April 14, 1980 12:00 PM

In affluent Westport, Conn., where a servant force is imported daily to prune rosebushes, polish silver and change light bulbs, Martha and Andrew Stewart resemble the Swiss Family Robinson. They rebuilt everything but the frame of their farmhouse—floorboards to skylights. Their yard is full of chickens. Their half-acre garden is ripe with fruits, vegetables and herbs nine months of the year. And Martha’s idea of a perfect Father’s Day present for Andy last June was a seemingly unrestorable barn.

It isn’t that the Stewarts are Connecticut rustics with nothing else to do. Martha, 38, is a contributing editor of House Beautiful and also operates a catering service whose clientele includes Beverly Sills, the Paul Newmans and the Robert Redfords when they’re in Connecticut.

Andrew, 42, is president of Harry N. Abrams, Inc., publisher of sumptuously produced, best-selling tomes like Gnomes, Faeries and The Hobbit. Under his presidency and thanks in part to his impish books and spin-off products, Abrams has solved its chronic economic crisis while continuing to produce prestige art volumes such as the current $50 Chagall by Chagall. The Stewarts are just back from China, where Andy signed a contract to co-publish a book on the relics of ancient China that have been excavated since the Communist takeover in 1949.

A farmer at heart, Martha’s up every morning before dawn to read, feed her animal broods, weed her perennials, bake bread and prepare for the week’s catering. She charges between $8 and $45 per person, depending on the cuisine. Redford likes zucchini and banana bread, Sills the chocolate Victoria tartlets, and the Newmans order up chicken teriyaki for his racing crew.

The Stewarts have been neighbors of Paul and Joanne since 1971, when they bought an abandoned circa-1800 farmhouse. It was regarded as the “Westport Horror,” Martha recalls. They tore down walls, installed windows, rewired, added bathrooms, built cabinets, all the while learning on the job. Their restoration is still unfinished, but it looked good enough by 1977 to be featured in House & Garden. (Martha went to work for the rival monthly in 1979.)

The Stewarts met when he was a 23-year-old Yale law student and she was modeling to put herself through her freshman year at Barnard. A schoolmate, flower sculptress Diane Stewart Love (PEOPLE, Nov. 19), set up a blind date. “I didn’t know Diane very well,” Martha remembers, “but she stopped me in the library, showed me a picture and said, ‘This is my brother. Would you like to go out with him?’ Diane was such an interesting person—she drove a Jaguar and dressed in Dior and Balenciaga coats—I said yes.” After prodding from his sister (her previous efforts had been disasters), Andy found himself rapping on Martha’s door in New York. “She was beautiful, strong and tall [5’9″ to his 6’4″],” he says, “I immediately fell in love. I wanted to be cool—so I didn’t invite her out again immediately. I waited three days.” Says Martha, “He was shocked that I always accepted every date. I hadn’t read any F. Scott Fitzgerald novels and didn’t know that girls were supposed to lead men on.”

Several months later Martha was invited to Paris to model spring clothes for a magazine. When she announced the news over the phone, Andy jumped in his car and raced from New Haven to Manhattan. “I thought I would lose her,” he explains, “and I couldn’t let that happen.” “He stood outside my window throwing stones at one in the morning,” recalls Martha. “Finally I snuck out of the dorm in my bathrobe. He drove around and around Central Park telling me I should marry him.” They wed in 1961. Because of her youth—she was 19—his mother disapproved. Her father despaired too. “He told me I was crazy,” Martha remembers. “But I decided to go ahead because Andy was honest and extremely serious. Until then, my boyfriends had been fun-seekers—boys from South America who took me dancing at El Morocco.” “We were young and innocent,” observes Andy. “We never had the experiences we might have had if we were married four or five years later. But Martha might have changed and I would not have wanted her.”

The second oldest of six children, Martha grew up in Nutley, N.J., where her father was a hospital supplier and her mother taught sixth grade. By high school she had begun to model at Bonwit Teller and soon began doing TV commercials for Clairol and Tareyton. After marriage and the birth of daughter Alexis, now at a nearby boarding school, Martha quit modeling for a job on Wall Street. Within six years she was earning $130,000 a year selling stocks. But she got turned on to haute cuisine during expense-account lunches, and when the Stewarts moved to Connecticut, she opened a food co-op en route to launching her catering service in 1976. Her debut, on a hot August day, included 200 oeufs en gelée (eggs in aspic) that melted, but everything has solidified since. Martha is still occasionally called back to model for the Ford Agency. She is working on a book on entertaining. Her goal is to host a televised cooking series.

The son of a New York investment banker, Andrew spent a privileged youth at schools in Florida, Switzerland and Vermont before entering the University of Virginia. He graduated with honors in philosophy before moving to Yale Law. “I loved the human aspects—especially negotiating,” he says. “But nothing bores me more than preparing formal documents.” So he served time with a New York law firm and a Connecticut conglomerate before opening the Manhattan legal office of the Times Mirror Co., which owns Abrams. He was transferred to the publishing side as executive VP in 1976, and six months later was picked to succeed founder Harry Abrams, who retired at age 72 and died three years later.

Stewart has a reputation as an easygoing executive in a grindingly competitive industry. He tries to be agreeable at home, too. “We have never even come close to getting divorced,” says Martha. “But,” says Andy, “there are difficulties between us, things that grate. She is more practical. I am more theoretical. I’m forgetful and a bit sloppy. If I leave something where it’s not supposed to be, she will say, ‘What is this x-y-z doing here?’ My carelessness annoys Martha and her reaction to it annoys me.”

His fantasy of a perfect day includes trekking through mountain wilderness. Martha says, “I’d like to be riding with Andy on an island off the coast of Maine and pick little lobsters from cold pools and cook them.” “Actually,” says Andy, compromising optimistically, “we just have to find a mountain by the sea.”

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