It comes as no surprise that a design obsessive, asked to nominate a venue for lunch, chooses a place because of its fit-out. Lucy Feagins is the name behind The Design Files, arguably Australia's biggest design website, and one of our most successful bloggers.
She suggests we dine at St Edmonds in Prahran, Melbourne, a cafe housed in what was once a garage, just back from Greville Street. With an interior designed by Projects of Imagination, it illustrates just what clever minds can do with a space. Outside, a street artist named Taj was commissioned to create a colourful graphic artwork. Inside, concrete floors and brick walls painted white provided the basic canvas. Copper and wooden joinery was added; those floors - still grease-stained - were polished; and industrial lights retrieved from the garage hoisted up. Custom-made details complete the picture: clock-on, clock-off style menus; a series of coloured coathangers on the wall that double as a magazine rack; and denim bags containing plants hang from wooden hooks. They're the sorts of things you see regularly on The Design Files (TDF) and might commit to memory, or pin on Pinterest as projects for home.
Feagins started the blog in 2008, never imagining how big it would become: the statistics are enough to make old-media types weep. After a redesign this year (by Fitzroy-based web designers SouthSouthWest), monthly page impressions doubled and have remained over 1 million a month since. Separate to the numbers is the issue of loyalty - two-thirds of her readers visit the site every second day.
Late in 2009, The Times in Britain voted TDF one of the top 50 design blogs in the world. At that point, Feagins says, it reached a tipping point. ''I always say … 'It knows where it's going and I'm just running to keep up'.''
The idea for The Design Files came while Feagins was working as a set dresser in film and TV. She describes that work as ''like a treasure hunt: you're always out at shops, looking at product, photographing it, looking for amazing things.''.
''It just kind of made sense at the time. It flowed organically, 'cause I was always out with my camera taking shots.''
Feagins was also a big reader of international design blogs, and became increasingly frustrated with their ''otherness''. In doing so, she identified a clear niche in the market for an Australian voice. ''America is a little bit ahead of us and [I] thought, 'There's definitely a place for that here'. I was lucky that there was this boom coming - it would be harder now, because there are so many blogs, but then there was no one.''
Much of the writing is done after the sun's gone down; it's posted online the next day about 6am. Food is her favourite way to wind down - whether creating it or reading about it. ''If I really want to give my brain a complete rest, I love to cook, and to read Gourmet Traveller, or flick through a beautiful recipe book. Nigel Slater is my favourite.''
It turns out it's not just the look of St Edmonds that recommends it. The food is simple but beautifully executed and the serves are generous - those mechanics would be well sated. We order from the specials board: linguine with prosciutto for me and the teriyaki chicken with soba noodle salad for her, and a glass of the Oceans Eight pinot gris each.
Where design used to be quite a niche, Feagins argues shows such as The Block have engaged people and shown it's not a domain limited to the rich. ''Conceptually that attitude has changed, but in actuality I'm not sure. It's very much about confidence. [Those shows] pique people's interest …
''Whenever I write, the number 1 question I get asked is, 'What paint colour is that' … So people want to make a statement, but they want to paint by numbers as well. I think they're becoming a bit more conscious of being a bit more quirky … of not having mainstream things. It's a sense of differentiation people are more keen on now.''
So how much ''set dressing'' does she do when she arrives to photograph someone's house? Do people really live in houses as they appear? ''I really don't do any styling. I don't bring anything into the houses. I really just want it to feel like it is; more of a documentation than anything else. We do yank furniture around in the house to get the better shot.''
I wonder what characterises Australian homes. ''The myth is that ours is quite a casual, relaxed, beachy lifestyle, but … there's a formality to our homes that you don't get in London or New York.''
She puts that down to our culture of entertaining at home rather than going out. That said, there are other factors at play, not least of which is attitude. ''It's a genuine eye-opener. Given a bit of confidence, [people see] it's OK to have a bit of a hodgepodge approach.''
In the past five years there's been a move back to more modest, crafty decor. Places decked out on a minimal budget - often rental properties - are particularly welcomed by readers. ''I do feature opulent houses sometimes and they're never very well received.''
Bloggers tend to get a bad rap, according to Feagins, and she doesn't want to be tainted by ''the whole mercenary thing''. None of her posts are sponsored; the site is funded by advertising. She uses the analogy of the blog becoming like a ''regular friend''. ''Being online, it pops up at the same time every day … it's quite an engagement … a niche thing. People really do come to know and expect what's going to be on the site. They get really annoyed if … something doesn't get posted; they let you know about it.''
While she once loved interiors magazines, she now finds them too much like work. That said, she's a fan of several online mags, including Assemble Papers and The Meander Journal.
Not far from St Edmonds, The Design Files Open House will open in a few weeks. It's a variation on a pop-up shop: a residential display where everything is for sale, from the coffee mug to the table it sits on. All the home owners' belongings are removed and Design Files-curated material trucked in.
Last year's Fitzroy version had about 5000 visitors in four days.
Feagins is often asked about her own place. ''I live in Brunswick, in a tiny one-bedroom cottage. I do feel a bit of pressure to support Australian design, 'cause you've got to put your money where your mouth is. I did buy a beautiful [Jardan] couch last year, so that's one thing.''
So does she feel pressure when she has visitors? She laughs: ''I used to, but now I just don't have people over.''
■The Design Files Open House, November 29-December 2.