Martha's Got a Brand New Mag

Martha Stewart's new magazine for the younger crowd, dubbed Blueprint, comes off as slightly cheeky without being hip. It's the antithesis of design-drenched magazines like Wallpaper. You won't catch the folks on these pages looking jaded, sexually ambivalent, or emaciated in high-fashion gear. Its closest rival is ReadyMade, the funky bimonthly magazine that has turned how-to into high art. Martha's new offering has the same eclectic feel, minus the interviews with cool filmmakers and the overt love of kitsch.

The premier issue of Blueprint, which goes on sale to the public on Apr. 24, is a touch more earnest and a bit suburban in feel. The cover features a beaming young couple in mismatched preppy clothes (complete with rubber boots, gardening gear, and a sleepy dog) standing outside a pastel painted clapboard colonial house. The typeface looks retro, and the featured stories include "423 Solutions for Better Rooms, Meals, Hair, Sleep," as well as "The Machine Washable Living Room."

Think of it as Martha Stewart Lite. What distinguishes the magazine from its many rivals catering to the twenty- and thirtysomething crowd are the hallmarks that distinguish Martha Stewart Living itself. There's a section on turning your old charm bracelet into an "edgier" piece of jewelry (although how could anyone see cute little squirrels, deer, and doves as edgy, especially when attached to a baby-blue ribbon?).


  Another piece shows readers how to turn scarves into handbags. The furniture tends toward the rustic or what some might label as suburban comfort. And it wouldn't be a Martha Stewart publication without features on how to send beautiful handwritten cards and add decals to your door.

On first read, the magazine's identity is tough to pin down. The tone shifts from serious to irreverent. After tips on keeping stain-removal pens and "a classic white T-shirt" in your office drawer in case of coffee stains (what if you're wearing a dress that day?), the next page features the Blueprint Martini. "Show us a magazine without a signature drink and we'll show you an uptight staff without priorities (Hiccup!)." A hiccup in the halls of Martha Stewart!

Despite these inconsistencies, Blueprint's appeal does grow on you. The magazine's editors have a strong sense of what they don't want Blueprint to be. In this issue, at least, there are no tips for getting thinner thighs in 30 days. The closest it comes is a feature on tai chi that tells you what to wear and how you'll feel the next day without actually guiding you through the exercises. The main goal is to encourage readers to consider the benefits of trying out tai chi, which it does convincingly.


  This is also not a publication that looks likely to prescribe shopping as the route to female happiness. In fact, the fashions look low-key -- the kind of thing you would wear when you don't really want to be noticed. Think earth tones and modest cuts, showcased on models standing in austere offices and monotone bathrooms.

One fun piece is a dress designed by fashion editor Katie Hatch that can be sewn in 11 speedy seams. That's what fans have come to expect from Martha Stewart, not the feature on dance-inspired shoes that looks as though the photographer accidentally tripped into someone's closet.

Fashion and beauty are the new areas of coverage for this group of magazine veterans. The makeup feature, appropriately titled "Something for Everyone," is so all-encompassing that it risks inspiring no one. Pink and brown may qualify as flattering colors, but a little more guidance on tailoring them to various skin tones might be helpful.


  But Blueprint also does some things very well. As with Martha Stewart Living, the design and home features are likely to draw fans. The furniture is unusual enough to be interesting, but accessible enough that people might buy it. I found myself poring through the "handbook" on buying a better sofa -- perhaps because I really need a new sofa. A section on setting out a buffet dinner for eight is also eye pleasing and useful.

And as so with Martha Stewart Living, the Blueprint appeal is one part voyeurism. The four-page feature on drafting handwritten cards looks pretty, even if you'll never put pen to paper, and you can always adapt the suggested language in the notes for a nice e-mail. Another section on enlarging photos to poster-size prints is fun, though some people might not see the appeal in blowing up a version of their winning poker cards or a sentimental century-old envelope, both of which serve as illustrations.

While it needs to find a more consistent voice, Blueprint is still likely to find a strong audience. The folks at Martha Stewart know how to put a magazine together, and they're also the types to stitch up handbags and hold pristine brunches during their off hours. With that kind of passion and expertise, Blueprint might give magazines like ReadyMade reason to redecorate.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.