Chit-chat with Irene Edwards, Sunset Magazine Editor in Chief

*Image by Thomas J. Story/Sunset Magazine

It always feels a bit like a Christmas Morning when the new Sunset Magazine gets delivered into our mailbox. Needless to say, we have always been huge fans of the iconic magazine for the West, but since Irene Edwards took over in 2015 as editor in chief, the joy got even bigger.

After making Lonny, a digital publication focused on interiors, a name in the online publishing world, Irene is now in charge of Sunset’s creative direction. And we love it. She perfectly combines Sunset’s traditional features with new, fresh, contemporary content. Did it catch your eye that Sunset now features people on their cover? Isn’t that cool? We think it gives the whole magazine a new personal touch. In the May issue Irene also finally revealed a special project that she’s been working on since her and her family moved from New York City to the East Bay. Renovating, remodeling and decorating her new home.
We set down with Irene to chit-chat about the renovating process, how she spends her free time and best decorating advice she ever received.


We just flipped through the recent issue of Sunset Magazine, and we cannot stop swooning over your newly remodeled house in Alameda. The 140-year-old Victorian is shining again in all its glory. Can you tell us a bit about the process?
Thank you so much! It brings me so much joy to hear that people are liking the story. Like most makeover tales, ours was a true learning process in every sense of the word. My husband and I had no idea what we were doing when we started—we’d never taken on any kind of construction project before, so to launch into a gut remodel of a 140-year-old house was kind of crazy. I’m just glad I didn’t know at the start how crazy it really was, or else we’d never have dared to go for it.

Our previous residence was a new two-bedroom condo in Brooklyn, so a Victorian was almost the antithesis of that. There are so many quirky things about my house that I love, but that made a remodel even more complicated. Sloping floors, for one—we had major problems with the kitchen appliances and cabinetry installation because the old floors were so sloped. When I first saw the house, all the major rooms were covered in layers and layers of floral wallpaper. My husband bought an industrial steamer and steamed it all off by hand—some rooms had six layers of wallpaper!

From the moment I first walked in the door, even with all that wallpaper and the old plumbing and the outdated kitchen, I could tell that it was going to be a warm and welcoming family home. We wanted to make the house work for our lifestyle while still retaining as much as possible of the character and eccentric charm.

How would you describe your decor style?
I definitely lean eclectic in my tastes. My husband and I are both passionate about vintage furnishings and decor, particularly because we love history so much. But there’s also a side of me that loves of-the-moment design trends even if they’re all over Pinterest. I still love brass hardware, and I’m a sucker for blush and gray. I’ve always wanted toile wallpaper somewhere. I have a collection of contemporary fashion photography. Somehow it all ended up working well together—and for that, I credit my amazing designer, Lynn K. Leonidas, whose more disciplined eye helped me make sense of my hodgepodge decorating tastes.

What are your favorite home decor and furniture sources to shop from? And what was your favorite purchase for the house?
Because I love vintage decor, I will happily comb through any secondhand scenario—auction houses, flea markets, yard sales, church rummage days; you name it, I’m there. For new items, I would have been lost without ATG Stores, which just relaunched as The Mine. They are truly a one-stop shop for home decor at all price points. I was particularly obsessed with their lighting selection, which includes some killer pieces from Visual Comfort and Arteriors Home. But if I had to choose my all-time favorite, it would definitely be a piece of art—whether it’s the dreamy, surreal photo of supermodel Lara Stone in my dining room, by fashion photographers Inez & Vinoodh, or the antique Roman bust right next to it. I call him “my boyfriend” because I know nothing else about that piece, and he seems like he was a total hottie. 🙂

Irene with her interior designer, Lynn K. Leonidas

Best decorating tip ever received?
From my designer, Lynn K. Leonidas: “Honor the existing architectural style and era in which the house was built when selecting fixed finishes such as tile and cabinetry. Fixtures that are easy to change out, like lighting, are the appropriate place to experiment with a mix of styles.”

Everyone has that one favorite spot in their home. What is yours and why?
My kitchen, because we love to eat and drink and feed people, and my dining table, because it’s where I gather with the people I love.

A home is never completely finished, what is next on your home to-do list?
The outside! It was such a crazy, stressful, expensive process finishing the interior, and I’ll admit we got a little burned out and needed to take a break. But now that summer is on its way; we’re fixing up the front garden and backyard to be our alfresco escape. We don’t have a lot of money left, so we’re doing things the way we can afford them, which brings its own form of creativity.

We also found out the next Sunset House is going to be in Palm Springs. Can you let us in on some details?
When you think about cutting-edge architecture in the West, Palm Springs always comes to mind. Something about the desert—whether it’s the demands of the landscape or the kinds of people who move there—seems to bring that quality out. We’re thrilled to be working with an amazing design-build team to create an ultra-contemporary design that draws from its spectacular setting. The interior designers, 30 Collins, have an incredible aesthetic that I can’t wait to show off in Sunset.

Just 1.5 years ago you switched from the East Coast to California to be Editor in Chief of Sunset Magazine. Tell us a bit about your move?
I couldn’t be happier living in California—it would be difficult to return to the East Coast now. This place spoils you! I do miss seeing my family, who I’m close to, and having my kids grow up near their grandparents and cousins. That’s the only bummer about the situation. But goodness, I’d be a fool to complain. The creativity and diversity of people, landscapes, experiences—I truly think this is the best place to live in the whole world.

Being Editor in Chief of Sunset Magazine must be a dream job! What is great about it? And what can be challenging?
It is a dream job in a lot of ways. I couldn’t ask for a better team to work with or more endlessly fascinating material to write about. I couldn’t imagine a more beloved brand than Sunset. That also brings a big responsibility. Sunset turns 120 years old next year, and I just want to make sure I do right by that heritage. It’s my job to make sure it stays just as relevant, beloved, and prosperous for the next 120 years.

How do you recharge your batteries after a busy workday/week?
We spend a whole weekend day chilling in the backyard with a pitcher of iced tea and sammies. I cut roses in my garden and arrange them in a vase. Super-exciting stuff 😉 but this is all I want to do after a long week of meetings, deadlines, and decision-making! Also, when the weather is nice, I cut out right at 5 and meet my family and friends on the beach in Alameda for wine and cheese on a sandy picnic blanket. The best.

What do you love about living in Alameda?
See above! Alameda is a wonderful mix of old-school and diverse. There’s a classic diner named Jim’s that we like to go to for brunch on weekends, and you see all walks of life there, from auto mechanics and young families to a group of veterans in their 70s and 80s who always occupy the same table. Plus, if you love antiques and old houses, particularly Victorians, Alameda is a gold mine.

Can you share with us your three favorite food spots in Alameda?
Alameda restaurants are less about fine dining and more about easy, approachable places to go with your family.
Jim’s Coffee Shop: That diner I mentioned above, where all of Alameda comes to chit-chat and have brunch on weekends. The fried chicken is justifiably famous.
East End: Expertly mixed cocktails, $1 oysters on Tuesdays, and a bustling interior that’s good for date night or bringing the kids.
Scolari’s at the Point: Located at the Alameda Naval Base next to Rock Wall Wine Company. This is THE place to come after work on Friday and grab a basket of hush puppies to snack on with an easy-drinking bottle of red. You’re outdoors, your kids are running around in a pack with other kids, and the San Francisco city skyline is right in front of you. Heaven.

Your favorite outdoor activity in Alameda?
I love to run and will happily plug into my ‘90s hip-hop mix and explore all the hidden corners of the island. But nothing beats a beach picnic on a sunny weekend afternoon.

Your favorite place in California to escape for a weekend getaway?
Point Reyes is possibly the most beautiful place on earth. We took the kids for their first overnight camping trip there last November, and we’re going back Memorial Day weekend. It’s about a 3-mile flat hike in (or 1.5 miles uphill) carrying everything on your back, so I was pretty impressed with my 5- and 6-year-old for keeping up. But once you’re there, wow—it’s magical. S’mores, stars, your feet in the sand. It’s what lifetime memories are made of.

Thank you, Irene!

All images by Thomas J. Story/Sunset
Design by Lynn K. Leonidas, Styling by Bianca Sotelo

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