In 2005, a tabloid scandal involving Martha Stewart converged with the rise of social media to have a profound effect on the design world. The slick and exacting perfection of the previous decade morphed into a more down-to-earth aesthetic.
It’s perhaps no accident, then, that two stalwarts of this brave new online-design world—Los Angeles–based Joy Cho of Oh Joy! and Vancouver-based Jan Halvarson and Earl Einarson of Poppytalk—began their influential DIY blogs that year. A decade later, they’re appearing together at this Saturday’s (September 26) Social Sessions, a series of seminars at the Interior Design Show West, where they’ll share the secrets of their success with an audience of hopeful next-gen online-design gurus.
Back to 2005. Stewart, that doyenne of domestic perfection, was in the middle of her stint in the pokey for insider trading. Her icy demeanour and micromanaging aesthetic went to federal prison with her, but a kinder, gentler Martha came out in March 2005: one who wore a gifted knit poncho from a fellow inmate and came across as (slightly) more relaxed.
As Martha yolo’d, the rise of blogging sites allowed anyone with an eye for style the chance to get their vision out to an audience of their own. The democratization of design had begun. DIY, but IRL. The blogs that stood out and blew up were the ones that spoke to people who didn’t have the time to fuss over flower arrangements or proper gourd-growing techniques. You like the table? Make the table. Is it perfect? It’s not supposed to be.
A graphic designer by trade, Cho began the Oh Joy! blog while between jobs and living in a new city. “When I started, I didn’t know there could be professional bloggers,” she says by phone from her L.A. studio. “No one did. It was just, for me, a side project to keep me occupied. And then the economy went bust and everybody got broke, so people wanted to do more with less.”
Within a decade, Cho was sharing her quirky design tricks and tips across several platforms (she currently boasts 13 million Pinterest followers) and had parlayed her popularity into lucrative contracts for a line of party supplies for Target and Oh Joy!–branded Band-Aids for Johnson & Johnson. Recently named one of “The 30 Most Influential People on the Internet” by Time, she attributes her success to the increasing digitization of everyday life. “We’re getting so automated that a part of us wants to take a break and do something with their hands,” she explains.
For Halvarson and Einarson, Poppytalk (which has eight million Pinterest followers) began as a way for the husband-and-wife team to catalogue things they liked. “You could say it was a proto-Pinterest,” says Einarson by phone from the brick-and-mortar Poppytalk shop on East Broadway. Poppytalk has been sought out for collaborations by companies such as Roots Canada, eBay, Target, and even the home base of the lifestyle queen, Martha Stewart Living.
“We always had an indie-driven aesthetic,” Halvarson says. “We were in a band in the late ’90s, recorded our own CD, our own video on Super 8… I think we’ve always been those people.”
Unlike Oh Joy!, Poppytalk follows an aggregation model. Halvarson and Einarson post things they like from around the web, but always with a view to nostalgia, handcrafting, and things with a history.
“I grew up in Vancouver,” says Einarson. “I think that’s part of the reason I’m so attracted to things that are worn-out. The entire city used to be that way. There were so many old buildings and rundown areas. We’re losing that, and I think some people miss it. I know I do.”
Halvarson chimes in: “It’s where we’re from.”