New Sunset editor Kitty Morgan returns West to build on the magazine’s legacy

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on March 23, 2012

Kitty Morgan, editor of Sunset magazine

For new Sunset editor Kitty Morgan, it’s a return to the West that she still thinks of as home after almost two decades in the Midwest/East. It’s also a return to where her journalism career began, which makes it all seem just a tad “weird.”

“In the 80s, I was an assistant travel editor, based at Sunset’s Southern California office,” she said during a recent visit to the magazine’s headquarters in Menlo Park.

Kitty went on to jobs at the Orange County Register as first restaurant, and then travel editor, before heading to Cincinnati where husband Charles Desmarais had taken a job as Director of the Contemporary Arts Center. Once there, she became editor of Cincinnati magazine.

“I think it was there that I honed my editorial skills,” she said. “I suddenly was in a position that required me to be more knowledgeable about a place than the people who lived there.”

One could assume that a magical symbiotic muse followed Kitty and Charles wherever they went, if only Kitty had ended up at a New York media company when Charles became Deputy Director for Art at the Brooklyn Museum in 2005. Instead, they had a bit of a commuter marriage during Kitty’s five-year tenure as Executive Editor of Better Homes & Gardens in Des Moines, Iowa.

The couple’s principal residence was in New York, and it was there that Kitty discovered what she calls her principal vice — fashion. “I loved shopping at Barney’s and I miss it,” she said. “There’s a Barney’s in San Francisco, but it’s not nearly as good.”

Fast forward to May 2011 when Charles was named President of the San Francisco Art Institute. In August, the couple moved to the City, and Kitty left Better Homes and Garden (and Barneys New York).

“I had a real desire to come back to the West Coast,” said Kitty, who grew up in California and graduated from UC Berkeley. “I moved here thinking I’d reinvent myself from print to some kind of digital editor.”

Instead, Sunset beckoned. And, now she has a voice in both worlds — print and digital.

“I’ve inherited a legacy,” she said. “For many people, Sunset has long been part of their lives. They’re our fans. My job is to build on that while attracting new readers who also love the West.”

We asked Kitty to be photographed in front of the still beautiful but weathered Cliff May double doors that have been the entrance to Sunset since 1951 when the magazine moved south from San Francisco to Menlo Park. That got us talking about not just the building’s exterior but what goes on inside the dual buildings on both sides of Willow Road that thousands of Menlo Park residents drive by each month.

“This building isn’t just about creating a magazine,” said Kitty. “It’s about cultivating the nexus of intelligence about the West. How do we continue to be the idea lab of the West?”

“I’m really interested in how to capture the knowledge and insight the staff has gained. Whether a person has been here a year or 20 years, they are all following trends, traveling to every nook and cranny of the West. The staff has a deep knowledge about what they’re covering. That’s what makes Sunset different.”

Photos by Scott R. Kline

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