Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My friend Kenn has penned a terrific piece on Dr. Brent Ridge, Vice President of Healthy Living at Martha Stewart Living. You can read it at Kenn's charming "House Blend" blog. Bookmark this link:

Dr. Brent, as he is known, writes the Doctor/Patient column in Martha Stewart Living magazine and is also the host of Ask Dr. Brent on Martha Stewart Living Radio on Sirius Satellite 112. He is also co-founder (with Martha Stewart) of the Martha Stewart Centre for Living in Manhattan.

More than this, though, Brent is now an organic farmer and plays shepherd to a lovely herd of goats whose milk is used for a new line of organic soaps, which are availalbe through mail-order via his website. I have blogged here before about the luxurious soaps he makes at his farm, a sprawling piece of paradise with a robust mansion at its centre. The Beekman Estate is now home to his weekend operations, beautiful gardens that he tends with his partner Josh and home to a whole lot of whole living. Please visit to learn more and read his weekly blogs.

Before you do, though, read Kenn's excellent interview with Brent. It covers myriad subjects, from his role at MSLO to his newfound enjoyment of farm life. Most exciting of all, perhaps, is the news that he is working on a new book with Martha about caregiving, tailored to the people who look after their aging relatives. Being someone who regularly cares for his grandmother (groceries, banking, cleaning) I feel a tremendous sense of joy knowing this book is being written, which I think will end up being a celebration of the hard work and love that is demonstrated through the process of caregiving.

And I just have to plug his soap one more time! I'm hoping it will one day be more widely available. It is beautiful soap, and I highly recommend the June soap, which is lightly scented with essential oils for a fresh summer aura that is light and invigorating. And it's all natural!

Friday, July 25, 2008

I love ivy. I always have. Something about the way its tendrils wind and curve around anything they touch. There is something loving about that 'reaching out' and 'embracing' in its nature, something about its foraging and striving to expand that seduces me. And ivy leaves are so elegant and beautiful - especially the variegated types. Ivy indoors was adored by the Victorians, who popularized it as a houseplant. It's been portrayed in art and used in numerous decorative ways, inside and outside. As a foliage plant, it is one of the most popular and beautiful. Pots of ivy are often hung from the ceiling so that their tendrils dangle down, but I prefer them grounded on shelves.

I grow standard versions of ivy (hedera helix) and variegated 'Gold Child' hedera helix. I mix them up in pots and planters and mass them together on one shelf to create a cascading effect. The texture looks wonderful. I also intersperse the planters with ornaments, like black Wedgwood jasperware, antique silver containters and decorative orbs.

Ivy does best in bright, indirect light. The plants do not like full sun and can tolerate low light. The key is keeping the soil consistently and evenly moist. They can stand a misting now and then, too. They like the room temperature to be on the cooler side of the spectrum, so keep them away from heaters in the winter. Placing them on shelves, or suspended from the ceiling, is ideal.

A mass planting of ivy on one of the shelves in the living room.

A black and white decorative orb with tendril designs is tucked in among the foliage.

Black Wedgwood jasperware and an antique silver container make a little vignette next to larger planted pots. The plant pot on the right is one that I made in ceramics class and finished in a 'mother of pearl' glaze, which gives it some shimmer.

This is my favourite ivy plant. It's the "Gold Child' variegated type. It's healthy and large and grows exactly as I want it to. The ballister in the corner of the room, by the way, is from my grandfather's first home. It was saved before the house was torn down in the '60s. It has been preserved and passed down, generationally. I painted it in a soft cream tone.

I also grow ivy in my bedroom. I purchased a plain wicker basket at Michael's and painted it a dark charcoal, to match the shelves, lined it with plastic and planted the ivy in it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My latest architectural obsession is the cupola. Strictly defined, a cupola is a domelike structure surmounting a roof or dome, often used as a lookout or to admit light and air. You may see them on the rooftops of barns or churches, and you can certainly find elaborate versions of cupolas incorporated in the architecture of many public buildings in the United States and throughout Europe; the dome of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, is probably the best known cupola in America.

But my interest is in the residential cupola. It was Martha’s barn at Turkey Hill that first piqued my interest in this architectural feature. When I first saw pictures of it I would imagine how amazing the gardens would look from the windows of her cupola, and I had read that you could see all the way to the ocean from that perch. In 2002 I wrote to the editors of Martha Stewart Living urging them to do a feature on that barn, including the cupola. My advice was never taken, sadly, so I never did get to see inside that little dome – and I likely never will, now that Turkey Hill has been sold.

The cupola on top of Martha's guest-house 'barn' (left) must have had an incredible view.

In house plan books, which I tend to collect, I scour the pages for plans that have cupolas. Most of them, unsurprisingly, are mansions, but some of them are elegant country homes or small Newport classics. Homes that have cupolas have a sort of neo-European flavour to them or a maritime, northeastern charm. There is a large brick home just outside of Toronto that I pass every time I visit friends there. It has an enormous square cupola, fronted on all four sides with beautiful panes of leaded glass, framed in dark wood. All around the house there are rolling fields. If it was my cupola, I’d make it my secret reading tower and furnish it with only the basics: a big, comfortable chair, a small table for my tea and a sturdy reading lamp. Don’t bug me until I turn the last page.

The Cupola House in Edenton, North Carolina.

The plans for a cupola reveal the curvy stairs that lead to its cozy peak.

This urban cupola is very classic. It leads from an adjoining apartment to a rooftop terrace.

Looking from the inside out.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Martha Stewart will soon be launching a mattress venture! MSLO has set up a new website, which is currently in development, that will have more product information soon. "Martha Stewart - The Good Bed" will offer a range of mattresses to compliment the Martha Stewart beds and bedding lines already on the market: the whole package!

Visit the new site and bookmark it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In the August issue of Portfolio magazine, readers can catch up with former MSLO chief executive Susan Lyne. In an interview with Matt Malone, she describes some of her decision-making that led to her departure and is somewhat cagey about where she will go next: "I want to spend some time traveling, reading, thinking and listening."

The issue is on newsstands now. Here are a few highlights from the interview:

Why are you leaving?

"I said to Martha when I came to the company that I would put a great management team in place. At a certain point, you need to step aside so they can do what they came to do."

Worst day at MSLO?

"The day we met with Eddie Lampert to see if there was a new contract to be done with Kmart and realizing we were so far apart, it was hopeless. We knew the value of our brand to them, and I think he felt we had no other options and could hardball us."

Best day at MSLO?

"The day Martha came back to the company. And the day we could say we were profitable again. That was a fun earnings call."

Lyne also describes some of her visits with Martha during her stint at Alderson Prison for Women.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Earlier this year, former CEO Susan Lyne appeared to shoot down any suggestion that Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia would be developing a fragrance. At a shareholders' meeting, she told investors that the company would be much more focused on building and expanding merchandise for the home, rather than spreading itself too thin by venturing into the celebrity fragrance market. But in an interview last year, Martha admitted to fashion designer Joseph Abboud that the company had worked very closely with various fragrance designers to develop a signature Martha Stewart fragrance. When asked if she had ever produced a fragrance, this is what she said:

"I did, and I might again. I showed some fragrance designers the flowers I wanted to capture. They are wonderfully smelling flowers that also have auto-immune qualities, so it could be a terrific product. It could be a really nice room fragrance. But right now we're doing a ham."

She then went on to explain the new line of packaged foods at Costco.

I think a Martha Stewart fragrance would be a bit out on a limb, a bit separate from the rest of the merchandising lines, but one that may actually catch on, especially if it is a room fragrance. There are Martha Stewart Everyday scented candles that are quite nice, so a room fragrance wouldn't be much of a stretch. And how about a perfume for women? What do you think, ladies? Would you buy a Martha Stewart fragrance?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

We all know that blue, that signature blue, that makes us think of the glass in the cupboards of the Turkey Hill kitchen, the particular brand of liquid dish detergent decanted in a glass olive oil bottle next to the marble kitchen sink or the dishware at Lily Pond Lane. Well, now that particular shade of "Martha Stewart blue" has spread itself upon the beautiful kitchen appliances of Kitchenaid, in a deal that is exclusive to Macy's. The classic Kitchenaid stand mixer, the hand mixer and the blender now all come in her trademark blue at Macy's. See order info below.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The good folks at Omnimedia sent me these beautiful photographs of some of the new Martha Stewart Crafts products that can be found at Wal-Mart. The two new lines (Create and Celebrate) are probably the best value provided by Martha Stewart Crafts to date. I was honestly quite surprised by how reasonable the price points were. I'm not just saying that! If ever there was a reason to go to Wal-Mart, it's for these items. Have a browse below at some of the examples. Some of you who are adamantly opposed to stepping inside a Wal-Mart store may just reconsider...


A line of basic craft products for the scrapbooker and everyday crafter.

Glittered butterfly card kit (which I adore!), and glitter stamping card kit: $9.97 to $17.97.

Pop-up thank-you card kit, arts and crafts marker set and glitter marker set: $6.97 to $11.97.

For kids, zoo animal puppet making kit, pom-pom farm animal kit and felt bead jewelry kit: $4.97 to $11.97.

Also for kids, a pipe cleaner farm kit, a balloon decorating kit, crepe paper black-eyed-susan kit: $6.97 to $9.97

Pink tissue paper pom-pom kit ($9.97 makes five) and the pink tissue paper flower-making kit ($9.97 makes 24 flowers.)

Circle cutter and cutting mat, bone folder, vintage lace edge punch, various hole punches, rotary cutter and cutting ruler: $14.97 to $23.97.

Gumdrop scrapbook kit for kids: $14.97.

Storage boxes, heirloom scrapbook kit, glittered photo mat card kit: $14.97 to $18.97.

A line of craft products for special events and holidays

I love the shower bow bouquet in this neopolitan themed set. Hearts mints candy bar wrappers, calendar shower activity, cupcake accessories and party buttons: $3.47 to $13.96.

Polka dot wedding shower accesories, including confetti, favour bags, ribbon streamers, cupcake accessories bridal party buttons, a shower coupon book and a love bingo game. I love the colour scheme of this set! Price point: $2.97 to $13.96

Wedding Bell stationery, including thank-you cards, place cards and favor bags: $5.46 to $14.46

Wedding Bell accessories including Honeycomb wedding bells, ring pillow, basket set and embossed photo mats. I love the scroll guest book! Price point: $5.96 to $19.96.

Dove accessories including glittering "Just Married" garland, bouquet wraps, stationery, favor boxes and embossed Dove tags: $5.96 to $19.96

Daisy heart stationery, favor boxes and chair wreaths: $5.96 to $19.96.

Daisy accessories, including guest books, cupcake papers, bouquet wraps, cake toppers and stickers: $8.96 to $19.96

Eyelet accessories, including guest books, favor tins, bouquet wraps, paper lanterns, photo cake topper, ring pillow, basket set, photo album and stationery: $8.96 to $21.96.
Official Press Release: Two New Assortments of Products, Martha Stewart Create™ and Martha Stewart Celebrate™, Debut in Wal-Mart Stores in the U.S. and Canada. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. (NYSE: MSO) has announced its Martha Stewart Crafts line is expanding into Wal-Mart stores in the U.S. and Canada. Two new assortments - Martha Stewart Create and Martha Stewart Celebrate - are debuting in the majority of Wal-Mart stores across the U.S. and Canada this month.

Martha Stewart Create features crafting essentials and memory-keeping products such as paper, cutting mats, tools, pens, markers, glitter, and ribbons. The assortment also contains craft and activity kits including jewelry-making kits, pipe-cleaner-animal kits, memory-keeping kits, party d├ęcor kits, and card-making kits. Martha Stewart Celebrate showcases ready-made, paper-based weddings essentials such as stationery, guest books, embellishments, favor boxes, cake toppers, and customizable centerpieces, as well as flower baskets and ring pillows.
For more than 25 years, Martha Stewart has been inspiring consumers with unique how-to ideas for special occasions and crafts, arenas in which Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO) has national brand recognition and expertise. Created by MSLO's design teams, led by Martha Stewart, the new assortments feature high-quality, easy-to-use products that are designed especially for the mass retail shopper.

MSLO teamed with EK Success, one of the country's leading scrapbooking and creative consumer products companies to manufacture, market and sell the products. Martha Stewart, Founder of MSLO, stated, "Sharing ideas and inspiration about crafting and celebrations are an integral part of our company and all that we offer. With Martha Stewart Create at Wal-Mart, consumers will experience the satisfaction that comes from making things by hand. With Martha Stewart Celebrate, we will be able to provide beautiful, creative solutions for party-giving from intimate gatherings to large celebrations such as weddings. Anything that makes the job of the host and hostess easier is of the utmost importance to us."

Martha Stewart Crafts launched in 2007 at arts and crafts stores in the U.S. and Canada. That same year, MSLO further extended its footprint in the $30 billion U.S. crafts market with an investment in Wilton Industries, which owns EK Success. "We continue to grow our crafting and celebrations-related businesses so that our consumers have easy, convenient access to our beautiful, high-quality products that make occasions more memorable," stated Robin Marino, President of Merchandising and Co-Chief Executive Officer at MSLO.

"In a short amount of time, this brand has become an integral part of our corporation's portfolio of brands," said Kevin Fick, President, EK Success. "We are excited that this expansion into Wal-Mart fulfills the need in the marketplace to bring a national brand to this important and growing category while reaching so many new consumers."

Monday, July 7, 2008

UPDATE: Yes, indeed, Martha has launched a new crafts line at Walmart. She spoke about it today on her Ask Martha radio show. You can read the official announcement below. Two lines are being distributed via Martha Stewart Crafts at the Walmart stores: the 'Create' line is for everyday scrapbooking and crafting projects and a separate 'Celebrate' line is for special occasions, such as weddings, baby showers and holidays. Below is a photograph of two examples from the new lines, submitted by Paul, one of our readers:

Martha also announced that she will soon be appearing in a television ad for Wal-Mart. A very special thanks to Paul for the info.
My friend Kenn - always the persistent detective - was the one who actually called the radio show to ask Martha about the Wal-Mart line! He also broke out his best disguise, swallowed his pride and ventured out to Wal-Mart to check out the merchandise for himself. Below is a sample of what he found: thank-you note cards, a binder, craft glue, a glue stick, labels, a bone folder and calligraphy pens. Raising the bar at Wal-Mart? It's a good thing. Thanks, Kenn!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

It's been awhile since I recommended any books, and there are plenty to recommend. These last few months I've acquired a lot of books - some new, some secondhand, some free. It seems everywhere I turn, a new book piques my interest. If I'm buying new or used, I shop at Amazon. That's not a paid plug or anything; I just find it's the best resource for all manner of books, DVDs and CDs. I don't rule out looking to other online retailers, though. Ebay alone can be a very rich resource for out-of-print books, antique books or books that were only published abroad. Below are my current favourites, my current obsessions.

Known as "Japan's Martha Stewart," Harumi Kurihara has a lifestyle magazine, a TV show and a line of cookware in her native country: stiff competition, indeed, for Ms. Stewart. But we North Americans can wholly benefit from this wonderful little cookbook, which makes Japanese cooking more than accessible and completely simple. "Harumi's Japanese Cooking" is divided into appropriate chapters, with entire sections devoted simply to rice, tofu or sushi - the staples of Japanese cooking. There are 75 recipes, and nearly all of them use ingredients that you can find in American grocery stores. Harumi's approach is simple but delicious, and always healthy. I personally find these recipes to be extremely easy to follow, easy to prepare and delicious to eat! So, if you love Japanese food and want to try making it at home, this book is the best place to start.

This book was featured on "Martha" and the presentation of these delicious confections alone is enough reason to buy this slim volume of sugary delights. The imagination behind the creation of these cupcakes is marvelous, and it yields spectacular results. To be honest, I've never made any of the recipes contained in this book, but it's one of those books that I just love looking at, thinking of my own creative cupcake ideas. Whether I make them or not is irrelevant. It's an inspirational little book, full of colour and ideas!

This is another one that was featured on "Martha." This book on the use of tartan in history, fashion and interior decorating is a must-have for any afficionado of plaid. Being mostly Scottish, I couldn't really resist. It's a large, hardcover coffee-table book with luscious photographs of high-fashion plaid (Vivienne Westwood, Ralph Lauren, Alexander McQueen and Burberry) , plaid used in interior decorating schemes and a comprehensive history of how tartans first evolved in the 1400s in Scotland as a measure of tribal denotation. It is a glorious book: lush, lavish and informative.

I think Tony Duquette must be the most unusual and fantastic designer that ever lived. He has designed the interiors of some of American's finest homes (including his own), bringing his elaborate, multi-layered visions to life with explosions of imagination. His ideas extended to Broadway stage design, Hollywood set design, department store boutiques, window displays, even outdoor rooms and gazebos. All of it is scrupulously recorded in this beautiful book. I find myself actually muttering "wow" when my eyes fall upon some of his designs. His legacy is inspirational, and so is this book.

I know, I know...a book about laundry?? Yes, a book about laundry. Cheryl Mendelson pens probably the best known history of laundry to date. And it provides current information about the latest appliances for home laundry rooms, ironing techniques, stain-removal tips, problem solving strategies, tips for folding, sorting, washing by hand, dealing with natural and synthetic fabrics, and on and on. To be honest, I found it to be totally fascinating. Sad but true. I think the simple fact that a book this in-depth about the subject of laundry was ever published made me want to buy it. I think it's out of print, but I got my copy used for $5 from a private seller on Amazon. It's worth it. Now I can truly say that I know how to do the laundry. No excuses.

Oh, Betty Crocker. If only you were real. This amazing book traces the history of America's "First Lady of the Kitchen" from her beginnings in 1927 as a figment of a businessman's imagination right up to the present as a corporate icon. Most fascinating of all: she never actually existed. Actresses played her role on one of the most popular radio shows in American history during the 1930s. They played her on TV too. Her 'portrait' changed over the years to reflect the woman of the times. I won't spoil it all for you, but this book reveals all the secrets behind one of the most brilliant and groundbreaking branding exercises ever conceived. The book is both a business account and a revelatory tale of a new kind of feminism. (And I can't help but wonder if one hundred years from now Martha Stewart will exist in a similar branded form.)

Did you know that the fortune cookie is an American invention? Or that 'chicken balls' do not exist in actual Chinese cuisine? Did you know there is no such thing as 'red sauce' or 'chicken chow mein' in China? "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles" is a fun book about the history of American-Chinese restaurants, the immigrant experience in America and the rise of Chinese food as the second most popular American take-out order after pizza. Jennifer Lee does a fantastic job of exploring the history of fast-food Chinese in North American culture and even provides a list of the best American-Chinese restaurants in North America to try.