Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Decade In Review: 2000 - 2009

How does one even begin to describe the last decade in Martha Stewart’s life? I don’t think it’s outrageous of me to call it a turbulent one. Looking back over the last ten years of Martha’s evolution, it really is remarkable how much she and her company endured and accomplished. As we usher in the New Year, I felt it was fitting to glance back at the last ten years of drama, upheaval, change and triumph in Martha’s world.

TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS:

Obviously, the event of most glaring importance over the last ten years in Martha’s world was her indictment, trial and subsequent prison time. It caused such a massive outpouring of emotion and debate among every journalist, commentator, biographer and pop-culture hound in America – and beyond!

Between 2003 and 2005, it was impossible to avoid the name “Martha Stewart.” Every television channel, every tabloid, every news magazine was flashing her name and face with a furor not seen since the OJ Simpson trial. Her alleged crime: lying to federal investigators about an ill-timed, personal stock sale of ImClone worth $45,000, which she allegedly conspired to cover up with her stock broker, Peter Bacanovic. (Note that “insider trading” appears nowhere in the indictment!)



One phone call to her stockbroker in 2001 eventually cost Martha over a billion dollars in personal wealth (lost stock value in her own company, legal fees and lost company revenue due to the scandal) as well as her personal freedom. No one would have guessed in 1999, when Martha became a self-made billionaire by taking her eponymous company public, that just five years later she would be sitting in a prison cell in West Virginia. It was a horrible time.

In the few years of the decade prior to her indictment, things at MSLO were going beautifully. The magazine was boasting its best subscription rates ever with incredible newsstand sales and the stock value was steadily above $20 a share. The TV show was still a big hit, winning numerous Emmy Awards each year. Merchandising deals were proving to be lucrative and the company had begun to expand overseas with new ventures in Japan. In publishing, the company had developed several new special issue publications, including one called Baby and one called Kids. A new digest cooking magazine called Everyday Food was also launched in 2003. The company had all the appearances of a prosperous and thriving media business.

But all of that changed in the wake of Martha’s trial: the television show was cancelled, dozens of employees lost their jobs, the magazine suffered from a loss of ad revenue and poor newsstand sales. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia looked more like a sinking ship than a thriving company. To counteract some of the negativity, Martha launched a new website called MarthaTalks.com. On the site, she could post favourable articles about her case while also rallying her fans to write letters of support. Fans, it seems, didn’t need much urging. A new site called SaveMartha.com emerged. Founded by New Yorker John Small, it quickly became a national hit, with millions of people buying “Save Martha” t-shirts, mugs and baseball caps. (I wrote for the site for several years, in partnership with John, shown below. It was a blast to be a part of it!)





But the trouble for Martha and her company did not just exist in the media. Internally, too, the company was fraught with change and difficulty. Several corporate lawsuits emerged in the wake of Martha’s charges (as well as a civil suit against Martha by the SEC) and nothing at Omnimedia, it seemed, was without legal scrutiny. Corporate restructuring was necessary after Martha stepped down as Chairman and CEO of her company. Sharon Patrick, who was then president of the company, took over the CEO role while Jeffrey Ubben assumed the role of chairman while Martha was in prison.

Before Martha was released, however, Sharon Patrick resigned amid rumours that she had become something of a black sheep at the company, taking it in a direction that was not in line with the values and needs of the shareholders, employees and its founder, Martha Stewart. Patrick was replaced by the amazing Susan Lyne, founder of Premiere magazine and a former programming director at ABC. (She resigned in 2008 and was replaced by co-CEOs Wenda Harris-Millard and Robin Marino. Harris-Millard stepped down in 2009.)




Jeffrey Ubben, too, departed swiftly from the chairman’s seat. He was replaced by Charles Koppelman, formerly the CEO of EMI music. Also brought on board to help resurrect the television department at Martha Stewart Living was producer extraordinaire Mark Burnett, producer of Survivor and The Apprentice.

With the new partners securely in the driver’s seat, Martha was poised for a successful return to business after her house arrest expired in September, 2005.

BROADCASTING:

First on offer were two new television programs. One was a talk show taped live in front of a studio audience in a new studio in the Chelsea district of Manhattan. The other was a reality TV series, a spinoff of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice.” Both programs got off to a rocky start with mixed reviews from audiences and critics. “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart” fared worst of all. It was met with disastrous ratings and television executives were not even sure it would last the season. The Martha Stewart Show, on the other hand, climbed steadily in the ratings and has been renewed five years in a row.





The talk show played two important roles in Martha’s post-prison comeback: to get her back in the public eye in a way that was flattering and disconnected from her trial and to portray her as someone likeable and interactive, someone hands-on who could also make the occasional mistake and laugh about it with her guests in front of an audience of her fans. On both counts it was successful.

Many of Martha’s long-time television watchers expressed concern about the quality of the programming in the beginning. They missed the instructive tone of the Martha Stewart Living television show and were not entirely comfortable with the new, live format. The hurried pace of some of the segments and the bevy of celebrity guests proved unpalatable for some viewers. Still, Martha gained new viewers with the new format and the loyal core of her supporters would watch Martha no matter what format she appeared in. People could also now listen to Martha, all day long, on the company’s new Sirius Satellite Radio station, Martha Stewart Living Radio. With original lifestyle programming and a chance to speak one-on-one with Martha several times a week, it proved to be a huge success.

PUBLISHING:

On the publishing front, Martha released her first memoir of sorts in her post-prison afterglow. The Martha Rules, released just a month after her release from jail, was a book that outlined a pattern for entrepreneurial success, according to Martha. A new kind of ‘how-to’ book, it attempted to teach passionate people with an idea for a product or a business how to realize the dream. Following closely on its heels was The Martha Stewart Baking Handbook, a large tome on baking filled with beautiful photography and excellent recipes, reminding everyone why we turn to Martha first.

The company also developed a new, glossy magazine for younger readers called Blueprint. Issued twice in 2006 and then bi-monthly in 2007, it promised Martha Stewart content with a younger edge: decorating, cooking and gardening components were all there, as were fashion and beauty articles. Sadly, the magazine did not last and it published its final issue in February, 2008.




The company also acquired Body + Soul magazine in the spring of 2005. Implementing a full redesign of the health and lifestyle magazine, the company expanded its mandate to include healthy and happy living, gaining a new audience in the process. The company’s flagship, Martha Stewart Living, saw several redesigns during the last decade as part of its continuing evolution and it remains the company’s most popular offering. Supporting publications, such as Martha Stewart Weddings and Everyday Food continue to be highly successful.

RETAIL:

On the retail front, Martha’s biggest new launch was the Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s. With over 2000 new products bearing her name, it marked a significant stride forward into merchandising for the company, even as her lucrative, 23-year deal with Kmart expires in 2010. After her direct-commerce catalog, Martha By Mail, folded in 2004, Martha was keen to bring her company’s unique housewares back to market. The Macy’s line answered much of the demand but Martha also developed several new furniture lines with Bernhardt furniture makers, new house-plans and housing developments with KB Homes, new lines of rugs and carpets, lighting, and a hugely-successful new line of craft products (Martha Stewart Crafts) available at Michael’s and Walmart.




For its successes and failures, triumphs and losses, I will definitely have to qualify the first decade of the new millennium in Martha’s life as the most crucial. What I think it all proves is that Martha can really survive just about anything. It also proves that optimism, persistence, drive and sheer will can get a person through the darkest of times. Martha’s openness to change, too, has been instrumental to her lasting success. Her post-prison motto sums it up nicely: “When you’re through changing, you’re through.”

Below are various lists of the happenings in Martha’s world between 2000 and 2009:

COMINGS AND GOINGS AT MSLO, 2000 - 2009:

·Editors-in-Chief of Martha Stewart Living:
Stephen Drucker (1997 – 2001), Douglas Brenner (2001 – 2002), Margaret Roach (2002 – 2007), Michael Boodro (2007 – 2009), Gael Towey (2009)


·New Magazines:
Martha Stewart Baby (2000 – 2002), Martha Stewart Holiday (2000 - present), Martha Stewart Kids (2001 – 2006); Everyday Food (2003 – present); Good Things (2004 – 2008), Blueprint (2006 – 2008)


·Chief Executive Officers:
Sharon Patrick (stepped down in 2005); Susan Lyne (2005 – 2008); Wenda Harris Millard (2008 – 2009); Robin Marino (2008 to present)


·Chairmen:
Martha Stewart (stepped down in 2004), Jeffrey Ubben (2004 – 2005), Charles Koppelman (2005 to present)


·Martha Stewart Television:
Martha Stewart Living TV show (cancelled in 2004); The Martha Stewart Show (debuted September, 2005); Martha Stewart Apprentice (debuted October, 2005, and was not renewed for a second season); Petkeeping with Marc Morrone (2003 – 2006); Everyday Food (debuted on PBS in 2005); Everyday Baking with John Barricelli (debuted 2009)


·Merchandising Deals:
Over the last decade, Martha launched new product lines with the following retailers: Macy’s, Michael’s craft stores, Bernhardt, KB Homes, Flor, Safavieh, Murray Feiss, Wedgwood, Waterford, Lowe’s, Walmart, Home Depot, Kirkland, 1-800-Flowers, Grandin Road, Kitchenaid, SVP Worldwide, QVC, Warner Bros. Home Video, Emeril Legasse (MSLO acquired the rights to his business assets in 2008.)

MARTHA STEWART BOOKS, 2000 – 2009:

Martha Stewart's Dinner at Home
Published October 13, 2009

Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

Published June 2, 2009

Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts
Published March 31, 2009

Martha Stewart's Cooking School
Published October 21, 2008


Martha Stewart’s Cookies
Published March, 2008

Martha Stewart’s Wedding Cakes
Published December, 2007

Martha Stewart Living Cookbook New Classics
Published October, 2007

The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook Original Classics
Published September, 2007

Everyday Food Cookbook
Published May, 2007

Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook
Published October 31, 2006

Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
Published November 1, 2005

The Martha Rules
Published October 11, 2005

Martha Stewart Living Recipes 2005
Published November 2004

Simple Home Solutions
Published July 6, 2004

Martha Stewart Living Recipes 2004
Published November 18, 2003

The Christmas Cookbookwith Martha Stewart Living
Published September 30, 2003

Martha Stewart's Keepsake Wedding Planner
Published August 26, 2003


Good Things for Easy Entertaining
Published March 25, 2003

Martha Stewart Living Recipes 2003
Published November 28, 2002

What to Have for Dinner
Published October 8, 2002

Classic Crafts and Recipes Inspired by the Songs of Christmas
Published August 27, 2002

Good Things from Tag Sales and Flea Markets
Published May 21, 2002

Decorating with Color
Published March 5, 2002

Martha Stewart Living Recipes 2002
Published November 12, 2001

Gardening 101
Published October 1, 2001

Handmade Christmas
Published September 25, 2001

Classic Crafts and Recipes for the Holidays
Published September 11, 2001

Halloween
Published August 28, 2001

Good Things
Published July 27, 2001

Favorite Comfort Food
Published July 27, 2001

The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook

Published October 10, 2000

Parties and Projects for the Holidays
Published September 12, 2000


BOOKS WRITTEN ABOUT MARTHA:

Martha Inc. The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.
By Christopher Byron

Being Martha
By Lloyd Allen

Martha: On Trial, In Jail and On a Comeback
By Robert Slater

Martha Stewart’s Legal Troubles
By Joan MacLeod Hemmingway

Resilience: Living in Prison with Martha Stewart
By Rhonda Turpin

ON THE WEB:

·Martha by Mail – The Catalog for Living shuts down, spring 2004.
·MarthaTalks.com is launched in 2004. It shut down in 2005.
·MarthaStewart.com is redesigned and relaunched in 2006. (Numerous blogs are formed, including the Crafts Department, Dinner Tonight, The Bride’s Guide, etc.)

REAL ESTATE:

·Martha purchases her 153-acre farm in Westchester County, New York, in 2000 for $25-million. Extensive renovations begin with architect Allan Greenberg.


·Martha sells her Gordon Bunshaft-designed home in the Hamptons for $9-million in 2005. It is later torn down by the new owner, Donald Maharam.

·Martha sells her Richard Meier penthouse on Perry Street for $8-million in 2005. (She never actually moved in.)

·Martha purchases a Richard Meier penthouse for $16-million in 2006 but gives it to her daughter, Alexis. (Alexis is currently moving in.)

·Martha sells her beloved Turkey Hill estate in Connecticut for $8-million in 2007.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

In A Neutral State

Just as the tastemakers are ushering out the appeal of neutral decor, I am rediscovering its beauty. (Ain't that just the way things are?) I've never been one to follow trends and since moving to Toronto I've been experimenting much more with colour and pattern in my little one-bedroom apartment. The foundational tone of the apartment is neutral - a deep tan on the walls with white baseboard and crown mouldings and a honey-brown wood floor. For this reason, I have been more adventurous with the accent patterns and colour choices in the rooms, not to mention the influence of Anthropologie's eclectic and often kitschy housewares, which I'm surrounded by all day long. (The decoration of my apartment is still very much a work in progress, and I will not divulge one iota of it until I feel it is as close to complete as possible. Once I'm there, I'll share photos of the rooms, but there's still a long way to go. Maybe by the summer I will have something to reveal.)


The neutral tones that everyone is claiming to be so bored of will never actually die. I realized this while looking back through some of my design scrapbooks. For years I have been collecting clipped images from magazines, rooms that reflect my taste in decoration and style. In one of the books, I discovered an entire section devoted to neutral tones - a section I had long-since forgotten about. It must have been in 2002 or 2003 that I first realized the classic and timeless appeal of neutral rooms. My homage to beige on these scrapbook pages indicates as much. What I found while looking at the imagery is that they are utterly timeless. Often described as a 'safe' palette, neutrals, I feel provide a sense of ease and comfort, not to mention mostly-carefree maintenance. (The monochromatic earthiness of neutral rooms need only small hits of colour and pattern to make them pop, and houseplants look wonderful against this clean backdrop.)

Below are some images of neutral rooms that have tickled my fancy over the years, as well as several scans from one of my design scrapbooks.

So, even as I venture more into the world of colour and pattern in my own home, I am still feeling the pull of neutrality. Beige, my friends, is a force to be reckoned with.

Pages from one of my design scrapbooks, above and below, reveal a hefty homage to neutrals. Rather than stick my clippings in a folder, I tried to arrange them artfully on the pages. Creating a design scrapbook like this, by the way, is a wonderful way to collect and preserve your inspirations.
What you can see from the pages is that the rooms are traditional but not stuffy - something I like about the neutral palette. Its inherent lightness lends itself to a modern state of mind while still being classical in its roots. Another point to note is how colour, pattern and texture, as well as the anchoring shade of black, really pop in these creamy rooms, giving the eye a place to focus and giving the rooms the features they need to escape blandness.
This design scrapbook had three pages devoted to neutral palettes. The page above reveals how airy tones can accentuate architectural features and allow natural light to flow and fill the space.
Another tip is to use magazine tear sheets completely unrelated to decorating to help determine your colour palette. This image above of various spices is the ideal palette for a neutral colour scheme in a room. With various neutral shades assembled like this on a page, you can visualize how well they will work in your space. You can pluck from the tones in the image to choose paint colours, drapery, upholstery, carpets and rugs, furniture, flooring and decorative accessories.This classic living room is formal without being at all rigid. The soft suede chair, which is echoed in tone by the leather-upholstered coffee table, warms the room and gives it a sense of easy comfort. Dark accents on the fireplace, frame and Chinoiserie screen provide depth and focus.

Cobalt blue, used on the plush dining room chairs in this room, is an ideal accent tone to the sandy shades of beige and brown.A light sky-blue fabric is used on the sofas in this bright living room, which is awash in creamy, beachy tones. A feeling of calm and relaxation defines the atmosphere.Neutral tones do not always have to be beige, cream and brown. Gray, blue and green are also neutral palettes that can be explored. In the lavish dining room above, it is the powdery softness of a light blue that gives it the feeling of lightness and reserve. The black iron of the chandelier and the planters on the table, as well as the bold pattern on the wallpaper, prevent the room from sinking into a state of boredom. Gold accents lend further drama.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Banner Year

As most of you know, I designed this blog myself. When I first set it up, it was a simple, prescribed template courtesy of Blogger in garish shades of lime green: very basic, very bare-bones. As the months went on, I became a bit more inventive and learned that I didn't have to just settle for the templates that were provided by Blogger. I could totally customize the look and function of the blog.

One of my favourite tasks in the monthly maintenance of the blog is coming up with the title banner for the top of the page. Late in 2007 I had decided that I would use the Fling font for the "Martha Moments" title, borrowing a design element from the look and feel of the title font used on Blueprint magazine. I thought it tied the blog in with some of the fresher elements of MSLO. Combining this with the circular logo background (an allusion to the MS logo) it created a brand-conscious look without being too derivative or copy-cat. It still felt original while flattering the brand I blog about.

With an eye toward detail and seasonal theme, I then scan the pages of previous issues of Martha Stewart Living, Martha Stewart Weddings and Blueprint to find an image that I feel sums up the month's basic gist. I scan the image and then overlay the design elements using photoshop.

Below are the banners used in 2009. I hope you found them pleasing! Any favourites? Any ones that make you gringe in agony? I'd love to know!

January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December


Monday, December 21, 2009

Gay Marriage Featured in MS Weddings

Bloggers Jeremy Hooper and Andrew Shulman tied the knot in Litchfield Hills, Connecticut on June 13 this year, and received a full page dedicated to their nuptials in Martha Stewart Wedding’s 15th anniversary Winter 2010 edition -- the first gay couple to ever have been featured in Weddings.

"We’re humbled and honored to have been deemed ’good thing’-y enough to grace this mass market mag’s pages," the couple wrote on their Web site, http://www.goodasyou.org/

"It’s one time you won’t hear us complain about our love being turned into an issue."


Not once in the short description of the ceremony and reception, nor in the captions accompanying six beautiful snapshots, does the magazine mention the obvious: Hooper and Shulman are gay. The focus, instead, is on their menu choices and themed tables. The couple’s wedding stood out because of their use of recycled found objects in their d├ęcor, and not because of their sexuality.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blood Orange Cocktails

Have you ever tried a blood orange? I have only ever tried one once and I loved the look of the deep, dark red flesh. Its blood-like colour makes it a truly intriguing fruit. And its taste - an intense hit of orange with delicate hints of berry - is unforgettable.

There are three common varieties of blood oranges available: the Moro (the most common), the Tarocco and the rarest, Sanguinello (which some say is the tastiest!) They are not generally available year-round and have become known as a seasonal treat, similar to clementine oranges or pomegranates. Between December and April, blood oranges are usually readily available in most grocery stores.

After reading an article in Canada's "Food & Drink" magazine (a free catalog distributed by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario) about using blood oranges in festive cocktails, I decided to share them on the blog. I intend on trying the sparkler and the margarita this season! I hope you'll try a few too!


BLOOD ORANGE GINGER COSMO


This cocktail requires the freshly grated ginger to be put directly into the glass and the cocktail poured overtop. For a more subtle ginger flavour, put grated ginger into the shaker.


3/4 tsp freshly grated ginger

1 1/2 oz vodka

1/2 oz Cointreau or Grand Marnier

1 oz freshly squeezed blood-orange juice

Garnish: Candied blood orange wheel


Place freshly grated ginger into Martini glass. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine vodka, Cointreau and blood orange juice. Shake and strain into glass. Garnish with candied blood orange wheel, if desired.


CANDIED BLOOD ORANGE WHEEL

3/4 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup extra for coating
1/2 cup water
1 blood orange, sliced

Stir the 3/4 cup of sugar and water in a small, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the peels to a sheet of parchment paper to dry slightly, about 10 minutes. Place extra sugar in bowl and toss slices individually until coated. Dray on a parchment-lined tray in a single layer.


BLOOD ORANGE BASIL MOJITO


A traditional mojito is made with mint. Basil is in the mint family and is the perfect complement to the bolder flavour of blood oranges.


3 torn fresh basil leaves

1 tsp sugar

1 oz freshly squeezed blood orange juice

1 1/2 oz light rum

2 oz soda water

Garnish: fresh basil leaf


Add basil, sugar and 12 oz blood orange juice into glass. Muddle the mixture. Add remaining blood orange juice, rum and top with soda water and ice. Garnish with a basil leaf.


BLOOD ORANGE GIN MARTINI


The addition of Campari not only intensifies the colour but adds a punch of flavour to this cocktail.

1 1/2 oz gin

1/2 oz Campari (optional)

Dash of vermouth

1 1/2 oz freshly squeezed blood orange juice

Garnish: broad twist of blood orange zest


In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add ingredients. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with blood orange zest.


BLOOD ORANGE SPARKLER


This is a version of a traditional Mimosa, and it could not be simpler.The blood orange is a hybrid of ancient origin between a pomelo and a tangerine and is grown in Sicily.


2 oz freshly squeezed blood orange juice

4 oz Prosecco or sparkling wine


Into a Champagne flute, pour blood orange juice and top up with Prosecco


BLOOD ORANGE MARGARITA


This is a festive version of a summertime favourite.


2 oz freshly-squeezed blood orange juice

1 tsp sugar

1 oz Cointreau or Grand Marnier

1 1/2 oz tequila

Pour all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake and pour into a margarita glass or rocks glass.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Martha Stewart Living: My Annual Review

Another year, another twelve issues of Martha Stewart Living magazine sent and delivered to millions of addresses across North America. I have all of mine neatly stored in their matching white magazine holders, spanning the lower row of my bank of book shelves. (Will I have room for another fifteen years worth? Eeek!)

As regular readers of this blog know, I've been doing an annual roundup of the year's MSL magazines since I started the site. I make some observations about any changes in the magazine, note some points of interest and also rank the year's best and the year's worst issue. A reader left a comment last week about this; she was wondering if I liked all the issues, since I so rarely seem to criticize any of them on the blog. All I can say is that MSL is clearly my favourite magazine and that I am appreciative of and grateful for every single issue that arrives in my mailbox. That said, there are definitely issues that I love more than others. I do pick favourites. I do spend more time with some. I am discriminating.

So, without further adieu, let's have a look at the year that was at Martha Stewart Living.
A grouping of the year's covers reveals a lovely spectrum of bright colours and beautiful images: lots of warm tones and interesting compositions on the 2009 covers. Martha took the cover three times this year (January, September and December), which has been the standard over the last three years.

OBSERVATIONS:
This year was a fairly big year for Martha Stewart Living magazine. The publication brought numerous new features to the fold while maintaining its consistent presentation of ideas for cooking, crafting, decorating, gardening and entertaining. The photography remains the centerpiece of the magazine and is likely the main draw for most of its readers. Acting as the vehicle that carries the editorial ideas and concepts to spectacular realization, Martha Stewart Living's award-winning photography remains unparalleled in the lifestyle magazine industry, in my opinion. It is, hands down, the best.

NEW CONTENT: There were several new additions to the content of Martha Stewart Living in the April issue, as well as an overhaul of regular columns and the reintroduction of old ones. Martha's Calendar returned to the pages with this issue, one that had been sadly missed by so many readers after it vanished in 2003. (I had never read the calendar, to be honest, and still don't to this day. Maybe I'm just too overwhelmed by my own schedule to bother reading someone else's!)

The Gentle Reminders column, as well as Dessert of the Month and Object Lesson all got the axe in this issue.

The new columns were made to help incorporate some of the content that was lost when Blueprint folded the year before, primarily content focused on the recommendation of commercial items, such as beauty products, books, furniture, fashion and accessories. The content was divided into three new sections: The Briefing, The Apothecary and a section on Fashion.

The Briefing promotes various objects of desire, from decorative home accessories to books, new computer software and gadgets to brand-name gardening clogs. It also offers interesting tidbits of information, such as ways to use lemon as a cleaning agent and air freshener, while also promoting gallery exhibitions. The Apothecary is exactly what you think it is: the promotion of beauty and hygene products for women, from perfume to make-up to toothpaste. Both of these columns are still ongoing and have been met with enthusiastic reader response.

The Fashion section, however, only ran for six issues and stopped with the printing of the September issue. Its primary focus was on a particular fashion theme or 'must-have.' The first issue was about mid-length trench coats while subsequent issues focused on scarves or on regional style elements. I enjoyed the column but I have to admit that I don't actually miss it. It only dawned on me recently that it hadn't appeared in the last four issues.

The April issue also heralded a new periodical column by Martha Stewart called Travels With Martha. So far, the April issue has held the only example of this column, although it is likely to reappear in subsequent issues. It was not set up as a regular column. Also in the April issue, the "Cookie of the Month" column on the last page of the magazine was renamed "The Last Course." This was quickly changed to Save Room For in the May issue.

September saw the debut of Kevin Sharkey's new column, Home Design. The column will ostensibly follow the renovation and decoration of his new Manhattan apartment. So far, the column has made two appearances in the magazine. A much more immediate version of the column is available on his blog by the same name at marthastewart.com. Kevin frequently updates it with new treasures and discoveries. I read it regularly!

Also in September, a new column on Historic Homes made its debut. (The Martha Stewart Show will also be featuring the chosen historic home on its programming.) The houses that have been chosen so far have been spectacular examples.

HEAVY ON CRAFTS: Each year, I find there is a predominant core-content area that gets the most focus in the twelve issues of Martha Stewart Living. Some years it is very clearly food that takes center stage on the pages month after month. Other years it is decorating. This year, 2009, I found that crafts played the most significant role in the pages of the magazine. Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Crafts was released in the spring, and it just seemed to take off from there.

The April issue saw page after page of whimsical, inventive and truly remarkable Easter crafts - some that will no doubt go down in the company's history as being among the best ever conceived. This craft theme continued as the months went on. A lovely article on sea-print crafts for fabric and paper made a strong case for staying indoors and crafting in the summer months. July saw Independence Day decoration crafts and August was all about beading necklaces. Naturally, the October and December issues were loaded with craft ideas for Halloween, Hanukkah and Christmas - too many to mention here, really.

I have to say that I was so impressed by the way the magazine incorporated the magazine content into the web content. It was a lovely marriage this year. The website was beautifully linked to the magazine's ideas with free, downloadable lists and templates, clip-art and instructions. It was truly beautifully handled this year, clearly and effectively cross-promoted in both web and print platforms. It was synergy at its finest!


NOTABLE DEPARTURES:

Just a year after signing on as co-CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (a position she shared with Robin Marino) Wenda Harris-Millard left the company on somewhat tricky terms. She had been hired, along with Marino, to fill the CEO role after Susan Lyne's departure in 2008. There were rumours that Harris-Millard, as president of media, did not see eye to eye with Martha, nor with Marino, who is president of merchandising. Harris left MSLO in April to head up Media Link. Robin Marino is now the CEO of the company, with a focus on merchandising.


Another key departure in 2009 was Michael Boodro, who was the editor-in-chief of Martha Stewart Living between September, 2007, and March, 2009. Speculation is that he was fired from his role, although it was announced that he had 'stepped down' from the position. Stepping in to take his place temporarily was Gael Towey, chief creative director for the company. It was announced just last week that Vanessa Holden, who had worked for Martha Stewart Weddings, will be the new editor-in-chief of Living.

SPECIAL ISSUES:

In years past, the average number of supplemental special issues that Martha Stewart Living releases on newsstands is six. This year, with the economy in the state that it is, we only saw two special issue magazines from the publisher. The first was released in September and was devoted to the subject of Halloween. This is the fourth special issue by Martha Stewart Living focused on All Hallows Eve but is the first one to actually be titled "Halloween." The second special issue was a special "Holiday" issue - the eleventh of its kind. Both are beautiful examples of advertisement-free publications of previously-published content, featuring ideas on a similar topic gathered together and printed under a new title with a beautiful new cover. If you are not a regular collector of the montly magazine, these are great supplements to collect. (If you're a collector, like me, you simply must have them all!)


Gone this year are the Good Things digests, which had a steady run between 2006 and 2008. They were small magazines, in the style of Everyday Food, devoted to crafts for kids or kitchen techniques or decorating DIY ideas, organizing and homekeeping. I enjoyed most of them, but they were not my favourites and I did not collect them. What I sincerely missed this year was another edition of the Outdoor Living publication that debuted in 2007. Only two issues have published so far and I am hoping for a third in 2010.


THE BEST AND THE WORST:

As I've stated here before, it is so hard for me to pick the best and the worst issues of Martha Stewart Living. What I should technically be calling it is the worst of the best, since I do think each issue has its virtues. As mentioned above, I am happy for any and all issues that arrive in my mailbox.

But, I am a purist and I know what I like and dislike. I know when a magazine holds my attention and when it does not. And most of the time I know why. (I am fully conscious of my expectations and disappointments.) So, here we have it:

THE BEST: APRIL I simply could not stop reading this issue when it first arrived. It has a definite edge over all the other issues in that it played host to all sorts of new content and fresh ideas, which is what keeps me motivated as a reader. I loved the new content. I loved (and still love) the Briefing. I generally read it first before reading anything else, even Martha's column. My favourite article of the year was also in this issue: the redecoration of Susan Lyne's apartment in Manhattan by Kevin Sharkey. What a fabulous place!

Along with the introduction of the new content there was a revitalization of design and page layout that felt so fresh and vibrant to me, as a reader. It was exciting to turn the pages. Above are examples of the page layouts for these new columns. (Even the "Good Things" section of the magazine got a makeover with a new layout.)

Above and below are examples of the layout for the Briefing column, which touts the latest in books, gadgets, exhibits, tools and homekeeping tips.The Apothecary pages, below, are not really something a male reader, such as myself, tends to linger on. Having said that, I feel the introduction of this column really does round out the "Living" concept nicely, extending the lifestyle genre to also include beauty and hygene. (It also likely means some added product-placement revenue for the magazine. Let's not kid ourselves.)The Fashion section of the magazine was something I did tend to read when it first appeared in the April issue. It lasted only six issues before it was cut. I thought it was a nice addition. It felt Blueprinty to me, which is a good thing.

The Good Things section, shown above, got a nice facelift with a fresh, new layout, bigger, brighter photos and lots of great links to the website for templates, clip-art and instructions.The Easter ideas in this issue were truly extraordinary. I bought a second copy of the April issue simply to cut out the pages shown above to place in my scrapbook. I think these egg crafts are amazingly innovative and beautiful.

THE WORST: MAY When I first saw the cover of the May issue I knew I wasn't going to like it, despite the old adage about not judging a book by its cover. First of all, it looked recycled. It looked like the leftovers from the September, 2008, photoshoot with Martha standing on a red ladder against a yellow wall. There was just something unimaginative about it, unoriginal. Inside, too, the content felt a little lackluster. There wasn't an article that I felt compelled to read, a recipe I felt compelled to try or a craft I was particularly wooed by. I suppose, for me, that's what my rating really comes down to: Does it engage me and it is compelling? In this case, the answers were no on both counts.

An all-too-convenient replay of colours: September 2008 on the left, May 2009 on the right.

This is not to say the May issue was completley without virtue. I did like the column on ornamental grasses. (I had suggested this article to the editors a couple of years prior to its publiction, so maybe I had a small hand in bringing it to fruition.) I also like the use of heading font in both the gelatin and pizza features at the back of the magazine. But that was not enough to get me to browse long through these pages.

It's certainly my hope that Vanessa Holden, the new editor-in-cheif of MSL, will continue to uphold all the wonderful things we all adore about this great magazine. I'm sure 2010 will prove to be fruitful and exciting! What were your favourite and least favourite issues? I'm curious.

My friend Kenn did a marvelous job reviewing the business developments at MSLO in 2009: the new mergers and acquisitions in merchandising and publishing. He also some makes some fun predictions for 2010! Check out his review at House Blend.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And What of the New Index?

How many of you out there have the rare Martha Stewart Living Index that was available ten years ago? It was a narrow but thick index of articles from the magazine between its inception in 1990 through 1999. It was not available as part of the regular subscription and was not available on newsstands - only by phone or mail order.

Now that we're nearing the end of yet another decade - the second decade of Martha Stewart Living's existence - I'm wondering if a new index of articles that appeared between 2000 and 2009 is in the works. I certainly hope so! I'm going to contact MSLO to find out for sure.

Just for fun, I designed this cover, below. I'm practically willing the index into being by doing so! (You can see the old index in the back. You can still find copies of it on eBay, but it is long out of print.) I hope you like my suggested cover design!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Martha Is Talking Tablets

If you're a follower of Martha on Twitter, you will have seen several questions from her, posed to her audience about a publishing topic. The general premise of the questions is this: "Would you read a colourful magazine on a computerized, interactive tablet device, similar to a kindle?"

This informal survey by Martha has a few people wondering what she and her company may be up to. Is she developing Martha Stewart Living or Martha Stewart Weddings magazines into electronic versions, suitable for download on a tablet-type device, or is Martha merely curious about the viability of such a concept?
I'll pose the question here, also, in a more direct way: Would you read Martha Stewart Living in an electronic form on a device similar to a kindle, or will you always prefer a tangible, printed version?

My answer is plain: I would definitely not want to read Martha Stewart Living in an electronic form. I like pages that turn. I like photos printed on a page. I like seeing the magazine in my mailbox and I like accessing the content without the use of electronic assistance, without having to look at a screen. The end.

My one curiosity would be the interactive component to this idea. I would want to know how and to what extent would an electronic magazine be interactive. It might change my opinion slightly if there was a way to share and interact with other readers, editors, etc.

How about you?

New Editor-in-Chief for Martha Stewart Living

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia announced two major editorial promotions late Friday by shuffling the deck chairs a bit.

Martha Stewart Living’s new editor-in-chief will be Vanessa Holden, former editor at Martha Stewart Weddings. Replacing Holden at Martha Stewart Weddings will be Katie Hatch, most recently that magazine’s style director.

At MSL, Holden is taking the place of chief creative officer Gael Towey who also has been serving as the magazine’s acting editor-in-chief. MSL has lacked a permanent editorial leader since the firing of Michael Boodro last January after his two-year stint with the magazine.

Holden has only been at MSLO for a year. She joined the staff in August 2008 to lead Weddings. She had been a consultant prior to taking the EIC post and before that was creative director at Real Simple.

Hatch has been at MSLO since 1999 working at a variety of editorial posts in several of the company's publications, including Weddings and the now-defunct Blueprint.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Holiday Hearths

I always assume that Santa has an eye for holiday decorating and that he secretly ranks his favourite holiday hearths after he crahses down chimney after chimney, loaded down with gifts. I say, why not give him something to marvel at while he snacks on chocolate-chip cookies and milk? While the imagery below consists primarily of hearths in large, expensive homes, I feel the ideas behind the decorating concepts are easy to attain on the simplest of brick fireplaces - or even on the mantels of inexpensive electric versions! It just takes imagination, the proper tools and materials, an understanding of the design you're going for and some holiday spirit.


Hearths and mantels lend themselves so well to decoration: an artistic tableau of various flower arrangements, for example, anchored by a central focal point, such as a mirror or portrait over the fireplace can transform the fireplace into a focal point. During holiday time, decorative flights of fancy let the imagination soar. In the photo above, a simple garland of spruce and pine boughs is given a luxe treatment with flowing white silk ribbon, large California pinecones and Christmas bulbs in two shades, a light gold and a cream. It creates an understated and elegant look in this formal living room.
Taking cues from the citrus tones of this Manhattan penthouse, a spruce garland is festooned with California pine cones, orange Christmas bulbs and and a winding trail of rustic cord made of raffia.
The pine boughs in this garland are barely visible under the array of various pinecones and numerous white poinsettia bracts. Mistletoe and little white lights complete the modern look. Huge arrangements of white amaryllis and Japanese chrysanthemums rest atop twin tables.

Amaryllis flowers are kept individually hydrated in tiny vessels tucked into a cedar garland. It looks robust and rustic in traditional red and green in this country house.

The red walls of this library are ideally suited to a Christmas hearth. Here, the designers opted for a symmetrical display of winter-berry topiaries flanking a rectangular planter filled with red poinsettia and a toy monkey dressed to the nines in holiday finery. A Santa stauette lends to the whimsical touch.

Another study in symmetry, this hearth makes an understated holiday tableau. An arrangment of tall amaryllis holds the center of the display, volumized by its reflection in the large mirror, while long swags of spruce and pine boughs hold pinecones, green and white ribbon and white lights.

In the same house, the library fireplace is elevated with an arrangement of winter pine branches and berries in a black iron urn. Magnolia leaves, holly boughs and pinecones nestle together under the striking round mirror, which is made of seashells.

The cedar garland in this New York atelier climbs the gilded mirror over the fireplace. It is unadorned except for a few red berries. A tabletop arrangement of red carnations, cedar branches, red ribbon and glazed pommegrantes lends heeps of drama to the scene.
An amaryllis lover, like myself, will adore this festive scene. Various potted varieties of the stunning holiday flower look elegant and unusual grouped together around the hearth and mantel. Covering the soil in each pot is a layer of dried pine needles. Tucked into a wreath above the fireplace, the flowers take on a truly festive air.