Made By Martha
Safavieh design partner Martha Stewart invites us into her farmhouse home, where the virtues of simplicity in decorating are on full display.
One of my favorite memories of Martha Stewart is the episode of her Christmas show where she and the late Julia Child make croque-en-bouche, a pyramid of profiteroles bound by threads of caramel. As their pastry towers rise side by side amidst much laughter, Julia’s is seen listing noticeably to starboard, while Martha’s is Euclidean perfection.
That’s Martha Stewart: The simple, pretty result appears effortless, belying the mighty talent and, well, effort that she supplied. So it is with Martha in the kitchen, the garden, the crafts room. And so it is with Martha the decorator. “My interiors are pretty, but they’re rather simple,” she says.
A visit to Cantitoe Corners, her home in Bedford, New York, reveals the aesthetic power of disciplined simplicity. Inside and out, the 1925 farmhouse is painted in mellow, unified colors—greys, browns and greens. Of course, they’re colors of Martha’s own devising.
She notes that her inspiration was “the utterly beautiful lava stones I’d seen from Mount Vesuvius. My entire Bedford property is based on those volcanic colors as well as colors from seashells.” She managed to extract 14 different colors from a Brazilian Tun shell. Being a product of nature, they all go together perfectly.
n general, Martha uses one paint color per room, and it works. Deep architectural moldings in the farmhouse create shadow lines that multiply the perception of the one color into many shades. Even the window muntins are painted in the same soft color, which, she explains, has the desired effect of drawing the eye outside
Does Martha have rules for dinner parties? No, but she does have preferences. She likes all of her guests at one table, whether in the dining room, garden or even in her gleaming horse barn.
Another lesson in decorative restraint from Cantitoe Corners is how to use plants in interiors. Instead of cut flowers, Martha prefers live plants: “I have several greenhouses in which I collect and grow a huge assortment of unusual plants. I bring them into my house on a weekly basis to complement the simplicity of the house. I collect agaves, aloes, fancy begonias, weird plants such as kangaroo paw and mistletoe cacti, and ferns, especially staghorn ferns.”
Often she displays massed plants, and always in keeping with the muted simplicity of her color scheme. A tabletop thick with potted cactia and succulents, for instance, provides an unexpectedly charming effect.
A FEW OF HER FAVORITE THINGS.
Martha Stewart knows what she likes, and she’s happy to share.
What can’t you live without? My iPad. Everything I’m reading and watching and everyone I’m communicating with are in there. My cappuccino machine. It’s a San Marco that makes four cups at a time. Books—I have hundreds everywhere. My cats and my dogs. My apple trees and lemon trees. (I really love citrus.) My grandchildren, Jude and Truman….
Favorite artist? I love sculpture, and my favorite sculptor may be Richard Serra.
Favorite scent? I’ve worn the same scent, Fracas, since I was 19.
Favorite flower? At present, the gardenia.
Favorite foreign city? Right now it’s Beijing.
Favorite dog breed? I have Chow Chows, but I’m becoming obsessed with Pomeranians.
Guilty pleasure? Binge watching! I just finished the first season of Black List. I like Homeland, Scandal, House of Cards—all the really good shows.
Any regrets? I remember every piece of furniture I didn’t buy but should have! Hesitation is the worst enemy of a good designer and a good decorator. If you’re comfortable with your taste and your knowledge, then the original impulse is almost always correct.
The use of plants in tablescapes brings us to another side of Martha at home—the entertainer. On the day we met, she was planning one of her smaller dinner parties (that meant 17 people) for the following evening. She would be serving pot-au-feu, the epitome of simple French family cooking.
Does she have rules for dinner parties? No, but she does have preferences. She likes all of her guests at one table, whether in the dining room, on the porch, in the garden or even in her horse barn. She favors candlelight (“but not too dark”), classical music played at a low volume, the presence of children whenever appropriate and, no surprise, “really, really good food. Ambience is important, but the people and the food matter most.”
And with that, Martha Stewart may have encapsulated a theory of home design: Simplicity works best because the home, after all, is simply a backdrop for the people who live there.