Penelope Green: Telegenic Former Model and Publishing Executive Who Wrote Books on Decorating

From a New York Times obit by Penelope Green headlined “Chris Madden, Lifestyle Author and Personality, Dies at 73”:

Chris Madden, a lifestyle and decorating author and personality who lent her name to furniture and housewares and was an early program host on HGTV, the addictive cable network devoted to the home, died in Vero Beach, Fla.

Her husband, Kevin Madden, said she died in a hospital from head injuries she had suffered in a fall at their home. Ms. Madden had a rare genetic disorder, hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia, or HHT, which causes malformations of the blood vessels.

Ms. Madden, a telegenic former model and publishing executive who wrote a number of books on decorating, was sometimes compared to Martha Stewart, the steely lifestyle guru — but a kinder, gentler version, as Joyce Wadler of The New York Times put it in 2007.

“She helps them impress,” Ms. Madden said of Ms. Stewart. “I help them decompress.”

She had already written a collection of books on interiors — including “Kitchens” (1993) and “Bathrooms” (1996) — when, in 1997, she published what proved to be her most successful book by far: “A Room of Her Own,” about women’s private spaces, from Oprah Winfrey’s to a nun’s. It was inspired by her own private sanctuary: Grieving after a sister’s death by suicide in 1995, Ms. Madden created a retreat of sorts in a closet of her Westchester County home, a place to meditate and mourn.

“I didn’t have a place to mourn her,” she said, “so I created my own personal space.”

The book touched a nerve and sold more than 100,000 copies. Ms. Madden became a sought-after speaker and guest on television. Bed Bath & Beyond sold her Sanctuary collection, a line of decorative throws and pillows inspired by the book. She also lent her name to candles, baby furniture and a rug collection. In 2002, she began a furniture and housewares line for J.C. Penney, which grew to a collection of over 2,000 pieces that the company sold until 2012….

Ms. Madden told Parade magazine in 2004: “I really believe everyone in America deserves a good home. Not a mansion but a good home.”

Her magazine Your Good Home was published by Hearst and sent to subscribers of Good Housekeeping for about two years starting in 2005.

She married Mr. Madden, then advertising director of New York Magazine, in 1974. He would go on to be publisher of Self, House & Garden and Bon Appétit, and then chief executive of his wife’s company, Chris Madden Inc.

Ann Christine Casson was born in Rockville Centre, N.Y., on Long Island, one of nine children. Her father, Edward Gaynor Casson, was a sales executive. Her mother, Ann Marie (Hill) Casson, was a homemaker who taught her children to sew and cook, and even upholster furniture.

Chris was a model as a child and a teenager. She majored in fashion merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, though she dropped out in her senior year to work as an assistant in the photo department of Sports Illustrated.

She worked in the publicity departments at several publishing houses — when she was just 24, she was hired as director of publicity at Farrar, Straus & Giroux — until being fired by Simon & Schuster in the late 1970s, Mr. Madden said, for not being aggressive enough. She then started her own publicity company, Chris Madden & Associates (there were no associates), in their apartment on East 84th Street. Her clients included book publishers, an anti-censorship nonprofit and Ford Models.

At the same time, she began to produce coffee-table books. She first wrote a cookbook (“The Compleat Lemon,” with Susan Lee, published in 1979) and then a book on New York City (“Manhattan,” with Jean-Claude Suares, published in 1981). After her book on decorators, “Interior Visions: Great American Designers and the Showcase House,” was published in 1988, she began to focus on interior design.

In addition to her books, she was a host on HGTV almost from its beginnings in 1994. She oversaw the program “Interiors by Design,” which covered the work of decorators around the country, from 1995 until 2003….

Ms. Madden was in her 30s when she was diagnosed with HHT, which caused her to suffer from massive nosebleeds. Over the years she had three brain surgeries, among other treatments. In recent years she was an advocate for people with her condition and for the National Organization for Rare Disorders. She was extremely proud, her husband said, of her arrest in 2017 at a demonstration in Washington inside the Senate office buildings protesting the threatened repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

She wore a T-shirt that declared, “I am a pre-existing condition.”

Penelope Green is an obituaries reporter for The New York Times. She has been a reporter for the Style and Home sections, editor of Styles of The Times, an early iteration of Style, and a story editor at The New York Times Magazine.


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