In Step With Chris Madden

By James Brady
from Parade Magazine — July 11th, 2004

Parade Article - July 17th, 2004

Do you believe in the American Dream? Chris Madden certainly does. And some pretty smart people-retailers, TV execs and businessmen-are listening to this attractive suburban housewife with a solid marriage, a couple of grown sons and a growing cult of fans.

All because-over a painstaking two decades-Madden has developed a home design business that’s currently growing so fast even The Wall Street Journal has been asking, "Is she the new Martha Stewart?" When Chris and I had dinner last month at Elaine’s in Manhattan with her husband and partner, former big league magazine publisher Kevin Madden, I asked the same question.

"Martha paved the way," said Chris generously. "She helps women impress. I try to help them decompress."

Ms. Madden surely has the résumé: 16 books about home and lifestyle, a weekly column in 400 newspapers, her own show for eight years on HGTV and frequent guest spots on Oprah, Today and Good Morning America. And recently, Chris signed a big-time contract with J.C.Penney for her own line of furniture, bedding, rugs, lamps and accessories.

After studying fashion design, Chris worked at Sports Illustrated. At 23, she was the PR director of the venerable book publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Her first book, Interior Visions, got things started. She’s worked with Bassett Furniture, Mohawk Home and now J.C.Penney. "You learn to work with them," Chris said about the companies. "It’s like a marriage."

And her husband did not just stand still. Kevin had been publisher of House & Garden, Self, and Bon Appétit until one snowy afternoon in 1995, when he told his wife he would help her run her burgeoning company. "That was an incredible leap of faith," Chris told me. "So egoless, so fabulous of him."

Neither Madden has looked back since. "I really believe everyone in America deserves a good home," Chris said. "Not a mansion but a good home. That’s my message."

Brady’s Bits: Chris and Kevin Madden "met cute", as they say in Hollywood Script jargon. It was in Central Park during a softball league game in the early ‘70s. Chris was playing catcher for her book company, and she was wearing her glasses but no mask. Kevin was managing the opposing New York magazine squad and called time out to rage at her: "You dumb kid! Do you want to get your face messed up or lose an eye?" I happened to be playing third base that evening and remember that their first date followed swiftly thereafter. Last month, on the day after we dines, the Maddens-now happily married business partners-were to discuss a TV deal with cable execs for a show to start in early 2005. "What else is in the works?" I asked Chris. "We have a magazine on the drawing board," she answered, "but first I want to concentrate on J.C.Penney." Then she added, "It’s a crazy, fast-paced world, but I do want to make a difference."