`Attention blue-light shoppers'. Martha Stewart reveals secrets of stylish living to K mart customers

It may not ring true at first, but if your entertaining skills are described as being strictly K mart, it could be a glowing compliment. Martha Stewart, known for her graceful life style and her wedding, cooking, and entertaining books, is now giving her secrets to moderate-income people as a consultant to K mart stores.

Mrs. Stewart's kind of lavish party giving may seem, at first glance, too elaborate for the nation's largest discount retailer.

Not that her style is pretentious. It is consistently and distinctly American, albeit sometimes a bit on the country-chic side.

Stewart admits she's not been a K mart shopper in the past, but she explains her style as an appreciation for food in ``the fresh, the simple, and the homemade.''

``I see no division between the type of merchandise at a mass-market store and a department store. My table settings mix inexpensive things with my own family heirlooms and collectibles and things I get from the gardens and from nature.

``I'm not changing the quality of what I do or what I've written about in my books. It will be the same as always,'' she explains.

As American hostesses already know, Stewart is tall, blond, and attractive. She was a model while at Barnard College in New York, and she often appears in the pictures in her books. After a stint as a stockbroker on Wall Street, she switched to catering in 1976 and began deftly turning her life style into a cottage industry.

Although her catering started with the planning of a friend's wedding reception, today she operates with a permanent staff of seven plus dozens of free-lance cooks and assistants.

Energetic, with many projects going at once, she is the author of five best-selling books: ``Entertaining,'' ``Quick Cook,'' ``Hors d'Oeuvres,'' ``Pies and Cakes,'' and her most recent, ``Weddings,'' priced at $50 (Clarkson Potter/ Crown).

Though critics complain she's not a chef, and accuse her of everything from plagiarizing to publishing recipes that don't work, it has not stopped her constantly growing fan club, made up mostly of a new generation of cooks.

They enjoy her way of transforming simple foods into beautiful menus and her ideas for making a table setting look exciting.

They adore the book's photographs of Martha Stewart, appropriately garbed, feeding the exotic chickens, raking autumn leaves, pruning her espaliered pears, hoeing the cabbage patch, drying the herbs, or tending her bees and hives.

Stewart lives with her husband and daughter in Westport, Conn., in an 1860s farmhouse compound that includes several barns, a greenhouse, a smokehouse, and numerous flower, vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens. Her house includes several kitchens with fireplaces, a beehive oven, an old enamel gas range, and a wood-burning stove.

Baskets from around the world hang from the rafters, and dozens of copper pots sparkle on racks. There are crocks and bottles, vegetables, fresh eggs, and bouquets of dried herbs everywhere in the Stewart homestead. Her gardens and orchards are extensive, and she raises chickens, turkeys, guinea fowl, ducks, geese, and bees.

In August 1987 Stewart became the entertaining and life-style consultant for K mart's home fashion division. With her new commitment, she has had to curtail devotion to her million-dollar catering business, which has included parties for such people as Paloma Picasso and the King and Queen of Sweden, and one at the Museum of American Folk Art for 3,000 people.

It was at the museum party with ``more guests than a small town in New England'' that Stewart says she introduced the concept of the ``country fair party.'' Now she says everyone has copied it.

New Yorkers were served chive biscuits flecked with slivers of ham, squash pur'ee on pumpkin bread, and corn cups filled with chili. Trays of food were wedged between thick mats of peat moss and layers of thyme, rosemary, and other fresh green herbs, and the entryway was crowded with cages of Stewart's own exotic barnyard fowl, clucking and crowing away. ``It was wonderful,'' she recalls.

Martha Stewart is contributing food and entertainment editor for House & Garden. She writes a syndicated newspaper column and is in a PBS television series, ``Holiday Entertaining With Martha Stewart.''

She has recently produced the first three of a series of videos titled ``Martha Stewart's Secrets for Entertaining.'' One is about antipasto buffets and another is titled ``Buffet for Family & Friends'' ($29.95).

Stewart is still teaching classes both at her own home, Turkey Hill Farm, and at the Catering Kitchen, also in Westport. Some of her entertaining seminars are in Napa Valley, Calif. Her year-around schedule of lectures and slide presentations on entertaining, gardening, and antiques somehow fit in between all the other activities.

The Martha Stewart books are available at all 2,203 K mart stores in the specially designated Kitchen Korner areas, which include everything from whisks and napkin holders to serving dishes.

As consultant for the store's new home fashion division she's giving customers ideas for food preparation, table setting, flower arranging, and special parties. And she's writing a free, monthly, four-color brochure called ``K mart Kornerstones.''

Stewart's work for K mart's home fashion division includes two departments called Kitchen Korner and Bed and Bath Furniture.

``These are two of our key departments,'' says Joseph Antonini, K mart Corporation president and chief operating officer. ``Studies show that many Americans, particularly baby-boomers, show a desire to `cocoon,' or wrap themselves in the security and comfort of a home,'' he says.

``We are delighted to have someone with Martha Stewart's credentials to help take K mart's plans for our home fashion division into the 1990s,'' Mr. Antonini says. ``We plan to increase more fashion-oriented merchandise and more new merchandise in this partnership.

``We see products for the home taking on even greater significance as we head toward the year 2000. K mart becomes the first major retailer to act on this trend by creating a place for a home entertaining and life-style consultant,'' he says.

Stewart says that in her travels around the country she's noticed that today's consumers are more sophisticated and are also more value-oriented than ever. ``But we can't forget that style is an important element in a lot of people's lives today. Home fashions are certainly one way they can express their style.''

Although some people say her ideas are trendy, she explains that her ideas are the things she likes or would like to do herself. ``Today's entertainment is informal, relaxed and expressive,'' Stewart says. ``It's based not on intimidating rules but on personality and personal effort.''

And more books are in the works. Slated for fall are ``More Quick Cooking,'' ``The Complete Wedding Planner,'' and a ``Pies and Tart'' calendar for 1989.

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