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Inspired by Design

Today I would like to share a recent exchange  with Grace Bonney of the ever-popular design blog Design*Sponge. Although Grace needs little introduction, I'll point out that she has forged the way for many design bloggers looking to tap their talent and share their design. Grace started D*S in 2004 and it's readership wildly surpasses 60,000 a day. Grace's talent, eye for design, and humble approach are all inspiring.

Design*Sponge also hosts an annual D*S Scholarship to support up-and-coming art and design students. Perhaps future Grommets will be given life as a result of Grace's mentorship and generosity, it is very possible.

Grace BooneyInterview with Grace Bonney

We love to share stories…  Can you tell us the story behind the name Design Sponge?

I chose the name Design*Sponge because I thought it represented who I was and the way I soak up design- like a sponge. Looking back, part of me always wishes I'd chosen a cooler name (it can feel a little silly to say the word "sponge" 20 times a day), but Design*Sponge is perfect because I'm not a super cool or slick person- so something slightly dorky and upbeat is pretty accurate ;)

What makes you stop to look at a particular design or piece of art twice?

Like a lot of people, I respond to things on a completely gut level. If it makes me smile, laugh, feel sad or reminds me of something that's meaningful to me, it's almost always a good sign that I'll consider posting it. I only post 6 times a day (which isn't a lot if you consider only 2 out of every 6 posts is product-based) so I'm really careful with what i choose to post, product or art-wise. I try to never post something that's appeared online before and always focus on something that I think will make our readers smile, or will in some way inspire them to do something in their own home.

DIY salvaged wood inspiration board from D*S

With the rise of popular design blogs like yours, do you feel design is more accessible to the masses? Has this changed the design industry- if at all?
Absolutely- it's impossible to ignore the way the web and design blogs have effected design and the design market as a whole. From crowd-sourced product-design to the increased access to designers and products from around the world, it's as if the wall between consumers and products has completely crumbled. That wall was built out of things like fancy interior designers and high end trade magazines- things that created this myth that "real" people couldn't create a well-designed home without the help of someone in the profession. But when the design world came online (blogs, Etsy.com, online designers at affordable prices) people realized, 'wait a minute- I can get advice, access to products, trend tips, and shopping roundups online for free?' then why do I need someone to tell me what to pick, how much to pay, and where to buy it? You can do all of that online for free now. If you need a little extra guidance you can pick a design blog that speaks to your style and get an edited list of suggestions. But if you're enterprising you can go online and order everything you need for your dream home without ever consulting an interior designer or cracking open a fancy trade magazine.
Why do you think Design Sponge hits a nerve with so many people?
I think D*S was in the right place at the right time with the right content. I started the site pre-Domino magazine and there were only a handful of blogs running back in 2004. Originally, there wasn't a place for young women on limited budgets to find something inspirational and that spoke to their specific style. So in the early stages, I think it was about filling a niche that wasn't being filled yet. But as the site has grown (and more blogs have started to fill the same niche), I've done my best to expand and grow so that we focus on bringing unique and original content to the table. It's hard to stand out if you just post new products, because everyone gets the press releases and news on practically the same days, so instead of getting into that race for "new new new"- we focus on trying to share new ideas and original columns that our readers won't see anywhere else. I think people (I know I'm like this with the blogs I love) appreciate seeing any site that is always trying to push itself further and serve their audience in more and more ways.
How is your book coming?
Well we're finally in the end of the design phase! Design*Sponge At Home will be on shelves next spring! It's 400+ pages of home tours (75 at last count), DIY projects and DIY basics (50 projects and a huge list of basics like wallpapering, electrical wiring, and upholstery), Before & Afters (50 makeovers and tips to recreate the look in your own home) and a fun section on Floral Arranging. I can't wait for everyone to see what I've been poring over for the last year :)
Your work is a life force in celebrating and preserving craft. How do you approach merchants like IKEA who have high design sensibilities but compromise on construction and materials to meet a low cost?

I think some people feel handmade and machine made can't exist in the same world- but they could and should. There's room for all design if you know how to use it. Personally I don't feel IKEA compromises on construction- they're pretty up front about offering basic furniture at basic prices. I'm disappointed when I see larger brands offering shoddy merchandise at higher prices. I would never walk into IKEA and expect hand-crafted dovetail joints for $99 so I'm never disappointed ;)
     However, I think it's all about a balance. If you only bought handmade all the time, you'd really be spending a lot of money and if you only bought mass-produced you'd start to have a cookie-cutter home and would miss out on supporting great local artists.
     So I think my responsibility is to point out what you can do with great affordable things from shops like Ikea (ie: diy projects and customization) and to point out great indie artists doing things by hand. It's up to readers to decide how best to integrate that into their own homes to suit their needs.
...at the end of the day, great artists will find a way to get their work out there.

I have two sons studying design in college, so thanks for your work to support students. Which schools do you see doing world-changing work these days?

Oh man, I LOVE student design. I really wish I could teach a summer course on properly using the internet to advance a young career- it would be a blast. I think just about every furniture and product design student I see coming out of Pratt is amazing. And I love the creativity of the fibers students at the Savannah College of Art and Design. FIT's pattern design students are fantastic, and the open-minded students coming from the California College of the Arts (formerly "of the Arts and Crafts"- so sad they changed their name) are amazing. RISD is consistently churning out great artists, as is Cranbrook. But at the end of the day, great artists will find a way to get their work out there. Some of my favorite designers are people who discovered art without a formal education.

Is there a reason your team is nearly all women, like ours, or is it serendipity?
I think our aesthetic is inherently a bit girly, so we're going to attract a primarily female audience and editorial team. But we do have a few guys on the team- Derek Fagerstrom (DIY), Nick Olsen (trend watching), and Ryan Walker (Behind the Bar column) contribute and I'm always looking to have more male voices on there. But I think the site in nature is highly feminine so it will probably always be skewed that way until, and if, we expand to embrace a more masculine look.
Grace, thank you for sharing with us. We look forward to reading your book when it comes out and always, look forward to the day's inspiration over on D*S.
While browsing Design*Sponge, we stumbled upon some "grommet" inspiration.


  • Kori Clark Says:

    Thank you for sharing! I love the inspiration from Design Sponge and especially the biz ladies section!! What a pleasure to read the interview!

  • Mallory Says:

    Grace and the team at Design*Sponge have been such an inspiration to me and so many people in the online handmade community. I really love how willing she has been to share tips and the stories of her success with others - she seems like such a genuinely sweet person!

  • Ellen McHale Says:

    I love the biz ladies section too! I really appreciated one of the last postings on getting publicity for your website and not letting your site or blog get too static. Design Sponge has been inspirational for me. It is great to see other artists that are just starting out (like me) and putting themselves out there. It helps to give all of us other creative souls a boost. Thank you.

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