She has been spattered and spackled, fretted and distressed, and unquestionably taken the shellacking of a lifetime. Yes, these days Martha Stewart's finish is starting to look a little faux. Her television show's been canceled, her column's being renamed and her company appears to be wasting no time in scraping her tarnished name off its magazine.
We know you love Martha, but don't a get paint chip on your shoulder about her fall from gracious living. Instead, set your designs on someone new — someone, preferably, without a felony conviction.
Remember, though, as in any beehive, there's a hierarchy to the home and lifestyle world. After all, not just anybody gets to be the queen, not even those five guys from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."
To compete on Martha's level, you need to know your way around a kitchen, a color palette, a garden and a glue gun, plus, it doesn't hurt to have a few good things up your sleeve — like a dozen or so product lines.
So who are the royal contenders for the domestic diva throne?
Here's the buzz:
Like Martha, B. Smith (www.bsmith.com) is a former model. Her face has graced the covers of 15 magazines, including Mademoiselle, Essence and Ebony. Smith's true rise to fame, though, came when she switched from Revlon to restaurants.
Through her three B. Smith eateries (one in New York City; one in Washington, D.C.; and one near her swanky Sag Harbor home in the Hamptons), B. (for Barbara) has parlayed her easy hospitality and succulent eats into a successful food and lifestyle empire. Her first book, "Entertaining and Cooking for Friends," (1995) received rave reviews; her second, "Rituals & Celebrations," (1999) prompted the Wall Street Journal to dub her "one of the most formidable rivals of Martha Stewart."
Not content to stay in the kitchen, this would-be queen hosts her own nationally syndicated television show, "B. Smith with Style," with segments that cover everything from sesame salmon to civil rights. In true entrepreneurial style, she even sings her own theme song, a syrupy ditty that serves up her philosophy in bite-size bits: Celebrate living in all that you do, believe in yourself, find a style that's right for you.
A savvy businesswoman, Smith also has developed a full line of domestic merchandise and home furnishings with Bed Bath & Beyond, a collection of patterns for Vogue and has even begun to crop up in the new Campbell's Soup commercials, boosting her brand in a big way.
Promoting "passion over perfection," Smith may well prove the ideal antidote to Martha's formidable flawlessness.
Chris Casson Madden
But not if Chris Casson Madden has anything to say about it.
This prolific designer has written the book on every room in the house except the back porch. Titles include "Bedrooms" (2001), "Bathrooms" (1996), "Kitchens" (1993), "New American Living Rooms" (1993), "A Room of Her Own: Women's Personal Spaces" (1997) and 11 more covering everything from designer showplaces to the diaper set.
A weekly columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service, Madden also hosts Home and Garden Television's "Interiors by Design" (now on hiatus), has a namesake collection in the Bassett Furniture line and is a spokeswoman for the Wallpaper Council. Come May, J.C. Penney plans to introduce more than 1,700 household products under her name.
Although Madden bills herself as a designer who focuses on the accessible and affordable, her books tend to showcase the lavish living spaces of the rich and famous rather than offer assistance to us poor practical-advice-seeking schmoes. Her columns, too, are sprinkled with enough plugs for her books, homes, travels, publicity tours, television shoots, personal spaces and all-around fabulous lifestyle that you might begin to think she's a tiny bit stucco on herself.
Of course, who wouldn't be? Once a publishing assistant, this haven maven is now the designer of choice for such luminaries as Katie Couric, Toni Morrison and Oprah.
With a philosophy that encompasses the spiritual and simplistic — dare we call it monastic Martha? — Madden doesn't so much design rooms as "create spaces." Her books talk about sensual refuges, special retreats and havens ("I'll be right out, honey — I'm in the sensual refuge!").
These days, Madden appears to be flush with success.
Whereas Christopher Lowell (www.christopherlowell.com) usually just appears flushed.
This frenetic, flamboyant design guru (he puts the sash in sashay) brings a decidedly theatrical flair to his show on the Discovery Home Channel ("The Christopher Lowell Show"). Cobbling together costumes and skits (look for Lowell as a cowboy, construction worker or even Carol Brady), humor and hand-holding, this Emmy-winning character has won the hearts of the project-impaired masses by demonstrating that home improvement doesn't have to be a drag.
A former costume and stage designer (as well as actor, artist, classical pianist and teacher), Lowell has three budget-oriented design books on the market, including "Seven Layers of Design: Fearless Fabulous Decorating" (2000), "If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It" (2002) and "You Can Do It: Small Spaces" (2003). Rampant creativity is Lowell's driving force, and interior design is merely a means to the ultimate goal: self-discovery. In other words, this mental-health Martha doesn't just build jaunty nautical bed frames and triangular organizing hutches, he builds self-esteem.
Or perhaps he just has lots to share with others. Lowell's mug appears no fewer than 20 times in the first 50 pages of "If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It." Obviously key factors in the Christopher Lowell Enterprises branding scheme, his name and face also grace his home-décor collection at Burlington Coat Factory, a line of office furniture at Office Depot, home furnishings at Flexsteel and custom window coverings through 3 Day Blinds. Go to his Web site and you'll even find him grinning at you from the surface of a shiny inspirational button (available for a mere $1.95!).
Ironically, Lowell and the Discovery Channel have recently parted company (although he can still be seen on their sister network, Discovery Home). In a chatty update on his Web site, this home-improvement hambone talks of several "exciting new projects in the works" including more books, more programming, and even a radio show.
Can Hollywood be far off?
Speaking of which, no lineup would be complete without a bona fide celebrity tie-in, in this case Susie Coelho (www.susiecoelho.com), ex-wife of the late Sonny Bono and potential heir apparent to the domestic throne.
A former model, actress, restaurateur, entertainment reporter and entrepreneur (her former Hollywood shop, A Star Is Worn, sold celebrity collectibles), Coelho (pronounced Kway-low) was born at a dinner party. Little wonder she's gone on to write two books on entertaining ("Styling for Entertaining" and "Everyday Styling: Easy Tips for Home, Garden and Entertaining"), host a pair of popular programs on HGTV ("Outer Spaces" and "Surprise Gardener") and become the lifestyle contributor to the "Today" show.
Rather than decorating, Coelho promotes a concept she calls "un-decorating," encouraging people (particularly busy women trying to juggle family, friends, career and community) to create a personal style out of everyday objects already on hand. Rather than spend a ton of time and money hunting down that hand-blown Murano-glass chandelier or the perfect aubergine throw, Coelho suggests using items such as books, mirrors, food and forgotten attic treasures to liven up the joint (no offense, Martha).
While Coelho doesn't quite have the chops — - lamb, pork or otherwise — of a true mini-Martha (cooking doesn't appear to be her thing), she is starting to develop some key relationships with the folks at Betty Crocker, eBay, iVillage, Con-Tact and Dare Crackers (whether the aforementioned crackers are part of her personal "un-decorating" style remains to be seen).
Are there other Martha wannabees out there? You bet, some with names as familiar as, well, Oprah, who, according to rumor, will soon be launching a new O At Home magazine. Other contenders:
• The Pioneer Martha: Mary Jane Butters (www.maryjanesfarm.com), an Idaho-based organic farmer with a line of quick-prep organic meals, a collection of clothing and accessories, and a magazine/catalog and newspaper column to her credit.
• The Party Martha: Colin Cowie (www.colincowie.com), a South African-born, L.A.- and New York-based party and wedding planner (he did Hef's wedding and The Boss' bash, among others) with a handful of books on swanky soirees, a line of Lenox china and the highly-rated (but currently defunct) cable show "Everyday Elegance with Colin Cowie."
• The Not-So-Big Martha: Sarah Susanka (www.notsobig.com), architect, designer and author of four successful books featuring a "build better, not bigger" approach to residential architecture. She was named a top newsmaker by Newsweek and "an innovator in American culture" by U.S. News and World Report. No merchandise deals on the horizon yet, but a line of dollhouses can't be far off.
• The Gen-X Martha: Katie Brown (www.katiebrown.com), author, host of A&E's "All Year Round with Katie Brown" (currently on hiatus) and former Lenox spokeswoman. A younger, perkier, budget-conscious version of Martha who's mastered the tricky quartet of home, garden, kitchen and crafts and isn't afraid to throw around foul terms such as Ikea now and again.
Diane Mapes: email@example.com