Photo credit José Picayo
It’s hard to remember a world before Martha Stewart. And, at this point, it’s hard to fathom one without her. In the three-plus decades since her first book, Entertaining, catapulted her to fame as America’s hostess with the mostest, the 75-year-old Bedford resident has become an integral part of our zeitgeist. Whether or not you realize it, Martha Stewart probably affects your life every day.
Stewart almost single-handedly pioneered the DIY concept, elevating “Do It Yourself” from money-saving chore for those without means to something to learn, enjoy, and feel proud of. “I wanted to show people how to do things,” she says, “so that they could do it themselves — not because they had to but because they wanted to.”
By the late ’80s, DIY was no longer the domain of the weekend handyman who wanted to use his wood-shop skills to build a shelf. Because of Stewart, people were crafting, cooking, gardening, building, painting, and creating — and she showed them how to do it, step-by-step, inspiring thousands of entrepreneurs and spawning countless businesses, ideas, and inventions in the process.
Before Martha Stewart, weddings were just…weddings. Brides clipped photos of dresses from magazines, and a few, mostly society brides, paid wedding coordinators to plan their nuptials. Then, in 1987, Stewart released Weddings By Martha Stewart, and, almost overnight, an industry (and scores of micro-industries within it) was born. Again, Stewart showed couples what was possible, and taught them how to do it. Among her many extraordinary talents (“I’m a really good gardener, pastry chef, and cleaner,” she says, matter-of-factly), Stewart is, it seems, a teacher at heart.
“In third grade, I decided I wanted to be a teacher,” she says, in that quintessentially Martha voice — slow and deliberate, meticulously enunciating each syllable, emphasizing all the long Es. “She’s very curious,” says her close friend Memrie Lewis. “If I had to describe Martha in one word, it’s ‘student’: She loves to learn.”
Stewart founded Martha Stewart Omnimedia in 1991, growing it into a $2 billion empire at its peak. Surprisingly warm and funny, she’s had her share of controversy, serving jail time for insider trading in 2004, emerging virtually unscathed.
The eldest of six and the mother of one (a daughter, Alexis), Stewart remains tirelessly curious. When she’s not working on a project — like her new VH-1 show with Snoop Dogg, who’s called her his “homegirl” — she spends time with her young grandchildren. Because of them, she says, “I’m more patient and mellow now.”