hitch.  No bumps … that’s a great way to bond.


Theresa: We don’t even need a cleaning closet either, because everything is just clean.  It’s just naturally perfect, right honey?


Mark: Yes, if you’re doing another cleaning feature, don’t call us, because it’s just spontaneous “cleanbustion” over here.


Theresa: Yeah, because of all the love.


Sara Peterson: Everybody has their own talent.  We find that with the talent of HGTV too.  They’re some people … we have a section in the magazine called; real estate spy and it’s fun because people like to watch HGTV for the house prices and house hunters and sort of play along, oh what would this house cost if I lived here, or what house are they going to pick?  How much money are they going to earn on their rental?  That’s a fun section for us because  people can learn a lot about what they can do in their own homes and how they can spend their money well on renovations like … I think in October-November there is a story from the Property Brothers, who have a story on ten renovation no-no’s.  I like that story because they’re talking about mistakes people make.  Sometimes you can learn a lot by what not to do.


Theresa: Oh for sure.


Sara Peterson: I’m sure it can teach a lot of people … learning the hard way sometimes is the best way.


Mark: Sometimes the hard way is the only way.


Sara Peterson: How to do it, mess up and then you know how to do it right.


Mark: That’s super cool.  I want to pick up on something you said earlier, which was you got a bunch of tools in the office.  I’m a tool nut on this end and just want to get a vibe for what your tool coverage is like and what we can expect to see.


Sara Peterson: Well every issue we have a very popular column, it’s called “Talk to a tool man” and that’s with Chip Wade.  We might invite some other tool men, tool women in the network to participate in that column, but he answers questions from readers about little fix-it, should you do it yourself? Should you hire a pro? That kind of thing and even if you are going to hire a pro, you want to arm yourself with information so that you can hire the pro the right way and make sure that he, or she is doing the job that you want.  Also, tools are big for us too.  People like to know what should they have on hand.  In the December issue, not the October-November, but December, the next issue we have a story called the ultimate tool collection and I’m really excited about this, because you do want to know a lot of times from a professional, what’s the tool you can’t live without.


If you just had to pick one on a deserted island, what would you take?  We asked a bunch of HGTV hosts and DIY network hosts, what tool, one tool they would nominate for this collection, what would it be?  It’s just this really big master collection, probably 14 tools and everything in there.  If you had these 14 tools you could just do it all.  I think that’s such a valuable, all that talent and all that experience going into one article.  I just think it’s a lot of power in that one tool story and I think readers are going to like it.  There are so many choices out there of what to buy.  I’m not always sure of what screwdriver to buy, but if someone tells me this is the reason it’s the best, I’m definitely interested to know why I should have it.  That’s a good tool story coming up.


Theresa: I have kind of a sneaky little question to ask you.  Being the editor of a magazine and your mom, being an English teacher, is there any strange like …. Does she ever call you up and say; well honey …


Mark: That should be a semicolon.


Sara Peterson: What did you say?  I didn’t hear that part.


Theresa: Your mom being an English teacher, does she ever call … is there any pressure?


Sara Peterson: My mom is a DIY … she’s good at that stuff.  I mean I have to call her sometimes.  She knows what she is doing and she’s fixed a water heater. She’s remodeled the kitchen.  She’s painted houses inside and out.  She cleans her own gutters.  She mows her own lawn.  I mean this woman doesn’t need my advice.  She’s watched a lot of DIY and a lot of HGTV, so I come from a family of do-it-yourselfers and you hire people if you have to, but you should know if you have to how to hire that person correctly.  When I do hire someone I’m always the one in the room watching them; what are you doing?  What tool is that?  What is that for?  How do you do that? Now I know you need a masonry drill.  Is that a masonry drill?  I don’t step back and just say; oh you just do what you need to do, I pay attention.


Theresa: That’s fantastic.


Mark: Arm yourself with information.


Sara Peterson: I think women should do that more often.  Sometimes you feel like, oh I’m in the way.  I’m just going to step out while this plumber is messing around with my toilet.  I don’t want to sit there and watch him.  You’re paying him, watch what he’s doing and see what he’s doing.  Maybe you can learn that it wasn’t that big of a fix and you can try it on your own the next time, maybe it wouldn’t work, but you could try.


Theresa: That’s such good advice.  I agree with you wholeheartedly about women should not wait around for your husbands, boyfriends, dads to help you and to come over to fix little things. You should learn how to do simple things yourself.


Sara Peterson: I might not know how to saw everything, but I know straight.  I know when something is straight and when something is crooked and I know when somebody is putting tools where they shouldn’t now.  So just keep your eyes open, that’s all and I just ask questions.  I’m paying them, so I want to know what that tool is.


Mark: I love it, so you should change your tag line with my unsolicited advice; fun facts, easy makeovers and empowerment. I’m going to empower…


Sara Peterson: Maybe I will, that’s a good editor note column might be.  I think that’s a good one.  You just gave me an idea.


Theresa: Well there you go, so everybody listening follow Sara at HGTVmagsara on twitter and we have to go to break.  Check out the current issue of HGTV magazine.


Mark: We’ll be back with more of MyFixitUpLife.








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