7.06.2014

Remembering: Martha's Westport Television Studios

Westport Digital Studios, Inc. in Connecticut was leased by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia from 1998 to 2004. The studios were housed in a 1929 office building and warehouse, which Martha converted into one of the most beautiful television studios ever built. Prior to leasing this building, Martha filmed her television show on her personal properties: Turkey Hill in Connecticut and Lily Pond in East Hampton. Her private kitchens and gardens were the backdrop to her teaching segments. The new space, however, allowed Martha to greatly expand her television production team. 

The studio included three sound stages, a broadcast-ready control room, a shoot-ready prep kitchen with stainless work surfaces, radio broadcast facilities where her Ask Martha segments were taped, editing suites, offices, a guest cottage for overnight housing, an on-site gym featuring an entertainment system, a cafeteria and 8.5 acres of wooded grounds, aesthetically maintained for outdoor filming with multiple barbecue grills. Two primary kitchen studios were designed to film the cooking segments; Studio B was based on Martha's kitchen at Turkey Hill Road and Studio A, shown below in the top photograph, was based on her Lily Pond Lane kitchen on Lond Island. Studio C featured the 'home' vignettes: a living room, two dining rooms and a craft room. All were all designed by Martha to replicate rooms in her own homes.

The studio spaces were designed by a company called Meridian Design Associates and built by contractor Structure Tone Inc., a construction firm that operates across the United States, the United Kingdom and Asia. Structure Tone worked with Martha and her production team to ensure all of the requirements were met to Martha's exact specifications. On its website, Structure Tone breaks down the design:

The new 32,000 square-foot space included two 2,000 square-foot stage kitchens, a 1,000 square-foot prep kitchen, a 500 square-foot commissary with seating for 40, fully equipped gym and post production and office support facilities. Representatives of Martha Stewart Living preferred natural gas instead of electric or propane for cooking purposes. Since natural gas was not currently in this area of Connecticut, our staff worked closely with Yankee Gas to bring the service to the building to supply the kitchen equipment and new HVAC system. In addition, Ms. Stewart requested the ability to change the kitchen set-up in the main studio. With all the necessary hook ups for kitchens, including connections for gas, water and vent lines, our staff installed six separate valve locations under the studio floor. These lines facilitate quick and easy changes to the kitchen layout.

You can watch Martha give a tour of this space by clicking here in an episode of Martha Stewart Living from 1998. I would like to thank Joseph Patz for editing this video specifically for this post and for your enjoyment. I think it is a treasure to have this video link. In it, Martha takes you through the studios, inch by inch, drawer by drawer. It is a marvelous tour. Thank you again, Joseph!

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

What boggles my mind is this facility is now defunct right? All that went into this project -- or is it a MS museum?

ANDREW RITCHIE said...

Nope. It's all gone. Although I'm sure Martha repurposed every single piece of material that went into creating the original space.

Anonymous said...

I am unsure if it was my fondness for Ms. Stewarts original TV show or just the actual sets, but there was a feeling of warmth and intimacy conveyed to the viewer. To add to the positive visual effect the sets were seasonally decorated in exacting taste.
Regards
APM


Sent from my iPad

ANDREW RITCHIE said...

The warmth and intimacy of the show came from the lack of a live audience and, hence, Martha's relaxed demeanor, I feel. She was completely immersed in her element: undistracted and totally focused. The sets themselves were beautiful and perfectly-appointed.

Anonymous said...

Love the shows filmed at this studio. I always thought the lighting was beautiful on those shows. So many episodes with her mom here too! The sets are beautiful. Her tour (thank you Joseph!) was amazing. Her influence on the modern American kitchen has not been recognized at all.

ANDREW RITCHIE said...

Very true about her influence on the modern American kitchen! Her influence has been immeasurable.

Anonymous said...

Still to this day I treasure these older Martha Stewart Living pieces- timeless and Classic. With kitchen ideas I have incorporated into my own home some 10-15 years later, albeit on a significantly smaller scale!

Anonymous said...

Why, oh why, did she move away from the original format? I know hindsight is 20/20 but what a mistake it was. I don't care if demographics or whatever indicated a need for change, she should have stayed with that type of programming. Now she's peddling Triscuits... sigh.

Anonymous said...

I have also missed the original format, but I believe the cancelation of MSL was not Ms Stewarts choice . It had a long run and unfortunately along with her unjust legal problems the market for the show was no longer there.
As for hawking Trisects, I guess it is an attempt to keep the Martha Stewart name /brand in the publics mind. I can agree it is a "disappointing state of affairs"
APM

Sent from my iPad

Anonymous said...

Was a different time for all of us. Martha has come a long way since her days here. In the end, her unjust conviction was the best thing that could have happened to her.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me some of the comments are confusing. Martha Stewart produced a series which aired on the Lifetime network during the early 90's. The segments were filmed on location at her estate in Westport, known as Turkey Hill. Then she had a program on CBS. Prior to that she filmed segments on the Today show on NBC. Her Show for CBS was taped in this Westport studio, right Andrew? The show with the live audience moved to NYC for taping, right Andrew. I don't know what network it was on perhaps it went into syndication?? Anyway this reference by APM "original tv show or just the actual sets" .. Andrew how would you describe the Original show and its format? Is it not true the Original tv show did not start in the Westport studio. Is it not true Martha stewart model, magazine columnist, caterer, newsletter publisher, product designer, book author, television producer, radio show host, product spokesperson, real estate mogul, Huntley picnic boat captain, grandmother, tabloid fodder, was not an over night success she has been at it for 40 years, easy . It has been a fun ride.

Anonymous said...

I will allow Andrew, as the expert, to clarify the time line of Ms Stewart's TV shows.
The TV show I very much missed was titled Martha Stewart Living, and was originally a1/2 hour format which was later switched to one hour. This syndicated show show was initially 100% taped at Turkey Hill and later moved to the Westport studios and preceded the live audience NYC taped program.
APM

Sent from my iPad

ANDREW RITCHIE said...

The "Martha Stewart Living" television show was on the air from 1993 until 2004, until it was cancelled. Then it was just reruns. Between 1993 and 1998, the show was filmed at Turkey Hill, in the kitchen studio behind her house, or in her home kitchen, her garden, or various other locations on her property. She also filmed segments at Lily Pond Lane. In 1998 Martha Stewart Living moved to the studio shown in this post, with occasional 'at-home' segments filmed at Turkey Hill. The show was also sub-divided into two weekend half-hour shows: "From Martha's Kitchen" and "From Martha's Garden" which aired on the weekends and contained previously filmed segments from the full, hour-long Martha Stewart Living show. CBS cancelled Martha Stewart Living when Martha was on trial, although reruns existed on many networks. Hope that clarifies things!

Michael said...

Andrew is correct. The original "Martha Stewart Living" series began airing as a half-hour weekend syndicated television program in 1993 and originated from Martha's Turkey Hill Road home in Westport, Connecticut. Some material was taped at her Lily Pond Lane home in East Hampton and some was on-location field trips. It aired for four seasons this way (1993-1997).

In September 1997, the show became a daily half-hour weekday and weekend program that aired in syndication. At this point, the show began to be produced at Westport Digital Studios in Westport, Connecticut. At the beginning of its sixth television show season in September 1998, Martha Stewart Living began reairing some of its programs from seasons 1-5 in a second half-hour "best of" format. This continued until January 1999, when the program officially became a full one-hour, daily syndicated television program with a half-hour program on the weekends. This format continued from 1999-2004, until the program's cancellation.

Andrew mentioned "From Martha's Kitchen" and "From Martha's Garden." These were cable network spinoffs that repurposed material from Martha's vast library of programming originally created for "Martha Stewart Living" for cable TV audiences.

"From Martha's Kitchen" began airing on the Food Network as a half-hour daily program in September 1999 and continued through September 2004. It consisted of Martha's best cooking and entertaining ideas culled from previous "Martha Stewart Living" programs.

"From Martha's Home" and "From Martha's Garden" were developed for HGTV, Home and Garden Television. "From Martha's Home" began airing in October 2001 and continued through September 2004. "From Martha's Garden" began airing in December 2001 and continued through September 2004. Like "From Martha's Kitchen," these half-hour daily shows consisted of repurposed decorating, craft, and gardening segments from previous "Martha Stewart Living" seasons. All three "From Martha's" series programs aired daily on their respective networks, with occasional special one-hour programs focused on holidays or topical themes, like spring gardening or wedding cakes.

During Martha's legal trials, MSLO sought to diversify its TV properties by launching new TV programs. "Petkeeping with Marc Morrone" was a syndicated half-hour weekend television program that aired from September 2003 through September 2007. Featuring Martha's resident pet expert, this show consisted in the beginning of some repurposed petkeeping content from "Martha Stewart Living" but gradually became original content. These programs were originally taped at Martha's Westport TV studios. (It's interesting to note that Petkeeping was resurrected in 2011 when the Martha Stewart programming block with its anchor "The Martha Stewart Show" aired on Hallmark Channel. At that point, though, the show was produced on location at Marc Morrone's pet shop Parrots of the World in New York.)

In January 2005, "Everyday Food" started its run on PBS. This program also did not feature Martha as the host, but instead focused on members of her food staff (some of whom are no longer with the company) including John Barricelli, Sarah Carey, Lucinda Scala Quinn, Allie Lewis, Margot Olshan, Anna Last and Emma Feingbaum. This show was originally taped in the prep kitchen at Martha's Westport studio, then migrated to Martha's New York offices once the company's lease on the Westport property expired. "Everyday Food" ran for several seasons on PBS.

As you can see, Martha's TV ambitions were always high, and at the height of her television endeavors in 2001-2002, she could be seen as many as three hours per days on both cable and broadcast TV.

ANDREW RITCHIE said...

Michael, thank you so much for that extremely thorough review of Martha's television ventures! I love the specific dates. Very helpful. Thanks again for posting.

Michael said...

You're welcome, Andrew. I remember the old and the new quite well. Even though Martha's only television appearances are on the "Today" show and her "Martha's Cooking School" and "Martha Bakes" programs, it's still nice to know that after all these years, she still continues to teach and inspire.

Anonymous said...

On Martha's blog recently, she referred to a building which housed a defuct set. I can't remember if she mentioned which set it was.

ANDREW RITCHIE said...

Yes, it was one of the posts that featured photos taken by her drone. She only said that it housed the set of her "former television program." Since the studio where The Martha Stewart Show was filmed was dismantled and reassembled at the Omnimedia offices to film Cooking School and Martha Bakes, I can only assume she is referring to the sets from the Connecticut studio for the Martha Stewart Living TV program.