Bloggers offer shelter to fans of decor, design, style

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Last week yet another interior design magazine bit the dust -- Country Home, Meredith Corp.'s upscale guide to distressed-farmhouse-table chic, victim of a 25 percent drop in ad pages in 2008.

Country Home's demise follows that of similar "shelter books," as they're known in the magazine industry: House and Garden, O at Home, Cottage Living, Vogue Living and Home, all of which have been shuttered in the past few years due to the dismal economy and rise of the Internet.

"This free fall of discontinued magazines is getting a little scary," fretted one design junkie -- who happened to be writing from her popular design blog, Cote de Texas (cotedetexas.blogspot.com), one of hundreds, if not thousands, of "shelter" blogs that have sprung up on the Internet.

Indeed, the anonymous author of Cote de Texas ("French Design on the Texas Coast -- Yes, It Does Exist!") is so popular -- it made the Washington Post's list of top 10 design blogs in 2008 -- she must contend with fans she affectionately dubs her stalkers, who show up on her doorstep unannounced, laden with gifts of wallpaper and scented candles.

"If decor is your porn, this is your blog," declares the founder of Decorno.com (decorno.blogspot.com), tapping into one incontrovertible truth: There will always be decor-fixated people who will want to read about other decor-fixated people, or, at least, examine their decor fixations.

Not into Texas/French design? Have a thing for historic Connecticut country houses? Check out ctcottageindustries.com, whose founder, a woman identified on the blog only as "Marie Louise," has been posting ravishing pictures of such places since April 2008, when she's not blogging about Keen's Chop House in New York City or the historic Awhanee Hotel in Yosemite National Park.




Other worthy design/lifestyle blogs

russellversaci.blogspot.com

shelterinteriordesign.blogspot.com

smallplacestyle.blogspot.com

whiteandwander.blogspot.com

parisapartment.wordpress.com




Prefer London to Yosemite? Take a look at My Notting Hill (mynottinghill.blogspot.com) or London Calling Loudly, (londoncallingloudly.blogspot.com), which boasts elegant Georgian staircases from Elle Decor while the blog's founder quotes Henry David Thoreau: "It's not what you look at that matters. It's what you see."

On Brooke Gianetti's "Velvet and Linen" blog at brookegiannetti.typepad.com, the subject was "plumbing fixture envy," with endless photos of brushed nickel faucets in pristine bathrooms by designers like Michael Smith, who may be tapped to become the Obamas' decorator in the White House -- that is, if you were reading The Peak of Chic blog last week (thepeakofchic.blogspot.com).

There are a lot of bloggers out there -- 184 million worldwide, according to a March 2008 study by Universal McCann, with 26 million in the U.S. alone. And a good number of them, it seems, are obsessed with all-white kitchens, silk taffeta curtains, heart pine floors and Italian linen sheets.

And while Pittsburgh may yet not be known for its cutting-edge style in fashion or design, take heart: At least three of the more popular design bloggers hail from this region.

Ronda Carman founded All The Best blog (allthebestblog.com)-- "A Passport to Stylish Living" -- in 2007, a paean to the good life that, today, averages 50,000-plus unique visits each month. Ms. Carman, a Texas native, is a former Mt. Lebanon resident who moved to Scotland in 2005, when her husband, a former political science professor at the University of Pittsburgh, took a job there.

All the Best's restrained hedonism reflects Ms. Carman's love of luxurious decor, food, fashion and destinations -- from the glories of fabric house F. Schamacher to the Napa Valley's Calistoga Ranch to designer Todd Romano's scented candles. But All the Best also has a cozy feel, with recipes for Sunday supper carrot ginger soup and links to a video of Bing Crosby's "Peace on Earth" Christmas special with David Bowie. All the Best was ranked as one of the top 90 design blogs by Alexa Internet, one of the largest Web "crawlers," which track popular sites and rank them for search engines. In October, at the Decoration & Design Market Event hosted in New York by Architectural Digest, Ms. Carman was invited by Decorati, an online interior design site, to speak on its panel, "Influence of the Design Blogger."

Ms. Carman's blog really took off after an interview with Rita Konig, a blogger for Conde Nast's youth-oriented shelter mag Domino and a columnist for British Vogue. After that, doors opened for other interviews with other trendsetting designers, such as Mr. Romano, Vicente Wolf and Mary McDonald.

"It was then that I had this 'ah-ha' moment -- this is my niche! I'm a people person, and I love getting to know the creative minds behind the work," she said, noting that she recently was able to quit her job as a fundraiser to blog full time.

Stefan Hurray isn't quite there yet -- at age 27, he's working at an architecture firm in Washington, D.C., when he's not posting on his blog, Architect Design (www.architectdesign.blogspot.com/). It has also attracted a following and was one of four featured last month in Elle Decor, whose editors asked him, Heather Clawson of Habitually Chic and two other bloggers to predict design trends for 2009.

Mr. Hurray, 27, grew up in Hopewell and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University. When he isn't posting about eccentric architects like the late Samuel Mockbee -- who created buildings out of cardboard scraps, car windshields and other "found" materials -- he's searching out beauty in the ordinary, from photos he takes himself, such as the unusual light fixture on CMU's campus. There's a strong Anglophilic streak running through Architect Design, with a recent tour of a Worcestershire country house, complete with photos by Henrietta Spencer-Churchill.

"The architect in me is drawn towards very practical, modern things, but the design person in me does like the classic, too," said Mr. Hurray. "I started my blog last year as a New Year's resolution. It seemed like a great way to make friends and started out as a purely social thing, but now I'm getting offers of design jobs from it. I think it has really struck a chord with people."

Mr. Hurray's blog is showing up more frequently on top 10 lifestyle blog lists along with Decorno, Cote de Texas and Habitually Chic (www.habituallychic.blogspot.com), created by Clawson, a thirtysomething New Yorker who was born and raised in Greensburg. Created in 2007, her blog gets 5,000 page views a day, and she's attracted some advertising, as well as clients for her fledgling interior design business. Her apartment was pictured in House Beautiful, and she recently posted photos of The Bachelorette Pad, an apartment she designed for a client.

"The blog is a great resume," Ms. Clawson said, while noting that magazines like House Beautiful, Elle Decor and Domino don't see her as a competitor. "It's free advertising for them, to take their pictures and post them on our sites, because it prompts people to go buy their magazines."

Still, since blogging is more immediate, it has a special appeal to design junkies.

"My theory is that everyone is a little A.D.D., so if you love design you get to see something new every day on my blog. I post every day, whereas magazines come out once a month, and I can go to a design store in New York, take a picture and upload it an hour later," she says.

Perhaps more importantly, Habitually Chic has allowed her to keep old friends "who were tired of my obsession with design and meet new people who are as obsessed as I am," she laughs.

This version of the story was changed from a previous version to clarify the event Ms. Carman attended in New York in October.

Correction/clarification (published Jan. 13, 2009) -- The URL for the allthebestblog.com was incorrect in the original caption for the illustration with this story. Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at 412-263-1949 or mcarpenter@post-gazette.com .


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