The night before our interview, Martha Stewart returned to her Bedford, NY, home at 3 a.m. after a four-day trip to Southeast Asia. It’s now early morning, and in true Martha Stewart form she’s already eager to get down to business. After all, she’s got a massive lifestyle brand to run. These days, among other things, she’s focused on the release of her 95th book, Martha Stewart’s Cookie Perfection, extensive new holiday collections with both Macy’s and QVC, this year’s selects for the Martha Stewart Wine Collection, and a hit VH1 show with Snoop Dogg—Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Party Challenge. While it’s clear the 78-year-old hasn’t cut back her grueling schedule one bit (in fact she admits she’s busier than ever), it seems that recently we’ve been able to see her in a new light.
For many of us, Stewart has always been the image of domestic perfection, an exceedingly accomplished businesswoman who could always do things beautifully, and seemingly effortlessly. But these days it’s her easy accessibility that seems to be driving her appeal, and it has endeared her to a variety of generations and countless new fans. During our interview, she laughs readily when her four dogs come storming through the door after a romp outside; her mischievous sense of humor makes it clear she’s always in on the joke; and she’s quick to express gratitude for her success. Here she talks about everything from holiday celebrations to culinary inspiration to embracing social media—and so much in between.
Your 95th book, Martha Stewart’s Cookie Perfection, came out October 15. What was the impetus for the book?
We already published a former cookie book, but cookies have been one of the most popular things for us online and in the magazine, and we just had so many more even more delicious cookie recipes! Out of our hundreds of recipes that we’ve developed over the years, they’re our favorites.
Where do you seek culinary inspiration?
I just got back from the Philippines and I found some really good ideas there. I travel a lot. I visit many different kinds of restaurants, and I try to engage with chefs all over the world. We’re always looking for new ideas and ways to do things. I had lechon five different ways in four days in the Philippines. That’s baby roasted pig. Each was so different from the other. I’m just dying to try a new recipe. I also learned how to plant rice. I never realized how difficult just the collection of rice is and how the universal food is grown. I’ve always wanted to plant rice, and now I have, and that inspires me to think of a crop like rice — where did it come from, how was it discovered, what makes one rice so much better than the other? I get a lot of inspiration from traveling.
Your holiday line from your Macy’s collection came out this October. Why are you excited about it?
Every year we do extensive products for holiday. This year [we have collections for both] Macy’s and QVC. We have beautiful Christmas trees and ornaments. Technology has helped a lot. Remember how it used to be that one light went out and the whole tree would go out? Well now nothing like that happens anymore. We have beautiful dinnerware and tabletop ornamentation — it’s gorgeous stuff. We’ve been working with Macy’s for so many years on amazing products. We have beautiful flannel sheets—even when it’s cold in the house you’re warm in bed. Those are my favorites.
You’ve been so successful at attracting millennials to your brand. Why do you think that is?
I have millennials surrounding me! My company is full of millennials. I have one sitting across from me right now—my assistant. [Things like] Instagram and Pinterest have really shown people how beautiful things can be. It used to be that magazines inspired everyone, and now it’s magazines plus all the social media. People want to do things. I’ve always thought that young people, middle aged people, older people….they ALL want to create and entertain and use their hands and feed their families beautiful things. That’s what it’s all about. We provide that content and information and inspiration on whatever channel people are going to, and people really respond.
Everyone is talking about Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Party Challenge. Will there be a season 4?
I’m sure there will be. We haven’t planned it yet, but we film everything in the early part of the year. Then the content is shown throughout the year. I just had a phone call this week with my producer.
Why do you think you and Snoop get on so well?
It’s the odd couple syndrome. People love seeing opposites and the attraction is appealing. The funniness is appealing. It’s a funny, nice, friendly, family-oriented, entertaining talk show really, but with food. It’s what we wanted it to be, and it’s evolved. We’re friends. I mean, he’s not sitting here now hanging out with me, but when I go to LA we get together, when he’s here we see each other. He’s a very good guy and a very talented person.
In recent years, your sense of humor has captivated new fans. How would you describe your sense of humor?
Complicated. [Laughs] It’s to-the-point. It’s surprising to a lot of people that I’m fast on my feet and can make jokes about my personal [life] as well as other things. I’m glad about that, because it is the way I am.
How have you evolved since creating the Martha Stewart brand?
I haven’t changed so much. I still want things done the right way. I’m just busier than I’ve ever been. That’s good but it’s also bad because it doesn’t leave me much time to do other things. Like, I wanted to go horseback riding today but I have so much to do just getting back from this trip that I don’t know if I’ll get out on my horse. But there’s so much to do, and I’m very lucky that I have so much to do in my life.
You were honored at the Greenwich Wine + Food Festival for your philanthropy. When it comes to giving back, what do you focus on?
There are two: One is the Martha Stewart Center for Living at Mount Sinai Hospital. We just launched our second hospital in New York City within a larger Mount Sinai complex. The first one is 10 years old. It’s an outpatient ward dealing with people over 65, which is the fastest growing population in the United States. Soon, more than 50 percent of America will be over 65 believe it or not. We are faced with a monumental challenge of how do we deal with the aging population, and I want to be helpful in that respect. I want people to live longer, better, healthier, and be more productive. Retirement age does not have to be 65 or 62. A lot of companies are now realizing that the most valuable employees are the older employees who know something. The other focus is of course on the environment. I’m active in the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and Friends of Acadia National Park. I have a house in Maine and I care very much about the environment both in Maine and the world. I was just in a beautiful hotel in the Philippines and looked down at the big beach and there was about 50 feet of floating trash along the coastline. It’s just indicative of pollution in Asia and elsewhere. We better do something fast and be active about it.