How My Decorating Obsession Turned Into an Online Sensation

The inspiring story of Design*Sponge. 

designer-grace-bonney
Photo by Christopher Sturman

When Grace Bonney started a home-decor and DIY blog more than 10 years ago, it was meant to be a stepping stone to landing an editorial job at a home magazine. But her site quickly garnered a loyal following (10,000 readers a day in the first six months!), so she stuck with it. Today she shares beautifully styled house tours and inspiring makeover projects with more than 1 million readers every day. A follow-up to her first book, Design*Sponge at Home, is due out this fall.

Q. When did your decorating obsession begin?
A. In college. I would religiously watch Trading Spaces after all my classes and then go and build furniture for my dorm room and my friends’ rooms.

Q. After you started the blog, when did you realize that it was a hit?
A. The first time I was able to afford to hire writers, about four years in. Blogs can be very solitary, even though they connect you to other people, so this was a turning point. Then, in 2011, when my book came out, it became clear that what I thought was a step toward something else was actually the full-time dream job I never knew could happen.

Q. How do you continuously find inspiring designers and artists to feature?
A. I am the queen of delving into people’s Instagram feeds and Tumblr pages. I am forever following one link down a rabbit hole of artists, galleries, or makers.

Q. It’s easier now than a decade ago.
A. Yes, but now that there’s so much out there on the Internet, the challenge is, how do you find things in places where other people aren’t looking? Everyone knows that Instagram is an incredible resource, so how do you dig deeper?

Q. Have you figured that out?
A. One of my secret weapons is the exhibitor list at trade and craft fairs. You look up those artists on Instagram to see who their friends and followers are, then check out those artists’ blogs and links. I could spend an entire day searching through four people’s archives and links just to find an undiscovered artist.

Q. Working from home, how do you structure your days?
A. I wake up around 7 A.M., let our two dogs out, start coffee, and spend my morning making sure that all of the day’s posts are copyedited and ready to go. I do a very surface-level scan of e-mails to tackle any pressing ones. Around 9, I have breakfast with my wife [food writer Julia Turshen]. I spend the rest of the day writing or researching and try to close up shop around sevenish and focus on life outside the screen.

Q. How have you created an environment that’s inspiring and comfortable?
A. We live in an old farmhouse in upstate New York with lots of natural light, my biggest requirement. So we keep it simple with a minimalist traditional vibe. We put our most treasured hand-me-downs front and center. For example, our kitchen is built around our collection of blue-and-white china from our families. With the pets, low-maintenance is big. I love Dash & Albert rugs, since they hide wear and tear.

Q. Is there any aspect of the blog that you’ve struggled with?
A. Early on, I realized I was a terrible interviewer. That part of the site wasn’t going well. To develop that skill, I signed on to host a series of 100 podcasts. I figured I would either sink or swim, and I was very much committed to swimming. The first episodes were really rocky, but I found my footing over two years. I had to let myself go through the stumbling and stuttering on air until I could finally interview well.

Q. Any other big lessons you’ve learned from running Design*Sponge?
A. That it’s important to make sure all our readers can see themselves in our content. For a while, we weren’t doing a great job of that. It’s easy to find pretty homes of upwardly mobile people in large metropolitan areas, so we had plenty of those. But we weren’t representing people of color, people from the LGBT community, people who are differently abled. A huge focus for us now is to have all readers feel welcome.