Katie Armour's lifestyle blog, the Neo-Traditionalist, was born out of less-than-favorable circumstances: After spending two years working for top design firms (Tucker & Marks in San Francisco and Shaun Jackson in New York), Armour gave up her job and moved to West Virginia to be with her now-husband, who was finishing up school there. "I didn't really know anyone, and I had no one to talk to about any of the design-related things I was passionate about," she said. "I had gone from my awesome job in New York, where I got to fly around in clients' jets to decorate their houses, to waiting tables in West Virginia." It was less than a year before the blog started getting attention from other décor websites, and when she and her husband moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area, where Armour is originally from, she decided to continue blogging full-time. Her work seems to be paying off: At the end of last year, she teamed up with a college friend of hers, Jane Lilly Warren (who formerly worked as a graphic designer for JPMorgan), to create an online lifestyle magazine called Matchbook. Matchbook's debut issue, which features interviews with the likes of WHIT designer Whitney Pozgay, makeup mogul Jemma Kidd, and journalist Rita Konig, came out this month, and Armour and Warren are almost finished with next month's installment. We grilled Armour about personal style, avoiding "the preppy magazine" label, and buying flowers at Trader Joe's.
Did you have major plans for your blog when you first started it?
Not at all! When I first started my own blog, I had no idea what I was doing. But I remember when one day Heather Clawson, who writes the blog Habitually Chic, linked to me, and I was like, "Oh, my God, people are actually reading this?"
What are some of the things that you think about when you're curating it?
I try not to have it be too personal. Obviously, I'm inspired by things that happen in my own life, but I don't try on clothes and take pictures of myself. I also try to be really genuine. I would never post on another person's blog with a link back to my own blog. I didn't even think about the prospect of getting advertisers or anything for at least a year into doing it — it honestly just never even crossed my mind.
What made you decide to turn it into your full-time job?
When we moved back to San Francisco — a place where I could have gone back to work for another interior design firm — I made the decision that even though the blog wasn't super lucrative, I was going to try to stick it out. I took on advertisers a few months ago, which really helped make it possible to continue. And then I contributed for Lonny, an interior design online magazine, and that's when I got the idea for our new online magazine, Matchbook, which is more focused on lifestyle.
How did you meet your Matchbook co-editor, Jane Lilly Warren?
We went to college together in Switzerland, and when I lived in New York, she lived a few blocks away from me in the East Village. She worked at JPMorgan for two years doing graphic design, which was a great experience for her, but she wanted to do something that was a little bit more her aesthetic. So she started her own blog called Lox Papers. She has a great eye for layout. We started working together on little projects, and when she was ready to leave JPMorgan, we thought, let's do an online magazine together.
Right now, the magazine has a really preppy, Kate Spade-meets-J.Crew vibe. Is that your niche?
We're doing our very best to not be labeled "the preppy magazine." I don't want to alienate people, for one thing. And also, if that's all we're going to feature, we're quickly going to exhaust our resources, because there aren't that many designers who do that kind of thing. I know the magazine has a pretty Waspy feel to it right now, but I don't want it to be too girlish and predictable. We're going to try to feature a lot of emerging, up-and-coming designers, so I think that's a good way to keep the content from getting stale or staid.
How is your own personal style different from the style you're projecting in your magazine?
I'm very basic to the point where it's masculine — I loved tailored classics and striped shirts and riding boots. I have a Chanel bag that I wear all the time. My personal style is often quite different from stuff that I love and stuff that I blog about, which is much more girly.
What does your own house look like?
We have tons and tons of books. I think that you can never go wrong with lots of books. They're always interesting to look at and read, of course, but they also make your space look unique and lived-in.
What's one thing you own that you can't live without?
I have this photo envelope full of vintage black-and-white photos of my grandparents and family. I bring it with me when I travel. If my house was burning down, that would be the first thing I'd grab. And my pugs, and my husband.
A lot of personal-style blogs are really into DIY style. Are you crafty at all?
Not at all. Like, recovering the seat of a chair myself — which I did with a sheet — was a lot for me. I'm good at picking out things that I like, but I'm not good at making them!
What's a trend that you can't stand?
I don't know if this is a trend, but I can't stand looking at angst-ridden, waif-like models. It's just not me. I'm sure it's uncool of me to say this, but I want to see happy girls, and I want to make people feel good. It's so cheesy, but I want to make people's days brighter when they read [Matchbook]. I just don't identify with depressed, angsty-looking models.
Whose style do you admire the most?
I love Sofia Coppola. Which is funny because I know she is very much a minimalist in the way that she dresses and in her design aesthetic. But she's just always so chic, and her look is so focused.
What do you recommend for people who want to add nice, pretty touches to their lives but who don't have a lot of time or money?
I know it sounds cliché, but buy some fresh flowers at the supermarket! I buy my groceries at Trader Joe's, so I pick up fresh flowers there. They're inexpensive, and they make my living room look and smell so much better. Also, write that handwritten note when you can — because so few people do. It makes a bigger impact.