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Peggy Northrop, new editor-in-chief of Sunset Magazine, is photographed in the garden of the magazine's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. on Monday, April 29, 2013. (Gary Reyes/ Bay Area News Group)

MENLO PARK -- Rumors and uncertainty about a potential sale were swirling around Sunset magazine when veteran editor Peggy Northrop was asked to trade her glass-and-steel, high-rise Manhattan lifestyle to move across country into a sun-filled ground-floor office that overlooks Sunset's immaculately groomed grounds.

Once she went over Sunset's financial records, the decision was easy for Northrop to move back to the Bay Area after a 23-year absence to become the magazine's new editor-in-chief.

"I was negotiating for my job in the middle of all those rumors," Northrop said. "I think the intention (by Sunset owner Time) is to keep all of the magazine brands together. And that's certainly what I have been told. The Time magazine brands as a unit are very, very strong together."

Northrop sat down with this newspaper recently to talk about Sunset's future, her plans as editor-in-chief and her own "The Devil Wears Prada" experience as an editor at Vogue magazine, where she was ordered to undergo a head-to-toe fashion makeover by the real-life inspiration for Meryl Streep's character in the movie. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Sunset's readers skew decidedly older and toward women. What kind of changes lie ahead for them?

A: We have permission from our loyal readers to stay current. Our loyal and older readers also want to feel current about what is going on in our region. That is how we stay useful to them. We've already seen a new redesign. I think it's beautiful and I'm really, really pleased. I would characterize it as much bolder, much more graphic. The photography is much more sophisticated. I'm also interested in reintroducing a good long read back into the magazine that really sticks with you, which I think we've lost track of just a little bit -- whether it's a profile or an issue piece that people are talking about.

Q: What about your more tech-savvy readers?

A: One of the things I'm excited about is working on the digital products that we offer. It's the book-azines that we put out, and we have our website and we have a Facebook page, which is very active. We did a cover test (of two distinctly different images of the Grand Canyon) and we got hundreds of comments in just a couple of minutes. They voted via Facebook. I'm getting feedback on our iPad edition, which frankly we screwed up. It was changed from something that was interactive and scrollable to just a plain PDF version. I think it was a mistake and I'm in the midst of fixing it. You need to be able to pinch and zoom and use the application for what it was designed for.

Peggy Northrop, new editor-in-chief of Sunset Magazine, is photographed in the garden of the magazine’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. on Monday,
Peggy Northrop, new editor-in-chief of Sunset Magazine, is photographed in the garden of the magazine's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. on Monday, April 29, 2013. (Gary Reyes/ Bay Area News Group) ( Gary Reyes )

Q: Sunset is planning its annual Celebration Weekend on June 1 and 2. What will your message be to the more than 20,000 readers who will visit your grounds?

A: It's tremendously exciting to come to a brand where people are clamoring to come in the door. It's fantastic and obviously this campus means a lot to people. Because of where I sit, I can be in my office here and watch people come in and do the tours of the garden. My message is that this is really a strong brand and I'm here to build it. Believe me, when I took this job I asked to see the financials because I wanted to make sure that I could say something like that and be right about it. And I am right about it.

Q: What was your "The Devil Wears Prada" experience like at Vogue, where you were the health editor before focusing on politics and women's issues?

A: It was 1990 and I was 35 and I didn't even own a pair of high heels. My idea of dressing up was to wear a vintage boys tuxedo jacket with the sleeves rolled up because they were scuzzy. My hair was permed and curly and red, which was very unfortunate. (Vogue editor) Anna Wintour had one of her fashion editors take me out to lunch and advise me where to get my hair cut and where to go buy some clothes and I very happily lapped this up and thought, "Oh how incredibly helpful she is." Then I realized, "Oh, no. This was a directive from Anna." Everybody at the time was wearing those micro, micro skirts. So I had all of my skirts chopped off to be 19 inches long and I bought myself a pair of high heels. I do remember buying the most expensive piece of clothing I had ever bought. I wrote out a check at the Donna Karan wholesale outlet for two suits and it cost me $1,700. My hand was shaking when I wrote the check.

Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.

Peggy Northrop

Age: 58
Birthplace: Harrisburg, Pa.
Current job: Editor-in-chief, Sunset Publishing
Previous jobs: Magazine editor positions at publications including the San Francisco Examiner, Berkeley Monthly, Hippocrates, Vogue, Health at Glamour Magazine, Redbook, Organic Style, More, Reader's Digest and WorkReimagined.org.
Education: Kenyon College (Ohio), UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley
Family: Married to Sean Elder; a daughter and a stepson
Residence: Palo Alto

FIVE THINGS ABOUT PEGGY NORTHROP

1. Her husband is the principal cook in the family. "I'm a very appreciative eater and I can make a mean salad."
2. She has a house in Connecticut with 23 acres and a pond.
3. Grew up in a four-generation newspaper family that continues to run the 40,000-circulation Observer Reporter in western Pennsylvania.
4. After living in a kibbutz in Israel, she enrolled in a year-abroad program at American University in Beirut in 1976.
5. Dropped in and out of college, traveled part time, lived cheaply and "was kind of a hippie."