News & Politics

Great Home Design: Online Inspiration

Looking for some redecorating tips and ideas? You can get terrific advice from design blogs and other online sites. Here are some favorites.

On her well-read blog, Department of the Interior, Jenn Lore — shown at the DC furniture store GoodWood — favors unfussy, feminine, and vintage design. Photograph by Chris Leaman.

In the not-so-distant past, design magazines held court as glossy rulers of the world of interiors. But as recent economic pressures have closed many shelter magazines, from Domino to Metropolitan Home, expertly edited blogs and Web sites have risen in relevance, offering daily—sometimes hourly—home ideas. 

“I get about 60 design blogs sent to me via e-mail every day—though that’s not to say I get to read them every day,” says DC interior designer Sally Steponkus. “I tend to skim, but I love them for inspiration.”

To help navigate the blogosphere, we asked local interior designers and shop owners to tell us their favorite RSS feeds.

>> Next: Best Design Blogs

Best Design Blogs

Apartment Therapy
Young, square-foot-challenged homebodies turn to this blogger bible for tips on creating a happy home. Editors hail from cities including Washington, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and London. Monthly themes home in on topics such as spring cleaning, entertaining, and DIY projects; popular features include house tours and local decor classifieds. Founded in 2004 by small-spaces evangelist Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan—who lives in a 700-square-foot apartment in Manhattan with his wife and daughter—the site has spawned offshoot blogs on cooking, children, technology, and green design. “It’s right up there with for my morning blog roll,” says DC designer Emily Bishop.

Hip homesteaders are drawn to this popular, easy-on-the-eyes blog compiled by Holly Becker, an American expat in Germany who has an affinity for Scandinavian and Dutch design. In addition to regular product spotlights, each Tuesday she hand-plucks five favorites being sold on Plus: DIY projects, book reviews, home tours, reader discounts, and more.

Design Sponge
 Brooklyn-based Grace Bonney corrals a team of young, creative types from around the globe who proffer a half dozen or so daily posts on design and decor, from house tours and before-and-after photos to do-it-yourself projects, product and trend watches, city guides, and more. The blog was launched in 2004; today some 60,000 readers check in daily, and a book is due next spring. “It’s probably the best resource out there for the more casual, cool set,” says Jenn Lore of the local design blog Department of the Interior.

Habitually Chic
 Interior designer Heather Clawson’s stylish blog is an insider’s account of a glam New York lifestyle, fueled by the “habitually chic people, places, and things” that surround her. But it’s not all party hopping and window shopping—expertly curated posts are written “for serious design aficionados,” says Lore, and are complemented by an haute helping of fashion and architecture.

Oh Joy!
 Graphic designer Joy Deangdeelert Cho’s happy blog serves up bite-size posts two or three times a day, such as her running This & That column (short for “wear this, decorate with that”). Mentioned in Lucky magazine and the Times of London, the site draws more than half a million page views monthly.

The Peak of Chic
Blogger turned contributing editor at House Beautiful Jennifer Boles muses on design history from her feathered nest in Atlanta. Her fun-to-read commentary and abundant photos set a well-informed but whimsical tableau—from Julia Sugarbaker tributes and Lucite side tables to 1930s movie sets and handprinted linens—that garners respect from top designers. She has “an amazing depth of knowledge on the history of interior design,” says Alexandria design blogger Beth Connolly (

The Skirted Roundtable
Three popular design bloggers—Megan Arquette (Beach Bungalow 8), Linda Merrill (Surroundings), and Joni Webb (Cote de Texas)—produce this entertaining podcast. Listen in to interviews with luminaries of the design world, from magazine editors such as Stephen Drucker to A-list designers including Suzanne Kasler, and eavesdrop on the trio’s lively conversations. You can follow links to each of their personal blogs as well.

>> Next: Local Blogs and Design Web Sites

Best Local Blogs

Aesthetic Oiseau
Web designer Daniela Shuffler has a penchant for chinoiserie, stripes, and pearl earrings, which she translates into colorful eye candy as she outfits her first home in Alexandria. “A fun, clever, and extremely witty blog about decorating,” says Sally Steponkus. “It’s always charming.”

DC by Design
 A native Washingtonian and editor at Washington Spaces magazine before it folded, design guru Jennifer Sergent—who writes about furniture stores and DIY projects on pages 128 and 151—casts an editor’s eye on local interior design and architecture. Since she launched her blog at the start of the year, Sergent’s experienced take on the local scene has amassed a fervent following among Washington designers. “DC is a great place for design,” Sally Steponkus says. “As much as people dog our big small town for it, there are a lot of very busy decorators here doing fantastic work—and Jennifer is doing a great job showing it off.”

Department of the Interior
 A designer by hobby, Jenn Lore channels her love of home accoutrements into a dreamy patchwork of boho-romantic photos, products, artwork, and other sources of inspiration. The blog’s tag line pretty well sums it up: “Life in the District . . . prettified.”

Best Design Web Sites

Lonny Magazine
Where defunct glossies have left a void, Lonny slipped in last fall, with Domino magazine alum Michelle Adams at the helm. Formatted as an online-only magazine with a full-screen viewing option that lets you flip through pages digitally, Lonny “has a fresh, young feel to it, much like Domino,” says Arlington designer Sara Tuttle. High/low design, shopping scouts, and small-space tips are sprinkled throughout house tours.

 A self-professed “sourcebook for the considered home,” the current iteration of this Web site came online last fall. Four editors on both coasts run the show, culling the best design news, trends, and products as well as showcasing rooms you can browse. A resource guide lists books, blogs, and experts in design and architecture. Clip your favorite virtual tear sheets and “dog-ear” them for later using the site’s Design Files feature.>> Next: Online Stores

Best Online Stores
Many national retailers offer Web sites that include online shopping as well as design tips, blogs, photo galleries, and customer stories. These include Restoration Hardware, Room and Board, and CB2, Crate and Barrel’s hipper sibling. The following sources offer services or products that stand out from the crowd.

Brook Farm General Store 
A “modern general store” perched under the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn, this shop stocks everything from vintage glass pharmacy bottles to wooden-handled scrub brushes to seagrass hampers. “I like the functional but elegant aesthetic,” says design blogger Jenn Lore. “It’s a great place to stock up on well-made basics.”

McLean designer Jill Sorensen says she loves to peruse the online catalog of masterpieces by Molly Andrews. Thanks to Andrews’s handiwork, once-tired wing chairs and Victorian settees get reimagined with fresh textiles, from organics to suzanis and mod graphics.

Design Public
With a lively modern aesthetic, this assortment of contemporary lighting, bedding, wall embellishments, shelving and storage, gifts, and baby gear delights design lovers. You can check out Design Public’s blog, Hatch, follow it on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for a weekly newsletter that unveils new designs, deals, and inspiration.

A virtual souk of handmade and vintage gems, this popular online marketplace showcases the wares of hundreds of thousands of small-scale craftspeople and artisans from more than 150 countries. Sift through the hordes of goods using targeted keywords, or stick to the items featured prominently on the homepage, which are hits with users and editors.

 Antiques dealers from around the world convene on this virtual marketplace to list their wares, so you can browse through midcentury Italian consoles, Art Deco lithographs, crystal French chandeliers, and Eames folding screens in the comfort of your slippers and robe. Think eBay but with vetted sellers and a glossy sheen. Though labyrinthine in scope, the shop is easy to navigate and also features interviews and shopping tips from top designers.

Three Potato Four
Conceived in 2007 by a Reston couple, Janet Morales and Stu Eli, this cheery online mom-and-pop shop and blog is a compendium of secondhand collectibles such as colorful vintage blankets, antique card catalogs, skeleton keys, galvanized oil cans, and other unusual finds.

 This 14th Street DC shop’s online home has its full inventory of modern, customizable furnishings. “You draw it, they can make it,” says DC designer Liz Levin. The site’s blog, Design Clique, features a design challenge each Wednesday, in which Vastu’s in-house interior designers reply directly to a reader-submitted question.>> Next: Budget Sources, Local E-Decorators, and Room Planners

Best Budget Sources

 This German start-up offers high-design modern furniture at up to 70 percent less than traditional retail prices. You can also vote on designers and products you’d like to be available for sale; the most popular designs become part of the online store. If the item you voted for gets picked, you get an extra 10 percent off. Follow @Fashion4Home on Twitter to learn about upcoming promotions. Through September 6, the site is offering Washingtonian readers a special deal—$20 off your first purchase. Use the coupon code “Washingtonian.”

One Kings Lane
 Members of this free shopping club are privy to 72-hour “flash sales” on top home brands such as Bodhi, Archipelago, and Jiti. Featured products sell for 50 to 70 percent off, including furniture, art, bedding, and rugs. New sales start daily at 11 am.

Best Local E-Decorators

Live Like You
 This site is set to launch in late August. Interior designer Jill Sorensen’s prefab room designs are inspired by personality type—Glamour Girl, Modern Bachelor, Earthy Modern, Recessionista, the CEO—as well as by movies and TV shows, from Mamma Mia! to Mad Men. Room designs are free to browse and feature paint colors, wallpaper, and furniture suggestions—all of which can be purchased from the site. For each look purchased, Sorensen will donate 5 percent of the price to a selected charity. For $75, she’ll examine floor plans and photos and draw up a guide to implementing the look in your home.  

Liz Levin Nesting
 Last year, Washington designer Liz Levin launched an online home for her decorating services, in which she and her team solve design stumpers digitally. They also offer a ready-to-shop collection of their favorite to-the-trade furnishings. E-consultation services start at $25 to begin a conversation and go up to $500 for a complete room, including floor plan, three color and fabric-scheme options, and furniture picks. Levin is particularly well versed in creating kid- and pet-friendly spaces that are also posh. (See “Pet-Proof and Pretty” on page 171.)

Best Room Planners

Floor Planner
 Sketch your own blueprints, customizing rooms down to precise measurements—including every nook and bay window—and hand-plucking furnishings from a comprehensive library. View the finished product in three dimensions for a better sense of your plan. The basic service is free.

Icovia Space Planner
 National retailers such as Mitchell Gold & Bob Williams outsource their interactive Web tools to this easy-to-use room planner. The professional design service carries a monthly fee of $19, but you can take the service for a free spin on its Web site. Draw your own floor plan or use one of the prebuilt room options, from kitchens and master bedrooms to patios and playrooms, then play with furniture arrangements and color schemes. A text tool lets you scribble notes on the floor plan.

Room Arranger
Rearrange any room with this interactive software, which lets you customize the dimensions and shape of your room, add furniture from a nearly 300-object library (or draw your own), and do a virtual walk-through using three-dimension visualization. You can upload an image of the floor plan and draw walls on top. Download a free trial version; after 30 days you can choose to pay $20 to register the software, which includes free future updates.

This list first appeared in the August 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.