Design Blogs

With their encyclopedic sources, up-to-the-minute product news, and fiercely opinionated reader reviews, these sites have become a must-read for the design-obsessed.

To people of a certain age, the word "blog" probably conjures up images of celebrity gossipmongers and lonely heart teenagers posting their diaries online. While the Web offers plenty of blogs in those categories, it also has more professional sites that are legitimate sources of inside information on a given subject. Following the recent explosion of Web sites devoted to politics and food, design blogs are now all the rage among savvy decorators and home-obsessed consumers.

Design blogs are online journals written by people who are passionate about the home-design world. Often they work in the industry as interior designers, architects, and stylists, and their sites are an outlet for their boundless energy and knowledge of home decor. Grace Bonney, the 26-year-old behind Design Sponge (designsponge.blogspot.com), best known for its coverage of undiscovered artists, used to work for a design public relations company before her site took off. Shelterrific (shelterrific.com), my own home-decorating blog, is written by a handful of magazine editors and writers whose professional lives spill over into our shared personal obsession. And in 2004 Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan and Oliver Ryan started Apartment Therapy (apartmenttherapy.com), which caters to those living in small urban spaces, as an extension of their interior consulting business. "Most visitors log on during the day, multitasking at their desks," explains Gillingham-Ryan, who has launched six other blogs—including city-specific versions of Apartment Therapy in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago—over the past three years. "You can’t read a magazine or watch TV from your desk. But you can quickly click over to a new window and look for something you need for your bathroom."

As shopping tools, blogs can be incredibly useful. New York-based TV personality Jules Asner began browsing Design Sponge and Decor8 (decor8.blogspot.com) for inspiration after she and her husband, director Steven Soderbergh, bought a second home in Los Angeles. "I was overwhelmed with having to furnish a house while living on the opposite coast," she says. "I started checking the sites a few times a day and found the boutique recommendations really helpful when I was in Berlin for a film festival."

Like magazines, blogs provide photos, product reviews, and how-to-buy information. But they go one step further, encouraging audiences to write comments about postings, opening up conversations that are often just as valuable as the original content. And as many interior decorators have learned, such sites can be essential sources for hunting down hard-to-find objects. Celerie Kemble, who runs the New York office of Kemble Interiors, reads blogs to search for rare pieces—from antiques to new designs—for her clients. "Even though I go to all the trade shows, I still think it’s helpful to read the blogs," Kemble says. She raves about finds like the Sir Elton headboard from Myrica Design in Stockholm, which she spotted on Decor8. "I e-mailed it to all the girls in my office because I thought a Plexiglas headboard was an ingenious idea," she says. "How else would I have known that there was a designer in Sweden doing this?"

Still, most readers get hooked on these blogs for a single reason: to find the next hot product. For example, collectors of Vitra chairs should visit MoCo Loco (mocoloco.com) to learn about one of the company’s latest creations, the Worker by Hella Jongerius. Architect-designer Basil Walter, whose firm has created spaces for prestigious events such as the Vanity Fair Oscar party, regularly visits the green-lifestyle site TreeHugger (treehugger.com) to keep up on the latest environmentally friendly materials, such as Kirei board, an attractive plywood substitute made from sorghum. Both MoCo Loco and Design Sponge cover many of the major furniture shows, allowing their audience a first look at the newest, most coveted pieces.

For a small company, a mention on a well-trafficked blog can cause a firestorm of media attention and consumer sales. One minute an artist is quietly slaving away in a studio in Brooklyn and the next, The New York Times is calling. That’s exactly what happened to Lite Brite Neon Studio. "Prior to the blogs talking about our chandelier, no one knew about it," says owner and designer Matt Dilling. "That’s the great thing about these sites—they become a catalyst for awareness." Even established de-signers can feel the effects of the blog world’s affections. Decorator-designer Jonathan Adler notes that "when Design Sponge featured our Hollywood bedding pattern, we sold a hundred sets that day."

With thousands of design blogs currently up and running, the choices may seem overwhelming for the novice Web surfer. "A starting point could be your favorite decorating magazines’ Web sites," advises Kemble, noting that many now have blogs of their own. Most also include a hefty list of links to other like-minded sites, so once you find one that suits your tastes, an entire digital universe unfolds at your fingertips. As Gillingham-Ryan points out, "While the world of decorating is very elite, blogs are democratic. We like to share."

Objects of Desire

Apartment Therapy

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan’s crew blogged about the Stack Stool by Hivemindesign. A new spin on the famous Time-Life stool by Charles and Ray Eames, it’s made of multiple pieces that can be recombined for different looks. $1,000; hivemindesign.com

MoCo Loco

Montreal-based blogger Harry Wakefield covers modern contemporary design and posts updates on artists such as David Wiseman. Known for his chandeliers, Wiseman has a new collection of organically shaped vases. $360. At Cooper-Hewitt, 212-849-8355.

Design Sponge

Grace Bonney, who scours the Web for the best international objects, fell in love with this Duchess chair from Parisian company Etc Creations. Each vintage frame is rebuilt by hand and environmentally sensitive. $1,880. At Etat de Siège, 33-1/43-29-31-60.

Treehugger

The folks at this eco-site liked the idea of New Yorkers purchasing these recycled-glass rooster tumblers, thus becoming more responsible shoppers. Crafted of mouthblown glass, they take green dining to a new level. $48-$54 for four; bergdorfgoodman.com

Shelterrific

Woodland creatures are all the rage in tabletop design, but as the editors at Shelterrific point out, this oval découpage Lapin platter will outlast the trend. It’s pretty enough to hang but functional enough to use on the table. $200. At John Derian, 212-677-3917.