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Stewart, Martha - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Martha Stewart

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Martha Stewart Living


Described as the guru of good taste in American entertaining and the person who has had the biggest impact on the aesthetics of the average suburban American household, Martha Stewart has turned her lifestyle and tastes into a business empire. As a domestic arts expert and lifestyle consultant Martha Stewart has left her stamp on the way America currently views cooking, home decoration, gardening, and entertaining. In the process, Martha Stewart has revolutionized how-to and self-help into a state of mind and a way of life.

Successful in her many roles, Stewart has demonstrated a unique entrepreneurial skill in marketing not so much a product as herself and her sense of taste, turning her own life into a business empire. As any other good business person, Stewart has shown that she understands her audience and has captured their imagination. Stewart summed up her influence on the American public when she said, “My books are ‘dream’ books to look at, but they’re practical. Women can take the recipes, the ideas, and use them every day, because what I’m giving them is not a fantasy but a reality that looks like a fantasy.”

Personal Life

Martha Stewart was born on August 3, in 1941 or 1942, in Jersey City, New Jersey. She is the daughter of Edward and Martha Kostyra, of Polish-Catholic ancestry. Her father was a pharmaceutical salesman; her mother was a sixth-grade schoolteacher. She was the second of six children. When Martha was three, the family moved to a three-bedroom frame house in suburban Nutley, New Jersey. She recalled, “We were brought up unpretentiously, but with a lot of spirit and a lot of ‘You can do anything you want to do’ hammered into our heads.” Stewart was a favorite of her father, who taught her about gardening, carpentry, and public speaking. She described herself as a child as “very proper, very busy, very driven.” She alone among her siblings had a flair for gardening and did not mind spending hours weeding. She was also fascinated by food and cooking and learned a good deal from her maternal grandmother. While still in grammar school, Stewart organized birthday parties for neighborhood children for fun and to augment her baby-sitting income.

By high school, her blonde good looks earned her modeling assignments in fashionable stores and on television. A straight-A student, Stewart turned down a full scholarship to attend New York University to work her way through Barnard College in New York City. She abandoned early plans to become a chemist and decided to study art, European history, and architecture instead. In 1961, while still in her sophomore year of college, she married law student Andrew Stewart. To support them, Stewart took modeling jobs and appeared in television commercials for Clairol, Lifebuoy soap, and Tareyton cigarettes. She graduated from Barnard in 1963 and continued to model until the birth of her daughter, Alexis, in 1965.

Stewart contemplated entering graduate school to study architecture, but decided that her father-in-law’s profession as a stockbroker interested her more. From 1965 to 1973, she worked at the small brokerage firm, Monness, Williams, and Sidel. She was successful and “liked the sales part of it, the human contact,” but the 1973 recession was traumatic. As she explained, “I wanted to sell things that were fun to sell. And stocks weren’t anymore.” In 1973 the Stewarts moved from their apartment in New York City to a home in West-port, Connecticut, that they began to restore themselves. Once the house was renovated, Stewart began to concentrate on another hobby, gourmet cooking. In 1976 Stewart began a catering business, working out of her home’s basement kitchen, which led to her career as a cookbook author and domestic lifestyle expert.

Stewart sustains her many ventures with seemingly boundless energy. As she admitted to Cosmopolitan, “I tend to get over enthusiastic, and often that’s translated as workaholism. For example, I’m writing a garden book, so I garden twelve hours a day. If people like to characterize that as workaholism, it’s their problem. I work at what I do, but to me it’s fun. I have the ideal career, because I’m constantly writing about or photographing things I like. Whatever work is involved is something I really enjoy doing. Actually, I think I’d characterize myself more as an enthusiast than a perfectionist. But as far as being a perfectionist, I’m like that in anything I do.” To maintain her frenzied pace, she claims that she only needs to sleep four hours nightly. Most mornings begin at 6:00 a.m. with an hour-and-a-half session with a personal trainer before her work schedule begins. As her friend Mort Zuckerman, chairman of U.S. News & World Report, has observed, “Martha is a unique combination of the beauty of the orchid and the efficiency of a computer.”

Her marriage to Andrew Stewart, who cofounded the publishing company of Stewart, Tabori, and Chang, ended in divorce in 1989. Stewart spends her time at Turkey Hill Farm, her Westport home, with her collection of six cats and two dogs. She also has an apartment in New York City, a weekend beach house in East Hampton, New York, and a 30-acre property in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Career Details

Martha Stewart has, from childhood, traded on her talents and her interests from gardening and cooking to arranging neighborhood birthday parties and modeling, so the transition from hobbies to business was a natural one. While on a modeling assignment in the early 1960s, Stewart visited Europe for the first time and studied the restaurants she visited in Italy, Germany, and France. As a stockbroker she had sampled haute cuisine on expense account meals with clients. In 1976, she placed an advertisement in a local newspaper offering her services as a caterer. Almost immediately she found herself preparing for a wedding for 300. Over the next ten years, Martha Stewart, Inc. grew into a $1 million business, serving corporate and celebrity clients drawn to her tasty menus and unique presentations. She and a staff cooked meals for as many as 1,500 people at a time. Herbs and ingredients came from her own gardens. She has also contributed articles to the New York Times, worked as a freelance food “stylist” for photographers, and served as the food and entertaining editor and cooking columnist for House Beautiful.

Stewart’s first book, Entertaining, an oversized, lavishly illustrated book of her hostessing techniques, was published by Crown Publishers in 1982. The book’s introduction served as a declaration of the Martha Stewart style and method, which called for a “new style of entertaining that is informal, relaxed, and expressive, based not on intimidating prescriptions but on personality and personal effort.” The personality that is revealed is Stewart’s own: casual elegance, natural materials, and hand-crafted sophistication. The famous Martha Stewart book reached a receptive public, selling more than 625,000 copies. A string of successful sequels followed, such as, Martha Stewart’s Quick Cook Menus, Martha Stewart’s Hors d’Oeuvres, Martha Stewart’s Weddings, and Martha Stewart’s Christmas. Other endeavors have included videotapes, television specials, lectures, and seminars. Stewart’s ideas for enhancing domestic life have tapped into a vast market of fans who appreciate the ingenuity of her suggestions, the authority with which good taste is presented, and the deeper dream of elegance and sophistication that her books, programs, and persona project. As she explained to a New York interviewer, her success is due to Americans’ “interest in self-improvement I’m just approaching it from an aesthetic point of view, rather than a scientific point of view or psychological.” Critics have been quick to charge her with overindulgence in materialism, with raising style to an almost religious devotion, and with offering a standard of domestic achievement well beyond the reach of most of her fans. Stewart has defended her approach, saying, “Having something to dream about is very important to most people.”

The fantasy has proven to be a potent one, and has allowed Stewart to create a business empire around her tastes and lifestyle. In 1987 Kmart signed Stewart as its lifestyle consultant, and she promotes her own line of bed and bath products through Kmart. With Time Warner, she has published her own magazine, Martha Stewart Living, which has appeared since 1990 and has a circulation of 2 million. She also makes regular appearances on television morning shows. In February 1997, Martha Stewart acquired Martha Stewart Living Enterprises from Time Inc. Stewart serves as the company’s chairman and CEO, overseeing a monthly magazine, a syndicated television show, a web site, a daily radio show, books written by her and the editors of Martha Stewart Living, a syndicated newspaper column (“Ask Martha”), a mail-order catalog company (“Martha by Mail”), and retail products. These are remarkable accomplishments that grew from a small catering business run out of her home. Through it all, Martha Stewart has become a phenomenal success, selling both herself and her vision of domestic elegance.

Social and Economic Impact

Martha Stewart has, in a number of ways, helped to bring about a contemporary sense of style that is expressed in the way Americans live, eat, and entertain. Joining the concept of self-help with consumption, Stewart has instructed a mass audience in the lessons of good taste and the values she has cultivated in her own life. Lessons she learned in New Jersey and at Turkey Hill Farm in Connecticut have provided for her loyal followers a vision of domestic perfection that comes with an unmistakable Martha Stewart signature. In the ultimate identification of what Stewart sells and who she is, she has declared, “I’m a brand,” and she continues to market her brand around her creativity, taste, and sense of style.

Chronology: Martha Stewart

c. 1941: Born.

1961: Married Andrew Stewart.

1963: Graduated from Barnard College.

1965: Began work for a Wall Street brokerage firm.

1976: Began catering business.

1982: Published first book, Entertaining.

1987: Named lifestyle consultant for Kmart Corp.

1989: Divorced Andrew Stewart.

1997: Formed Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

The business that she pioneered with its insistence on natural materials, fresh ingredients, and tasteful elegance has been imitated throughout the country in the foods we now find in stores, in the small specialty shops offering kitchen devices and rare ingredients, and in an enhanced sense of interior design. Martha Stewart through her enthusiasm, hard work, and charm has become a tastemaker in domestic things and lifestyle.

Stewart, Nick (1910–2000) [next] [back] Steward, Austin(1793–1865) - Abolitionist, slave, Chronology

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