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The Globe and Mail

Online magazine makes a splash featuring homes of the not-so rich and famous

You wouldn't think that the Leslieville home of two Toronto teachers and their infant daughter, Clover, would become an international design sensation.

Issue two of Covet Garden, an online magazine about local decor launched this year by three out-of-work Toronto journalists, featured the charmingly unassuming abode of Shelley and Brendon and their cheerful, do-it-your-self aesthetic.

"What a gorgeous publication," commented one reader from Australia. "It's fascinating seeing other people's homes, their style, their space."

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Launched by Lynda Felton, Jessica Reid and Rhonda Riche, who became friends while working at a traditional magazine, Covet Garden has quickly amassed a fierce following of design-ophiles from across the city and around the world.

Each issue allows visitors to peek inside the home of everyday Torontonians, from a group of 20-something roommates to a condo-dwelling art history professor with an impressive library. The site receives more than 250,000 unique page views a month.

While most traditional design magazines feature the highly stylized homes of the rich and famous, most of whom employ decorators and celebrity architects, Covet Garden lets people see how homes are decorated without a six-figure budget.

"Our friends have really cool places and they're the kind that you never see in magazines," said Ms. Riche.

To the partners' surprise, the local mandate has struck a global chord and Covet Garden has joined the ranks of Lonny and Apartment Therapy as must-visit online destinations for decorating junkies.

The site receives fan letters from around the world, and 40 per cent of their subscribers live outside the country.

The first design blog to gush about the site was Bloesem, written by a Dutch woman who lives in Singapore, and Ms. Riche is trying to learn Portuguese to communicate with their legion of Twitter followers from the Iberian Peninsula.

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"It's been great but kind of scary because we thought we were doing something just for people in Toronto," she said.

The glowing response to Covet Garden contradicts the popular notion that focusing on Toronto content will annoy Canadians outside the city and bore everyone outside the country.

"We've got lots of subscribers and interest in Vancouver and Montreal," said Ms. Riche. "We're not hammering Toronto-ness over anyone's head, but it's proof that stuff can come out of here that appeals to people globally."

And their influence is bringing welcome attention to Toronto artisans, whose work is featured in the magazine or displayed in featured homes.

After issue three featured crocheted plants by Toronto artist Holly Procktor, she was contacted by design bible Architectural Digest.

Ms. Riche believes Toronto is coming into its own when it comes to home decor, and that personal style in the city is about more than just "hipsters in their Hudson's Bay coats."

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The January issue will feature the live-work space of a photographer on Carlaw Avenue and another upcoming issue will look at the home of a woman whose house is decorated entirely with objects and furniture made in the 1950s.

The editions are put together during weekends and evenings, as the women are back at work at other publications full time. But they believe there is endless material from which to draw for future editions.

"You walk down the street and peek in people's windows," said Ms. Riche. "We're all voyeurs."

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