Dwell started as a magazine about homes—now it builds them

The legacy print magazine is thriving thanks to an innovative approach to digital subscriptions and diversified products that put people in charge of how they live.

The 540-square-foot Dwell House costs $389,000, delivered to your yard.

Media companies in the “shelter” category face two existential challenges. One is shrinking advertising revenue. The other is the rising price of housing, which makes it difficult for many potential readers to purchase a home.

Dwell, a company whose mission is “to help people live better through better spaces,” has responded creatively to those challenges on multiple fronts—including helping to build affordable, prefabricated homes.

Since its launch 22 years ago as a print magazine, Dwell has been careful not to treat the standalone single-family house as a default structure. Rather, it highlights the work of people who’ve made all types of dwellings—from campers to farmhouses to garden apartments—feel more like their own. This can be through innovations in construction, interior design, technology, and more—anything that helps a living space feel more personal and useful.

This ethos was part of what attracted CEO Zach Klein to the company in 2020. Klein, the cofounder of Vimeo, was interested in DIY home design, editing a book called Cabin Porn in 2015. He trusted that his experience building online communities at Vimeo and DIY.org could help him create a financially sustainable media product that didn’t rely entirely on advertising.

To accomplish this, Dwell began offering a range of digital subscription products. Consumers looking to improve their homes can now join “Dwell Plus”—gaining access to exclusive home-tour and instructional videos, as well as the magazine’s archive. Design and construction professionals can list their businesses in a service directory. And homeowners can join a database through which they can share their homes with other members of the Dwell community.

“We built a profile system that allowed users to add their credit card, powered by Stripe, and began to layer on digital subscription products,” said Klein. Within 18 months, these products accounted for more than a quarter of the company’s revenue.

This digital success caught the attention of investors. In September 2022, Dwell was acquired by Recurrent Ventures, a digital media company backed by North Equity.

“Dwell’s ability to grow its digital subscriptions over the last few years was one of the reasons we wanted to acquire them. Their digital membership product, subscriber base, and retention rate are impressive,” said Andrew Perlman, a Recurrent cofounder.

The interior of the Dwell House reflects the design and livability values Dwell has championed for more than 20 years.

Dwell has continued to expand its business, building on its strong brand and engaged readership to push into home and kitchen furnishings—and even into building homes.

In 2016, it launched Modern by Dwell, a line of kitchen and home furnishings, with Target. This year, it introduced a new tile line, in conjunction with the California company Concrete Collaborative, whose colors and design are inspired by surf culture. It also makes Chicory, a line of modular outdoor furniture.

This year, the company became a homebuilder, introducing the Dwell House, a 540-square-foot living space that can be ordered, built, and set in place (by a very sizable crane) in less than six months. As Klein and Dwell editor-in-chief William Hanley have explained, the product addresses “the need for more housing in the US” in a way that avoids the high cost and administrative burden of new construction—and can also serve families who may need more space on an existing property to work from home or accommodate multiple generations.

“In the next 10 years I think most of Dwell’s income will come not from content but actual products and services in which we are more directly helping people have great spaces,” said Klein.

Related: How Castlery is unifying online and offline channels to sell more furniture and How the media industry is pivoting to digital subscriptions