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Design Direction: Smaller businesses offer unusual items

| Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, 8:55 p.m.
'Design Bloggers At Home' (Ryland Peters & Small, $29.95; www.rylandpeters.com) by  by Ellie Tennant
Rachel Whiting
'Design Bloggers At Home' (Ryland Peters & Small, $29.95; www.rylandpeters.com) by by Ellie Tennant
Image 'Chic Boutiquers At Home' (Ryland Peters & Small, $29.95; www.rylandpeters.com) by Ellie Tennant
Photography by James Gardiner
Image 'Chic Boutiquers At Home' (Ryland Peters & Small, $29.95; www.rylandpeters.com) by Ellie Tennant
Image from 'Chic Boutiquers At Home' (Ryland Peters & Small, $29.95; www.rylandpeters.com) by by Ellie Tennant.
Photography by James Gardiner
Image from 'Chic Boutiquers At Home' (Ryland Peters & Small, $29.95; www.rylandpeters.com) by by Ellie Tennant.

Ellie Tennant has watched many trends come and go.

As a longtime interiors journalist and stylist based in London, she's developed a personal design philosophy rooted in timeless, simple design.

“I am always drawn to natural materials, honest, artisanal items and understated interiors,” she says. “I like found objects — feathers, pebbles, flowers and shells — and beautiful artworks that inspire me. I'm also a huge fan of vintage furniture.”

In addition to her blog — ellietennant.com — and successful freelance career, Tennant has written two books: “Design Bloggers at Home: Fresh Interiors Inspiration from Leading Online Trend-setters,” which looks at some of the most influential design writers, and “Chic Boutiquers at Home: Interiors Inspiration and Expert Advice from Creative Online Sellers,” delving into the world of smaller independent brands with strong virtual presences (both by Ryland Peters & Small).

Question: In a world where it seems everyone has a personal website, what makes a design blogger worth watching?

Answer: I think the most interesting bloggers are the bloggers who blog part time or for a hobby or as a sideline from a separate business and so don't need to make money from relentlessly publishing sponsored content, commercial “collaborations” and adverts thinly veiled as “editorial.”

I realize full-time bloggers need to make money somehow, but I'm always more interested in independent, less commercial blogs with top quality writing, fresh imagery and strong stories that aren't just “BUY THIS” messages. It's difficult to respect these “billboard” blogs, because they're mostly a series of adverts and not at all inspiring or original.

I also enjoy larger blogs that have a range of writers contributing to them, so there are many voices and opinions to explore. The best blogs have a clear mission statement, a strong brand and stick to one niche area, producing top quality content of a professional standard.

Q: How did you decide who to feature in the book?

A: We wanted to feature a wide range of blogs — from the very small, just-starting-out kind to the mega-blogs with huge followings — and a good variety of styles. We also wanted to include bloggers who had beautiful homes — not necessarily the most luxurious or expensive homes, but homes that are creative, filled with ideas, DIY projects and clever styling tricks that readers will find useful when decorating their own homes. There was also a geographical element to our choices, because we could only physically visit a few countries time-wise and money-wise, so we focussed on bloggers based in the USA, Scandinavia and Europe.

Q: Was there any space featured in “Design Bloggers at Home” that really wowed you? If so, what made it special?

A: All the homes in “Design Bloggers at Home” wowed me in very different ways. I was particularly enamoured with the country home of Rebecca Proctor, who lives in a cottage in Cornwall, England. With flagstone floors, inglenook fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, her interior style was right up my street, and the location was incredible — wild, untamed and coastal.

Q: How did you decide which small businesses to feature in “Chic Boutiquers at Home?”

A: I wanted to include a good range of businesses, selling a wide range of home products, from a variety of interesting locations. Of course, the sellers' homes needed to be stunning and inspiring, and I was looking for shopkeepers whose online realms and homes interact, overlap and coexist. Many of the Chic Boutiquers use their homes as showrooms, sharing images of their creations on social media. The lines between the digital and the domestic are blurred.

Q: Are more consumers choosing to patronize these types of businesses over big-box stores?

A: I think big, high-street shops will always have their place, but most interiors addicts want unusual, one-off, original items for their homes, and high-street stores, filled with mass-produced items churned out of factories, all seem a bit same-y to the more savvy, creative consumers these days.

Without the expenses of a bricks-and-mortar shop, smaller independent brands can set up and start trading online with ease, giving us access to a wider range of chic boutiques than ever before. The growth of online shopping also means that we can buy from brands that are based abroad, many of which have introduced international shipping at competitive prices to attract a global customer base.

Small online sellers can't compete with the bulk-buying giants, such as Amazon, so they tend to focus on niche areas, selling unusual, handmade or carefully sourced items that are difficult to find elsewhere.

Inspired and energized by the small-business owners I met, I was saddened to hear that a U.K. supermarket has started to sell “artisanal” coffee in brown paper bags. But I was heartened to learn that authenticity equals power. The big boys can attempt to imitate the real thing, but they can never succeed.

Small businesses tend to be more original, ethical and interesting. Let's support them by shopping from them whenever we can, from small retailers we know, and we know we can trust, for durable, long-lasting, well-made products with ethical origins.

Q: What are some of your favorite pieces you've purchased from online sellers?

A: I have a beautiful leather and feather hanging decoration from Brooklyn-based Kanorado Shop (kanoradoshop.com) and a small, painterly porcelain bowl by ceramic artist Elaine Tian of Studio Joo (studiojoo.com). I am addicted to eBay, too.

Rachel Weaver is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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