William Hanley. (Photo: Brian W. Ferry. Courtesy Dwell)
William Hanley. (Photo: Brian W. Ferry. Courtesy Dwell)

William Hanley on Media That Adds a Bit of Whimsy to the Everyday

Dwell magazine’s editor-in-chief maintains a steady intake that includes NTS Radio, tarot cards, and D.I.Y.-furniture TikTok.
By Emily Jiang
September 14, 2023
16 minute read

Despite juggling the responsibilities that come with being the editor-in-chief of Dwell, the internationally acclaimed home-design magazine, William Hanley still finds time to bike around New York City, where he lives, listening to NTS Radio and hardcore bands, and to garner inspiration from D.I.Y.-furniture TikToks and amateur designers on Instagram. He reads up on the housing crisis, watches biographical documentaries, and tunes in to the regional news stations of the locales he has ties to.

This is not to say Hanley doesn’t keep incredibly busy. On any given day, he can be found amidst a flurry of high-level meetings, strategizing with and providing creative direction for Dwell’s teams in both New York and San Francisco; speaking with company leadership and brand partners; interviewing designers; on a plane to a fair or exhibition opening; or conducting studio visits, which he says are a priority, in that they allow him to see design work in person. “I always tell the team, we’re not writing about photos on Instagram, we’re writing about real spaces and real objects,” Hanley says. “It’s imperative that everyone gets out there and visits that house. I want to know what the kitchen smells like and what the light is like in the morning. Someone should have sat in that chair before we say that it’s a brilliant chair.”

For Dwell’s latest issue—which includes the magazine’s annual “Emerging Designers” feature—Hanley and his team went looking beyond the major design capitals “to farther-flung places” to find creators and innovators not yet on the design world’s radar. Hanley is particularly thrilled to be featuring Fala, a young Portuguese firm, whose work he says is “playful, but a livable kind of playful, which in the end is a sweet spot for me.”

This “sweet spot” is right where Hanley’s media intake sits, too; he tends to seek out content that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that adds a bit of whimsy to his days. Here, we speak with Hanley about what he enjoys reading, watching, and listening to, which includes a recent 30th-anniversary screening of Party Girl, Pin-Up magazine (whose founder, Felix Burrichter, we previously interviewed for a Media Diet), a biography of the British painter and novelist Leonora Carrington, and a daily tarot card.

Cover of the September/October 2023 issue of Dwell. (Courtesy Dwell)
Cover of the September/October 2023 issue of Dwell. (Courtesy Dwell)

How do you start your mornings?

Other than the snooze button, I’ll usually go to the Times home page and check out what’s new in art and design there. It’s something of a ritual. Then I’ll check out Dwell’s dashboard and see what stories were resonating with people overnight and where. It’s interesting to see different time zones, what’s working, what stories are performing where. It’s always the things that you don’t necessarily expect. Then, at some point I’ll look at Twitter—or “X”—or Threads, and just catch up on news and also keep score on various urbanism debates going on around the world and things like that. At some point, I’ll have a coffee.

Then—I don’t know if it counts as media—but I flip over a tarot card every morning. I don’t think I have any particular powers of divination, but it’s a moment to reflect on something that’s not my telephone. It’s a pandemic hobby that has kind of stuck. This morning, it was the Page of Cups, so maybe that bodes well for this interview.

Any favorite newsletters?

I’ll read ARTNews in the morning, and I’ll read Artnet News—full disclosure, my partner [Sarah P. Hanson] works there—but some of my favorite writers also contribute there. (A little shout-out to Ben Davis.) I like the Perfectly Imperfect newsletter a lot. I am in such a design bubble most of the time, and when they’re good, they interview really interesting people from fashion, music, and other areas of culture.

I also read The Slowdown, obviously. I wish it came more frequently. [Laughs] And The T List. I really like the editor’s-pick quality of that. I wish we had the capacity to do more things like that at Dwell. I also read Dinner Party. Pretty much every New Yorker involved in media probably reads these exact same things.

I was sitting next to someone at dinner the other night and they said that newsletters are the only chronological type of media that we consume anymore, because everything else that we look at is somehow mediated by an algorithm. Newsletters arrive in your inbox in the order that they’re published, and that’s a really rare thing. That was a piece of insight that has stuck with me over the course of the last couple of weeks.

Any favorite magazines?

Other than Dwell? [Laughs] Of the larger design magazines, I read Elle Decor and all of its various regional editions, which I really like. I think they’re doing a good job over there, even though the aesthetic is really not necessarily…. My idea of a great sofa is a concrete slab with a fun throw pillow, and that doesn’t always gel with what they’re working on, but there are some really great editors over there right now. The concrete slab joke—all of my friends are going to groan and roll their eyes, because I always make that joke. It’s kind of true.

I’m sure everyone says Pin-Up if they’re involved in the design space. It was so refreshing when it launched because everyone was just trying to do these quiet, oatmeal-colored pages with black-and-white photos and tiny text, and that meant you were a serious design magazine or somehow had good taste in typography or something like that. I just remember when that publication launched: It’s an architecture magazine, but it’s fun. It’s really unprecious and unfussy. It obviously feels very thoroughgoing and intentional, but there’s a looseness to it that I think was so lacking, certainly in your typical architecture publications. They’ve done a really good job over the years of always keeping it fresh.

Any favorite podcasts?

I listen to podcasts around the house in the evening, if I’m making dinner or something like that. I tend to catch up on regional news from various places where I have a connection of some kind. Obviously, I’ll listen to New York news recaps like NYC Now. Then Minnesota Public Radio has a daily news podcast—my partner’s family is from there, and we have a family cabin out there. Also, Louisiana Considered—anything from the Gulf States Newsroom. I’ve never lived in New Orleans for more than a couple of months, but I’m currently super interested in what the design and urbanism community there is up to. They’ve been really early to reckon with a lot of the major issues in cities around the country right now in terms of things like gentrification and affordability and what to do with racist infrastructure, and obviously how to reckon with a climate disaster. They were probably the first American city to deal with that, but certainly others will as well. There are some really great architects, designers, and activists down there thinking about these problems in a way that I think will [eventually] offer a framework to people in other cities.

Then San Francisco, obviously, given that the Bay Area is Dwell’s spiritual home. We’ll just put on local news from KQED, or—I don’t always love it—but Fifth & Mission is popular and sometimes has really good shows.

Any favorite TV shows or films?

I’m perpetually six years behind on television. In five years from now, I’m going to be telling you how awesome Succession is. I’m very late with that, and with films I’m the same way. I really liked the Nan Goldin movie, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, that charted her art and her activism. It was a really great, well-done portrait.

Earlier in the summer, I went to a thirtieth-anniversary screening of Party Girl. There are many, many, many parts of it that do not age well, but it’s Parker Posey in peak form, and we used to watch it on VHS at sleepovers when I was in high school. It’s probably one of the main reasons I moved to New York when I was 18. Somewhere between that movie and the Sonic Youth catalog is the reason I ended up here.

What book or books are you currently reading?

Right now I’m reading The Sullivanians, the Alexander Stille book. It is legitimately crazier than I even thought it would be. The idea that you have this radical form of psychoanalysis that is taken up by this charismatic leader and this group that espouses the dissolution of the nuclear family and collective living and goes from being a sort of avant-garde thing to being an increasingly authoritarian, cult-y situation is kind of amazing. The number of artists of various types involved in varying degrees throughout the fifties and sixties and into the seventies is pretty amazing, as well. It was more than dabbling, and that note tends to get left out of the biographies of a lot of these people. I’m only about halfway through that, but I’ve been loving it so far. That view of psychoanalysis is so adjacent to a lot of the philosophy and theory that was pretty foundational for me when I was studying.

I just got Joanna Moorhead’s biography of her cousin Leonora Carrington. I haven’t started it yet—it just came out like a week ago—but I’ve been excited for it. I’ve been really into the way that a lot of contemporary painters are reinterpreting surrealism. I think something that had been regarded as kind of kitschy by the time you had Salvador Dalí on the talk-show circuit a generation ago, and just people taking up this form—but also looking back at some of the key figures there with a different lens and all of the attention being given to Carrington—right now is super cool.

Lastly, I’m very happy the Cooper-Hewitt has a Dorothy Liebes show on. Her textiles don’t get the spotlight often enough for how essential they were to defining the palette of American modernism. I’m excited to read the catalog, and the Brooklyn bookstore/café Head Hi has a discussion about it coming up soon.

Any favorite social media accounts?

I tend to use Instagram as a way of finding design projects by people who aren’t necessarily pitching them—[whether you’re] someone building a house or just renovating your apartment or building a remarkable vacation house on some impossibly beautiful site somewhere, it’s a major, life-changing thing. People are documenting that, and you get a sense of how they’re feeling about the choices that they’re making through the process. Even before they post a drawing or something like that, I’ll be like, “Let’s follow this one and see what happens.” That’s how you find designers who are just coming up. I’ve found a lot of great homes to cover by going down rabbit holes.

Of the bigger accounts that I follow, I gravitate toward people who have a strong point of view on design or urbanism, like Jerald Cooper, or just a really great eye; @acid__memories and James Chester's account feel like classics at this point. I’m also a fan of @african_brutalism. Other than that, I just follow people who make me laugh. Guy Richards Smit and Art Handler magazine come to mind. Oh, and of course @whatthecrazyhouse, @zillowgonewild, and @everyverything. It’s people mining for interesting old photography who have a particular point of view. I tend to respond to really visually driven accounts that have a strong visual aesthetic. Some will touch on disciplines that are much different than architecture, which I really like.

What music do you listen to?

I bike around the city a lot. That’s kind of my primary mode of transportation, and I listen to anything on NTS Radio. I love it because I can be really omnivorous with genres and whatnot. There’s a D.J., Moxie, who has had her show for more than a decade at this point, but plays many different genres of music, and has an affinity for interesting breaks and dubby tracks that are really fun. There’s something about biking around New York and listening to house music that just feels right. This just feels correct, so I’m doing that.

Outside of streaming things or outside of radio things…. I grew up going to a lot of hardcore shows. There’s a recent crop of bands that play within the confines of the traditional genre, but with and for people who are genderqueer—a lot more women, a lot more nonbinary people—just a very inclusive version of hardcore, which is historically a kind of bro-ish thing. This band called Gel from New Jersey is a recent obsession. There’s one called The HIRS Collective, and anything on Get Better Records that I just went to see. The shows are super fun. It’s basically all the camaraderie, without the bros.

I’m not constantly making playlists, but I constantly make a playlist. I’m a total insomniac, so I will stay up all night mining genres of music at various points. It’ll be London drill this today, and then Soca tomorrow. I don’t have separate playlists for these genres. It’s just one big, long playlist. I don’t keep a journal, so it becomes kind of diaristic. It’s like, “What was I up to? How was I feeling that day?” It comes out in these different moments in the same long playlist. Someday I’ll go back and psychoanalyze that, but it’s definitely an important part of my media consumption.

What’s one book or other piece of media that you think everyone should consume?

I’m not going to insist on something for everyone. But there are a lot of people in my world who should read In Defense of Housing.

Any guilty pleasures?

No one should buy knockoff furniture, full stop, but maybe you can make it. I love going down a TikTok rabbit hole of people trying to recreate very expensive twentieth-century furniture using stuff that they found at Home Depot. I think some of these things are works of art in their own right with their homages to these designs. Also, I would discourage people from buying twentieth-century design in favor of contemporary design, but hey, if you’re going to make it yourself—particularly when it comes to re-creating icons with things you have at hand—it’s so much fun, and often they come out far more exciting than the original. It’s like, “I can’t afford that Noguchi coffee table, but I’ve got this PVC pipe and this glass plate, and I found this industrial paint in the basement,” or, “I’m going to start molding plywood myself to make this Perriand chair.” I just think it’s ingenious.