Exclusive: House and Home meets Design*Sponge founder Grace Bonney

By House and Home in Real Homes on Friday, August 24, 2012 - 14:00
Design*Sponge's Grace Bonney

Amazing Grace

Interiors blog Design*Sponge is an endless source for inspiration for the home. In our last September/October issue we spoke to its editor Grace Bonney about making a house a home and now we're bringing her beautiful rooms and insights online for our www.houseandhome.ie readers. Enjoy!

Where did your enthusiasm for design come from?

I think it was the happy marriage of the interests of my parents: my Mom was kind of an amateur interior designer and my Dad was always very interested in architecture and photography.  So I grew up very appreciative of design, and we always had great design books to be inspired by at home. When I went to college, a US TV show called Trading Spaces really clicked with me. It’s a show where a designer comes in and makes over a home in a short space of time and on a budget, and that’s when I saw how approachable and fun interior design could be, so my passion for it really kicked off from there.

Did you formally study design?

I studied journalism for two years and then transferred to art and art history. I felt I was a bit half in half in my background, and I honestly never dreamed I’d find a way to combine the two! My mom and dad were great about letting me do whatever I wanted to my room, so I was always experimenting with different styles. In college I really got into it, eventually in my senior year making entire suites of furniture for my friend’s dorm rooms – ottomans, small tables, entertainments centres.

How did Design*Sponge become the massive success it now is?

When I started the blog in 2004, none of us expected it would become what it did. At the time there was only a handful of sites about design, and nothing with advertising on it – for me it was just a great outlet to talk about things I really love, and to find other people that were into design and would ‘geek’ out about it too. I thought when I was writing it, this was the sort of thing I’d one day love to write for a magazine.  I didn’t know then that the blog would end up being that magazine! It allowed me to keep that fun approach and keep my own voice. And it’s great to reach out to people who understand where I’m coming from. None of us are working with crazy budgets and I’m happy if people can find something there that they can relate to.

Describe your own style at home

My own style is always changing.  I think that’s important for people to understand, that it’s okay to have a certain style and then to tire of it and try something else. My main thing is that I love a mix of old and new in my home. I couldn’t imagine living in a home that didn’t have some vintage, hand-me-down or antique pieces in it, as that’s what I feel really makes a house a home. Then I incorporate some new things too, I try to buy from local designers, and my new pieces come and go. Every few years I’ll swap them out and have a yard sale. Having one style, either all old or all new, can date really quickly. The mix of both is really big in the US right now – I’m not sure any of us know what to call it!

Do you have a favourite colour palette?

My favourite colour is grey! Some people think it’s really dark and miserable but I find it so beautiful. I think it makes for the most amazing backdrop and really makes everything in the room pop. I first got the guts to paint an entire grey room in my second apartment after college. It was the only room where I had free reign to do whatever I wanted, and I remember going to the hardware store for swatches of grey and selecting the darkest one I could find. I think my roommates all thought I was crazy. But then they all wanted a grey room too. It’s a really rich, warm tone.

Have you witnessed a change in how we approach our homes since you began the blog in 2004?

The DIY mentality has totally taken over, which I think is great. I think the disposable mentality is disappearing and people are realising it’s better to make something with your own two hands than to just go to a store and buy everything new. When I began writing, everything was about products and shopping, but I’ve cut back on that and now I prefer to teach people the basic house skills they need to customize old furniture pieces and update their homes themselves. People aren’t walking into a store anymore and spending $5,000 on a set of furniture – people just can’t do it. Having those basic skills really opens up what you can do to your home.

Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge's closet

Grace renovated her crumbling old closet by hiding undesirable details using beautiful owl-print wallpaper. She attached caster wheels to a vintage wooden soda box to make her own rolling shoe container.

Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge's living room

Grace’s favourite hue is grey, but she’s fond of red too. Here, a vintage horse head lamp picks out red accents in the cushions and art prints. Grace also adopts our favourite trick of grouping small art works together so they don’t get lost on the wall space.

Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge's kitchen wall plate arrangement

Grace’s kitchen in her Brooklyn home is painted orange, except for one white wall where the vintage plate pattern acts as a visual link to the rest of the room.

One of Grace Bonney's cats

Grace repurposed this vintage crate into a multifunctional rolling storage-slash-seating bench for cats and humans alike. Her two pet cats Turk and Ms Jackson, love it. Fancy copying the look? This DIY project can be found in Grace's book, Design*Sponge At Home, €26.40, from good bookshops.

PICTURES: Patrick Cline; Johnny Miller