It sells out in days, is read in 45 countries and has been called the world’s hippest interiors magazine. Media news might be dominated by the decline of print, but Apartamento is quietly bucking the trend. Back in April, its founders, Nacho Alegre and Omar Sosa, celebrated as they sold all 25,000 copies of its ninth issue. The biannual, English-language publication was started in Barcelona from a tiny room in Alegre’s house, yet now hits newsstands in China, Lebanon and Kenya, as well as recording big sales in Berlin, London and New York. One London shop reported selling 140 copies, compared to the 15 or so copies the rest of the magazines it stocks usually sell.
Unlike many traditional interiors magazines, which feature cold, minimalist rooms full of unaffordable designer gadgets, the living spaces in Apartamento are often small, cluttered and have a lived-in feel. The people covered are largely creative types – photographers, artists, musicians – who are invited to talk about their living spaces.
These spaces are often rented, with family members, dirty laundry and used crockery all starring in photoshoots. Past features have included everything from tips for rooftop gardens and salad recipes to stories of nightmare roommates and a love letter from Chloë Sevigny to her New York apartment.
“It’s not about design and products. We’re not design fetishists,” said Alegre. “The idea is about how people live in their homes and being able to tell their amazing stories. It’s more like a diary.”
Alegre and Sosa came up with the idea based partly on Alegre’s experiences sleeping on friends’ couches as he travelled across Europe as a photographer. It was originally planned to be a book before the pair hit upon the idea of an interiors magazine with a twist. The first issue, in April 2008, was funded entirely by the pair and quickly sold out its print run of 5,000. The money meant they could upscale in time for the third issue and recruit more people, such as Milan journalist Marco Velardi. There are currently seven full-time staff, aged between 24 and 32, and it has started to expand into a creative agency with footholds in New York and Milan as well as its HQ in Barcelona.
Apartamento’s first issue featured cult filmmaker Mike Mills and indie band Mystery Jets, sourced through their network of work contacts and friends. Since then names as diverse as Swedish artist Carl Johan De Geer and former REM frontman Michael Stipe have featured, although even these are rarely contacted through traditional press avenues. “We’re friends with Michael Stipe’s boyfriend, who is a really good photographer,” says Alegre. “You get a nice result that way, but it’s not possible with everyone. We’d like to feature David Hockney but it’s hard when you don’t know anyone.”
This naive approach gives the magazine much of its charm. Yet there are other reasons that account for its impressive sales figures. Apartamento does not run trade news and refuses to run articles that sell products for fear it will corrupt the spirit of the magazine. It charges a high cover price of €12 (£9.50), bucking the trend to go free and rely on advertising, which is minimal. Apartamento is also distributed directly to shops – concept stores and bookshops as well as newsstands – giving more control and a bigger slice of profits. Its chief operations officer, Victor Abellan, believes that the distribution network is in keeping with the magazine’s ethos: “Speaking directly to stores gives us an emotional link between the reader, the retailer and the magazine.”
Rather, the whole thing has a strong human aspect, linking homes to the people who live in them rather than the items contained within. As designer Andy Beach says in issue seven: “A real living space is made from living, not decorating. A bored materialist can’t understand that a house has to become a home.”
Jeremy Leslie, magazine designer and founder of the blog magculture.com, said Apartamento has several unique aspects. “Most of their articles lead with the name of the person rather than the solutions-based ‘10 ways to improve your storage’ routine of other magazines,” he says. He says its design has also helped it stand out, with high pagination and single columns of text lending it a bookish air. Its founders may not be “design fetishists”, but Apartamento is held in high esteem in the design world – in 2010 it won the Yellow Pencil award for the best magazine.
Leslie’s view that the decline of print does not mean that great magazine ideas can’t take off is backed up by statistics such as an April study by Deloitte that found 88% of UK magazine readers still chose print as their preferred method of reading articles, with 35% subscribing to at least one printed magazine in 2011.
There are parallels with Apartamento’s rise and how Vice magazine turned the style magazine on its head by targeting a different kind of reader to more traditional magazines. Although Alegre says Apartamento is not meant as a reaction to interior design magazines such as wallpaper*, it has clearly tapped into an area of home life and creativity previously under-served by such publications. Already there are plans to upscale Apartamento’s circulation until it hits a “steady state” of 80,000 copies. However, Alegre is adamant that what is most important is retaining the magazine’s spirit. . “It could get massive with us doing advertorials and running pieces about how nice companies are and how ecological their wood is,” he said. “But we don’t care about making lots of money from doing things the wrong way – we’d sooner not have to compromise.”