October 2007

Jennifer Johnson

magazine whore


In need of a life redesign? Well, that’s the mantra of Blueprint, the latest from Martha Stewart Omnimedia. Okay, I’ll bite. After all, who doesn’t need to know “How to Buy a Rug” or how to “Get the Bedroom You Dream About”?

The magazine starts on an unintentionally comic note with a letter from Martha Stewart to her readers (fans?). Apparently, Martha needs to let us all know about her foundation’s generous gift to the Mount Sinai Medical Center in NYC. After all, charity just isn’t charity if everyone doesn’t know about it, is it? Also, Martha informs us that she wants to jump on the economic sustainability bandwagon -- she’s just not sure how to do it yet: “We believe that all companies can be more mindful of our environmental impact. With that in mind, we are exploring ways of making greener practices part of our business plan, including the creative content we generate, the products we offer, and the materials we use to keep our offices clean.” Well, isn’t that lovely. Martha realizes we should be greener! Any changes being made at Martha Stewart Omnimedia? No, not yet… but being green is a “good thing.”

But, this rather pointless letter from Martha is the outlier in an otherwise Martha-free magazine. Unlike Martha Stewart Living (the flagship of the Martha Stewart magazine empire), there are no “good things,” no photo shoots of Martha dicing fresh tomatoes in her kitchen and no presumption that the reader lives in a house surrounded by a five-acre orchard. In other words, there’s no smug Martha Stewart silently judging you from beyond the pages of the magazine, taunting you with imagery of her perfect yet unattainable Connecticut-chic world.

Blueprint is subtler. It makes fewer assumptions about the amount of money you have and the amount of time you’d be willing to spend planning a dinner party for fifteen of your closest friends. Blueprint is Martha Stewart Living for a younger, less affluent set. It’s for the woman who’s just beginning to establish herself, to move beyond the mismatching IKEA furniture and the “I’ll just open a bag of chips and buy a keg” parties to the “adult” world. And, somehow, Blueprint manages to do so without making you feel insecure.

Even the crafty element so often present in Martha Stewart magazines is more subdued here, a welcome change for those of us who don’t have the time to “whip up” twelve coordinating placemats two hours before a party. Instead the projects include a few quick ideas for resurrecting flea market and garage sale finds (in an article cheekily called, “She Loots, She Scores”) that don’t require much more than a can of spray paint and a well-ventilated room and a slightly odd idea for a centerpiece created with dried gourds that you cut in half to create bowls (check out page 40, if you don’t believe me).

Blueprint seems to be more about making smart purchases to perpetuate the myth that you’ve got your shit together -- a fine goal. To that end, there are enough features on shopping to make Lucky (The Magazine for Shopping) jealous. There’s “Legends of the Mall,” a guide to all the clothing and accessory bargains hitting chain stores this season; there’s “For the Long Haul,” an article designed to convince you that it’s okay to spend $1,000 on a handbag (it is an investment, after all!); and there’s the aforementioned guide to buying an area rug. An eight-page, pullout guide to buying an area rug feels like a bit much to me. All this time I’ve been happy with the rugs I’ve gotten at Target and garage sales, not knowing the exciting world of exotic materials and artistry that could have been mine. (Of course, why bother when my cat is going to rip it up anyway?)

The best feature was “Choose-your-own Cocktail Party” a lengthy feature with mix-and-match drink and hors d’oeuvre options organized by degree of difficulty. The hors d’oeuvre options were generally pretty creative and the “effortless” options were actually easy (many requiring little effort beyond purchasing something frozen and popping it in the oven). Even the “extra-credit” elements were approachable -- for the most part. If only they’d stopped before they got to the elderflower sour, a drink featuring -- you guessed it -- elderflower liqueur. All together now: What the hell is that? In my mind the original drink featured in the “extra-credit” was an appletini-derivative or something but Martha stepped in right before the issue hit the presses and slipped in her obscure drink without the other editors noticing. Or maybe I’m the last person in the country to experience the glory of elderflower liqueur and you’re all laughing at my gaucheness as you read this.

All in all, Blueprint was enjoyable, although not incredibly memorable. My life isn’t redesigned, but at least now I know how to pick out a rug.