Design*Sponge Founder Grace Bonney uses flowers in her widely followed blog and new book to illustrate the accessibility of beauty
Each morning in her Brooklyn apartment, 30-year-old Grace Bonney grabs her laptop, checks her email, and pours her overflowing design inspiration into cyberspace. The culmination of her creative genius, a wildly successful blog called Design*Sponge, is read each day by over 75,000 people—an impressive number for the girl-next-door from Virginia, who, as a budding journalist with a bachelor’s degree in art history, launched the site in August 2004. Now widely recognized as the credible, go-to expert on incorporating stylish décor into any budget, Bonney has quickly and serendipitously taken the online design world by storm, simply by finding a gap in its market and filling that niche with an internet resource for anyone and everyone interested in making life more beautiful.
Of course, flowers fall into this genre. They permeate the site through floral fabrics, floral artwork, and fresh blooms. “Flowers are a big part of making a happy home,” Bonney says. “They grace the table at get-togethers, act as a housewarming gift, and decorate our favorite rooms.” Though much of Design*Sponge is focused on the home-furnishings aspect of interiors, Bonney says incorporating fresh flowers into the décor of a space is equally important: “Flowers can be a tool to express style and trends just as much as fabric or furniture.”
For Bonney, including fresh blooms in the décor of her Design*Sponge photo shoots is a given. “I think flowers are the most natural styling tool we have,” Bonney says. “I love the way they make a small photo shoot feel like a still-life painting and can add that perfect touch of color to a home without needing to buy a new pillow or piece of furniture.”
The floral element added to Design*Sponge photo shoots comes from the coterie of coast-to-coast contributors that makes up Bonney’s team. One of the first collaborators was Saipua’s Sarah Ryhanen, who Bonney says is responsible for creating a look that “has totally exploded” in Brooklyn right now. Design*Sponge has since teamed up with Amy Merrick—also from Brooklyn—who Bonney says has “such an effortless way with her work. It has a timeless nature that feels modern and vintage at the same time.” San Francisco’s group of women at Studio Choo also work closely with Bonney, bringing a garden-inspired feel and a “little bit of whimsy and creativity,” she says.
A girl with Southern roots who grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Bonney has an aesthetic shaped by her love for the Virginia dogwood tree, which always reminds her of home. With a floral style most influenced by the late English flower maven Constance Spry, Bonney gravitates toward natural arrangements. “I tend to feel that loose style has a kinship with laid-back Southern design. That garden-influenced look reminds me of last minute arrangements my mom would throw together for parties,” she reminisces.
Aside from dogwood branches, some of Bonney’s favorite flowers are magenta peonies, ‘Juliet’ roses, and jasmine vine. “I love the way jasmine smells and how it seems to crawl down a vase with such a light touch,” she says. While remembering a favorite arrangement—a wreath made of peach ‘Juliet’ roses and jasmine vine that hung on the garden door of her wedding reception in 2009—she gushes, “I wanted to wear it home on my neck like a show horse.” Such a statement is a testament to Bonney’s appreciation for flowers—which she attests are the secret to keeping her sanity in New York’s “fast-paced and gritty” environment. “Coming home to blooming branches or a fresh bouquet of just about anything reminds me to slow down and appreciate the beauty that happens all around us,” Bonney says.
Design*Sponge majors on the DIY (also known as “do-it-yourself ”) movement that is picking up speed in today’s economy. The site provides step-by-step instructions for projects ranging from how to revamp your grandmother’s old chest of drawers, to how to throw together a quick arrangement without the help of a professional. “I think when you de-mystify something, you really empower people to be creative and experiment with design— whether it’s decorating interiors or arranging flowers—in their home,” Bonney explains. Once one learns how easy the steps can be, seeing the end result of a DIY project made all by one’s self can be exciting and gratifying. “You get a double shot of happiness, first from the beauty of the flowers and the second from remembering the work you put into making it,” she says.
After seeing a familiar void in the design industry—this time in publishing—Bonney turned another one of her ideas into a reality: Her first book, Design*Sponge at Home, hits shelves in September 2011. She couldn’t find any books out there that satisfy her how-to mindset, so she decided to write it herself. “It wasn’t enough to see pretty pictures; I wanted to know how to recreate something similar at home,” Bonney says. “And I also wanted to know how to make the things I saw in homes if I couldn’t afford them, or how to upcycle something I already had to match that style.”
In the spirit of her on-a-budget, DIY advocacy, Bonney was passionate about including a how-to floral design section in her new book. “It made perfect sense for me to break down the art of arranging so [readers] would have a few simple arrangement ideas—and the skills to do more complicated ones—under their belt for any occasion,” Bonney explains. Flipping to the “Floral Design 101″ section of Design*Sponge at Home, readers will find instructions for making arrangements inspired by rooms depicted in other sections of the book.
The design guru’s popular website (touted a “Martha Stewart Living for the Millennials” by The New York Times) and her new book, Design*Sponge at Home, are packed with creative ideas that will delight and inspire anyone who appreciates the lovely things in life. Bonney graces its pages with flowers in hopes that all of her followers will learn to see nature’s ephemeral décor as not just a tabletop accent, but “as a way to really see the beauty in everything.”