- The Washington Times - Friday, October 21, 2005

CARY, N.C. — What could be better than waking up on Martha Stewart sheets in a Martha Stewart bed, drying off after your shower with Martha Stewart towels, gardening with Martha Stewart tools, and ending your day with a Martha Stewart recipe served on Martha Stewart plates at a Martha Stewart table?

Why, doing it all under the tastefully gabled roof of your Martha Stewart home in a complete Martha Stewart subdivision, of course.

Back from a prison stay, the domestic diva has extended her brand yet again, partnering with developer KB Home to create a New England-style neighborhood of 650 houses in this affluent Raleigh suburb that seems to be embracing its longtime nickname, “Concentrated Area of Relocated Yankees.”

There’s no doubt that Mrs. Stewart’s name is popular with homemakers who snap up her linens and chairs, and turn for advice to her books, magazines and TV shows.

But is real estate too much of a “good thing?” Can the cachet of America’s favorite household goddess really extend to people’s most important purchase?

“I certainly hope so,” Mrs. Stewart said this week in High Point, N.C., where she was promoting the latest collection in her Martha Stewart furniture line.

“That’s what KB is hoping, too — that because of the Martha Stewart name recognition for high quality and good design, that it will appeal to a lot of people, and they will come in and notice that we’ve paid attention to the lock on the window, the finish on the cabinet, the surface on the countertops,” she said.

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. and KB Home announced their partnership earlier this month, saying they would build Twin Lakes: Homes Created With Martha Stewart. Construction is just beginning in this suburb of 100,000, with model homes set to be ready early next year.

A KB Home spokesman said the company has already received about 650 “expressions of interest” from potential buyers. They will be able to choose from 12 models in town houses and single-family dwellings, ranging from 1,300 to 4,000 square feet and with prices from $150,000 to $400,000.

Three house designs are based on homes Mrs. Stewart owns in Maine and New York state, and options for interior features in all models — from wainscoting to light fixtures to paint colors and flooring — were chosen by Mrs. Stewart’s design team. She also advised on floor plans, including large laundry rooms, well-organized closets and space for indoor and outdoor entertaining.

While no one expects the Stewart name to make Cary or future developments planned for Georgia and Texas a magnet for Stewart devotees from across the nation, even a competitor acknowledges such as tie-ins can make a difference.

“When they’re making their decision in a homogenized landscape, you have to have something that sets you apart and sets you significantly in a better light than your competitor,” said Rick Ohmann, vice president of sales for St. Lawrence Homes.

St. Lawrence Homes has a similar co-branding arrangement with John Deere, which provided landscaping and lawn equipment for buyers in a subdivision in nearby Durham, N.C.

Since it opened this spring with the Deere name and logo prominently placed on the entrance sign, 19 of the 51 lots have been sold.

Analysts say the Stewart development, where top-priced houses will cost $100,000 less than in the Deere neighborhood, will add a touch of distinction to less wealthy consumers who like the prestige associated with the Stewart name.

“If this indicates it’s a reflection of the superior taste of the house’s owner, then they’ll go for it,” said Wilfred Amaldoss, an associate professor of marketing at Duke University. “If people believe she’s of a higher social group and has better taste … it’s an indication for them that they are also part of that group.”

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