Martha Stewart may have made a name for herself by popularizing the lifestyle industry—she can sauté paella over an open flame or host a summer soiree for 30 without batting an eye—but scratch the surface ever so slightly, and there is a budding horticulturalist, a devoted animal lover, and a single girl searching for love in the big city. “I’m looking for a partner,” she says matter-of-factly from a test kitchen at her New York headquarters. Surrounded by cast iron pots and pans, fresh herbs, and a bowl of fragrant lemons—her favorite—the 72-year-old business maven seems utterly in her element. Her no-nonsense, stone-faced demeanor has been replaced by a noticeable softness, one that only comes from a place of comfort, and dare we say, vulnerability. “Love will have something to do with it I’m sure,” she continues, a wry smile beginning to form. “I’d love to have a more regular male companion.”
With enviable looks and sharp business acumen, Stewart can surely have her pick of suitors, but the key, she says, is finding someone “appropriate.” “An amenable kind of person,” she clarifies. “There are plenty of people who I could date that would be inappropriate. Married men, for example.”
It is this kind of brazenness and no-holds-barred attitude that has propelled Stewart to superstardom and enabled her to revolutionize domesticity, transforming household tasks and do-it-yourself projects into a mainstream, buzzworthy phenomenon. “It took a lot of time, a lot of hard work, and a lot of creativity to not exactly redefine lifestyle, but to popularize lifestyle,” she confesses. “We made home-keeping more of a pleasure than a chore… and made it more important than just a menial job. I do not believe that taking care of the home or family is in any way menial. I find it extremely important and I think it is just as important as going to the office every day, maybe even more so.”
Whether she is crafting a show-stopping centerpiece or dressing a Thanksgiving turkey, Stewart has found a way to make even the most mundane activities, well, interesting, and everyone it seems, is trying to steal her winning formula. “There is so much competition in lifestyle brands, and as a result, we have to be even more innovative than we were before,” she explains. “We have always been the most innovative, but now, we have to be even more so to keep ahead because everybody copies us.”
And for good reason—Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia reported $33.3 million in revenue for the first quarter of 2014 and is rapidly expanding throughout Asia, Europe and South America. “I am very excited about what is happening in the company right now. I have great hopes for our international expansion,” she reveals, noting that the products offered will vary from country to country. “The world is getting flatter and flatter, but there still are local customs and traditions and different ways of living and different sizes of homes that do cause for some alteration.”
To spotlight the work of local artisans, entrepreneurs, and small-business owners within the United States, Stewart joined forces with eBay to launch the American Made Martha Stewart online store, comprised of more than 400 vendors that manufacture in America. “We have always supported artisans, craftsmen and artists who create within their own shores, and this is a way to really make it much more visible,” she divulges. “Celebrating where things are actually designed and made is very important. The artisans are starting off small and building a following. We are supporting them and popularizing them.”
For those young entrepreneurs who have yet to receive Stewart’s public seal of approval, her advice is simple: start small, come up with a good idea, grow, invest, grow, and invest some more. “And then you might make it,” she adds emphatically. “Everybody makes errors and missteps. Not every single product will work, but once a product does, like the Apple iPhone, look what happens.”
With her own army of successful products, ranging from cookware to cabinetry and beyond, Stewart could very well be considered the Steve Jobs of lifestyle. “It’s a gradual realization that you are actually having an influence on a lot of people,” she states with earnest sincerity. “It makes me very happy to be recognized as an authority. To walk into someone’s house and see your products or see a style from something you have done in your magazine is pretty nice.”
But, as any innovator knows, being regarded as an expert has its price. There is a constant pull to keep being creative, to keep reinventing, to keep pushing boundaries for fear of becoming stale and being replaced by the next big thing. To maintain her status quo as an authority, Stewart has made it her mission to keep learning, a life lesson she garnered from her parents, Edward Kostyra and Martha Ruszkowski Kostyra. “They were both teachers and they encouraged us to learn and learn and learn,” she recalls. “Without learning constantly, you cannot really be a good teacher.”
Perhaps that explains the zest for knowledge and the constant quest for inspiration that follows Stewart wherever she goes. “I look for inspiration everywhere,” she concedes. “I get inspiration from great chefs. I get inspiration from the places I visit. I always go to historic homes and museums. A lot of architects influence me too. I love modernist architecture and I try to incorporate that simplicity into a more traditional way of life.”
But her biggest source of inspiration comes from her two biggest fans: her 3-year-old granddaughter, Jude, and 2-year-old grandson, Truman. “What you can discover pushing a baby carriage around is quite extraordinary,” she admits. “I’ve discovered parts of Central Park that I didn’t even know existed.” And like any doting grandmother, Stewart spoils them with trips to the New York City Ballet, and in return, they help her with daily chores. “They are very smart. Kids are much more able to do things than a lot of people think,” she reveals. “They have learned how to collect the eggs from the chickens. They have learned how to pull carrots from the ground. They have learned how to roll out piecrusts.”
When Stewart isn’t busy running her empire in NYC, she loves escaping to her East Hamptons oasis on Lily Pond Lane and spending her days riding her bicycle, lounging on Georgica Beach, shopping in Sag Harbor, and dining at the ever-popular 1770 House and Nick and Toni’s. “My Hamptons style is much more laidback and casual,” she admits. “I can get away with not combing my hair or putting on makeup for three days—it’s really great!”
And though she may still be searching for lasting love, her meticulously styled bed is far from empty. “At my home I have 20 canaries, countless chickens, numerous magician doves—they keep having babies!—four cats, three dogs, five horses, three donkeys… and the cows are coming soon,” she exclaims. “I don’t know if people realize how much I really like animals. I believe that having pets is a fantastic thing.” ∎
What is the secret to throwing an amazing party?
A great group of people and really delicious food. But not too many people—too many of the parties are way, way, way too big.
Who would you like to play you in a movie about your life?
I don’t think I’m ready to be played yet. I still have a lot more to do and I think it would be a little premature to make a movie about me.
Would you ever want to star in a feature film?
Definitely. That would be so fun! I’d like to do that.
Record a song?
I would. My daughter would kill me! I could probably sing a song though.
You had a successful modeling career with Chanel in the ‘60s. Would you ever consider modeling again?
Oh, definitely. I think that I have discovered a lot of ways to stay pretty and maintain good health and vitality. I have impeccable eyes and impeccable hearing, and it has a lot to do with genetics, but it also has a lot to do with how I take care of myself. For instance, I don’t put earplugs in my ears. I wouldn’t think of it!
Any tips for aging gracefully?
The minute you are born, you start to get old. The more you take care of yourself and pay attention to your diet, exercise, skin, and intake, the better off you will be in the long run.
What three items should every New York woman have in her closet?
A stylish pair of walking shoes, a slender pair of pants, and the best cardigan sweater that money can buy.
What about her kitchen?
A very sharp all-purpose knife, like a Japanese cleaver, a very good stove, and a cappuccino machine.
Describe a typical dinner that you like to cook for yourself.
I love eggs so I might make an omelet or pasta with vegetables. I have a vegetable greenhouse so I can pick tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, and turnips for a salad. In fact, I have a big bag of turnips in my fridge that I need to cook up tonight.
Do you eat dessert?
Not necessarily if I’m alone. If I have guests, then I always have dessert. I love to bake.
Photos by Fadil Berisha