Readers of Martha Stewart Living generally fall into two categories: those who take the time to tie each canapé with a single chive, and those who don't. The first category boasts a wide range of personality types, from the house-proud wannabes who delight in stiching fine calligraphic ornaments onto their freshly-pressed linens, to the earnest artisans who make grape arbors from hand-crafted coat hangers, to those annoyingly happy people who effortlessly produce lakeside feasts for 75 or so of their closest friends.
My reaction to these sorts of people typically vascillates between envy and exasperation. Flipping through the monthly magazine, I gaze wearily at the jauntily positioned citronella candles, the robust platters of sizzling seafood, the tow-headed children giddily ingesting fresh-from-the-oven fruit cobblers, the overflowing buckets of just-picked dahlias adding just a soupçon of country air.
Let me just add that I live in the country, where the air is pretty much soupçon-free, save for the sheetrock dust that penetrates every centimeter of breathing space. Seeking morning sustenance, our own children spent the better part of last winter having to put their parkas on over their pajamas to even enter their kitchen which was, for a time, only accessible by an outside back door.
Yes, we are living proof that construction (otherwise known as a redesign in your own home) can ricochet through your life, gathering more dust than dahlias. We began on the first of June, 2003 over a year ago and we're still not finished.
It's a bad thing.
Yet beyond the obvious the mess and the expense and the innumerable delays journalistic integrity (and, well, shame) obliges me to confess that it is the design of this kitchen that is perhaps most of all to blame. This is, after all, the kitchen of two designers who rarely agree on anything, let alone where the faucets should go. Real chefs would likely classify ours as an anorexic kitchen: in other words, it looks great, but can you cook in it?
Arguably, an insatiable quest for perfection might be said to characterize not only most anorexics but most designers, too. Celebrity cooking goddess Lyn Hall confessed in last week's Guardian that her worst experience by far working as a personal chef was being faced with a minimalist kitchen. "It was design gone mad," reports Hall. "A long steel slab, hidden knobs, all the appliances behind white cupboards that had to be kept closed as the hostess had Terence Conran coming to dinner and wanted everything perfect."
If minimalism run amok is one example of design gone mad, then surely Martha Stewart's fall from grace, due to a poor moment of judgment regarding a stock tip, represents another. Today is the day that Martha is to be arraigned in Manhattan, and while much is being speculated about her sentencing ("house arrest" takes on rather a different meaning in Martha's case) I've been thinking about the design ramifications of her imminent incarceration. Sure, her eponymous empire will continue the magazines, the TV reruns, the fabric and paint and recipes but where will a nation of design-challenged innocents turn if their guru is behind bars?
In an age of anorexic kitchen design, let us remember that we have Martha to thank for reminding us that design can also mean indulgence: sloppy and homsespun, her design philosophy is all about comfort and reassurance; about do it yourself and re-use; about dessert and naps and fifteen uses for old handkerchiefs. Sure, some of it is really lame: design, as most of us would likely characterize it, has little use for decorative lampshades made from mosaics of felt scraps. But if you think about the perceived value of design outside our profession, it is equally true that design has become a household word and an achievable goal thanks to Martha Stewart's ambitious efforts (fulfilled, of course, by the legion of experts on her payroll) to make design real. In terms of content and intellectual value, it may just be the most egregious example of Design Gone Mad that any of us can think of. But at the end of the day, you have to admit: it's probably a good thing.