A chat with Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge

ML’s managing editor Caroline Eberly sat down with Grace Bonney, the style maven who’s been fueling the design-blog craze for the past seven years, over coffee in downtown Denver. Topics of conversation? Her latest book, Design*Sponge at Home, her thoughts on the online design community and what things are like at her house.

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CE: Iâd love to hear about your book Design*Sponge at Home. How and when did the idea come to you?

GB: Weâd been thinking about doing a book for a couple years. Iâd been hearing from publishers starting around 2006, and weâd been going back and forth, but everyone wanted to pitch a pre-made idea, like, âOh, we already do this existing series, why donât you edit it?â But I didnât want to put our brand on something else; I wanted it to be entirely âus.â So I waited, and I kept thinking, âThereâs no need to do a book. Itâs going to be so outdated by the time it comes out and weâre known for being so timely.’ But eventually I realized there wasnât a book that summed up the aesthetic weâve been enjoying for the last 10 years, which celebrates a mix of high and low, and things that are imperfect and highly personal and sort of outside of the box and DIYâall of those quirkier, younger angles. So when I realized there was a hole in the market, thatâs when I decided to do the book.

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Tell me whatâs inside.

It seemed natural to focus on the three biggest sections of the site, which are Home Tours, DIY and Before & Afters, and I turned that in to the publisher in November 2009. In 2010, we wanted to reformat it a bit, so we added two additional sections that act as 101 primers for every basic type of DIY skill a homeowner could need, from stripping furniture to rewiring a lamp and arranging flowers. I wanted it to include ideas and tips and tools. I donât think itâs fair to give someone all of these beautiful homesâand inspirationâand not follow up with the tools and the techniques you need to make it happen. Iâm pretty happy with how it turned out.

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In his foreword, designer Jonathan Adler refers to the book as the long-awaited bible for the design-blog revolution you started. What did it take to bring all of this content together? Did you pull stuff from the blog?

We did. The book is a little less than half of the greatest hits from the blog and the rest is brand new. The older things were actually way easier to pull together because if you had to tell me to pick 30 of my favorite houses and 25 of my favorite projects, I could probably do it off the top of my head. Even after 5,000 or 6,000 posts in the history of the site, I still have houses that rise to the top in my mind, so picking those was really simple.

I actually wrote the whole book in about two months. I wanted it to function as closely to a blog as possible, and for sections to be cross-referentialâand thatâs a lot of editing. You canât put in all of those page calls until the book is fully done because the page order keeps changing. I wanted readers to be able to look at a house and say, âOh, I like this idea. If I turn to page 250 I can learn how to make that.â That sort of overwhelming depth of information is what I feel the site is so good at, so I wanted that to carry through to the book as much as possible.

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Did you know you wanted to feature your own home in the book?

I think thatâs a given. I usually try to put myself out there as much as any other reader would. It bothers me when bloggers donât share some of their life, because weâre asking so much of readers. Weâre saying, ‘Let us show your house. Let us see your projects. Let us see your wedding.’

I think itâs nice for people to see that we donât live in some perfect, fancy, amazing giant apartment. Itâs a real, relatable space with quirks and flaws. Weâre just people who are enthusiastic about design and doing our best just like everybody else reading.

Tell me what youâve done around your house. Do you have any projects in progress right now?

We just moved into a new place and then the book became a full-swing project, so there are still boxes in our other bedroom. Iâve actually appreciated the white walls and the emptiness of it all, though, because my work life is so busy right now. Coming home to something neutral is actually really relaxing because I tend to be a collector of things in pattern and color, and that can be visually quite overwhelming after a while.

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I can relate to that. The longer Iâve worked for a home-design magazine, the more streamlined and minimal my tastes have become.

Itâs sort of a running joke among people in New York, including the much older editors, those in their 60s, as well as the newer younger girls. Almost all of us have really simple houses at this point because you just see so much color and pattern, and over the last six years highly ornamental, decorative art and design has been so popular, with the rebirth of wallpaper. Itâs just pattern overload, everywhere.

In the field of design blogs and online design magazines, who do you look to?

I feel like a lot of the online magazines in my community all have the same look and theyâre not about curating. I think Iâm sort of a curator by nature, and so I appreciate when someone edits things out. I donât want a magazine or a blog to be everything. I want it to be a specific take.

Iâm sort of obsessed with Lucky Peach right now, which is a print food quarterly by David Chang, the chef behind Momofuku. I love Remedy Quarterly, and also the Edible city publications. I really appreciate any publication thatâs trying to reach out to small-scale, artisan-level makers of some kind.

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How is Colorado treating you?

Itâs beautiful. My favorite thing about the West in general is just how new all of the cities are. You get a chance to really plan a city and think about things differently than you would with a city as old as New York or Boston or DC, so I just love how fresh everything feels. Especially out hereâthere are a lot of design and architecture firms, and a lot of new thought happening.

Click here to visit Design*Sponge to learn more about the book.

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