Decorating & Design

October 3, 2011

Interview: Grace Bonney

A relative newbie in design circles, design*sponge blog founder Grace Bonney is quickly establishing herself as a trusted proponent of good taste — especially for the budget-minded set. In up to 10 blog posts each day, the southern girl turned devoted Brooklynite shares clever do-it-yourself tips, sneak peeks into inspiring homes and smart, affordable makeover ideas. The site attracts 40,000 visitors each day — and the numbers are growing.

Bonney launched design*sponge in 2004 as a way to combine her two passions: writing and design. She had just returned to New York after completing a degree in art and art history in Virginia, and she needed reprieve from her unsatisfying day job in PR. “I wanted to build my portfolio and develop my voice,” she says.

Her timing couldn’t have been better. Shortly after the launch, the New York Times came calling about a story on the emerging design blog movement. “Even though the article wasn’t super positive, traffic shot up,” she says. “It helped cement design*sponge as part of the original five or so blogs, and it’s given us a certain level of credibility that I’m thankful for each day.”

As Bonney’s online portfolio grew, so did her work with A-list publications including House and Garden, Better Homes and Gardens and House Beautiful. She was also a contributing editor at the much-loved decorating magazine Domino before it closed.

As for the New York Times, they’ve come a long way too — and now turn to her as a source for design trends.House & Home: What are your favourite blogs or websites?

Grace Bonney: I love food blogs like MattBites, Orangette, 101cookbooks, and Chocolate and Zucchini. For design, I like Oh Joy!, Poppytalk, Book by its Cover and Beauty Everyday.

H&H: Where do you go for inspiration?

GB: I love student designers, so I spend as much time as possible going to local design fairs and student shows.

H&H: How do you describe your style?

GB: I’m very Brooklyn-based. I like to blend old with new, and mix vintage things and patterns. There’s a part of me that will always embrace the classics with a twist of preppiness added in.

H&H: What is your home like?

GB: It’s a mix of vintage furniture and basics from shops like Ikea. When the budget allows, I invest in vintage or antique pieces that have character, but being young and living on a budget means I do a lot of Ikea upgrading and DIY-ing. I make a lot of things.

H&H: What are your top tips for decorating on a budget?

GB: Do it yourself. So many popular home trends are easily replicated with your own two hands, a little spare time and a small amount of money. I’ve dedicated whole sections of my site to showcasing great home upgrades that readers did themselves. They’re living proof that in times like these, you can still change and decorate your house without it costing a fortune. Reupholster chairs or cushions on your own. Almost everyone can redo simple dining-room chairs with a staple gun and fabric. By adding pops of colour and pattern in smaller places, you won’t have to spend lots of money to get the feeling that you’ve updated a room. Do any painting yourself, and finally, lean on thrift stores, eBay and great online fabric stores.

H&H: Whose style do you admire most?

GB: Dorothy Draper. She’s this southern girl’s idol. When I was little, I went to a summer camp in West Virginia next to the Greenbrier Hotel she designed. I’ll never forget the night we spent there — the colours, patterns and larger-than-life nature of her style left a strong and lasting impression.

H&H: What country do you find most captivating right now?

GB: I think Australia and Mexico are producing incredible artists. They’re quite different from each other, but I love the way contemporary artists from both countries are informed by their indigenous cultures. They’re working with bold colour palettes that seem fresh and exciting to me, and a welcome change from all of the computer-generated imagery that’s in my submission folder.

H&H: What makes you get out of bed?

GB: The hope and possibility of finding the next great thing. I truly relish the idea of being able to find someone who’s been working somewhere on the other side of the world, and connect them with an audience that will love and appreciate what they do.

H&H: What are your rituals at home?

GB: Morning tea in my Brooklyn mug from [design shop] Fishs Eddy, sifting through my arts and crafts bins at lunch, looking for little buttons or stamps to use on mailings for that day. And the happy dance that comes from finding, and coding, a day’s worth of great content for the blog.

Author: Laurie Jennings

Anna Wolf (right)