Remaking Martha

Article excerpt

Byline: Raina Kelley

The domestic doyenne is hoping to sell you a new set of kitchen cabinets and a bucket of paint.

At a time when housekeeping seemed like retrograde drudgery, Martha Stewart built a media empire based on an idea of domestic perfection, and in the process created a lifestyle. Now, after a stint in prison and a bruising recession, she's out to remake her company into a consumer-products giant, selling everything from dog beds to rugs.

In 2003, Martha Stewart was ruling over an eponymous multibillion-dollar media empire, which included Martha Stewart Living magazine, a popular TV show, and a string of bestselling cookbooks. It should have been the best of times. She had built Martha Stewart Omnimedia up from a catering business in her Westport, Conn., home with her bare hands--the same hands that later taught acolytes how to raise heirloom chickens and gild roses.

Stewart used herself as an example to women that both a thriving career and a beautiful home were possible. She smiled out from the covers of her magazine, whipped up crepes on her TV show, and shared images of her exquisitely decorated homes. Her role in the organization was so pivotal that the 1999 prospectus to take the company public warned investors that the business "would be adversely affected if Martha Stewart's public image?.?.?.?were to be tarnished."

What happened next should have been a disaster. In 2004, Stewart was sentenced to prison for lying to federal prosecutors about a stock-market transaction. She spent five months in prison and five months under house arrest. The financial punishment was also severe: Stewart estimates the total losses from her "legal mess" at a billion dollars. In the wake of her conviction, ad pages in Martha Stewart Living dropped 35 percent and her show was canceled. …