Meet Cathy McGowin, editor of Birmingham Home & Garden. Cathy has an eye for design as sharp as her pencil with a talent for recognizing style and grace among Birmingham’s best interiors. Her latest endeavor, Birmingham Style, is a 192-page, hard-cover coffee table book, showcasing the best design in Birmingham, and it’s hot off the presses! Welcome, Cathy!
How long have you been at the helm of Birmingham Home & Garden?
I just celebrated my five-year anniversary with BHG. Prior to that, I worked at Coastal Living, and before that, Southern Accents. I also serve as a field editor for Meredith Corporation, writing and producing home stories for their national publications.
When I first started working for BHG, I had no idea how much design talent was in this city. Because I came from a national magazine where I had so many cities and locations to choose from, I naïvely thought that I might run out of houses to photograph. That certainly hasn’t been the case! This city has an amazing wealth of talent — from architects to designers to landscapers. We only print six issues a year, but I could fill a magazine every month and double the size.
What inspired you to create Birmingham Style?
One of my most favorite things about my job is promoting the talent in this city. Nothing makes me happier than showing other people off and helping them get recognition, not only in Birmingham, but in the national magazines I freelance for. My personal motto for the magazine is “projects that demonstrate local flair with national appeal.” After five years, we’ve accumulated quite a collection of homes and gardens. This is a book for Birmingham and beyond. I want everyone to see how beautiful our city is and see how much talent we have.
Can you give our readers some insight into the book?
When I first started thinking about the book, I was inclined to break it into the typical chapters such as dining rooms, living rooms, kitchens, baths, etc. But once we started looking at the images, it quickly became apparent that mixing everyone up diluted the projects. I wanted to show off each house, each project and each designer in the fullest light. And I think it better serves the reader to see how a house flows.
Did you have a mentor along the way?
Yes! Of course! My mentor and partner, Jean Allsopp! Jean came on board as our primary photographer soon after I started at the magazine. I would not have any of this gorgeous content without her. When she and Lynn Nesmith produced their book, 30A Style, I realized how much material we could use to do a similar book for the Birmingham market. Lynn was extremely helpful in helping me translate magazine content into a book. And I am so grateful to our publisher and sales team who supported the project.
Can you share a piece of advice that has resonated with you, either in business or life?
Follow your instincts, trust your decisions and be true to your subject matter. Great design is great design, but there are a million different ways to interpret one room, one house or one story. You can truly drive yourself crazy if you second-guess yourself. In magazines, you are always competing with the market and yourself to do better with each story and each issue. And, yes — some issues, some images, are better than others. But if you approach each project and issue with the goal to represent it and the people involved in the best way you possibly can, you’re sure to have a great end result.
What would our readers be surprised to learn about you?
Hmmm. I’m not sure what people already know! I’m originally from Oxford, Mississippi (I went to Ole Miss!). I’m married to Warner McGowin (some people still consider us newlyweds at 2 1/2 years). I have twin daughters in the fourth grade at Mountain Brook Elementary, and two stepchildren at Westminster. All together, we have three 10-year-olds and an 8-year-old.
What is your favorite luxury or indulgence?
Reading. Reading. Reading. I can’t get enough of a good book. I love nothing more than a stack (of real books) waiting to be read on my bedside table. Recent reads include: What She Left Behind, The Light Between Oceans, Unbroken, The Goldfinch and Sycamore Row.
Favorite vacation spot?
Two summers ago, my husband and I visited Positano, Italy, and Sicily. I would return again and again. We are saving our miles with hopes of a return trip next summer! Close to home, one of my favorite getaways is Barnsley Gardens in Georgia. I love anywhere that offers relaxation and activity.
Favorite Birmingham restaurant(s)?
For a girlfriend lunch, I like Chez Lulu and O’Carrs. For dinner out, I love El Barrio and Slice for their vibrant atmosphere. And for a quiet night, Daniel George (DG). At least every other week, you can find me at the café counter at Whole Foods. My favorite BBQ? Saw’s.
What upcoming local event are you most looking forward to?
Our book signing in Mountain Brook Village! Several shops are helping us host a “shop and sign” event from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on November 13. Each store will host different architects and designers for shoppers to meet. Jean Allsopp and I will be there signing books. We are so grateful to have so much support from the shops and designers for this project! Find us at Paige Albright Orientals, Table Matters, Circa, Leaf and Petal, Ex Voto Vintage and Smith’s Variety.
I’m also so excited about the Birmingham Home and Garden 2014 Inspiration Home at the Preserve in Hoover. Visitors will find beautiful rooms decorated for the holidays by Defining Home, Stock & Trade, At Home and Three Sheets, West Elm, Swaddle, Alabama Furniture Market, Scandinavian Design, Summer Classics, and Issis & Sons. The vendors have worked so hard to create this beautiful home. I hope everyone will come out to see it! The home will be open Thursday through Sunday every weekend beginning November 13. For hours, visit birminghamhomeandgarden.com
What are you listening to these days?
Everything my kids listen to, which is pretty great for the most part. I love hearing them sing. If I get alone time, I usually tune in to 107.3 to catch up on new music. I also enjoy country and kicking back to the ’90s. I’m going to the Better Than Ezra concert at Iron City on November 23 for a little college nostalgia.
Do you have any personality quirks?
I love my paper MONTH AT-A-GLANCE calendar. I love being able to lay it on my desk and look forward!
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding friends, family and faith.
Sleep, exercise and an outlet for creativity.
Thanks for sharing, Cathy! We can’t wait to get our hands on Birmingham Style! And thank you, Jean Allsopp, for today’s beautiful photos! See more of her work on jeanallsopp.com.