Q&A with Design*Sponge's Grace Bonney
Local DIYers and style lovers are anxiously awaiting the arrival of interior design icon, Grace Bonney, who incites home greatness with her blog Design*Sponge.com.
Her posts on topics ranging from flower arranging and crafty projects to reader-submitted room and furniture makeovers have jumped off the computer screen and onto the 400 pages of her new book, Design*Sponge at Home. Her whirlwind book tour includes a stop and craft party on Tuesday, October 25, at Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café in Asheville. From the road, she was kind enough to share thoughts on her blog’s success and interior sprucing ideas with WNC. Read on for inspiration, and then find more of the interview online at wncmagazine.com.
When you started the blog seven years ago, did you think you’d inspire the likes of interior designer Jonathan Adler, who wrote the forward in your new book?
“Absolutely not. I was pretty much just hoping to inspire myself. I was in a job that I didn’t really enjoy, so I was just looking for a way to talk about the things I loved. It was more about inspiring myself to find my voice and hopefully turn that into a job in the design industry. I never imagined that the blog itself would become the job. But it’s great how it worked out that way.”
What’s your latest DIY project?
“I’ve been doing a lot of iron-on transfers lately, but the box storage bench in the book is the last big thing I did. I’m sort of obsessed with vintage wooden boxes. Whenever we go to flea markets, my friends have to stop me from bringing boxes home. I love either adding castor wheels to use them as rolling storage or making an upholstered bench top to create an extra seat as well as a place to hide things. An object that can do double duty is always my favorite to do.”
Do you have any advice for someone in a major design rut?
“The easiest and fastest way to [move forward] is to clean the slate. I did this when I moved. I fought it for a long time, then I was like ‘why did I fight this?’ I sold almost everything in my apartment because it didn’t feel like me anymore. I had outgrown it or I wasn’t inspired by it. Then, when I was left with just the things I really loved and had a clean space to work with, my head flooded with ideas again. I think most people don’t ever really, truly give themselves a blank space to start with.”
Are you going to visit any interior designers while you’re in Asheville?
“Not interior designers. I have a lot of friends who are artists who live in Asheville, so I mostly associate Asheville with artisans—people who do ceramics and textiles and appreciate the craft behind a specific skill. I think a lot of times in big cities, people lose the history of the craft behind what they do. Asheville is a city where that doesn’t seem to be happening, which I love. I’m hoping we have time to do some studio visits.”
What have you learned on this wild ride from being someone who started their own blog to having more than a million hits on your site each month?
“It all boils down to trusting who you are and what you love. I knew from the beginning that I’d found something and, for me, that was design. It was an area of the world that I felt really comfortable in. I had confidence in my voice to talk about things in this industry and I just really went for it. You see people in different industries do that all the time, and when you find what your passion is you really have to be brave enough to just go for it.
In the introduction of your book, you mention watching Trading Spaces in college. What is your favorite design show these days? Why?
“There isn’t a lot of design TV that I enjoy right now, and I hope that will change. I enjoy the Novogratz’s show [Home by Novogratz] on HGTV. I also loved Man Shops Globe on the Sundance Channel, which wasn’t really an interior design show so much as it was about the buyer for Anthropologie. You see these really interesting things in stores, whether it’s Anthropologie or another store, and you wonder where they come from and how they got there. I found that researching and sourcing aspect of design inspirational.”
I noticed you have HGTV designer Genevieve Gorder’s home featured in the book.
“Yes! I love her. She was the original inspiration for me. That’s why I kicked off the whole book with her home. She was so inspirational to me in college, and I think that is when I first discovered what design was. I went to a liberal arts school and even though I majored in art, it wasn’t a school where design was taught. There was painting, sculpture, and printmaking, but almost everything was 2-D. So there wasn’t a lot of interior design or product design or furniture being taught. [Gorder] really opened my eyes to what I thought I was good at: sitting back and evaluating something as a whole.”
So you saw her first on Trading Spaces?
“Yep. I was a sophomore and I tried to build everything she built on the show. She was so great. She’d design a room with no shoes on and strut around like a kid and cover walls in moss or rust…. It was such a great time to watch someone free-spirited approaching design in such a relatable and fun way.”
Did you make everything in the DIY section of the book?
“No. The DIY section is a mix of what our editors and readers have done. What I love so much about the second half of the book is that both the before-and-afters and the DIY projects involve real readers just sending things in that we were so inspired by. It’s the best example that DIY can be done by anybody. Half those projects aren’t done by professionals; they’re done by real people who were inspired to transform their dining room chairs or make over their living room. Seeing real people on real budgets do that, it’s hard to shrug it off and say “I couldn’t do that.” Yeah, if that person could, you totally could. That’s why all the projects are arranged by difficulty, so if you are new to crafting you can start at the beginning and tackle the really easy stuff.”
What are some ways to personalize your home?
“I think the idea of taking personalization literally is great. I love when people bring in something that relates to their family. Just this morning, I did a variation on one of the craft projects from the book which uses transfer paper to customize your household textiles. I scanned photographs of me and some of the editors and turned them into silhouettes that were just one solid color, like a bright orange or a really beautiful kelly green, and we ironed them onto tote bags, little tea towels, and napkins. It’s a really fun way to customize and literally make something as personal as possible.
“Another really simple idea is to think about upcycling and how to put your touch on something you already have or is inexpensive. That’s why I focused so much of the book on teaching people basic DIY skills, because they are the tools you need to make personalization happen, whether you repaint a desk from a thrift store or maybe even print your own fabric from a stamp to recover a chair. I think all those things make your house not only feel like a home, but feel like your home.”
Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe is hosting a craft workshop with Bonney from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 25, followed by a free party from 7 to 9 p.m. 55 Haywood St., Asheville; $45 for workshop, includes a copy of Design*Sponge at Home. (828) 254-6734; www.malaprops.com/event