News & Awards

Move Over, Martha

By Alison Beard
Financial Times, www.ft.com (subscription only); December 22, 2003

As Martha Stewart awaits trial on charges related to share sales, the FT surveys some of the contenders poised to take up their cookie-cutters and inherit her place as America's homemaking guru.

MaryJane Butters

A soft-spoken organic farmer from Idaho who didn't watch television for 30 years, Butters may be well on her way to becoming a media maven in the Martha mould.

Her first step was rebranding her business - mail-order "instant and quick-prep" meals - as MaryJanesFarm because "people deserve to put a face to their food". Next, she not only arranged a "homemade" initial public offering, taking on 55 minority investors, but also launched her own magazine/catalogue with pictures taken by a $450 digital camera bought on eBay and contributions from friends and family.

Last winter, when farm sales were slipping, she sent a 63-page book proposal to New York publishers and sparked a bidding war, which ended with a $1.35m two-title deal from Random House's Clarkson Potter imprint, which amounted to nearly triple the 2002 farm revenues.

Butters' focus remains decidedly rural - "hearth and home, from handiwork to hogs". "But it turns out that city women love my ideas," she says. "I have a lack of Hollywood savvy that's refreshing ... I'm not positioning myself. I just love the domestic arts."

The MaryJanesFarm website is a strong showcase for her personality and products, which have expanded to kitchen tools, sewing kits and customised hats.

Agents urge her to do television. "But it's going to take a little time to figure out if I fit into that," Butters says. "I saw my first Oprah show three weeks ago ... and I've never seen a Martha Stewart show."

Chris Madden

Armed with a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology and 10 years' experience in book publicity, Chris Madden knew exactly what it would take to become a home decorating doyenne.

She published her first book, Interior Visions, in 1987, promoted it tirelessly on local television and radio, and followed up by producing two design showhouses and three more books by 1996.

Home & Garden Television facilitated her jump to television, offering her one of its first four shows, but she quickly parlayed the Interiors by Design host job into other ventures - more books, including a well-received tome on women's "personal spaces" or "sanctuaries", and a design correspondent slot on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Celebrity clients - and appearances on NBC's Today show - followed, giving Madden enough clout to partner with Bassett Furniture on her own line in 2000. Sales totaled $100m within two years, and the designer quickly found other manufacturers to produce her pillows, rugs, wallhangings and candles. This August, she signed a multi-year deal with JC Penney, the US retailer, which said it expects her to boost sales by $600m.

Madden can cite personal turning points, including her sister's death and a "near-death" rafting accident, which convinced her to become the "haven maven", spreading her "vision" of spiritual and simplistic decorating to the masses. But she admits that smart business moves, such as changing her company name to Chris Madden Inc, and media exposure, including a large New York Times article last year, made the vision a reality.

In fact, she quotes the Times' article twice in one interview, first reciting the headline - "An Empire, Yes, But More Serene than Martha's" - then emphasising it - "As they said, I teach women how to decompress, [while] Martha teaches them how to impress."

The Queer Eye Guys

Why take fashion, cooking, design and grooming advice from one straight woman when you can get it from five gay men?

When television producers David Collins and David Metzler developed Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the hit television makeover show, they never expected their "Fab Five" stars - Carson Kressley, Ted Allen, Thom Filicia, Kyan Douglas and Jai Rodriguez - to have such widespread appeal. But in its two seasons, the group has consistently drawn more than 2m viewers to the previously obscure Bravo cable network, and the show has been picked up by Flextech's Living TV channel in the UK. Clarkson Potter will publish a Fab Five style guide in February, and a Queer Eye soundtrack featuring the show's theme song will debut around the same time.

Collins, who is gay, admits that he set out to create a lifestyle "superhero" who would rescue straight men and their partners from bad taste. "We had this idea of the Queer Eye stamp of approval, like Good Housekeeping or Martha Stewart ... and we felt really strongly that we needed five credentialed professionals ... [each] with their own strengths," he explains. "But did anyone predict the Fab Five to take off like it did? No."

Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson may be revered as a domestic goddess/sex symbol, but when told about being included in this article her first reaction was: "Oh god, I'm the anti-lifestyle guru."

Yes, there are the cookbooks (How to Eat, How to Be a Domestic Goddess, Nigella Bites and Forever Summer, of which there are a total 2.25m copies in print worldwide) and the TV shows (on Channel 4 in the UK, and on the Style and E! networks in the US) and the bi-monthly "At My Table" column (which runs in the New York Times, as well as papers in Chicago and Calgary).

Yes, the former journalist has partnered with Sebastian Conran and InterDesign to launch a Nigella's Living Kitchen Collection that ranges from storage jars to cake tins. And, yes, Lawson admits she might expand beyond cookware to other "elements of the home" that interest her.

But "I'm never going to be about some self-improvement thing", she insists. "I couldn't start doing crafts [because] I'm very clumsy. ... And if you spend your life organising your shelves you won't have time for anything else."

Unlike Martha, Lawson intends to stay away from the "full-on" executive life.

"I don't have a particular plan or policy that I want to implement," she adds. "I've just happened upon this very strange job that allows me to be me."

— alison.beard@ft.com

BEST OF THE REST

Sandra Lee, a blonde "lifestylist" specialising in "semi-homemade" meals and projects, she has a Food Network show, books, home videos and products.

Colin Cowie, an LA-based event planner to the stars who has five books on entertaining, a line of china and a Women's Entertainment Network show.

Rachel Ray, Food Network star known for her "30-minute meals".

Katie Brown, an entertaining and decorating specialist chock full of "wacky, practical and budget-conscious" advice. She just jumped from the Style Network to A&E.

B Smith, a former model turned lifestyle maven whose interests - a TV show and magazine, books and restaurants - continues to expand.

Oprah Winfrey, a star who is venturing into Martha's territory with Oprah at Home magazine and by promoting the lifestyle experts (chef, personal trainer, decorators) who have helped her.

Sheila Bridges, author, Fine Living network star and "America's Best Interior Designer", according to CNN and Time magazine.

 

Tour Our Farm Watch Our Videos Visit Our Retail Store Bed & Breakfast News & Awards U-Pick Country Club Our Historic Flour Mill Our Historic Schoolhouse Our Pay Dirt Farm School MaryJanesFarm Magazine Books Products Chat with other Farmgirls About Us Terms of Use MaryJanesFarm iris@maryjanesfarm.org