Soaking Up Good Design

Grace Bonney began in publishing at iconic shelter magazines like Domino and House & Garden. But in 2003 and 2004 she began to be interested in the indie design in Brooklyn and covering it on her blog, Design*Sponge. As she grew, so did her design philosophy—and her audience. She began making DIY projects and offering readers a glimpse inside other homes, and her blog has become many a décor addict’s first stop every morning (she now updates six to eight times a day). Bonney is touring in support of her new book, Design*Sponge At Home, and will be coming to the Anthropologie at 50th & France on October 10. Get on the waitlist here. And if you can’t get in, don’t despair: I talked to Bonney—who’s every bit as lovely and articulate when speaking as she is when writing—to give us an inside peek at putting together her fabulous coffee table book.

Photo by JamieBeck

Let’s talk a little about your own design philosophy and what you choose to put on Design*Sponge every day.
I think for me my style philosophy is really about mixing old and new. Nothing bothers me more than a space that looks like it came straight out of catalog. Embrace the idea of working with your hands! I love when people hit flea or thrift or their grandparents’ basement, and find a piece that is in need of a little love. Style really comes in when you can customize and make something your own.

Take us behind the scenes and talk about the origins of this book and the process of putting it together. What I’m really asking is, how in the world you narrow down what would appear in the book?
Editing for me was the easiest part. I’m a natural curator and editor, and I enjoy paring things down based on a particular need. The book was really about trying to represent a wide range of styles that embodied a DIY mindset. We took it from a low-budget beginning level all the way up to high-end, professionally laid out homes and projects.

Once I edited that down to about 150 houses, I edited based on what I felt was classic and represented some trendiness. There’s a heavy emphasis on things with a little bit of femininity, and an old-and-new vibe. And remember: Even the prettiest home has an imperfect element.

For me the easiest way to do that is doing things with your hands, which is why I included an extensive skills section in the book. I love adding or stripping paint, or decoupaging on a storage unit. I love adding fabric or paper elements to something, like putting wallpaper inside a china cabinet. I really love that nailhead trim, the kind you can tack on a pre-existing piece, which makes it customizable—and it only sets you back $50. Little unexpected touches show a real person with a personal sense of style is lives there … rather than what Crate & Barrel says you should have.

What are you seeing as trends for this coming year or season?
I love fall, primarily it means darker colors. I never feel quite at home with over-the-top brightness; plums, deep reds, oranges, browns are my favorite. We saw a lot of purple last year, now we’re seeing really heavily saturated, sophisticated purples. The overdyed rugs which were traditionally mistakes are becoming wildly popular. That’s a really great way to bring some beautiful color into your house for fall.

People are really playing around with reclaimed wood—it adds warmth to room that’s appropriate for fall. They’re redoing floors with reclaimed wood, or taking salvage timbers and using them for shelving or to top a table or bench. That little bit of texture and warmth adds life to a room.

What are three tips you can give to someone who knows they need a home makeover or room makeover but are paralyzed with indecision?
There are two jumping off points and they depend entirely on a person’s personality:

1. You can take an individual object and build the room around that. It can be a couch, a vase, or a painting on the wall. Using that one single piece, you narrow down what you’re looking for—for example, start with the color, texture, subject of the painting. A lot of people get overwhelmed by looking at the whole room. It’s easier for those people to start with a single object.

2. And then this is how I function: I think about what I want a room to feel like. Most people don’t notice how much a room looks as they do how it feels. If you want open, airy, and bright, embrace that from top down. Or maybe you’re drawn to dark paint and heavy upholstery. Then you can make smaller decisions about color or texture.

What are some of your favorite places or ways to shop for home décor items?
In my mid-20s, I started embracing things that I grew up with … Occasional flea markets are fun places to find affordable, unique, and great jumping-off pieces for customizing. I save up and go twice a year—the majority of things from my home came from a flea market. Stores just don’t speak to me.

What can readers expect at the event?
We’re really excited. I wanted there to be some takeaway, to come and learn and be inspired, so we’re doing one of my favorite projects from the book: a customized wax seal. They make correspondence feel important. There will also be a larger celebration, with cocktails and a book signing. We’ll be donating money to FreeArts Minnesota, too.

Can’t wait! Thanks, Grace!

6:30-8 p.m., Anthropologie, 4999 France Ave. S., Edina. RSVP here.