Mary Emmerling has made a career of country

October 03, 1993|By Patricia Beach Smith | Patricia Beach Smith,McClatchy News Service

Mary Emmerling is "hot," if you can call anyone as cool as she is "hot."

"Yeah, I have just been discovered," she says. "I am like those actors who have been working for decades and someone finally discovers them. I wrote 'American Country West' 10 years ago, and people are just beginning to learn about it. That's OK. I couldn't be luckier. After all, I have the New York Times and Lexington Furniture behind me now."

The New York Times is publishing Ms. Emmerling's latest endeavor, a charming magazine called Mary Emmerling's Country, the first issue of which is now on newsstands. Her nonthreatening decorating magazine (unlike Martha Stewart's editions) won't make anyone feel like a slob if all the linen in the house isn't ironed. Ms. Emmerling's next magazine will come out Oct. 26 and will be her country Christmas effort.

"My magazine isn't about me. I am not that interesting," she said. "It'll have stories and a few recipes and a decorating notebook to help you shop."

The first issue includes articles on everything from knitting sweaters and cooking to "vintage color" and columns called the Fearless Collector and Flashback, a niche for short stories -- real and imagined.

As if that's not enough, Lexington Furniture is manufacturing a collection of Western-inspired furniture she designed.

Ms. Emmerling, the author of 12 country-style books and designer of country wallpapers, furniture and accessories, has been on a tour, promoting her magazine.

Ms. Emmerling's furniture collection is the size of Texas and includes no less than five mirrors, four bedsteads, four armoires, three hutches, three dozen sofas and chairs, plus woven leather chairs.

"People discovered America when they stopped going to Europe," says Ms. Emmerling, 50, who lives in a loft in New York and has some cottages on Long Island. Her own affection for Americana is obviously a deep one. Her heritage accounts for that.

She is descended from no less than a signer of the Declaration of Independence and two American presidents. Her great, great, great, great grandfather was Benjamin Harrison, who signed the document. Her great, great, great grandfather was William Henry "Tippecanoe" Harrison, the ninth president, and her great, great grandfather, Benjamin Harrison, was the 23rd president.

Ms. Emmerling's career as a stylist/editor began in the Shoreham Hotel, in Washington.

"The hotel always [had] a booksellers' convention, and that's where I got interested in books. They also had the Blue Room, a place where people like the Beatles and Marlene Dietrich performed -- and I got to meet them," she says. "Later, I went to work for Lord & Taylor in their buyer-trainee program."

After Lord & Taylor, Ms. Emmerling worked for Glamour and Mademoiselle magazines.

"That was in the '60s, when boutiques were big. I was the boutique editor. . . . At the same time, I was taking courses at the New York School of Interior Design and as a result of that and doing a 'Details' column, in about 1968, I discovered design. Oh, I said to myself, this is what I want to do," she says.

Soon after that first magazine stint, she began to buy Americana.

"In those days you could still find good pawnshop jewelry and old furniture. In about 1976-'77 House Beautiful featured my apartment. It had checkerboards on the white walls, it was casual and it looked different from a lot of things that were being featured in stores in those days. Having it in the magazine changed my life," Ms. Emmerling says.

"Country is friendly. I think that's why it has remained a mainstream decorating style. I could have gone the country route in fashion [apparel], but I am glad I did it in decorating. Friends in the fashion business only last for 15 minutes," says Ms. Emmerling, who favors the little or no make-up look. "In decorating, friends seem to be friends for a long time."

Someone Ms. Emmerling calls a friend is Martha Stewart, whom some media types have implied is her rival.

"Actually, Martha worked for me at House Beautiful, but she never tells anyone that. She was great at food, but no good at styling," Ms. Emmerling says.

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