Vero Beach, Fla. – Chris Madden was the real deal. And with her passing earlier this month, the home furnishings industry has lost one of its first multi-faceted designer and lifestyle personalities, with a career that spanned products, publishing and the early days of TV design and decorating shows.
And even if she is less well known than some of her contemporaries, notably Martha Stewart, she was every bit as impactful.
Over the course of more than three decades, she worked with a broad spectrum of the home furnishings industry from retailers like JCPenney and Bed Bath & Beyond to HGTV to her own magazine with Hearst to coffee table, design and cooking books for a variety of publishers. Her involvement with so many aspects of the business set the stage for today’s home superstars like Chip and Joanna Gaines of Magnolia Home.
Madden began her career in publishing, according to her New York Times obituary, as a photo assistant for Sports Illustrated but quickly moved into public relations in book publishing before starting her own firm, Chris Madden & Associates. (The Times said “there were no associates.”) She also began her own book writing career at around the same time in the late 1970’s with a cookbook, “The Compleat (sic) Lemon,” before moving into books on interior design. In 1997 she published what turned out to be her best-selling book, “A Room of Her Own,” about women’s private spaces, including the sanctuary she created for herself following her sister’s suicide.
The focus on home led to her HGTV show, Interiors by Design, which ran on the network from 1995 until 2003 and then her own product lines. Her Sanctuary collection for Bed Bath & Beyond was one of the first programs from a TV personality, but it was her benchmark JCPenney collection started in 2002 that she is perhaps most associated with. It eventually grew to more than 2,000 pieces and was one of the highest profile, best-selling designer programs of the era, running for ten years. She always focused on classic, affordable designs, telling Parade magazine in 2004, “I really believe everyone in America deserves a good home. Not a mansion but a good home.”
Originally based in the New York area, she eventually relocated to Florida but her involvement in the industry diminished as she dealt with health issues, primarily a rare neurological disease called HHT, or hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia. She died on March 2 from head injuries following a fall, according to the Times obituary.
Her husband, Kevin Madden, who survives her as do their two sons Patrick and Nicholas and three grandchildren, had his own high-profile career in the media industry, serving as publisher of Self, House & Garden and Bon Appetit before becoming chief executive of Chris Madden Inc.
I knew Chris well during the height of her career and even, though less so, during her years when she was less prominent. Regardless of her success or health, she was effervescent, enthusiastic and usually smiling and laughing. She seemed to be always in motion, working on one project or another and offering encouragement to others on whatever it was they were doing.
She was truly the real deal and whenever there are discussions about the people who define the home furnishings industry today, Chris Madden’s name belongs near the top of that list.