Fans of the Marion House Book blog could walk blindfolded into Emma Reddington's Roncesvalles kitchen and rhyme off the details by heart. There's the bold, black accent wall, marble backsplash stretching to the ceiling, and walnut shelves she had custom-built after her Ikea cabinets crashed to the floor.
But, pulling off that blindfold on a recent Sunday morning, some might be shocked and a little relieved to see the vacuum in the hallway and dirty dishes in the sink. Ms. Reddington, an interior designer and part-time exhibit designer at the Art Gallery of Ontario, makes no apologies for the pretty photos of perfectly arranged rooms in her Victorian home (and occasionally the homes of some of her Parkdale neighbours, including, full disclosure, that of this article’s writer) that draw thousands of daily visitors from Amsterdam to New York. “I guess it's promoting my vision of how I like things to look,” she said recently over fresh-baked scones she had photographed for a post.
It turns out a lot of people like Ms. Reddington's eclectic aesthetic – and the style of a host of other Torontonians who aren't afraid to go public with their paint choices and basement renovations. And that passion for decor, driven in part by a proximity to the heart of the Canadian design industry, is translating into blogs that are garnering attention across Canada and beyond. This week, when Apartment Therapy, the U.S.-based design website that boasts 7 million readers every month, announced this year's nominees for The Homies, its annual blog popularity contest, the home decor category included three from Toronto, including the Marion House Book, Rambling Renovators and StyleNorth.
Once considered decor-obsessed amateurs, bloggers are increasingly becoming tastemakers and savvy promoters who are also catching the attention of mainstream media outlets and major brands. Jennifer Flores of Rambling Renovators, for example, has shown off her DIY chops on The Nate Berkus Show. Others, such as Chris Jones of StyleNorth, have had their rooms featured on American super-blogs like DesignSponge and Apartment Therapy. Last month, Ms. Reddington and her business partner were hired to help style a one-day pop-up shop in Toronto for Jason Wu and Target. She credits her blog as one of the reasons their interior design company, Marion Melbourne, caught the eye of the show's Brooklyn-based celebrity party planner, David Stark. Since her blog's popularity has taken off, she has been approached to contribute design articles for magazines such as Today’s Parent and Toronto Life, and has had her bedroom featured on the cover of House and Home.
“Honestly, when I first started, if you had told me that [the blog]was going to open the doors it has already opened for me, I never would have believed you,” she said.
Margot Austin, senior design editor at Canadian House and Home magazine, divides the blog scene into two camps: “super fans” obsessed with all things decor, and professionals such as Ms. Reddington who use their blogs to help create their own brand. “I think some bloggers can be tastemakers if they are creators and that's their business,” she says. “A lot for me is informed by the perspective the blogger brings…What really turns my head is that feeling of, ‘Oh, I haven't heard of that before.’” She points to lifestyle bloggers with an interior design bent, including Oakville's Christine Dovey of Bijou and Boheme and Jane Flanagan, the Toronto blogger behind Ill Scene, Ill Said, who have amassed international audiences and the respect of design professionals.
The most successful bloggers are quick to point out blogging is hard work. They post at least three times a week, brand themselves with a unique voice and look, and invest in SLR cameras and Photoshop and toss the point-and-shoot. When Ms. Reddington began blogging two years ago, she left dozens of comments on other design blogs every night, expanding her own exposure. She estimates she works up to 25 hours a week on creating original content.
Increasingly, bloggers are angling to be compensated for their work. In January, about 100 bloggers, mostly from Toronto, attended a panel discussion in the city on how to cultivate mainstream-media exposure. The talk, part of a new conference series called Blog Podium, founded by Toronto bloggers Jennifer Flores of Rambling Renovators and Lindsay Stephenson of Little House Blog, will be followed up by another talk on how to make blogs profitable through strategies such as advertising. A blogger since 2007, Ms. Flores says she has watched the city's blog community explode in the last two years. “It's because we have the design industry so accessible here: HGTV Canada, Sarah Richardson, Mike Holmes, Candice Olson – all the brands are here…It's not like I'm a blogger in the midwest U.S. Here it's right at our doorstep and it's very easy to reach out to the magazines and design community.”
Feeling like a part of Toronto's design scene is one of the non-financial awards that blogging has brought StyleNorth’s Mr. Jones, whose wit and unique point of view have earned the City of Toronto communications professional some 30,000 page views per month and national media exposure. Since typing his first blog post almost four years ago, his focus has always been budget decorating: vintage stuff rather than new; the joy of transforming a Craigslist find into treasure; reconciling his “Elle Décor taste and a flea-market budget.” As an outlet for Mr. Jones's passion, the blog has survived a difficult breakup and the death of two beloved dogs. And it will endure his latest challenge: noisy neighbours. “It's driving me completely crazy,” he says of the Annex apartment he moved into less than a year ago. “I refuse to make it my own.” Another move is on the horizon, he says. For his next amazing apartment transformation, his readers will have to wait.
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