The December Issue: Celebrating 30 Years of "Living"

 Martha Stewart Living magazine came into my life in a rather beautiful and gradual way. It started, as most love affairs do, with longing glances. I'd spot this gorgeous magazine at the newsstand of my local grocery store and would always secretly admire its stunning covers. This state of flirtation lasted a good four years in the late 1990s until I graduated to flipping through its pages, and then finally to purchasing copies. From that point on, there was no looking back! I was hooked. I became an official subscriber in 2002 after a few years of buying it monthly on the newsstands, and I have not let my subscription lapse since. For nearly 25 years, Martha Stewart Living has been a part of my life - and thank heavens for that! It has taught me so much about subjects no one else deigned to teach: most notably, for me, the subjects of cooking, baking, cleaning and organizing. Learning how to do those things correctly (and frequently) really transformed my view of the domestic arts and my desire to become an 'artist' in these realms, myself. 

In its 30 years of production, the magazine has elevated the everyday to such heights of inspiring excellence (and elegance) that it spawned an entire industry of shelter publications that sought to trade on Martha's values of good living and DIY. But there was only ever ONE Martha. And so it shall remain.

The 2020 December issue of Martha Stewart Living is a special one, indeed, since it is the 30th anniversary issue! (It is not explicitly noted, but I did catch the subtle use of pearl tones on the cover; pearl being the traditional symbol of a 30th anniversary celebration). The magazine is filled with celebratory content - not only for the holidays but also for the milestone anniversary. Below is a look at some of the highlights. If you are not a subscriber (and, really, why aren't you?) then I hope you pick up a copy!

Martha's column is a look back at 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. Both the Good Things and the Good Living sections are devoted almost entirely to holiday fare, and there is a multi-page gift guide as well. (Even Kevin Sharkey gives us the 411 on all his favourite things!) The Everyday Food section is a combination of festive treats and quick meals for those busy 'in between' nights when revelry isn't on the menu. There is a nice wine guide included as well, in the Potluck column, which I found informative. 

My favourite article from the Good Living section was an article on Dresden Paper and all the ways it can be used in holiday decorating, from making ornaments to stationery to labels to vase sleeves to gift wrapping. It was a very creative and festive article with lots of great ideas. 

Throughout the magazine, at the bottom of each page, there are quotes from people who have either worked with or have been inspired by Martha over the years. Quotes from celebrities, including 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's created. 

Imagine my delight and surprise, then, when I saw MY NAME at the bottom of page 70, the opening page of the Ask Martha section! Around this time last year, editor-in-chief Elizabeth Graves had reached out to me to ask if I had any thoughts about what I've learned from Martha over the years. I submitted a letter and really never gave it much thought after that. When I saw a quote from that letter printed in the 30th anniversary issue of my favourite magazine... well, I was overwhelmed. I'm so honoured to have been quoted and featured. Here is what I wrote:

It's the well of the magazine, of course, that heralds the veritable cornucopia of ideas and celebration content. It opens gorgeously with this sparkling splash page with a closeup of one of Martha's Christmas trees in her green parlor at Bedford. Tantalizing, to say the least!

The first feature is an ingenious collection of some of the classic Martha Stewart holiday recipes that have been featured in the magazine and in Martha's books over the years, starting with her rich, decadent, boozy eggnog. I like that the editors didn't simply reprint past pages but instead endeavored to create a new editorial spread, presenting the food in a modern but classic way in photographs by Gentl & Hyers. 

From there we head over to Cantitoe Corners, Martha's farm in Katonah, New York, to enjoy a look at her holiday party last year, which was brimming with cookies, Christmas trees and merry revelers. 

One of Martha's glorious trees, looking luminescent in the Summer House.

A small selection of the cookies on hand at Martha's party last year. (The recipes for each are included in the magazine).

Amish 'Evening Star' quilts were the inspiration for a craft story about their pointed designs on textiles, Christmas stockings, garlands and tree ornaments. The projects are very simple and would make very nice gift ideas.

A welcome 12-page spread looking back at some of the best of Martha Stewart Living was just what this issue needed, and the editors really delivered. Divided into subject categories (Celebrating Beauty, Celebrating Food, Celebrating the Home, Celebrating the New & Old, and Celebrating the Handmade) the editors, past and present, dive into some of their favourite memories, articles and ideas, from the creation of the legendary 'visual glossaries' (thank you, Gael Towey!) to the revolutionary way food was photographed in "Living." There is a look at Martha's iconic homes and a tour of some of the best collecting articles, as well as a reflection on how and why 'the handmade' will always be special to the editors of this magazine. 

To close the issue, there is a feature that really speaks to the promise of a great future for Martha Stewart Living: the editors take us right back to the roots of the magazine's ethos - DIY. This collection of twelve homemade gift ideas is just what so many of us are looking for right now, amidst so much turmoil and uncertainty. Rather than buy all your gifts, take some time to make something for someone. The thoughtfulness involved in the act of creating a gift is not only a joy for the recipient but is a moment of reflection and peace for the maker, as well. I love these handmade marbled soaps, which evoke the festive swirls of peppermint. 

I hope you'll pick up a copy of this special issue of the magazine, if you haven't already. I know I will treasure my copy for many years to come.


Favourite Good Thing: Jolly Gingerbread Ranch

Favourite Recipe: Martha's Classic Eggnog

Favourite Find: Aarmy Gear (Thank you, Kevin Sharkey!)

Favourite Feature: "30 Years of Living"


Maya said...

Loved this issue. My favorite spread was the one featuring all of those wonderful infographics from over the years: those beautiful gem stones, tree peonies, etc. The MSLO team really set the standard for art direction. There’s nothing quite like them. Gael is indeed a genius. I highly recommend looking up her personal website where she’s put up more of those memorable spreads.

I do, however, terribly miss the step-by-step pictures, which were another mslo forte, and seem to have become scarce in the last year or so. Probably budget and/or covid related, but still... sad face

Also, i wish martha would talk a little about the small little details of getting the mag up and running! Like where did she find all those amazing talented people? Where did they work on the mag? How did she find a distributer, print house, etc! Maybe its just geeky curious ol’ me :)


Oh, no, Maya - it's definitely not just 'geeky curious you'! I am equally as curious about those details. She had mentioned once about sitting around her kitchen table with a group of women, brainstorming ideas for the magazine's title. Who were these women? What was that evening like? When did "Living" finally feel like the right title? I know Gael had worked with Martha on the design of a few of her books before she was recruited for the magazine. But, again, how was she introduced to Martha?

I think, ultimately, a proper documentary needs to be made about Martha's empire: a real, full-length documentary feature with interviews and insights from industry experts, Martha's colleagues and, of course, Martha herself. One day! I hope! Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Maya!

Jay said...

One of my favourite issues! Adore the christmas tree with the collection of cookies; to die for!