2.19.2021

Remembering: SaveMartha.com

I was asked recently how Martha Moments came to be. The genesis for the idea of hosting a spot online that celebrates and archives all things Martha Stewart actually began almost 20 years ago when one Sunday afternoon I wrote to the host of another Martha Stewart fan site called SaveMartha.com. The host was John Small, a native New Yorker who had set up a site devoted to exposing what he believed to be the 'witch hunt' behind the investigation into Martha's infamous stock sale back in 2001, which eventually led to criminal charges of conspiracy, lying to federal investigators and obstruction of justice in 2004. John's prescient instincts were right on point: the unfairness and injustice surrounding Martha's case reeked of malfeasance.

I had been reading Martha's magazine, Martha Stewart Living, since the late 1990s and had grown to become quite fond of her and her brand. When I came upon SaveMartha.com I felt as though I could lend my voice to a growing chorus of fans who felt Martha was being unfairly treated by the press as the investigation into her affairs continued to become amplified. John happily accepted my offer and we quickly became close collaborators, coming up with ideas for web content and strategies to raise awareness about the case.

My contribution began with a weekly serial I called "Deconstructing Byron" -  a reference to one of my favourite Woody Allen movies, Deconstructing Harry. The aim was to examine the writing style used in the latest unflattering biography about Martha at the time, called Martha Inc. by Christopher Byron. The book is steeped in misogynistic language and unsubstantiated hearsay. Chapter by chapter, I sought to expose Byron as an author with an agenda: to get back at Martha for declining to take part in his book. Throughout Martha Inc., his tone is nasty and goading, not at all the tone of a serious biographer interested in telling "The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia" as the subtitle suggested. 


I was pleased to see recently that John has kept that serial intact. Many of the segments I wrote as an earnest 24 year old are still there for perusal. He has grouped them in a section of the site cheekily called The Closet - you know, where the skeletons live. You can click here to access them. 

I would also contribute the occasional lifestyle article to the site, ostensibly to remind readers why we loved Martha to begin with: her interest in celebrating the home and everything to do with its environment and upkeep. These articles were kept in a section of the site called The Pantry. You can click here to read some of those. 


It was John, however, that gave SaveMartha.com its authoritative voice. He appeared numerous times on major American networks, speaking for so many of us who felt that Martha was really getting a raw deal. During her trial, John also organized gatherings of fans to protest outside the courthouse, further drawing attention to the possibility that Martha was being persecuted more than she was being prosecuted. 

John was also a rather intrepid entrepreneur and offset the cost of spending so much time on the site and speaking with the media by producing a large amount of Save Martha merchandise: mugs, ball caps, t-shirts, chefs hats, aprons, stationery, etc. I received many of these items as a kind of payment for the writing I did for the site. I still have one of the mugs safely tucked away, as well as a t-shirt and ball cap. 

One of the ideas John and I came up with together was to organize group shopping sprees at Kmart to help support the Martha Stewart brand by buying large amounts of her Everyday products. I also suggested putting up a photo of the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living in the upper corner of the website with a direct link to the online subscription service in order to bolster magazine sales. 

In the end, our efforts didn't entirely pay off. Martha was convicted of her charges and she was sent to prison in 2004 for five months, followed by a five-month period of house arrest and then several months of parole. She had to relinquish her seat as chairman of her own company and could no longer serve on any board of directors. Several hundred people at her company lost their jobs as a result of the trial and her television show as cancelled. It was a very dark time in Martha's life - and in the lives of her supporters, viewers and readers. 

Ultimately, I was glad to have been a part of SaveMartha.com. I'm quite proud that we were able to at least raise some kind of awareness and start a conversation about the misogynistic leanings of so many people in power, from government officials to biographers to a ravenous press that seemed to relish in the pain and downfall of a woman who had worked hard all her life to achieve great success. And all because of some ill-timed stock sale.

John and I have never met in person, which is too bad. We lost touch over the years but I always think of him fondly.

After Martha was freed and was clearly back on her feet with two new television shows, new magazines and new books, I felt it was time to start something fresh of my own: a place to showcase and archive all of  Martha's great work, from her magazines to her books to her products, all of which have inspired me (and so many others) to develop new skills and learn new things. 

I started the blog on Mach 6th, 2006, and called it Martha Moments. The idea for the name "Martha Moments" actually came from Oprah Winfrey. I had been watching her show one afternoon and her guest, Chef Mario Batali, asked Oprah to daintily brush some oil over some handmade raviolis. Oprah loved doing this and exclaimed: "I'm having a Martha moment!" I knew then that's what the name of the blog was going to be. It was perfect. A Martha Moment could be anything that made you think of Martha Stewart, whether it was something as direct as a product, book or magazine bearing her name, or something as simple as a beautifully-crafted wreath made by a local artisan. If the Martha ethos was evident, it was a Martha Moment.

Since then, the blog has not changed much in terms of design or intent. What pleases me most, however, is that I know Martha is happy with the blog. That feels good.

1.29.2021

For The Love of "Living"

Last night I had the privilege of attending a virtual conference hosted by the Society of Publication Designers that celebrated the design direction of Martha Stewart Living magazine. The panel of guests included some of the founding designers and art directors who helped shape the Martha Stewart brand, including Gael Towey, the magazine's original art director and eventual executive creative director, and James Dunlinson, who joined the Martha Stewart Living art department in the mid-1990s and eventually became the magazine's design director in the early 2000s. Other panelists included MSL alums such as art directors Matthew Axe and Jaspal Riyait, and the current design director of Martha Stewart Living, Abbey Kuster-Prokell. The panel was hosted by Cybelle Grandjean, a visual-branding consultant who worked on one of the magazine's re-designs. During the one-hour conversation, the guests examined some of the design considerations that made a  magazine like Martha Stewart Living so unique in its field, and so attractive to its readers. I discuss some of the highlights, below.

It was remarkable to hear the insights from so many of the influential art directors and designers who helped shape the Martha Stewart Living look. After a video gallery of the best covers of Martha Stewart Living, the guests provided a detailed overview of his or her contribution to the design evolution of the magazine, from the first issue to its current incarnation.
Matthew Axe shared an example of a sketchbook that was used to organize photo layouts. Once the photography was organized on the page by the art department, the book would be submitted to the design director for notes, comments or changes.
One interesting tidbit of information was the revelation that Polaroids were used widely in the 1990s by the art and design departments to plan photo compositions and location scouting. In the Polaroids above, Martha is depicted in a cotton field on a bed, preparing to film a commercial for Kmart. 
Jaspal Riyait mentioned the new font that was developed when she oversaw the redesign of the magazine in 2017. The font, developed especially for Martha Stewart, was called MSL Stoneleigh. You can see an example of it above.
Italics were also developed for the magazine.
Gael Towey shared an interesting story about photographing Martha's chickens for an early issue of the magazine. She met the photographer at Turkey Hill, Martha's home in Connecticut, and discovered Martha's assistant washing and blow-drying Martha's chickens to get them photo-ready! She mentioned that after this story was published, the importance of depicting hands in the photography became apparent; it eventually emerged as a theme in Martha Stewart Living, alluding to the "hands-on" approach espoused in the content: the handmade, the handcrafted, the handwoven. (Martha later forced Gael to gut a chicken that had been killed and plucked for dinner - a moment she says she'll never forget!) 
More hands shown in other editorials about farming. 
The visual depiction of hands was later adopted in much of the Martha Stewart product imagery, such as these seed packet designs made for the Martha Stewart Everyday line at Kmart. 
James Dunlinson shared an interesting story about this article on puff pastry. He decided to shoot the entire story in black and white, which was a bold and daring move for a magazine known for its love of colour. Fearing he may lose his job over the decision, he opted to photograph at least some of the images in colour at the last minute. Nevertheless, the use of black and white photography in a food story was a brilliant design decision; it played up the instructional nature of the photographs and brought out the textures of the pastry. And, again - hands!
Abbey Kuster-Prokell discussed what it was like to put together the 30th anniversary issue. While she found it challenging to gather and curate the content from such a vast back-catalogue of visual material, she was inspired by the wealth of beauty at her fingertips. For the cover of the issue, she opted to use pearl tones (pearl being the traditional gift for a 30th anniversary) and ensured Martha was on the cover, as she had been for each of the anniversary issues that preceded it. 
At the very end of the discussion, Martha suddenly appeared as a surprise guest! It was great to see her, live from her home in Bedford, New York. She thanked each of the guests for their creativity and devotion to building the visual components of such a lasting publication. Martha also mentioned a new skincare line she will be launching soon, with packaging design by Matthew Axe. I can't wait to see it!

I learned a lot from this discussion and understood even more clearly how all the details matter. I'm so glad I was able to tune in! (Tickets to the online conference were paid for and the discussion was not available to the general public - however, a video recording of the discussion will be made available at a later date. Click here and stay tuned).

1.16.2021

The January/February Issue

 Well, 2021 got off to a rocky start, did it not? With everything going on in US politics and the ongoing saga that is COVID-19, it can be challenging to find the optimism needed to face a new year with passion and verve. Taking a balanced approach - complete with lots of deep breaths - is really the only way to proceed. I was so heartened to read Elizabeth Graves' letter at the front of the January/February issue of Martha Stewart Living that espoused a similar mode d'emploi. "My only resolve this year is to embrace balance," she writes. "Working too hard? Ease up. Feeling a little doughy? Put on the sneaks. Really want that mouth-watering sweet? Simply enjoy it." I think we can all agree that firm resolutions have no chance of taking root in a cultural and global situation such as ours. Just make the most of each day.

So, the first issue of the year for Martha Stewart Living straddles the best of everything we need to get us through these opening scenes of 2021: the healthy, the inspiring, the delicious, and the indulgent. The simplicity and the love. It's all here. 


The Good Things section is filled with lots of DIY ideas for Valentine's Day, including these cute-as-pie 'pom-pom' cards. There's a recipe for the easiest chocolate truffles on earth and a fun Valentine's Day breakfast idea for kids: frozen strawberry-milk ice cubes in heart shapes. There's a movie-night popcorn and cocktail scenario that I'm definitely going to try, and a really cute craft project for kids: a cardboard animal house, complete with 'wallpaper' and furniture. 


The front of the magazine features all the wellness advice we could ask for, including a look at Martha's personal tips for leading a healthy life. There's an excellent article on how to get a good night's sleep, even during times of stress and uncertainty. And no January issue would be complete without a hands-on guide to cleaning and organizing: here it's all about the kitchen, which the editors rightly point out has been working overtime during the holidays. Time to give it a good bath - appliances and all! The article takes you through the finer points of achieving sparkling results. 

The well of the magazine opens with a gorgeous shot of Martha's farm in winter with a timely quote by poet Maya Angelou: "The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change." 
I am definitely going to be making this vegetarian bucatini bolognese this winter. It's part of a larger feature on vegetarian dinners the whole family can enjoy. 
While it's not entirely my style, I'm a bit obsessed with this bedroom in the magazine's decorating feature, profiling a beautiful home in upstate New York that positively glows in winter-white brightness. The home feels fresh, clean and airy and looks perfectly designed, with family and functionality in mind. 
Slab cakes may not sound terribly intriguing, but the recipes in this feature, I assure you, will have you reaching for the oven dial. I've bookmarked this one (orange and poppy seed) to try before spring. 
It's always nice to see a bit of green in a winter issue. The garden feature here has a wider aim, too. Black Sanctuary Gardens in northern California was a project started by landscape designer Leslie Bennett. Its aim is to provide a green space for Black women to retreat and connect with nature and their loved ones. 
The Valentine's Day feature is a great collection of crafts that use flowers (pressed, dried, sugared, and otherwise) to incorporate into your loved-one's day. The ideas are simple enough to inspire confidence but aspirational enough to inspire imagination. 
The closing page (Martha's "Remembering" moment) features one of my favourite photos of the magazine's founder. Taken by Todd Eberle on the coast of Maine on the first day of the new millennium, it depicts Martha in quiet reflection as she watches the first sunrise of the 2000s. I love it for its candid warmth. It was originally published in a special issue magazine called "Entertaining 2000", which was produced to celebrate the new millennium that year. 

Be sure to pick up a copy of the magazine at the newsstand, if you're not already subscribed. Or find it online. 

JANUARY/FEBRUARY ISSUE HIGHLIGHTS:

Favourite Good Thing: Animal House

Favourite Recipe: Vegetarian Bucatini Bolognese

Favourite Find: OldTimeCandy.com 

Favourite Feature: "Say It with Flowers" by Petra Guglielmetti, Ryan Liebe, and Naomi Demanana

1.08.2021

Martha's New Kids Furniture with GuideCraft

Martha Stewart Living has partnered with GuideCraft to create a small collection of children's furniture, which debuted earlier this week. The collection is called "Living and Learning" and boasts a roster of durable, flexible furniture designed and sized to meet the needs of children as they grow and learn. Desks, stools, benches, shelves, and a very nice craft table, come in two shades - white or grey - to suit any decor. Here is the product-line description:

"The Martha Stewart Living and Learning Kids’ Collection by Guidecraft creates a bridge between living and learning spaces, pioneering the concept of a child’s home office space. Flexible, organized, and open, the collection is defined by quality materials and uniquely designed storage solutions and workspaces that inspire children to create, collect, and curate."

The furniture is made from a combination of FSC-certified birch and engineered wood, featuring rounded edges and an easy-to-clean finish. Below is a small preview. Click here to see more of the collection.
Encourage children to express their creativity while using this Kids’ Art Table and Stool Set – White, durably constructed from a combination of easy-to-clean birch and engineered wood. Large, flat workspace provides roomy area for creative collaborations with multiple children. Set includes portable paint cup holder, 6 fabric bins, 18″ starter roll of paper and two stools. For ages 4 and up. Assembly required. Table measures 44.5″L x 30.5″W x 24″H, Seat height 14.25″.
The Kids’ Desk with Hutch and Chair – White is designed for physical and academic growth, providing your child with a personal, intentional place to work, learn and create for years. Details like the large flat workspace, storage shelf, and convenient cord cutout keep learning materials organized and accessible in home-based learning environments. The upper shelf and corkboard on the hutch serve as the perfect place for children to curate meaningful treasures and photos, creating a special, personalized area. The ergonomically designed chair allows children to access the desk at just the right height for reading, writing, computer work and crafts. For ages 5 and up. Assembly required. Measures 44″L x 24″W x 41″H , seat height 15.5″, desktop height 26″.
Constructed from a durable combination of easy-to-clean birch and engineered wood, the playful yet practical Kids’ Dollhouse Bookcase – White grows with your child. The sloped roof, removable staircase and integrated door and window cutouts make this unit the ideal mix of pretend play and convenient storage. Easily incorporate dolls up to 16″ tall (not included) into playtime on the wide, open shelves. Three textured, fabric bins and wide shelves provide storage for dramatic play materials, books and special treasures. For ages 3 and up. Assembly required. Measures 51.7″L x 14″W x 57.8″H.
Children can surround themselves with their toys, books and meaningful collections using the various shelves and storage options in the Kids’ Storage System – Gray. Durably constructed from a combination of easy-to-clean birch and engineered wood, this versatile unit features a comfortable, cushioned nook area that provides a quiet place where children can read and reflect. Includes 4 textured, fabric storage bins. For ages 5 and up. Assembly required. Measures 50.8″L x 15.7″W x 56.6″H, Seat height 21.5″.

1.05.2021

Celebrating "Very Good Things"

Martha's 98th book was published today! Very Good Things is the third in a series of how-to textbooks published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: The Martha Manual and Organizing being the other two. Very Good Things is a compendium of 500 Good Things from Martha's magazines, and is the second book by Martha devoted to the subject; the first book, Good Things, was published in 1997. A Good Thing, as defined in the Martha lexicon of terminology, is a simple solutions to an everyday problem or an easy way to elevate the ordinary into something a little more special using materials and devices that are easily found or repurposed. Divided by categories, including decorating, homekeeping, organizing, cooking, entertaining and celebrating, the book is filled with "simple life hacks" to streamline routines, beautify interiors, simplify cooking and make entertaining and celebrating holidays a little more special.

Martha's definition of a Good Thing is perfectly described in her introduction to the book:

"The idea must be straightforward but yield a surprising result. For example, decanting liquid dish soap from unattractive plastic dispensers into decorative glass bottles fitted with excellent pourers that look beautiful and perform well on every sink top. Or, conversely, it could be an unexpected means to achieve a desired end, such as employing ice cubes to smooth iron-free sheets. It should call for easy-to-find materials, often used in novel ways - like enlisting a garden lattice as an organizer. And sometimes it’s about repurposing what you already have, such as mismatched bowls that double as jewelry holders. It should absolutely be useful and relevant- and, of course, always beautiful." 
To help promote the book, Martha Stewart has created a new Instagram account devoted entirely to Good Things. You can follow @marthastewartgoodthings for daily tips, tricks and ideas. You can also visit marthastewartgoodthings.com to subscribe to a Good Things digital newsletter and have Good Things sent to your inbox. There is also currently a contest on at the website to win a copy of the book, signed by Martha! Be sure to check it out! 

12.29.2020

Martha Stewart Living: 2020 Year in Review

Is it possible that 2020 produced something almost flawlessly beautiful? Could 2020 have been one of the best years in Martha Stewart Living's history as a magazine? I would submit to you that it was. Hear me out. 

The reasons for its success this year are the same reasons it was always able to achieve success in its most celebrated years: consistency, reliability and positivity. You don't need me to tell you that the world faced one of its most-challenging chapters this year. The global pandemic took hundreds of thousands of lives and effectively shut down world economies. It halted all international travel and prevented us from seeing our extended family and friends for months at a time as we entered extended periods of complete lockdown. It was one of the most difficult periods in time I can recall. And it is still ongoing. 

All of the covers this year were extremely beautiful. I've heard from other readers, too, who have mentioned how impressed they've been with the covers this year. 

Through it all, readers of Martha Stewart Living magazine were given monthly doses of reassurance and inspiration, and ideas for creation during a rare moment when there was actually time to spare. The editors worked largely from their homes this year. Indeed, six issues of the magazine were put together from the home offices and dining room tables of the MSL crew. And yet, they were still able to find the outward perspective needed to inspire and delight their readers. For this, I say a heartfelt thank you! I, personally, read each issue of the magazine from cover to cover - as I always do - and this year I found the content to be more 'alive' than ever. What I mean by that is that through its succinct presentation of ideas and inspiration I found a vitality that was more meaningful to me. 

An example would be the quotes featured each month on the splash page introducing the well of the magazine:


I found myself looking forward to these inspirational quotes each month, and each one informed me in some way, either emotionally or intellectually. I researched the people quoted and often wrote down the quote in my journal for posterity. That was a first for me in all my years of reading this magazine. 

Another example of this vitality was the connection the editors made with its readers, not only acknowledging the pandemic (as any editor would) but also providing reassurance through its messaging. There was direct guidance, for instance, in suggesting to readers that they use the ideas for entertaining during a time when it was safe to gather again. There were fewer photos of groups of people gathered around a table or sharing a dessert - and if there were, there was a notable caption indicating that the depiction of the gathering was photographed last year. (In the world of magazine publishing, content is often produced a year in advance). This level of responsibility in guiding its readers, reassuring its readers, is what helped make the 2020 roster of issues some of the most poignant in its history.

This was also, of course, the magazine's 30th year in print - an astonishing feat, considering the volatility of the publishing industry. Many magazines have come and gone in that three-decade period, but Martha has held a place of prominence throughout. Factors contributing to its longevity include the connection to its readers that I mentioned above, as well as the reliability of its content. Each month, readers are given what they expect but with new twists and inspiring alterations to keep the content from ever feeling staid or predictable. There is also the consistency of its beauty: through photography and design, the magazine has maintained unparalleled heights of gorgeousness. I still find myself swept away by a beautiful photograph printed on its pages, or a stunning layout; I still notice the careful styling and the attention to all the details in the recipes and texts. It is still such a beautiful magazine. 

Rather than let the pandemic cancel a festive mood, the editors rose to the occasion and provided readers with fond memories of the magazine's incredible history. To celebrate the anniversary, the editors delivered monthly content that reflected its best moments, primarily through the return of Martha's "Remembering" column on the last page, which was a fun bit of nostalgia. Rather than an essay written by Martha, however, the 2020 "Remembering" column was a distillation of a moment in time: a photograph of Martha with a brief remembrance from her lifetime. Each one was a little dash of insight into the world of the magazine's founder.
The anniversary content culminated in the December issue. As I've written before, the December issue of Martha Stewart Living is to its readers what the September issue of Vogue is to its devotees. It is the one we all look forward to with excitement each year. It made sense, therefore, that the editors used the December issue as the hull for its 'best-of' content. Martha's column in this issue was a retrospective on the beginnings of the magazine - a fun read with old photographs from the offices at Time Inc. and a page full of Martha's favourite covers over the years. (Her favourite covers continued in her "Remembering" column on the last page. I was pleased that, as a reader, I concurred with many of her choices).

Throughout the issue, too, at the bottom of each page, there were quotes from people who have either worked with Martha or have been inspired by her over the years. Quotes from celebrities like Snoop Dogg, Jennifer Garner, Blake Lively and Ralph Lauren mingle with remembrances and kind words from world-famous chefs and authors. In each quote there is an effusive note of gratitude and respect for Martha and everything she has created. (I'm also included in the quotes, by the way, which was such an incredible honour for me).

While I certainly would have loved a standalone special issue publication, as was done with the 25th anniversary issue, I feel the December issue is a wonderful repository of celebration and reflection on its 30th. The editors did a superb job of combining remembrance with new content, even presenting classic Martha recipes in a new feature with beautiful styling. 

A new column also debuted this year, in the October issue: Potluck. The column is part of the Everyday Food section of the magazine and features a new foodie or chef each month, inviting them to share cooking lessons from their own lives. I've enjoyed it so far, and have learned quite a bit from it already. I had no idea what suqaar was until I read the inaugural column about Hawa Hassan and Julia Turshen and their new book In Bibi's Kitchen. I also loved the wine advice in the December issue, via Brooklyn sommelier Andre Hueston Mack. 

This year, I will not choose a favourite issue or a least favourite issue. It just doesn't seem appropriate. I'm glad I was able to enjoy each issue of Martha Stewart Living in its 30th year of publication. Each one helped me keep my emotional balance, even just through the simple consistency of its delivery to my mailbox. Like a warm hug from a friend, each issue gave me something to look forward to. There was always something I could use from its pages to improve my life: something new to learn, a new photograph to obsess over, a new cake recipe to try. 

As I wait for the January/February 2021 issue to arrive, I look back at my stack of 2020 issues and feel only gratitude for the year that was. 

And that's saying something.