In 1998 — when influencer wasn’t a career choice and Search Engine Optimization didn’t run the internet — Anna Dorfman started blogging just for the heck of it. Before the millennium, people shared their thoughts on the World Wide Web because they wanted to, without a sponsored post in sight.
“I’d love to give a shout-out to my fellow old-school bloggers — those of us who have been at it since the early days and who got into blogging long before it was something that was monetized or sponsored,” Dorfman says. “As much as I strongly believe that people should be paid for their work, there’s something special about writing just for the sake of sharing ideas and observations with the world. My favorite blogs are the ones that aren’t optimized for SEO, and where the writing is truly coming from the blogger’s heart. To those of you who are still blogging (and loving it) after a decade or two, cheers.”
As one of the OG bloggers, Dorfman and her blog from 2007, Door Sixteen, are still going strong.
“When I started Door Sixteen, I intended for it to solely cover house renovation projects, but I’ve never been able to hold that kind of focus for long,” she says. “I really just write about whatever I think is worth sharing in a format that’s longer than makes sense on social media.”
The name of her blog came from her initial inspiration to spotlight her home projects. Sixteen was the street number of the Victorian row house in Newburgh, New York that she was renovating when she launched the blog.
Taking Door Sixteen on the Road
Though Dorfman has stuck with the Door Sixteen brand, her residences have changed over the years, with her blog following her to eight different homes, ranging from the Hudson Valley to Manhattan, Brooklyn, and her relocation across the country to New Mexico.
“I moved into a mid-century pueblo revival-style house in Santa Fe, New Mexico, about three years ago, and for the time being, my focus is really on documenting the renovation of the house,” Dorfman says. “This type of architecture (and the relative “newness” of a house built in 1950 versus 1890) has presented a real learning curve for me after spending my entire life in New York, and that’s translated into a totally different set of projects for my readers to (hopefully!) enjoy. Beyond that? Who knows! I have fantasies of renovating a trailer or RV to use as a vacation home, but that’s a far-off dream. The good/bad news is that houses never run out of projects! There’s always something to do and always something to share.”
Dorfman has documented her home makeovers every step of the way, sharing how to DIY a floating banquette, building cabinet cubbies for extra storage, and painting and stenciling the kitchen floor, to name a few.
What makes Door Sixteen a true standout? Unlike aspirational home blogs that follow the lives of the rich and famous, Dorfman is a real person with a real home, making everything delightfully accessible. You don’t have to be a contractor or have an architecture degree to pull off her projects.
“Beyond maintaining some kind of loose timeline of my life and homes for my own future reference, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to accomplish with Door Sixteen is making regular people with regular skill sets and regular budgets feel empowered to make their homes feel like their own,” Dorfman says.
“I don’t think it matters whether you own or rent, or whether you can only afford a few basic supplies,” she says. “Television reality shows — and now sponsored social media posts — have gone a long way toward making people feel like ‘luxurious’ living is the dream, and that comfort in your surroundings and a sense of place and permanence are goals we may never be able to achieve. Even if it’s something as simple as re-caulking the bathtub in a rental apartment, I want people to know that they deserve to feel happy about where they live and to know that they are capable of doing all kinds of renovations and repairs all by themselves.”
But Door Sixteen isn’t just renovation projects for those eager to use their tool kit.
Dorfman has expanded her blog to encompass that very wide lifestyle rubric, with her musings on food and drink, health, movies, books, music, pets (her dog Fritz, a long-haired chihuahua, is a frequent guest star), and travel.
That’s just one of the ways Door Sixteen has grown and evolved over the years.
“The biggest change has really come about because of the advent of social media,” Dorfman says. “My blog posts have gotten longer on average as a result, because brief things that would have previously made it to my blog now take the form of an Instagram post (or even just a Tweet). I don’t know whether this is good or bad, but it’s definitely an evolution. I struggle with this shift sometimes, because there’s a transient quality to social media that, over time, stands to minimize the value of things that are shared. That said, I think I personally have become a better writer and photographer as a result of working with a longer post format. It certainly takes a lot longer to create a blog post in 2021 than it did in 2007!”
Her Day Job? Book Cover Design
Despite the bounty of content and pretty presentation of Door Sixteen, blogging isn’t Dorfman’s full-time job. That would be a book cover designer, which has been her career since 1998.
“For a couple of decades I worked in-house at Simon & Schuster, and now I work on a freelance basis for a number of publishing companies,” she says. “I also have a bunch of side gigs going at any given time, which is where my blog enters the picture.”
You shouldn’t expect to see her work as a book cover designer on Door Sixteen, though. “I don’t share my book cover design work on my blog very often because it’s not something that I feel compelled to write about,” Dorfman says. “My work mostly stays within the confines of my portfolio site and occasionally social media.”
Though she has clearly mastered multitasking, Dorfman approaches her work much like her blog: honest, accessible, and realistic.
“I focus very little on big goals and eventual achievements and mostly on what tasks need to be addressed in the moment,” she says. “I really just want to do the best job I can with what’s on my plate on any given day. That’s probably not the key to success, but it’s who I am. Beyond that, I think keeping your desk tidy, wearing comfortable clothes that make you feel good, and backing up your computer every day are pretty good suggestions.”
Partnering with DreamHost Online
“I became a happy DreamHost customer way back in 1999 when I started my first blog, Absolutely Vile,” she says. “A friend of mine was using DreamHost to host her personal website, and I liked the low-key, friendly attitude the company projected. It’s been 22 years now, and I’ve never looked back!”
In addition to Door Sixteen, Dorfman also has a book cover design portfolio site at annadorfman.com hosted by DreamHost. “My prints are currently only available through my drop-ship shops at Society6 and Fy, but at some point in the future I may also sell them directly from a self-hosted website — that depends whether I can find the time to manage another endeavor,” she says.
Dorfman’s favorite thing about DreamHost is the scalability. “No matter how many websites I host for myself or family members, and no matter how much (or how little) traffic those sites generate, I’m able to adjust my plan in a way that matches my changing needs,” she says.
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Door Sixteen runs on WordPress and Dorfman uses Adobe Creative Suite for any graphics or photos. For Door Sixteen’s design, she customized a version of the Florence theme from Solo Pine. And like everyone else with a blog, she uses social media to direct her followers there.
“It’s very rare that I consciously promote my blog, but I do always post links to my blog posts on social media,” Dorfman says. “I think that’s how most people keep up with their favorite bloggers these days!”
While Door Sixteen has grown and evolved over time, its mission hasn’t changed much in its 15-year existence, which is impressive in itself.
“There is nothing more rewarding than hearing from a reader that they’ve taken on some kind of task because they felt empowered by something I wrote,” Dorfman says. “It could be anything from painting a room to embarking on the restoration of an entire historic property — I love knowing that people are trusting themselves to do things that might have seemed impossible otherwise.”