Duster is another great free WordPress theme by Automattic. Like all Automattic themes, you’re given lots of options to customize your blog and some cool features to really make it stand out.

When you initially enable Duster, it looks pretty ordinary. It’s a clean and elegant template with not much clutter and has a smooth interface for easy navigation. The sidebar’s on the right, three-column footer at the bottom, custom background, custom menu, and a custom header which you can easily remove for even more of a minimalistic feel.

This all might seem pretty normal and you’re probably wondering, “So, what’s so special about this theme?” Well, with a few tweaks and adjustments, you can turn this layout into something like this:

So, how do we do it? Well, it’s not as straightforward to customize as some of the other WordPress themes. However, if you have 15 minutes to spare and can closely follow instructions, then it’s pretty easy.

What you’re seeing below the menu bar is the Showcase Page Template. To active it, you would need to go Pages in the backend.

Add a new page and put in some introductory text. Under Page Attributes, click on the Template drop down box and select Showcase Template. Once that’s done, hit Publish.

To display Showcase Page, you would then need to go into Settings > Reading.

Where it says Front page displays click on A static page, select the showcase post as your Front Page. This has ultimately changed the layout of your post from the normal template to the showcase template.

To make a post appear as featured, you would need to mark it as a sticky and also include a featured image with it too. This is done via Edit Post.

Now, if you wanted the featured image to be displayed in full, it needs to be quite big, at least as big as the header image, which is 1000 x 300 px. If you’ve uploaded a large picture and it’s still not displaying properly at the front, you would need to head to Settings > Media and ensure that you have set a size for Large Image.

As for the sidebar, it’s now on the right-hand-side. To display it, you would need to have your widgets placed in the Showcase Sidebar as the Main Sidebar won’t be displayed anymore.

You might also the new widget called Duster Ephemera, which can display links to additional posts. To utilize this, when you’re making a new post, you would need to specify the format of the post as Aside or Link. When a post is marked as aside or link, they won’t actually be displayed in the main post area when you’re in the Showcase layout theme.

As you can see, in Showcase layout, the theme is even lighter and neater. Your most recent post is displayed in full while older posts are condensed into a link displaying the title and comments.

When you click into a post, the featured image will be displayed in the header. Again, make sure the featured image is at least 1000 x 300 px or it would look blurry and pixilated. If your featured image is too small, simply remove it from the post, or disable the header altogether.

The comment box is very organized and the large format makes it more inviting for readers.

Another great thing about Duster is that the layout can automatically adjust its size according to the window. If you resize your browser, the layout will also change in real time.

Duster is like two themes rolled into one. You have the option for the usual layout, or something different and condensed. Although to fully utilize the custom layout, it does take a bit of effort and fiddling around with, but it’s nothing complicated. Nevertheless, the out-of-the-box version is still great for any blog that needs a modern, minimal layout.

Try it out for yourself on the Duster demo page.