Big House 'Good Thing' for Martha

First she'll perfect the art of the cell. Then...?

By Shannon Rupp 14 Jul 2004 |
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With Martha Stewart's latest bid for a new trial denied and her sentencing date set for July 16, there has been another flurry of jokes about the domestic diva over-decorating her cell.

It's an amusing gag, but it suggests these people don't understand the true genius of Martha -- she won't be decorating JUST her cell. Nooooo. I'm sure she sees "the big house" as just more territory to fluff. Soon she'll have a contract to decorate the entire prison -- and all those places like it. Mark my words: Martha Stewart institutionalized will lead to "Martha Stewart Institutional," a line of linens sold to hospitals, women's shelters, and group homes for troubled teens.

A stint in the slammer would only enhance Martha's career because I suspect she already knows, intuitively, what a British psychologist has recently found: decor has an impact on how people feel. David Williams, a researcher at the University of Westminster in London, found that people experience pain more intensely when it happens in a room decorated with vivid photos of wounds. (Or, I would argue, those cheesy art-mart prints.) He concluded that hospital ambiance -- pine disinfectant, cold, clinical decor, and torture-chamber machinery -- just makes patients feel worse.

Thinking big

"Only an operating room needs to be that clinical," Williams told the New York Times. "The smell, the look, the whole appearance, everything which says, `This is a hospital, and you have no control. You are here to suffer' - all are changeable."

Can't you just see the business opportunity in that quote?  He's suggesting there is a legitimate need for extensive lines of therapeutic sheets, towels, crockery and furniture. It's a whole new industry: Therapeutic Decorating.

Decorating for Pain Management could be a variation on the country cottage style with lots of white-washed furniture and cheery striped and floral sheets -- call the pattern "Recovery."

The Good Health line could offer psychological support as well as sheets with a 300-thread count. For insomniacs they could come in a restful pale blue ticking stripe, which would give them something to count. Over at the shelters, sheets and towels could come in soft shades like "Brave Yellow" or a quiet blue called "Self-Esteem."

Rehabilitating people and stuff

For prisons, where they need to make good on the promise to reform people, I can see sheets in neutral shades that create a Zen-like calm while suggesting the importance of conforming to authority and maintaining impeccable living standards. Maybe they would have names like "Quiet Riot" or "Phoenix Rising."

Not only will prison provide inspiration for Martha, it's bound to be Nirvana for someone who has a penchant for handmade goods -- there are all those idle hands in search of projects. Martha could teach her new friends how to hand-weave high-priced carpets, and mass produce slipcovers. Maybe she could introduce some decorating therapy workshops into the prison curriculum: Relieving Distress by Distressing Furniture. There they could learn to whack the furniture (instead of each other) in order to create that much-loved antique look.

Eventually, these prison craft shops could be turning out all sorts of reasonably priced  decorating goods, under Martha's label, while giving the dregs of society a valuable trade.

I can also see a series of books: Character Building Through Spring Cleaning, Esteem-Building with Accessories, or The Civilizing Influence of Good Design.

Comfort food

Many prisons already include gardening as therapy, but I bet Martha could take the training up a notch, and franchise it. Imagine the armies of Martha-trained cleaners, tailors, painters, faux finishers, and garden designers who could start life anew by delivering services as part of the "It's a Good Thing" chain. Maybe their signature uniforms could be classic black and white stripes?

And it would take a legend to improve on the legendary bad food found in institutions, so maybe she could write Martha Stewart: Cafeterias, Cooking for a Thousand or More. Soon public school kids all over the world would be dining on Martha's mac'n cheese for the masses.

The woman doesn't think small. Incidentally, that's why I doubt that the former stockbroker worth billions engaged in some petty corruption that would net her about $50,000.  But I'm not ashamed to say I'm looking forward to her stretch in the hoosegow -- I think it's going to lead to many a good thing.

Vancouver writer Shannon Rupp is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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