February 5, 2024

Preservation as Education and Inspiration

A Conversation with Veranda’s Editor-in-Chief Steele Marcoux

Veranda magazine has been a long-standing design industry staple, covering architecture and luxury interiors trends across the country. In recent years, Editor-in-Chief Steele Marcoux has championed the diversification of the magazine’s coverage, partnering with the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to bring Black architectural and cultural heritage sites to its pages.

This editorial partnership helped inspire the magazine’s first ever preservation-themed issue, released in January, which features the Anne Spencer House and Garden Museum and the First Baptist Church-West, both of which are Action Fund-supported projects. To learn more about this exciting collaboration, read the conversation below.

How did your, and Veranda’s, collaboration with the Action Fund start?

Really it was when we were looking at our 2021 editorial calendar. Something that really stuck out to me was how preservation has always been a content pillar of Veranda’s, however, I think that we had been looking at it through a limited lens and it was time to widen that lens.

I decided to get in touch with [Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and senior vice president of the National Trust] and he took my call, which was awesome. He told me a little bit about the Action Fund and more broadly about the National Trust and its mission, and it really resonated with me. It was really exciting for us to give a specific focus to Black history and culture because we as a brand had not done that at all. We know our audience really cares about preservation. Furthermore, and this is quite personal to me, we have an affluent audience, so I would hope to inspire them to be philanthropic in this area in particular. They ought to know about the Action Fund, and all of the amazing work that it's doing.

photo by: Veranda

The cover of Veranda's preservation issue.

Have you received any feedback from your readers reacting to your coverage of Black heritage sites?

It's been amazing! Far and away the topics that I get the most letters about are preservation and our stories that focus on sites that are extremely important to Black history. I think it's because those stories stir our readers on a more cerebral and emotional level, and that might prompt someone to actually sit down and take the time to write a letter.

I know that the reason they subscribe to Veranda is for beautiful design and decorating inspiration, but it seems to me we’ve struck a chord that is really exciting and will only expand the lens that we're taking. I'm already trying to figure out when our next preservation issue is going to be!

Brent Leggs and Steele Marcoux standing next to each other with smiles on their face against a white background.

photo by: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and Steele Marcoux, Veranda's editor in chief in June 2023.

As design trends come and go, there's something that brings people back to materials and heritage and quality. It's really encouraging to see that there's such a positive response to incorporating Black history and craftsmanship into that exclusive “luxury” category as well.

[Our core audience are] folks who intentionally live in an old house or who intentionally shop for decorative items that are preserving artisan traditions that have been around for hundreds of years. That's all well and good, and we still enjoy telling those stories. But we realized that we have a bigger platform to talk about how preservation can influence and define our culture.

It is the beauty and the design elements, but it's not just that. In the feedback I'm getting, people are saying, “these sites have to be interpreted.” I have to credit the National Trust for this, but it really is recognizing the need to tell the full story. Even the design trades and design profession, they want to tell the whole story. We need to know who we are as a people, and if we are omitting huge swaths of our own history, we're not getting the full look at who we are.

Given the success of this recent preservation-themed issue, are there other stories or places that you want to see Veranda cover?

I really want to explore the future of the historic house museum and why it is relevant to today. How should it be thought of? And what does the future look like, in terms of who should be their keepers, owners, and supporters?

Something that's always interested me at Veranda is looking at what is a house really? It's obviously shelter, but it's also a place where creativity can be nurtured so that someone growing up in that house can then go change the world. I'm thinking here of the Nina Simone House, or the John Coltrane House is another fabulous example.

A group of people standing on the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

photo by: Becky Luigart-Stayner

As part of an editorial partnership with Veranda, staff from the Action Fund gathered with reporters from Veranda in Birmingham to talk about the work of the Action Fund and the importance of historic preservation.

photo by: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Ted Debro, chairman of the board of trustees at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

Finally, I’d love to know how you feel about Veranda’s role in bringing Black history and preservation into the design and culture space moving forward?

I feel like the mission of preservation and telling the full story has just become ever more relevant because unfortunately, the information age has given way to the disinformation age, and education and school curricula are becoming hotly contested things. One tiny way to fill those gaps, perhaps, is through [treating] preservation as education.

As I mentioned in my editor’s letter for our January/February issue, Brent brought four or five members of his team to Birmingham [Alabama] and spent an entire day with [Veranda] introducing us to all of these amazing local preservation leaders. We live in this community and we knew the sites, but having the chance to see them and experience them with the Action Fund and the local leaders was really amazing. It was super eye-opening and very, very influential in terms of how we are now looking at our preservation coverage going forward.

There's really an opportunity to build community around preservation. And so if there's ever a chance for our editorial mission to align with the mission of a great organization like the Action Fund and more broadly speaking, the National Trust, building community seems like a great place to start.

Donate Today to Help Save the Places Where Our History Happened.

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Morgan Forde is an editorial consultant for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. In her free time, she is earning a PhD in urban history and Black studies at Harvard University.

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