Design*Sponge’s Grace Bonney: A Q&A

Grace Bonney is the genius behind Design*Sponge, one of the most widely frequented design blogs on the net. We recently had the pleasure of chatting with her about her upcoming book, her plans for 2016, and the path that led her to where she is today.

1) What sparked the initial idea for Design*Sponge, back when it was a lunch hour hobby?

I wasn’t seeing the art and design I admired in print publications or on TV. I spent my downtime and weekends checking out local design studios and student shows in Brooklyn, NY (back in 2003) and I was amazed with the way people were using recycled and reclaimed materials. I couldn’t believe no one was writing about those designers and ideas in major publications, so I decided to write about them on my own.

2) What was your medium of choice when you studied Fine Arts in university?

I was a print making major at the College of William and Mary, but we were also required to complete an Art History degree. My art history love was Romanesque Illuminated Manuscripts.

3) Despite the fact that a career as a practicing artist wasn’t something you pursued, do you still practice on the side?

I don’t – I found my strength was more in writing about artists, rather than being one myself.

4) What has been the proudest moment for you in the lifespan of the blog?

The book I have coming out this fall: In the Company of Women (Sept. 2016 from Artisan Books). It was inspired by the Biz Ladies traveling series I used to do. I became increasingly frustrated with the lack of inclusive books in the art/design/business world, so I wanted to create an inspiring – and practical – business book about women running their own creative businesses. From artists and designers to filmmakers and writers, this book will profile 100 women of all colors, ages, and experience levels. I want anyone reading to be able to see themselves reflected in one of – if not all – of these women.

5) What’s the furthest international reach Design*Sponge has had to date?

I occasionally receive emails and comments from the far reaches of Siberia, Syria, and small towns across the continent of Africa – those areas always mean a lot to me because the internet is not easily accessible and the effort these people made to read my site (among others, of course) is incredibly humbling.6) I understand that you recently purchased a home in upstate New York. Can you tell us about the restoration process?

I now live full time in the Hudson Valley (we gave up our Brooklyn apartment last year) and haven’t looked back. I love living in an old home and being a part of its care for the next however-many-years we’re fortunate enough to be here (hopefully for a very long time). Our home was built in 1850 as a working farm house and I love finding ways to work together with my wife to integrate our personal styles, while still being respectful of the home’s original bones.

7) Design began as a hobby for you and then became your career; does it ever feel like work, especially when it comes to the process of designing the interior for your new home?

Absolutely. If you do anything you love all day every day, it becomes work – at least in parts. I don’t love dealing with taxes, HR problems, or budgets, but they’re all small sacrifices to pay for doing what I love full time.

8) Did you face criticism when you made the decision to no longer make Biz Ladies solely accessible to women?

No. I found most people were ready to open up these groups in the interest of learning more from more people. I found I was hindering these business women by not offering them advice from everyone that could possibly help them. Why would I deny them great advice and insight just because it was coming from someone who didn’t identify as a woman? In the end it seemed like a disservice to the community at large to only share advice from and with other women. That said, the vast majority of people we feature and speak with are women on Design*Sponge, so they will always be a big part of what we do.

9) Are you still running a scholarship for art and design students?

Funding for the scholarship has been difficult the past few years. It’s hard to find sponsors willing to help without them wanting to compromise some aspect of the contest or our editorial freedom. I’m confident we’ll be able to find a solution to this for 2016 though.

10) Where do you see Design*Sponge going in the next five years?

I have no idea. I think the internet wasn’t designed for people who think long term. It’s too ever-changing, malleable and mercurial. I hope as a brand, Design*Sponge continues to represent an honest, safe and inspiring place to spend time, whether that lives on in a blog, magazine, book, or another form of media.

11) What was the process of writing and compiling Design*Sponge At Home like? Was it your idea, or were you approached by a publisher?

I wanted to create a book that would be an evergreen handbook for the average home owner. I wanted to include inspiring homes that would spark ideas, DIY projects and tutorials to show you have to turn those ideas into reality and makeovers that would show you how to redo your own home without spending a lot of money on new materials. I was approached by a publisher right as I finished writing a pitch with my friend, Julia Rothman (who illustrated the book) and it felt like kismet. I emailed it over and at the end of the week we had a deal to start writing.

12) Can you tell us more about the next book you’re writing?

My next book is called In the Company of Women and it will be out this September from Artisan Books. It will share interviews, advice, and wisdom from 100 amazing women at all stages of their artistic careers. From writers and painters to designers and musicians, these women are both relatable and inspiring. They share their honest paths to their current careers and they range in age from 19 to 90 and live everywhere from Nigeria to Oregon. The goal was to create a book that is sorely missing from the worlds of business and lifestyle publishing – a book that represents all women (women of color, differently abled women and women from the LGBT community).

13) What are you currently reading?

I just finished reading Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein and listening to the audio tape version of Ta-Nehesi Coates’ Between the World and Me.

14) What other design blogs out there are creating the kind of work that excites you?

I am the biggest fan of The Design Files in Australia. Lucy Feagins is an amazing curator and writer – and her voice has remained clear and inspiring since day one.

15) What are your plans for 2016?

A mixture of rest and gearing up for our big book tour (which will be a traveling “Biz Ladies-style” conference in 5-6 cities) in the fall to promote the new book. I can’t wait.

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