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Our 2019 Design*Sponge team: Sofia Tuovinen, Garret Fleming, Kristina Gill, Caitlin Kelch, Grace Bonney, Kelli Kehler, Lauren Day and Erin Austen Abbott. 

It’s been said that if you love something, you have to let it go. And, dear friends, it is time for us to let Design*Sponge go. It’s time for us to close this wild and wonderful chapter and head out into the great unknown. While we are sad to say goodbye to the friends, colleagues, and community that we’ve found here, we know that we are stepping into this next chapter filled with the love, support, and care you’ve so graciously shared with us over the past 15 years.

Design*Sponge began as one girl behind a screen, and has grown into a beautiful, diverse, and ever-expanding network of friends, collaborators, confidants, and support systems. You’ve taught us all how to be better listeners, better sharers, better members of our community and, most importantly, you’ve taught us that what makes a community special are the people in it.

I know I speak for all of us at Design*Sponge when I say we are leaving here today with nothing but gratitude for what we have all experienced here. You’ve allowed us to share thousands of stories, homes, personal moments, and lessons that have not just expanded our minds, but our hearts and our understanding of the world as well. Your support has given us the courage to dream big, take risks, and push ourselves harder and further than we knew we could.

From day one, all of you have been so much more than readers of a blog. You’ve become our friends, our co-workers, our support systems, and our family. We’ve traveled across the world these past 15 years and have had the honor and joy of getting to know so many of you in person. Thank you for not only reading Design*Sponge online, but for letting us get to know you in real life, too. You’ve shared memories and stories of your highest highs and lowest lows and we’ve been able to support each other in those moments in real and meaningful ways.

Like any community, I know we haven’t always met the expectations we’ve set out to, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for giving us the grace and understanding to do better when we needed to and to pick ourselves back up when we’ve fallen. Your dedication, support, and honesty have allowed this site to become something different and something more than a collection of beautiful pictures — you’ve turned it into a real home. A home that has pretty, glossy parts, but also worn-in, loved-on parts that are familiar and make us feel welcome.

I am so grateful to have had the privilege to steer this small but mighty ship. It has been the greatest honor of my life so far to work among a team of people who are so unendingly dedicated to learning, growing, and sharing stories that remind us that design is about much more than the things we put in our houses — it’s about the people, the challenges, and the defining moments that turn those houses into homes.

To my team, thank you. You have shown me great patience, trust, and support. I hope I have done my best to show you how much I appreciate and value that generous gift. While our work together here is done, I know we will continue to connect and overlap in each other’s next chapters. And I hope you all know that I will always be here for each and every one of you, always. You have all been such dedicated and caring writers, but more importantly, you’ve been exceptional human beings. And it’s an honor to know each of you and call you my friend. Thank you for making Design*Sponge what it is and will always be: a place for friends to meet, connect, and learn from each other.

To our community, thank you. Your creativity, exuberance, diversity, energy, and talent have been our driving force since day one. What you all do is beyond words. You are artists, designers, makers, innovators, dreamers, and doers. And I am forever grateful that you all exist in our world. You have inspired me to do better, work harder, and grow at every step of the journey and Design*Sponge would not exist without the beauty and honesty you bring into the world every day. Thank you. Not just for inspiring Design*Sponge from day one, but for continuing to remind us that design is so much more than things, it’s about people and connections and building something meaningful.

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Earlier this month we gathered outside of Philadelphia to celebrate 15 years of Design*Sponge with our friends at Terrain. They have so kindly supported us since the early days and they generously offered to throw us a farewell party to mark this bittersweet occasion. It was an evening full of love, hugs, tears, and reminiscing that I am forever grateful for. I am also grateful to Ian Fursa who filmed our farewell party and created a short 5-minute film reflecting on the history of Design*Sponge and what it has meant to all of us to work on this project together. The final result is a love letter to this site, our community, our team, and the memories we’ve shared together. I hope you’ll watch and join us in one last moment of reflection, love, and gratitude.

Thank you for letting us live out so many of our dreams here these past fifteen years. There will never be enough words to express the depth and sincerity of my gratitude for all that you have given us and all the love you have shown us. I promise that as we all move forward, we will honor that love you’ve shown us by continuing to pay it forward in all that we do.

Forever grateful and always here—

Love,
Grace

Some important housekeeping notes:  Design*Sponge will remain online as an archive through September of 2020, thanks to generous support from Adam J. Kurtz and Tuesday Bassen. We are so grateful for their love and commitment to keeping the site online through next fall, when something very special will happen…

We’re thrilled to announce that our full archives will be available online (and fully searchable) through the Library of Congress, starting in September of 2020. We will provide an updated link to those archives once they are open to the public. We are so honored that they believed that a record of our work together here, and the community represented in these posts, should be preserved online permanently.

Also, I will continue to remain active on our Instagram account and out in the world. So stop by and say hi! Don’t forget you can follow our entire team and get more ideas for inspiring people to connect with online here.

 

Photographs by Erin Austen Abbott and Sofia Tuovinen

Scenes from our final team retreat in Brooklyn

The beautiful farewell party that Terrain threw for our community. 

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One of the biggest requests I’ve gotten since announcing our closing was: can you suggest some places to read now that you’re leaving? So I reached out to our team to gather some recommendations, as well as share details about where you can find them now that we’re closing. Design*Sponge was special because of this amazing team of writers, so I hope you’ll follow them all at the links below (in addition to their suggestions of who else to follow) and continue to support them and their work as they move forward, too. We have one more very big and very special post coming up today, so stay tuned for that at 12. But until then, here are some wonderful sites and people that we all love and follow and hope you will, too. Because we hope this post will be a resource for anyone else out there looking for inspiring and meaningful design content to follow, please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comment section, too! xo, Grace

Photo above from Cotton & Flax, by Laure Joliet, taken in Jessica Comingore‘s workspace

Grace Bonney is the founder of Design*Sponge

Grace’s Recommendations: These days I get most of my inspiration from feeds related to travel, nature, and up-and-coming photographers in different parts of the world. I share them on a regular basis on our Instagram feed, so be sure to follow us there (link below) for a weekly dose of recommendations (because I can’t fit all of my recommendations here). Some of my favorites right now are:

  1. CRWN Mag: Such an expertly curated feed of talented Black artists, makers, designers, and creatives around the world.
  2. Woodlucker: I think Ann’s work is stunning — and she is a lovely person to boot.
  3. Chandan Mahimkar: I love Chandan’s inspiring lettering.
  4. Jamie Okuma: Jamie is a talented artist and designer and her feed, along with many others, have introduced me to a slew of incredible indigenous artisans around the world.
  5. Morgan Harper Nichols: Inspiration + motivation galore.
  6. Kate Blairstone: I love Kate’s pattern and illustration work. It always makes me smile.
  7. Justina Blakeney: She is my guiding light in the design world. I feel like the community is always in good hands if Justina is nearby.
  8. Rebekah Taussig: I love Rebekah and all the beauty and honesty she shares online. She is a voice to follow and support in and out of the design community.
  9. Shavonda Gardner: For all things inspiration and design and home and FUN. Shavonda is a must-follow for anyone looking for home content with heart behind it.
  10. Podcasts! Here some of my favorites: All My Relations, 99% Invisible, In the Thick, Code Switch, On Being, Tell Them I am, Where Should We Begin.
  11. Magazines! Here are some of my favorites: New Philosopher, Uppercase, Bitch, CRWN, Tom Tom, Frankie, Kazoo, World of Interiors

Where to Find Grace: I’ll still be sharing things on social media at our old Design*Sponge feeds, so you can find me at @designsponge on Instagram (where I am most often), Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. But hopefully you’ll see me out in the world doing something away from a screen for a while. And I’ll still be on email at designsponge [at] gmail [dot] com.

 

Caitlin Kelch is Design*Sponge’s Relationship and Brand Director

Caitlin’s Recommendations: I recommend that all of our readers visit people and places in real life in their community. Or if a nearby town or neighborhood needs some help, go there. Take some time to get offline and in person. Read books, volunteer, visit the elderly and your neighbors. The internet will always be there but sadly some people and places will not. Share some of you with them.

Where You Can Find Caitlin: I’ll be slinging burgers and nourishing my town and beyond and the Town Run Tap House and Community Pub in beautiful Shepherdstown, WV.

Kristina Gill is Design*Sponge’s Food and Drink Editor

Kristina’s Recommendations:

  1. Shannon Mustipher ( @shannonmustipher on IG). On the forefront of cocktails. Super smart, super knowledgeable.
  2. Black Food Folks ( @blackfoodfolks on IG) to learn about who, where, and what among Black food industry people.
  3. Heidi Swanson (www.101cookbooks.com) not just her recipes, but her monthly list of what she’s reading, recipes she has liked, etc.
  4. Kara Rosenlund ( www.kararosenlund.com) Australian photographer — her nature images are spectacular; love her blog.
  5. Hetty McKinnon ( @hettymckinnon on Instagram ) — her food and feed bring happiness each time I see it!
  6. Bryant Terry ( @bryantterry on Instagram ) — My fave vegan; his message and activism go much deeper than food. His commitment to being thoroughly informed of the issues he discusses makes him also a reliable source of information!
  7. Equity At The Table (EATT) database and related newsletter ( https://equityatthetable.com/ ) to which women/gender non-conforming individuals are doing in the food space (primarily from the POC and the LGBTQ community) and find out about job opportunities, events, etc. to share with others.
  8. Santilla Chingaipe ( www.santillachingaipe.com ) — Award-winning Australia-based journalist and filmmaker (Zambian immigrant to Australia) who produces a quarterly newsletter. The newsletter chronicles events, exhibitions, books she has seen/read, as well as her own projects. It is smart, insightful and thought-provoking.
  9. Matt Armendariz ( @mattarmendariz on IG )–  IG stories for a behind-the-scenes look at photography shoots, to have your questions answered about any aspect of food photography, to learn about gardening, and for fantastic hijinks and unrivaled cuttin’ up.
  10. Nicole Taylor ( @foodculturist on IG ) — Her stories give a glimpse into the way she eats and her networking in New York. Keep at eye out on her IG feed to experience her in “3D” and after the new year, check in to Thrillist and see what she’s been up to.
  11. Yossy Arefi ( @yossyarefi on IG ) — for golden crust.
  12. Helen Goh ( @helen_goh_bakes on IG), pastry chef — love to see the baking trials she’s up to mixed with the comfort food she is eating.
  13. Sami Tamimi (@sami_tamimi on IG) — lots of home cooking from his native Palestine.
  14. Nigel Slater ( @nigelslater on IG ) — dreamy food, dreamy travels, dreamy garden. I don’t usually dream via IG except about owning all the dogs, but Nigel Slater’s is a dream account.

Where You Can Find Kristina: You can find me at @kristinagillfood and I will announce my next steps there — including my newsletter, portfolio updates, etc.!

Kelli Kehler is Design*Sponge’s Executive Editor

Kelli’s Recommendations: I echo completely what Caitlin said about getting out in your community and making face-to-face connections, and as far as online resources go, I am currently enjoying following @badguild, @peopleofcraftsmanship and @david_a_land on Instagram — they’re all championing the fantastic work of creatives of color. See who they follow, and travel down an IG rabbit hole to get out of your usual cycle of the same types of people dominating places like Instagram. And READ! Actual books! Every month (or let’s be real, every three months, because I’m a working mom with two kids) I try to read a book written by someone with a different perspective and background than my own. The degree to which this opens my mind exponentially with each new book I finish is immeasurable and profound.

Where You Can Find Kelli: Online, you can find me at @kellikehler on Instagram, and in real life, hopping around Orange County, CA. Find me on LinkedIn, too, to collaborate or chat about projects.

Garrett Fleming is Design*Sponge’s Head Interiors Writer

Garrett’s Recommendations: When we head out, Coming Soon will keep you up to date on up-and-coming designers and interior products. Coffeeklatch will satisfy your urge to get inside the minds of interesting creative folks and see their spaces. Check in on This Little Miggy now and then for content around designing for those with disabilities. And Vicki T. and Maegan Blau will also inspire with their focus on wheelchair-accessible spaces.

Where You Can Find Garrett: People can follow me on Instagram @insta__gare

Sofia Tuovinen is a Senior Writer at Design*Sponge

Sofia’s Recommendations: 

  1. The Bleu / www.the-bleu.com
    James Kicinski-McCoy is the first blogger I ever followed. She recently launched her latest concept, a media platform called The Bleu. The site focuses on women, young, old, and everything in between — what we have in common, what we can learn from each other. From the inspiring interviews to the latest in fashion and beauty, it’s definitely worth a peek!
  2. @bobbyberk / https://bobbyberk.com/
    Bobby Berk from Queer Eye shares some gorgeous design inspiration on his Instagram and has some great tips for decorating on his website as well — and who doesn’t want to take a closer look at the homes he designs for the show?!
  3. The Maryn / www.themaryn.com
    Michelle Adams, the former editor in chief of Domino and cofounder of Lonny, created this website as a destination for timeless interiors, modern design, wonderful food, and carefully sourced goods. It’s a celebration of modern makers and classic aesthetics — I always give a little sigh when I click through the beautiful content!

Where You Can Find Sofia: You can find Sofia on Instagram @sofia.tuovinen

Lauren Chorpening is a home tour writer at Design*Sponge

Lauren’s Recommendations: 
Follow the people your people follow. This is how I approached finding new home tours. Instead of searching aimlessly for new blogs and Instagram accounts that would lead me to unique homes and stories, I went to accounts I loved and looked at the accounts they follow. Finding out who inspires people who inspire me is always a great way to uncover incredibly talented people that would have never come up in a basic search. I don’t think there’s another site that will fill in the beautiful space that Grace has created with Design*Sponge, but maybe by giving away my secret to unearthing incredible artists, homes and products, you can keep D*S alive in your own way.

People who I’ll be following:

1. Freddie Harrel — she’s my style icon forever and ever. https://www.instagram.com/freddieharrel/

2. Sarah Gibson — her renovations blow me away. www.roomfortuesday.com

3. Kate Arends — her podcast has been so helpful to me lately. https://witanddelight.com/podcast

4. Julia Miller — she’s making the coolest house in the Midwest. https://www.instagram.com/jmiller_mpls/

5. Alice Gao — her photos inspire my freelance work so much. http://alicegao.com/overview

Where to Find Lauren:  You can find me at https://www.instagram.com/thedayshift_/ and www.dayshiftblog.com. It’s my personal blog where I document our home renovations and freelance work. My husband and I are going to keep working on this old, beautiful home and I’m looking at starting a DIY & design consulting side hustle with this extra time.

Erin Austen Abbott is a home tour writer at Design*Sponge

Erin’s Recommendations: The resources I would suggest to follow are places that are working hard to make an inclusive place for all their readers. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done at Design*Sponge to [do the same]. Challenge the sites you love to be more inclusive and create your own place for other voices if you can’t find it. Don’t be afraid to speak up for those that we don’t always see. A few outlets I think are sharing this space well are Omkari WilliamsThe Jungalow, and Mother Mag. Don’t put design in a box. There are so many great design blogs and accounts to follow… find your new favorite by finding one that doesn’t stick to just one style of interiors.

Where to Follow Erin: You can find me at @erinaustenabbott on Instagram and at ameliapresents.com 

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Crafting a Forever Home in Kent, England, Design*Sponge

Crafting a Forever Home in Kent, England, Design*Sponge

We moved into our condo in December of last year, and I immediately knew the space was perfect for us. It wasn’t until this past July, however, that I truly fell in love with its lakefront location. By then summer had finally rolled in, and I was hitting the nearby beach a lot. One weekend I even went three separate times. The trips only lasted about an hour or two, but each time I walked the four minutes back to our house I felt unwound, refreshed, and was reminded of how extremely lucky we were to live there. We had found the best of two worlds: a slick, city home and a beachy retreat.

Print designer Catherine Nice, founder of Kitty McCall, and her husband Gary can also pinpoint when they realized their home in Kent, England was right for their family: “When we walked through the door on our first viewing with the kids (Ruby and Jude), they instantly loved the house and ran off to explore all the rooms and little nooks it had. It was at that moment [we] knew that this house would be our home,” they explain.

Since that initial walk-through a year and a half ago, Catherine and Gary have been slowly making changes to polish what they hope will be their “forever home.” They’ve torn up the carpet, painted walls and given nearly every room a touch of zippy wallpaper. Head to the kitchen, though, and you’ll encounter the most-impressive of the home’s renovations. Once awash in brown built-ins and “tired” tile, the room is now bright and cheerful thanks to a coat of blue paint, new flooring and a restored countertop.

The kitchen revamp took over six months to complete, but the couple says lengthy timelines such as that don’t worry them in the slightest. In fact, they’re in no hurry to finish any of their planned tweaks: “[The home] is definitely a long-term project that will be inspired by our growing children, their needs and ours,” Catherine and Gary say. If all goes as planned, the couple hopes the changes they make will, in the long run, result in a home their children will associate with their happiest memories. Garrett

Photography by Fiona Murray

Image above: Guests are always drawn to the brilliant, inviting sunlight that streams into and bounces about the living room. Catherine absolutely loves being in there, too. Oftentimes she can be found “sitting in the bay window with a cup of tea, watching the world go by.”

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It feels like a lifetime ago when I was sitting in the newsroom at my previous job on my lunch break, scrolling through Design*Sponge, relishing in the inspiration laid before me through beautiful home tours, DIY projects, and the like. Two things always struck me about D*S — even from the very beginning of my time reading faithfully, about 11 years ago — was the sense of belonging I felt, and the community attached to the site. These two ideas could, at a quick glance, be lumped together as the same thing, but I assure you they’re not.

The community of makers, creatives, design-lovers, DIY aficionados (or first-timers), future business owners — the list goes on and on — is this strong current that has always held D*S up over the years. It’s all of us who keep coming back, whether it’s every day or once a week or once a month, to learn something new or tour a fascinating home or seek out inspiration. The sense of belonging I felt — which I have since learned over time after speaking with so many of you and all of my teammates is a shared feeling — is this acceptance to be ourselves wholly in our love of all things creative, and to come here to feel safe in our self-expression and curiosity.

Since joining the team, that sense of belonging only intensified, and I could fill a book with the lessons I’ve learned in those nearly six years of being on the other side. My biggest takeaway from this time spent working here is that the world around you is always so much larger, more dynamic, and more diverse than the one you experience daily. Opening our eyes, hearts, and minds to someone else to hear their story — or see what “home” means to them — will always bring forth greater understanding and connection. Life is about connection. The rest of it is just stuff.

In the thousands (yes, thousands) of posts I’ve edited in my time here, it’s very hard to choose a favorite one that I’ve read. But one that always stands out to me in my mind and is still very timeless is Grace’s essay, “There Are No Rules: What We Believe About Design.” As far as posts I’ve written, my absolute favorite is “Eulogizing A Home: How to Say Goodbye to A Place With Memories.” The reason this one is paramount for me is twofold: It gave me a place to understand and release the feelings I had associated with my grief, and it also (still to this day) gives me a community that feels the same way as I do. This post has generated so many comments from others going through the same thing, or sharing their stories of grief with me, and I have been incredibly grateful for their openness and sincerity. It’s that sense of belonging and community at work once again: that feeling of not being alone.

I asked my dear teammates to share with me their biggest takeaways in working for D*S, and their favorite posts they’ve read and/or written. I hope you enjoy taking a closer look at what we learned and loved from this place where we’ve all felt so lucky to work. —Kelli

Image above by Penelope Dullaghan

CAITLIN

Biggest Takeaway: “I learned to say what you mean, mean what you say but don’t say it mean. Period.”

Favorite Post You’ve Read: “My favorite post, though it’s so hard to choose, is the one Grace wrote “What We Believe: The Design*Sponge Mission Statement,” because for me it marked a turning point where expressed our values and burst the bubble of ‘perfect’ in a clear and powerful way. I needed that personally at that time as well. It allowed me to articulate my own list of what I believe that I update each year, or as needed!”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “My own written post is my ‘That One Piece: The Sea Green Table at the End of the Rainbow‘ because it’s so warm and nostalgic as I return to the restaurant business in my small town post Design*Sponge. It’s all coming full circle and I can’t wait to take my D*S mojo to my new position as Kitchen Manager at Town Run Tap House & Community Pub.


Illustration above by by Viola Guerrero

GRACE

Biggest Takeaway: “My biggest takeaway is that you get out of a community what you put in. I’ve learned from moderating (and leaving my own) comments over all these years that if you listen first, ask questions, and stay open to understanding someone else’s point of view, you (and your community as a whole) are better off for it. And this community is what has kept me going for so many years — and I’m so grateful for everyone here.”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “One of my favorite posts I’ve had the chance to write was about trying to balance economic and budget needs personally and as a community. I tried to break down our support for, and issues with, both box store design and indie design. It was tough and generated a lot of strong responses, but that type of dialogue is so important and what I’ve always strived to encourage at D*S.”

GARRETT

Biggest Takeaway: “I’ve learned to seek out the voices that aren’t being heard and give them a platform.”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “When I look back on my time with Design*Sponge, I’m most proud of our work with those who are disabled. So it goes without saying that my favorite post I’ve written was the one that kickstarted the initiative: ‘Decorating for your Differently-Abled Child’.”

Favorite Post You’ve Read: “My favorite post we’ve done was our ‘Living In: Fantastic Mr. Fox‘ feature, because it was the very first post I ever read on Design*Sponge. Who knew that four years after reading it I’d be working for D*S?!”


Image above by by Rachel Fox Kipphut

SOFIA

Biggest Takeaway: “Thanks to everyone who trusted me to share their homes and stories, I’m walking away from this experience with my heart so much fuller than when I started. I’m also so proud to have had the opportunity to be part of something good. Instead of telling people what mistakes to avoid, what trends to follow or forget, the underlying motto has been to celebrate all people and all homes, just as they are. That’s what makes D*S so special. From a personal perspective, I’ve learned that I can do a lot more than I ever thought I could.”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “Sarah Andrews and Captains Rest, her cottage in Tasmania, is a special one for me. I’m going to go ahead and just say it — I really like the writing! As someone who never dreamt of being a writer of any kind, I can proudly pat myself on the back and say that I did a good job. Needless to say, Sarah’s amazing story, talent, and creative eye are the real reasons why that post turned out so wonderful.”

Favorite Post You’ve Read: “I loved Kelli’s ‘Anatomy of a Home Tour,’ where we went behind the scenes to show readers how our home tours actually come about. It’s real and honest, qualities we’ve focused on highlighting in all our posts and stories.”


Image above by Sarah Andrews

ERIN

Biggest Takeaway: “What I’ve learned from Design*Sponge, as a reader and then as a writer, is that we are all looking for similar things. We feel connected by the warmth of homes and are drawn to the function of design. We share similar backgrounds and interests. So for the 13 years that I’ve been connected to Design*Sponge, it’s allowed me to always know I’m not alone. As an introvert, knowing you aren’t alone is an important thing and each time there was a new post, it brought the readers a little bit closer. Bonding in the comments and then with social media, finding one another to follow there, too. It has introduced me to some of my best friends. It’s also taught me to never shy away from color in your home. Some of the most beautiful homes are full of color and patterns.

Favorite Post You Wrote: “One of my favorite posts that I wrote was ‘The Art of Collecting.'”


Image above by Ann Wood

KRISTINA

Biggest Takeaway: “How deeply people can connect with an online presence and how meaningful that presence can become in a person’s life. Grace IS Design*Sponge, but the site as a whole, in and of itself, also filled an important part in many of our readers’ lives.”

Favorite Post You’ve Read: “Each post on Design*Sponge was striking in a different way. But I think I like the home tour ‘How My Mom’s Aesthetic Inspired My Love of Design,’ written by Erin about her Mom, because the hundreds (thousands?) of books on shelves that flexed under their weight, wedged into the home, seemed to match perfectly the story of her career and what she lived for. Everything was just… perfect, and expressed a sense of satisfaction with her achievements. It seemed to match seamlessly and like a glove to her life. The same of the home featured in ‘In New Jersey, an 1890s-Era Home Honoring Black Heritage‘ because the owners, Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy, seemed to have found the perfect balance of history and constant change in the pieces they’ve chosen which reflect their lives and interests seamlessly, mixed with other pieces. I loved it.”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “Even though the styling wasn’t the best, the post with the late Jonathan Gold’s favorite recipe, Spaghetti alla Gricia. It was always exhilarating when I made ‘cold calls’ to well-known food people to seek their favorite recipe and they answered. He was nice, supportive, and fit every positive thing people said of him. I am happy we were able to include him in the column.”


Image above by Kiyanna Stewart & Laquan Brinson-St.Pierre

LAUREN

Biggest Takeaway: “I’ve learned a lot about self-expression during my time at Design*Sponge. I’ve always been timid about sharing my point of view — whether related to design or speaking up about social issues. Grace and my D*S teammates, whether they realized it or not, have given me tools to use my voice and stand behind it. I have rooms with green cabinets, rooms with pink walls and the ability to have vulnerable conversations without people-pleasing-away my perspective.”

Favorite Post You Read/Wrote: “I think my favorite posts to read and to write were the essays.”

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An 1880s-era Church Turned Vacation Home in Ontario, Design*Sponge

An 1880s-era Church Turned Vacation Home in Ontario, Design*Sponge

Back in early 2018, art teacher Colin and his partner Matt, a banker, were nesting. They had finished renovating their Toronto loft and were thrilled to be sitting back, enjoying the fruits of their hard work. The second the pair laid eyes on this converted church in Ontario’s Warkworth area, however, everything changed: “When we saw the pictures we fell in love immediately and put in an offer the day we visited the property.”

The converted church hit the market following the previous owner’s death and, as Colin and Matt soon learned, had an interesting history. It was built in 1887 in the Gothic Revival style, complete with a collection of stained glass windows that would cast a rainbow of light onto its Anglican parishioners. For nearly 60 years it welcomed believers, until it was closed in the late 1950s. It then sat vacant for almost 15 years before being converted into a private residence.

Before they could truly begin adding their own chapter to the structure’s story, Colin and Matt had to update the basics and make the vacation house better fit their needs. For six months the couple went back and forth between their main home and Warkworth overseeing the installation of new plumbing, a new roof and the addition of a bedroom and bathroom. The additions were particularly important: only by expanding the overall footprint of the house could the pair host all of their friends when the weather was nice.

Once construction was complete, Colin and Matt then decorated using three key elements they knew would instantly modernize the 130-year-old building: bold wallpaper, a millennial pink front door and a matching pink bathroom. “Our goal in decorating was to keep all the magic and charm that the house had on our first visit but update it with our own touches,” the two explain. The aforementioned wallpaper can be found in two of the home’s bedrooms. In the lofted suite, a moody tree line further amplifies the sense of being above it all. While in the guest room, an astrological narrative plays out across the walls.

It’s been a year and a half since Colin and Matt took over the property, and still, barely a weekend goes by that the two aren’t driving the hour and a half to Warkworth. Nowadays, though, it’s not to meet with the contractor or review plans. It’s to relax. As the church’s pink front doors come into sight, their cares (and those of whichever lucky friends have tagged along) seem to melt away. Garrett

Photography by Laurel Munro

Image above: “We wanted to keep the warm space/spirit of the previous owner and decided to keep everything we found in the church for the time being. (The gilded accents) are a little over the top – even for us – but we couldn’t bear to part with them and now this room is designed around them!” Colin and Matt tell us.

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Design*Sponge | The Black Interior Designers Conference 2019 Recap

When I feel stuck, uninspired or just isolated in my work, I look to see if there are any conferences coming up. I was at a conference in 2014 when I got an email from Grace Bonney, asking me to submit a second tour sample for a possible interiors writing position for Design*Sponge. Had I not been in a place with endless inspiration and time away from my normal life to focus, I might not be writing this post five years later — who knows. Anyway, I love conferences. I love that they bring likeminded people together — they can create instant community. The information is there for the taking and there’s time to absorb it.

Keia McSwain inherited the Black Interior Designers Network (BID) from founder Kimberly Ward in 2017. She has taken the unexpected responsibility in-stride and has elevated the BID Conference with new ideas, inspiration and support for the community of designers. This year the Atlanta, GA conference was pared down in numbers to give the attendees a chance to make stronger connections with featured trade-only vendors, speakers and each other. The July event was stunning and well-produced, giving insight into everything from contracts to standing out in the industry. Keia has continued Kimberly’s vision beautifully. Today, in our last-ever Life & Business post, I’m talking with Keia about this year’s event — a conference that continues to champion industry inclusivity, empower entrepreneurs, and do it all with style. Lauren

Photography by Charles Dante

Image Above: An industry panel discussion with Cheryl Luckett, Laura Thurman, Veronica Solomon and Rasheeda Gray.

D*S: The conference looked incredible! How do you balance running the Black Interior Designers Network while also planning and prepping for the Conference? You do it all so beautifully.

Keia: Thank you! The conference is always a lot of fun, focus, and sleepless nights. Juggling Kimberly + Cameron Interiors plus the Black Interior Designer’s Network is no easy task. People don’t get to see me exhausted, stressed, or frustrated. Those are just a few perks of doing what I love. I think the “Endgame” is where I focus my heart and my attention. I keep a clear vision and when it gets frustrating, I pray and push through!

The network’s three values are Connect, Support & Empower and the conference is a big part of that. Was there an overall value or theme for the conference this year? 

This year’s conference was themed “The tools to succeed.” We wanted to provide attendees with everything they needed to get started, evolve, rise out of self-doubt, protect themselves legally, and how to take on other ventures within the industry.


Image above: Shavonda Gardner sharing about how to thrive as an interior design blogger.

The event was designed to be more intimate this year with a limited number of attendees. Tell me about how you and your team chose that route.

Intimacy is often overlooked and underrated. It can provide so much freedom for retaining, networking, and more. We wanted to ensure our attendees and both speakers had the opportunity to engage on a much more formidable level.

How has the conference changed over the years?

Everything grows, it’s destined to change. We’ve centered our focus around feedback and what our members and attendees need most. As we transition and evolve, I expect there to always be positive change within the network. I look back at previous conferences and think to myself, “What could be better? What could we do different to ensure a grand takeaway?”


Image above: Keia interviewing celebrity stylist J. Bolin about the intersection of fashion and interiors.

What were a few favorite moments from the conference this year? What makes those stick out?

One of my favorite moments from this year was having the opportunity to fellowship and engage new partners and sponsors. It’s nothing like being shy to start a relationship, then realizing it’s the best decision you could have ever made. My one-on-one [interview] with celebrity stylist J.Bolin was a total highlight for me. Having known him for over 10 years and having him share his testimony and evolution with our group was extremely inspiring and motivating for me.


Image above: BID was two days full of keynote speakers, panel discussions, trade-only vendor presentations and a closing party.

What feedback did you receive from attendees about the design industry? How does BID address those concerns? How can the design media address those concerns?

A lot of our members and attendees want to see more focus on how to elevate in general. They want to know that their features won’t be crammed together and individual focus can take the wheel. Our members understand that community and uplift starts at home. I think the design media can address our concerns by attending more of our events, getting to know more attendees, and digging deeper into the background of these designers and their stories.

What was your biggest takeaway from the event this year?

I noticed a few speakers were very motivational in their talks. I was grateful for that. Oftentimes it’s not about how to make the most money or how to pitch the best publication. We want to hear how we keep our heads on straight in today’s society or how our worth is not determined by our peers. My biggest takeaway from the event this year is simple… I  wholeheartedly agree with Audre Lorde when she says “Without community there is no liberation.” In order to rise, we must all stick together. Collaboration is key and Competition is… not for me.


Image above: Patti Carpenter spoke about incorporating global-inspired design into interior projects.

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Pattern above by Deanne Cheuk (download here)

This is the final week of Design*Sponge. I’ve been scared to write that sentence all summer, but the time is here, and I want to make these last few posts go beyond products or trends. For me, the heart of design has always been about the people behind the things we love — what makes them tick, what makes them feel inspired, and what we can all do to support the creative community we love. So as we close this chapter and look to the future, I wanted to share our hopes, wishes, and dreams for this community we’ve grown to know and love so well. But before I jump in, I’d love to know: what are your hopes for the future of design? What do you hope design looks, sounds, feels, and operates like in the future? What do you hope for from the future of design media? I’d love to know how you feel and what we can hopefully leave here for future bloggers, makers, and community leaders to take with them as they start new chapters.

  1. Inclusivity, across the board. The biggest mistake I made in my time at Design*Sponge was not creating a space that was welcoming to everyone in the community. I know better now, and I am still learning, but it’s the thing I still hope to see much more of in our community. From blogs and businesses to conferences and investment — our community deserves to see a greater diversity of voices, backgrounds, points of view, and needs supported. Here’s what I hope that will look like as things go forward:
    1. I’d love to see more design media outlets (print, radio, TV and online) run by (but also including the stories of) writers and creatives from underrepresented communities. I want to see more stories told from the points of view of people of color, disabled people, people living with chronic illness, people who have immigrated or come to this county from other places, LGBTQ+ people, people over 50, people living in rural areas, people living on lower or fixed incomes, and those with points of view or experiences that we just don’t see enough of. Design doesn’t move forward, evolve, or become as different and special as it can be if we only hear stories that look like our own.
    2. I’d love to see conferences include all of the people mentioned above in prominent (paid) positions at events. Celebrities are fine, I know they drive ticket sales, but we all benefit and learn more when there are more diverse points of view supported and highlighted.
    3. I’d love to see more inclusive hiring across the board. From the mastheads of print magazines to blog staffs, podcast teams, and at executive levels of trade fairs and trade companies. We don’t get to see industry change if more diverse points of view aren’t included in positions of power.
    4. The same goes for design publishing: I’d love to see more books, magazines, and newspaper columns going to people who can understand the design world from a different point of view and background.
    5. What does that mean for all of us? It means I hope we can all continue to speak up and take action to ensure everyone in our community is welcome, represented, supported, and compensated equally in our community. It might be uncomfortable at times, but it’s work I hope we all keep trying to do every chance we get. (Here are some ways to do that).
  2. A Better Understanding of Living Wages (and Prices). One of the things I struggle with as I end this chapter, is feeling like I wasn’t able to move the needle as much as I wanted when it comes to the idea of understanding why indie/handmade design costs more and why, even if we can’t afford it, we can learn to respect those rates. I understand why we all want more affordable design, but one of my biggest goals was to make sure everyone who read here understood why smaller design brands and makers needed to charge higher rates. I don’t know if we were able to do that, but I hope as time goes on, people will be able to hold both truths (that handmade work costs more and it won’t be in everyone’s budget) without judgement or shaming. I’d love to see that concept extend to all types of design: including box store. If we want to buy less expensive new furniture, I hope our community will keep digging into how these prices are lower and if they’re tied to unethical production or forced labor. And if they are, I hope we’ll band together to demand an end to unethical production methods and unfair labor practices.
  3. Environmental Sustainability. This is an issue that I have always looked to our blogging colleagues at Inhabitat for leadership in. So many of my early blogging colleagues led with eco-design and sustainability concerns and it’s an issue I wish I’d spent more time on. So much of my interest in that issue was connected to DIY and reuse, rather than new technology, but I am hopeful that as design moves forward, we’ll embrace and investigate ways to make new design more environmentally sustainable and work together to move away from design that puts our planet in danger.
  4. Less Judgement, More Enthusiasm for What’s Different. Like all style-based communities, design has always been about what’s new, cool, on-trend, and popular. But as we grow and evolve, I hope our community will always make room for voices and styles and designs that are different, not concerned with trends, or are standing out for doing something against “the rules.” Our world has a lot of rules and restrictions already. I hope as our community goes forward we embrace all of the different ways there are to build, decorate, and live in a home and move away from telling people that anything is “wrong” or a “mistake” or a “no no,” when it comes to expressing your personal style.
  5. MORE FUN. More than anything, I miss a little bit of the fun I used to feel around design when I first started out. And honestly, I think a lot of that is because any time you make what you love your job, it tends to lose a little bit of the shine. And that’s okay — that’s part of the process of building a business. But I used to feel like things were a little grittier, messier, less perfect, and less polished. I loved that DIY energy. I think social media has made it so that we expect brand new products and projects to be perfect and expertly branded from the second they’re launched. And that doesn’t always leave room for scrappiness — a quality I love in design. So I hope that perhaps as new social media channels grow and arrive, we’ll find space for design (products, projects, media, events) to be a little bit rougher around the edges when it starts out. That raw state is where some really special things happen.
  6. Knowing Our Sources of Inspiration: The internet moves so fast, and these days I see websites like Pinterest and Instagram listed as sources for images and ideas. But knowing where things come from — especially culturally — is important. Cultural Appropriation is a complex and nuanced issue, but it’s one that our design community would benefit from talking about more and really getting into. I want to see so many of the communities that have created popular styles (i.e: Otomi patterns, Mud Cloth, Shibori etc.) be studied, written about, credited, and appreciated as much as the people who are interpreting them in modern times. It expands our minds, worlds, and ability to be inspired when we look at and learn from cultures, backgrounds, and traditions that are different from our own. So as we move forward, I hope we’ll keep citing those sources of inspiration, celebrating them, and introducing those sources as part of any project or product that uses them as a point of inspiration or reference.
  7. Design to Give Back: Our community is rich with resources. From ideas and expertise to skills, education, experience, and financial backing — the design world is full of people and businesses that are in a position to help those in need. My greatest hope is that our community keeps doing more of what it’s already doing so well in so many spaces — giving back. Design has the power to connect people and not just tell stories, but to tell stories that better explain problems and pain points in our world, and how we can work together to fix them. I want to see us all band together and share whatever resources we have to help those in need in our community. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to plug in, but whenever you can, please do. Whether that’s volunteering locally with Habitat for Humanity or a local family shelter or donating your time, money, or skills to a community in need near you, or starting a product line or entire company that donates to a cause that’s important to you— don’t forget that at our core, we are a community of talented and creative problem solvers. Design is at its most beautiful when it is making sure that everyone feels safe and supported at home.

What do you hope to see as the design community grows and evolves into the future? xo, Grace

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When I started Design*Sponge, I had no idea just how many times I would royally stick my foot in my mouth. From poor internet behavior (I left my share of anonymous rude comments, like a proper asshole) and self-righteous stubbornness, to downright ignorance (I will never forgive myself for publishing a post inspired by Ken Burns’ Civil War Documentary), I feel like I’ve made every mistake one can make online — and then some.

And to be honest, it took me a very long time to handle being called out for those offenses. I would say it took me a solid six years to understand how — and why — it was so important for me to start truly opening myself up to what a gift (most) critical feedback is. I could write thousands of words about what it feels like to find message boards devoted to hating you online or reading posts from people who say they’d punch you in the face if they ever met you. It sucks. But honestly, as much as that matters from a human empathy point of view, at the end of the day, you can choose to learn from it and evolve (and also set boundaries), or you can stay stuck in place. And after six years, I wanted to stop being stuck in that place. I wanted to learn how to learn from it and do better. Here are four moments that taught me how to turn call-outs (both public and private) into fuel for change.

  1. The first big moment of call-out I ever got was in public and private. I’d gotten into a truly immature back and forth with another blogger in our community and, well, it was most definitely not me at my best. I was catty and childish and obsessed with feeling like I was being copied. And good grief, what a mess I got myself (and some of my friends) into. I finally walked away when friends online (and off) told me that it had all gone a little too far. They were right — and I was embarrassed. In hindsight, I’m so thankful this happened early. I was acting like the immature 23-year-old I was, and it was time to grow up. From this moment I learned that a) copying, real or perceived, usually isn’t worth the drama b) there’s plenty of room online for people to co-exist who don’t necessarily get along c) don’t write anything online (or in an email) that you wouldn’t feel comfortable being made public and d) time spent wrapped up in online drama is time spent away from work that’s actually important, so don’t waste your time.
  2. My second big moment of call-out happened in the New York Times. They wrote a big piece about design bloggers and the caption under my picture read, “Ms. Bonney does not disclose that she is paid by her PR clients to write about their work.” The second that story hit stands, my inbox and comment sections were flooded with furious readers who felt betrayed. That caption wasn’t true, but it didn’t matter — the damage was done. I wrote an apology message, clarified what I was and wasn’t paid for, and learned a valuable lesson in ALWAYS being 100% transparent about payment and sponsorship (although I did not have any at that time). It was painful and frustrating, but being called out on a national level taught me that few things are as valuable as trust and honesty with your community.
  3. A few months into my first radio show, I got the most important call-out moment of my life so far. Only just starting to notice the lack of inclusivity online, I decided to do a radio show on the topic. I had Tina Shoulders on as a guest and we met a week before recording to talk about the issue. It was there that Tina kindly, and with more patience than I deserved, reminded me that I had a role in that problem, too. I shamefully remember some of the excuses I tried to give and then thankfully, it all sunk in that my behavior was a huge part of the problem. And if I wanted to talk about working on a problem in our community, I had to work on my role in that problem, too. That moment, which happened in private, forever changed the way I looked at my work and personal life. I had a lot of mess to own and I’ve been working hard ever since to recognize and appreciate people’s feedback on this particular issue for exactly what it is — a  gift and an opportunity to do better.
  4. Max Tielman taught me a lot during his time at Design*Sponge. He showed me all the tricks and tools of Photoshop, but more importantly, he showed me the power of a true and sincere apology. I’ve mentioned this here before, but during a day when we were getting a lot of negative comments, I was complaining audibly about how much they were upsetting me and how little I wanted to back down. Max looked at me and simply said, “It doesn’t cost anything to say you’re sorry.” He went on to explain that it goes a long way toward open dialogue if I would acknowledge people’s feelings and let them know they’re heard. And from that day on, that’s been my main goal in the comment sections. He helped me see how much I was holding on to the idea of “being right” or what was “factually accurate,” when at the end of the day, none of that really mattered. In most cases, like all of us, people just want to be heard, have their feelings respected and acknowledged, and then once that happens, there is space for open, vulnerable dialogue. This was a tough lesson for me to learn, but I am so grateful I did. It allowed me to step back, give people space to talk, and then it truly led to conversations that I never would have had without that moment of listening and respect up front.

So what are the steps I take to handle, process, and appreciate call-outs (public and private) — and how can you do the same? Here’s what has worked for me in my experience of blogging and working on social media for 15 years:

  1. Take a deep breath. Determine if it’s dangerous or not. Step one is the most important. Is the comment or call-out you’re receiving an actual threat to you and your loved ones’ safety? If so, call in a professional and take it seriously. But if you can take a deep breath and see that it’s criticism or feedback and not an actual threat, it’s worth moving on to step 2.
  2. It’s not personal (even if it sounds like it). It’s a cliche for a reason, but hurt people hurt people. If someone is truly coming for you and attacking you personally or throwing barbs that sting, try to remember that in most cases, they’re doing that because it’s been done to them before. I would say in 90% of the cases where someone’s really attacked me online, if I can get us to a place of conversation that’s less heated, it usually ends up that the issue is more about something else they’ve experienced that is being triggered by something I’ve done/said/written. And they just want to be heard. Over time, it becomes easier to see anger for what it often is — fear or sadness. Breaking through all that and not getting lost in my personal feelings has allowed me to be part of some truly amazing conversations with people that could have gone down in flames if we hadn’t both taken the time to put our swords down and hear each other.
  3. Get to the point: What is the crux of what someone is telling you? It may be wrapped in layers of anger (or not, which is great!), but unwrap that feedback and get to the core of what they’re telling you. If you feel confused by the feedback or critique, talk to a friend or colleague. They may be able to better help you see what someone is pointing out and help you to learn where you can improve from that piece of feedback. In my experience, most sincere criticism is rooted in a bit of truth that is worth holding on to, processing, and growing from.
  4. Acknowledge someone’s feelings: It’s simple, but if someone says they’re hurt by something you did or said, it doesn’t cost anything to say you hear them and that you’re sorry they came away from your site/post/project feeling that way. You don’t have to agree with their take (see step 4 next), but it is important to acknowledge another human being who is trying to connect and share their feelings. A simple, “I hear you. I’m sorry you came away from this post feeling excluded,” is a good start.
  5. Ask for more information: One of the most powerful things that has helped me deal with being called out is remembering that it’s an opportunity to better understand how someone else from a different background may be experiencing what I’m putting out into the world. That’s not always an easy thing to stomach if you feel like you’re just sharing your life or experiences with their world with no bad intentions, but people with different life experiences will be triggered by things you share online. It’s just a given. We all have different lives and traumas and points of view. Does it mean you’re a bad person? No! It just means that when you ask someone to explain why they’re having the reaction they are, and invite them to share their point of view, you get to learn about what life feels like in someone else’s shoes. It creates empathy, compassion, and a real connection. That is a truly valuable thing to experience.
  6. Keep it private. When possible, I’ve found it’s best to respond to call-outs (whether public or private) in private. That means DMing someone, emailing them — whatever will give you the chance to talk in a safer space where things can’t escalate because other people jump on to defend or attack either side. Not everyone will be open to this, but I can speak from my experiences that this is almost ALWAYS a better way to approach the situation. People usually act differently one-on-one than they do in an open forum, and I’ve found they’re more likely to feel safe to open up and let you know what’s underneath a call-out. That emotional connection is important to really understanding and connecting with someone, so if it’s possible, follow up on the call-out in private. If they ask you not to do that privately, you can continue to talk in public, but I’ve found that sometimes leads to escalation from other readers, which can be counter-productive to actual connection.
  7. Remember: in most cases, people are telling you this because they think you’ll listen and care. People don’t usually waste their time yelling into a void. If they think no one is listening, they won’t bother leaving a comment. But if people feel you are listening and you do care, they’ll decide it’s worth showing up to share a critique, point of view, or feedback. It took me a while to see this as the gift that it is, but oh boy is it a gift. If you work hard to create a safe space for people to express themselves, they’re going to, well, express themselves! That’s part of the process. Remember this. Even on tough days, it’s important to remember that most people tell you they’re upset because they care about you, what you do, and your impact on your community. And that’s a role and responsibility to be appreciated and respected.
  8. When in doubt, talk to a friend. Look, handling call-outs, especially publicly, can be stressful. But the final step is to remember not to air that stress publicly if it’s not necessary. Tell a friend, a loved one, or a colleague who will understand. You can connect, commiserate, or just support each other in letting that steam out in a safe space where it won’t escalate the conversation someone is trying to have with you or your brand online.

Last but not least: Are you thinking about calling someone out? Consider a private message first. When things go public, it’s hard to control how they’ll evolve from there.  People are also more likely to feel defensive when you call them out publicly- and that’s rarely an emotional place where vulnerability and change can happen. Outside influence can cause things to escalate, legal matters can take effect, and all sorts of things can happen that lead to anything but a safe space to discuss a sensitive issue. If I’ve learned one thing from 15 years of working online, it’s that calling people out publicly rarely leads to the type of connection and change we’re hoping for. If you can, talk to someone in private (and give them fair time to respond) first before taking something into a public forum. It may not always feel better, but more often than not, it gives the other party time to react, take a breath, and respond with thoughtfulness. xo, Grace

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I started thinking about what my last recipe post would be in January when Grace told the team that Design*Sponge would be closing this summer. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted it to be representative of the work we do on the site, my most used recipe from the archives (Lena Corwin’s Pumpkin Bread, btw), or something personal…

Twelve years ago, Grace entrusted me with the In the Kitchen With column that I pitched to her. She gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted with it. The landscape of blogs was very different then. There were behemoths and there was Design*Sponge, run by one person. With each State of the Blog Union and significant external “shock,” I asked Grace about her business decisions. Her answers always started with her integrity and her readers. She would compromise neither in order to cover expenses. Her vision and ironclad character, her ability to apologize when wrong, to learn and grow in the face of adversity, to take care of her team and to be out there defending us (every day) are most of the reasons I knew I would stay until the end. The rest was about the friendships. Not just my friendship with Grace which predated the column, but with our team and the people featured in the column over the years who made it also a joy to edit.

We transformed In the Kitchen With from being a column focused on very personal, mostly carb-focused, recipes from our favorite indie designers to diverse recipes from everyone who pitched good food. I’ve eaten our featured recipes at home and served them at parties. Some of the people we’ve featured have moved from e-life to real life and have become my family. It’s always hard to name names because you don’t want to leave anyone out, but I can say that I’ve had turning points in my life thanks to Matt Armendariz, Nicole Taylor, Bryant Terry, Matt Lewis. My life is much richer for the time I’ve spent with Klancy Miller, Katie Quinn, Leela Cyd, Yossy Arefi, Anissa Helou, Y. Lee, Kerrin Rousset, Felicity Cloake, Gaby Dalkin, Prairie Rose, Emily Arden Wells. I can feel the smiles even over the long distances when I exchange messages with Vallery Lomas,  Jocelyn Delk Adams, Cheryl Day, and Julia Turshen, whose first recipe idea for the column I didn’t accept!! (But things turned out for the best in the end and hopefully she doesn’t even remember!) Actually, the list is 12 years long of special, indelible memories. I cherish and am grateful daily for what being a part of the Design*Sponge team has brought me, and when all of us editors showed up one by one for our farewell retreat, made the road trip from Brooklyn to Terrain in Philadelphia and back, and spent the weekend together, I felt like I was with family. And though it was sad for me to realize it was ending, I’ve learned over the years to be happy I had the good times and great memories rather than pining for them to continue.

So I decided on a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache by British chef and cookbook author, Harry Eastwood. Harry’s recipe for Heartache Chocolate Cake is how I have decided to end the column because I think Harry’s eloquent description of the cake is how my heart feels as I write this. Thanks to everyone who has followed over the years, who has pitched a recipe, who has helped get images and text to me for a recipe, who has reached out just to say they love the column, who has let me know they follow my work, and even those three cranky people who let me hear about it when I didn’t cross my t’s and dot all my i’s on their posts, I remember you all and it has been a pleasure. —@KristinaGillFood

Harry Eastwood is an international television host, New York Times best-selling author and culinary master. She first co-presented a popular prime-time television series, Cook Yourself Thin in 2007 and co-authored a book of the same title which debuted number one on the New York Times Bestseller List. Since her first cookbook in 2007, she has authored numerous best-sellers including Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache, The Skinny French KitchenA Salad For All Seasons and her most recent, Carneval.  Find Harry on Instagram at @harryeatsfood.

For a chance to win a copy of Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache, respond in the comments section below by August 29, 5PM EST to the following question: What recipe have you tried from our archives/what is your favorite recipe from our archivesWe will announce the winner in the comments section, so be sure to check back!

Image above: Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache; Food photography by Jean Cazals

Image above: Harry Eastwood, portrait by Laura Edwards

Image above: Heartache Chocolate Cake

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I feel so much gratitude for this site — for the ways Design*Sponge has helped shape other pockets of the internet and for the ways writing others’ stories has shaped me. I can look through the archives and remember working with each person and what their home/lives taught me. As I wrap up my last few posts, I’m reminded yet again, that design needs every voice, perspective and story to make the world more beautiful.

Maegan and Chris Blau’s kitchen stopped me in my tracks. The light wood, modern feel and gorgeous details made this space an instant favorite. I wasn’t surprised it belonged to an interior designer, but the design impressed me even more when I learned that the stunning space in Queen Creek, AZ is also accessible for Maegan, who uses a wheelchair. Instead of looking for pre-fab ADA-approved designs and products, Maegan took her requirements and personal style to create a home that works functionally and aesthetically for her and her family. Doing the same in her first home sparked a business designing for others and their unique needs. “I started my career when I needed to renovate my first home to accommodate my wheelchair. I have a spinal cord injury and have been a quadriplegic for 10 years now,” Maegan says. “As you can imagine, using a wheelchair in a home requires some different needs design-wise.”

Maegan and her husband, Chris, purchased their current home in 2016 sight-unseen after traveling the country in a fifth-wheel trailer for 10 months. When their realtor found an option with the size, location and layout that they wanted, a video tour was all they needed to move forward with the home. “My design goals were first, make this home work for you and your wheelchair. This means lowered beds, roll-in showers, accessible kitchens, etc. This does not mean that my home has to fit ADA guidelines,” Maegan shares. “After the functions were addressed, I wanted to keep my home neutral, bright, but with an homage to Southwest design. I have yet to come up with a style name for my home but I know one day it will come to me.” The Blaus’ home is a stunning space with thoughtful, beautiful design throughout. It doesn’t meet all the nation’s accessibility standards — it was designed to fit Maegan and Chris’ life. This home and design are inspiring in more than one way. Lauren

Photography by Nicole Bishop

Image Above: The Blau Family’s kitchen incorporates earthy, natural Southwestern elements in a modern and neutral way. The materials, patterns and finishes used make the space visually stunning. Kitchenwares stored in cabinets with drawers instead of doors, wide pathways and accessible appliances make it a functional and cool space for Chris and Maegan to prepare meals.

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Our 2019 Design*Sponge team: Sofia Tuovinen, Garret Fleming, Kristina Gill, Caitlin Kelch, Grace Bonney, Kelli Kehler, Lauren Day and Erin Austen Abbott. 

It’s been said that if you love something, you have to let it go. And, dear friends, it is time for us to let Design*Sponge go. It’s time for us to close this wild and wonderful chapter and head out into the great unknown. While we are sad to say goodbye to the friends, colleagues, and community that we’ve found here, we know that we are stepping into this next chapter filled with the love, support, and care you’ve so graciously shared with us over the past 15 years.

Design*Sponge began as one girl behind a screen, and has grown into a beautiful, diverse, and ever-expanding network of friends, collaborators, confidants, and support systems. You’ve taught us all how to be better listeners, better sharers, better members of our community and, most importantly, you’ve taught us that what makes a community special are the people in it.

I know I speak for all of us at Design*Sponge when I say we are leaving here today with nothing but gratitude for what we have all experienced here. You’ve allowed us to share thousands of stories, homes, personal moments, and lessons that have not just expanded our minds, but our hearts and our understanding of the world as well. Your support has given us the courage to dream big, take risks, and push ourselves harder and further than we knew we could.

From day one, all of you have been so much more than readers of a blog. You’ve become our friends, our co-workers, our support systems, and our family. We’ve traveled across the world these past 15 years and have had the honor and joy of getting to know so many of you in person. Thank you for not only reading Design*Sponge online, but for letting us get to know you in real life, too. You’ve shared memories and stories of your highest highs and lowest lows and we’ve been able to support each other in those moments in real and meaningful ways.

Like any community, I know we haven’t always met the expectations we’ve set out to, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for giving us the grace and understanding to do better when we needed to and to pick ourselves back up when we’ve fallen. Your dedication, support, and honesty have allowed this site to become something different and something more than a collection of beautiful pictures — you’ve turned it into a real home. A home that has pretty, glossy parts, but also worn-in, loved-on parts that are familiar and make us feel welcome.

I am so grateful to have had the privilege to steer this small but mighty ship. It has been the greatest honor of my life so far to work among a team of people who are so unendingly dedicated to learning, growing, and sharing stories that remind us that design is about much more than the things we put in our houses — it’s about the people, the challenges, and the defining moments that turn those houses into homes.

To my team, thank you. You have shown me great patience, trust, and support. I hope I have done my best to show you how much I appreciate and value that generous gift. While our work together here is done, I know we will continue to connect and overlap in each other’s next chapters. And I hope you all know that I will always be here for each and every one of you, always. You have all been such dedicated and caring writers, but more importantly, you’ve been exceptional human beings. And it’s an honor to know each of you and call you my friend. Thank you for making Design*Sponge what it is and will always be: a place for friends to meet, connect, and learn from each other.

To our community, thank you. Your creativity, exuberance, diversity, energy, and talent have been our driving force since day one. What you all do is beyond words. You are artists, designers, makers, innovators, dreamers, and doers. And I am forever grateful that you all exist in our world. You have inspired me to do better, work harder, and grow at every step of the journey and Design*Sponge would not exist without the beauty and honesty you bring into the world every day. Thank you. Not just for inspiring Design*Sponge from day one, but for continuing to remind us that design is so much more than things, it’s about people and connections and building something meaningful.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e843YGhm-UI]

Earlier this month we gathered outside of Philadelphia to celebrate 15 years of Design*Sponge with our friends at Terrain. They have so kindly supported us since the early days and they generously offered to throw us a farewell party to mark this bittersweet occasion. It was an evening full of love, hugs, tears, and reminiscing that I am forever grateful for. I am also grateful to Ian Fursa who filmed our farewell party and created a short 5-minute film reflecting on the history of Design*Sponge and what it has meant to all of us to work on this project together. The final result is a love letter to this site, our community, our team, and the memories we’ve shared together. I hope you’ll watch and join us in one last moment of reflection, love, and gratitude.

Thank you for letting us live out so many of our dreams here these past fifteen years. There will never be enough words to express the depth and sincerity of my gratitude for all that you have given us and all the love you have shown us. I promise that as we all move forward, we will honor that love you’ve shown us by continuing to pay it forward in all that we do.

Forever grateful and always here—

Love,
Grace

Some important housekeeping notes:  Design*Sponge will remain online as an archive through September of 2020, thanks to generous support from Adam J. Kurtz and Tuesday Bassen. We are so grateful for their love and commitment to keeping the site online through next fall, when something very special will happen…

We’re thrilled to announce that our full archives will be available online (and fully searchable) through the Library of Congress, starting in September of 2020. We will provide an updated link to those archives once they are open to the public. We are so honored that they believed that a record of our work together here, and the community represented in these posts, should be preserved online permanently.

Also, I will continue to remain active on our Instagram account and out in the world. So stop by and say hi! Don’t forget you can follow our entire team and get more ideas for inspiring people to connect with online here.

 

Photographs by Erin Austen Abbott and Sofia Tuovinen

Scenes from our final team retreat in Brooklyn

The beautiful farewell party that Terrain threw for our community. 

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One of the biggest requests I’ve gotten since announcing our closing was: can you suggest some places to read now that you’re leaving? So I reached out to our team to gather some recommendations, as well as share details about where you can find them now that we’re closing. Design*Sponge was special because of this amazing team of writers, so I hope you’ll follow them all at the links below (in addition to their suggestions of who else to follow) and continue to support them and their work as they move forward, too. We have one more very big and very special post coming up today, so stay tuned for that at 12. But until then, here are some wonderful sites and people that we all love and follow and hope you will, too. Because we hope this post will be a resource for anyone else out there looking for inspiring and meaningful design content to follow, please feel free to leave your suggestions in the comment section, too! xo, Grace

Photo above from Cotton & Flax, by Laure Joliet, taken in Jessica Comingore‘s workspace

Grace Bonney is the founder of Design*Sponge

Grace’s Recommendations: These days I get most of my inspiration from feeds related to travel, nature, and up-and-coming photographers in different parts of the world. I share them on a regular basis on our Instagram feed, so be sure to follow us there (link below) for a weekly dose of recommendations (because I can’t fit all of my recommendations here). Some of my favorites right now are:

  1. CRWN Mag: Such an expertly curated feed of talented Black artists, makers, designers, and creatives around the world.
  2. Woodlucker: I think Ann’s work is stunning — and she is a lovely person to boot.
  3. Chandan Mahimkar: I love Chandan’s inspiring lettering.
  4. Jamie Okuma: Jamie is a talented artist and designer and her feed, along with many others, have introduced me to a slew of incredible indigenous artisans around the world.
  5. Morgan Harper Nichols: Inspiration + motivation galore.
  6. Kate Blairstone: I love Kate’s pattern and illustration work. It always makes me smile.
  7. Justina Blakeney: She is my guiding light in the design world. I feel like the community is always in good hands if Justina is nearby.
  8. Rebekah Taussig: I love Rebekah and all the beauty and honesty she shares online. She is a voice to follow and support in and out of the design community.
  9. Shavonda Gardner: For all things inspiration and design and home and FUN. Shavonda is a must-follow for anyone looking for home content with heart behind it.
  10. Podcasts! Here some of my favorites: All My Relations, 99% Invisible, In the Thick, Code Switch, On Being, Tell Them I am, Where Should We Begin.
  11. Magazines! Here are some of my favorites: New Philosopher, Uppercase, Bitch, CRWN, Tom Tom, Frankie, Kazoo, World of Interiors

Where to Find Grace: I’ll still be sharing things on social media at our old Design*Sponge feeds, so you can find me at @designsponge on Instagram (where I am most often), Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. But hopefully you’ll see me out in the world doing something away from a screen for a while. And I’ll still be on email at designsponge [at] gmail [dot] com.

 

Caitlin Kelch is Design*Sponge’s Relationship and Brand Director

Caitlin’s Recommendations: I recommend that all of our readers visit people and places in real life in their community. Or if a nearby town or neighborhood needs some help, go there. Take some time to get offline and in person. Read books, volunteer, visit the elderly and your neighbors. The internet will always be there but sadly some people and places will not. Share some of you with them.

Where You Can Find Caitlin: I’ll be slinging burgers and nourishing my town and beyond and the Town Run Tap House and Community Pub in beautiful Shepherdstown, WV.

Kristina Gill is Design*Sponge’s Food and Drink Editor

Kristina’s Recommendations:

  1. Shannon Mustipher ( @shannonmustipher on IG). On the forefront of cocktails. Super smart, super knowledgeable.
  2. Black Food Folks ( @blackfoodfolks on IG) to learn about who, where, and what among Black food industry people.
  3. Heidi Swanson (www.101cookbooks.com) not just her recipes, but her monthly list of what she’s reading, recipes she has liked, etc.
  4. Kara Rosenlund ( www.kararosenlund.com) Australian photographer — her nature images are spectacular; love her blog.
  5. Hetty McKinnon ( @hettymckinnon on Instagram ) — her food and feed bring happiness each time I see it!
  6. Bryant Terry ( @bryantterry on Instagram ) — My fave vegan; his message and activism go much deeper than food. His commitment to being thoroughly informed of the issues he discusses makes him also a reliable source of information!
  7. Equity At The Table (EATT) database and related newsletter ( https://equityatthetable.com/ ) to which women/gender non-conforming individuals are doing in the food space (primarily from the POC and the LGBTQ community) and find out about job opportunities, events, etc. to share with others.
  8. Santilla Chingaipe ( www.santillachingaipe.com ) — Award-winning Australia-based journalist and filmmaker (Zambian immigrant to Australia) who produces a quarterly newsletter. The newsletter chronicles events, exhibitions, books she has seen/read, as well as her own projects. It is smart, insightful and thought-provoking.
  9. Matt Armendariz ( @mattarmendariz on IG )–  IG stories for a behind-the-scenes look at photography shoots, to have your questions answered about any aspect of food photography, to learn about gardening, and for fantastic hijinks and unrivaled cuttin’ up.
  10. Nicole Taylor ( @foodculturist on IG ) — Her stories give a glimpse into the way she eats and her networking in New York. Keep at eye out on her IG feed to experience her in “3D” and after the new year, check in to Thrillist and see what she’s been up to.
  11. Yossy Arefi ( @yossyarefi on IG ) — for golden crust.
  12. Helen Goh ( @helen_goh_bakes on IG), pastry chef — love to see the baking trials she’s up to mixed with the comfort food she is eating.
  13. Sami Tamimi (@sami_tamimi on IG) — lots of home cooking from his native Palestine.
  14. Nigel Slater ( @nigelslater on IG ) — dreamy food, dreamy travels, dreamy garden. I don’t usually dream via IG except about owning all the dogs, but Nigel Slater’s is a dream account.

Where You Can Find Kristina: You can find me at @kristinagillfood and I will announce my next steps there — including my newsletter, portfolio updates, etc.!

Kelli Kehler is Design*Sponge’s Executive Editor

Kelli’s Recommendations: I echo completely what Caitlin said about getting out in your community and making face-to-face connections, and as far as online resources go, I am currently enjoying following @badguild, @peopleofcraftsmanship and @david_a_land on Instagram — they’re all championing the fantastic work of creatives of color. See who they follow, and travel down an IG rabbit hole to get out of your usual cycle of the same types of people dominating places like Instagram. And READ! Actual books! Every month (or let’s be real, every three months, because I’m a working mom with two kids) I try to read a book written by someone with a different perspective and background than my own. The degree to which this opens my mind exponentially with each new book I finish is immeasurable and profound.

Where You Can Find Kelli: Online, you can find me at @kellikehler on Instagram, and in real life, hopping around Orange County, CA. Find me on LinkedIn, too, to collaborate or chat about projects.

Garrett Fleming is Design*Sponge’s Head Interiors Writer

Garrett’s Recommendations: When we head out, Coming Soon will keep you up to date on up-and-coming designers and interior products. Coffeeklatch will satisfy your urge to get inside the minds of interesting creative folks and see their spaces. Check in on This Little Miggy now and then for content around designing for those with disabilities. And Vicki T. and Maegan Blau will also inspire with their focus on wheelchair-accessible spaces.

Where You Can Find Garrett: People can follow me on Instagram @insta__gare

Sofia Tuovinen is a Senior Writer at Design*Sponge

Sofia’s Recommendations: 

  1. The Bleu / www.the-bleu.com
    James Kicinski-McCoy is the first blogger I ever followed. She recently launched her latest concept, a media platform called The Bleu. The site focuses on women, young, old, and everything in between — what we have in common, what we can learn from each other. From the inspiring interviews to the latest in fashion and beauty, it’s definitely worth a peek!
  2. @bobbyberk / https://bobbyberk.com/
    Bobby Berk from Queer Eye shares some gorgeous design inspiration on his Instagram and has some great tips for decorating on his website as well — and who doesn’t want to take a closer look at the homes he designs for the show?!
  3. The Maryn / www.themaryn.com
    Michelle Adams, the former editor in chief of Domino and cofounder of Lonny, created this website as a destination for timeless interiors, modern design, wonderful food, and carefully sourced goods. It’s a celebration of modern makers and classic aesthetics — I always give a little sigh when I click through the beautiful content!

Where You Can Find Sofia: You can find Sofia on Instagram @sofia.tuovinen

Lauren Chorpening is a home tour writer at Design*Sponge

Lauren’s Recommendations: 
Follow the people your people follow. This is how I approached finding new home tours. Instead of searching aimlessly for new blogs and Instagram accounts that would lead me to unique homes and stories, I went to accounts I loved and looked at the accounts they follow. Finding out who inspires people who inspire me is always a great way to uncover incredibly talented people that would have never come up in a basic search. I don’t think there’s another site that will fill in the beautiful space that Grace has created with Design*Sponge, but maybe by giving away my secret to unearthing incredible artists, homes and products, you can keep D*S alive in your own way.

People who I’ll be following:

1. Freddie Harrel — she’s my style icon forever and ever. https://www.instagram.com/freddieharrel/

2. Sarah Gibson — her renovations blow me away. www.roomfortuesday.com

3. Kate Arends — her podcast has been so helpful to me lately. https://witanddelight.com/podcast

4. Julia Miller — she’s making the coolest house in the Midwest. https://www.instagram.com/jmiller_mpls/

5. Alice Gao — her photos inspire my freelance work so much. http://alicegao.com/overview

Where to Find Lauren:  You can find me at https://www.instagram.com/thedayshift_/ and www.dayshiftblog.com. It’s my personal blog where I document our home renovations and freelance work. My husband and I are going to keep working on this old, beautiful home and I’m looking at starting a DIY & design consulting side hustle with this extra time.

Erin Austen Abbott is a home tour writer at Design*Sponge

Erin’s Recommendations: The resources I would suggest to follow are places that are working hard to make an inclusive place for all their readers. I’m really proud of the work we’ve done at Design*Sponge to [do the same]. Challenge the sites you love to be more inclusive and create your own place for other voices if you can’t find it. Don’t be afraid to speak up for those that we don’t always see. A few outlets I think are sharing this space well are Omkari WilliamsThe Jungalow, and Mother Mag. Don’t put design in a box. There are so many great design blogs and accounts to follow… find your new favorite by finding one that doesn’t stick to just one style of interiors.

Where to Follow Erin: You can find me at @erinaustenabbott on Instagram and at ameliapresents.com 

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Crafting a Forever Home in Kent, England, Design*Sponge

Crafting a Forever Home in Kent, England, Design*Sponge

We moved into our condo in December of last year, and I immediately knew the space was perfect for us. It wasn’t until this past July, however, that I truly fell in love with its lakefront location. By then summer had finally rolled in, and I was hitting the nearby beach a lot. One weekend I even went three separate times. The trips only lasted about an hour or two, but each time I walked the four minutes back to our house I felt unwound, refreshed, and was reminded of how extremely lucky we were to live there. We had found the best of two worlds: a slick, city home and a beachy retreat.

Print designer Catherine Nice, founder of Kitty McCall, and her husband Gary can also pinpoint when they realized their home in Kent, England was right for their family: “When we walked through the door on our first viewing with the kids (Ruby and Jude), they instantly loved the house and ran off to explore all the rooms and little nooks it had. It was at that moment [we] knew that this house would be our home,” they explain.

Since that initial walk-through a year and a half ago, Catherine and Gary have been slowly making changes to polish what they hope will be their “forever home.” They’ve torn up the carpet, painted walls and given nearly every room a touch of zippy wallpaper. Head to the kitchen, though, and you’ll encounter the most-impressive of the home’s renovations. Once awash in brown built-ins and “tired” tile, the room is now bright and cheerful thanks to a coat of blue paint, new flooring and a restored countertop.

The kitchen revamp took over six months to complete, but the couple says lengthy timelines such as that don’t worry them in the slightest. In fact, they’re in no hurry to finish any of their planned tweaks: “[The home] is definitely a long-term project that will be inspired by our growing children, their needs and ours,” Catherine and Gary say. If all goes as planned, the couple hopes the changes they make will, in the long run, result in a home their children will associate with their happiest memories. Garrett

Photography by Fiona Murray

Image above: Guests are always drawn to the brilliant, inviting sunlight that streams into and bounces about the living room. Catherine absolutely loves being in there, too. Oftentimes she can be found “sitting in the bay window with a cup of tea, watching the world go by.”

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It feels like a lifetime ago when I was sitting in the newsroom at my previous job on my lunch break, scrolling through Design*Sponge, relishing in the inspiration laid before me through beautiful home tours, DIY projects, and the like. Two things always struck me about D*S — even from the very beginning of my time reading faithfully, about 11 years ago — was the sense of belonging I felt, and the community attached to the site. These two ideas could, at a quick glance, be lumped together as the same thing, but I assure you they’re not.

The community of makers, creatives, design-lovers, DIY aficionados (or first-timers), future business owners — the list goes on and on — is this strong current that has always held D*S up over the years. It’s all of us who keep coming back, whether it’s every day or once a week or once a month, to learn something new or tour a fascinating home or seek out inspiration. The sense of belonging I felt — which I have since learned over time after speaking with so many of you and all of my teammates is a shared feeling — is this acceptance to be ourselves wholly in our love of all things creative, and to come here to feel safe in our self-expression and curiosity.

Since joining the team, that sense of belonging only intensified, and I could fill a book with the lessons I’ve learned in those nearly six years of being on the other side. My biggest takeaway from this time spent working here is that the world around you is always so much larger, more dynamic, and more diverse than the one you experience daily. Opening our eyes, hearts, and minds to someone else to hear their story — or see what “home” means to them — will always bring forth greater understanding and connection. Life is about connection. The rest of it is just stuff.

In the thousands (yes, thousands) of posts I’ve edited in my time here, it’s very hard to choose a favorite one that I’ve read. But one that always stands out to me in my mind and is still very timeless is Grace’s essay, “There Are No Rules: What We Believe About Design.” As far as posts I’ve written, my absolute favorite is “Eulogizing A Home: How to Say Goodbye to A Place With Memories.” The reason this one is paramount for me is twofold: It gave me a place to understand and release the feelings I had associated with my grief, and it also (still to this day) gives me a community that feels the same way as I do. This post has generated so many comments from others going through the same thing, or sharing their stories of grief with me, and I have been incredibly grateful for their openness and sincerity. It’s that sense of belonging and community at work once again: that feeling of not being alone.

I asked my dear teammates to share with me their biggest takeaways in working for D*S, and their favorite posts they’ve read and/or written. I hope you enjoy taking a closer look at what we learned and loved from this place where we’ve all felt so lucky to work. —Kelli

Image above by Penelope Dullaghan

CAITLIN

Biggest Takeaway: “I learned to say what you mean, mean what you say but don’t say it mean. Period.”

Favorite Post You’ve Read: “My favorite post, though it’s so hard to choose, is the one Grace wrote “What We Believe: The Design*Sponge Mission Statement,” because for me it marked a turning point where expressed our values and burst the bubble of ‘perfect’ in a clear and powerful way. I needed that personally at that time as well. It allowed me to articulate my own list of what I believe that I update each year, or as needed!”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “My own written post is my ‘That One Piece: The Sea Green Table at the End of the Rainbow‘ because it’s so warm and nostalgic as I return to the restaurant business in my small town post Design*Sponge. It’s all coming full circle and I can’t wait to take my D*S mojo to my new position as Kitchen Manager at Town Run Tap House & Community Pub.


Illustration above by by Viola Guerrero

GRACE

Biggest Takeaway: “My biggest takeaway is that you get out of a community what you put in. I’ve learned from moderating (and leaving my own) comments over all these years that if you listen first, ask questions, and stay open to understanding someone else’s point of view, you (and your community as a whole) are better off for it. And this community is what has kept me going for so many years — and I’m so grateful for everyone here.”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “One of my favorite posts I’ve had the chance to write was about trying to balance economic and budget needs personally and as a community. I tried to break down our support for, and issues with, both box store design and indie design. It was tough and generated a lot of strong responses, but that type of dialogue is so important and what I’ve always strived to encourage at D*S.”

GARRETT

Biggest Takeaway: “I’ve learned to seek out the voices that aren’t being heard and give them a platform.”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “When I look back on my time with Design*Sponge, I’m most proud of our work with those who are disabled. So it goes without saying that my favorite post I’ve written was the one that kickstarted the initiative: ‘Decorating for your Differently-Abled Child’.”

Favorite Post You’ve Read: “My favorite post we’ve done was our ‘Living In: Fantastic Mr. Fox‘ feature, because it was the very first post I ever read on Design*Sponge. Who knew that four years after reading it I’d be working for D*S?!”


Image above by by Rachel Fox Kipphut

SOFIA

Biggest Takeaway: “Thanks to everyone who trusted me to share their homes and stories, I’m walking away from this experience with my heart so much fuller than when I started. I’m also so proud to have had the opportunity to be part of something good. Instead of telling people what mistakes to avoid, what trends to follow or forget, the underlying motto has been to celebrate all people and all homes, just as they are. That’s what makes D*S so special. From a personal perspective, I’ve learned that I can do a lot more than I ever thought I could.”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “Sarah Andrews and Captains Rest, her cottage in Tasmania, is a special one for me. I’m going to go ahead and just say it — I really like the writing! As someone who never dreamt of being a writer of any kind, I can proudly pat myself on the back and say that I did a good job. Needless to say, Sarah’s amazing story, talent, and creative eye are the real reasons why that post turned out so wonderful.”

Favorite Post You’ve Read: “I loved Kelli’s ‘Anatomy of a Home Tour,’ where we went behind the scenes to show readers how our home tours actually come about. It’s real and honest, qualities we’ve focused on highlighting in all our posts and stories.”


Image above by Sarah Andrews

ERIN

Biggest Takeaway: “What I’ve learned from Design*Sponge, as a reader and then as a writer, is that we are all looking for similar things. We feel connected by the warmth of homes and are drawn to the function of design. We share similar backgrounds and interests. So for the 13 years that I’ve been connected to Design*Sponge, it’s allowed me to always know I’m not alone. As an introvert, knowing you aren’t alone is an important thing and each time there was a new post, it brought the readers a little bit closer. Bonding in the comments and then with social media, finding one another to follow there, too. It has introduced me to some of my best friends. It’s also taught me to never shy away from color in your home. Some of the most beautiful homes are full of color and patterns.

Favorite Post You Wrote: “One of my favorite posts that I wrote was ‘The Art of Collecting.'”


Image above by Ann Wood

KRISTINA

Biggest Takeaway: “How deeply people can connect with an online presence and how meaningful that presence can become in a person’s life. Grace IS Design*Sponge, but the site as a whole, in and of itself, also filled an important part in many of our readers’ lives.”

Favorite Post You’ve Read: “Each post on Design*Sponge was striking in a different way. But I think I like the home tour ‘How My Mom’s Aesthetic Inspired My Love of Design,’ written by Erin about her Mom, because the hundreds (thousands?) of books on shelves that flexed under their weight, wedged into the home, seemed to match perfectly the story of her career and what she lived for. Everything was just… perfect, and expressed a sense of satisfaction with her achievements. It seemed to match seamlessly and like a glove to her life. The same of the home featured in ‘In New Jersey, an 1890s-Era Home Honoring Black Heritage‘ because the owners, Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy, seemed to have found the perfect balance of history and constant change in the pieces they’ve chosen which reflect their lives and interests seamlessly, mixed with other pieces. I loved it.”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “Even though the styling wasn’t the best, the post with the late Jonathan Gold’s favorite recipe, Spaghetti alla Gricia. It was always exhilarating when I made ‘cold calls’ to well-known food people to seek their favorite recipe and they answered. He was nice, supportive, and fit every positive thing people said of him. I am happy we were able to include him in the column.”


Image above by Kiyanna Stewart & Laquan Brinson-St.Pierre

LAUREN

Biggest Takeaway: “I’ve learned a lot about self-expression during my time at Design*Sponge. I’ve always been timid about sharing my point of view — whether related to design or speaking up about social issues. Grace and my D*S teammates, whether they realized it or not, have given me tools to use my voice and stand behind it. I have rooms with green cabinets, rooms with pink walls and the ability to have vulnerable conversations without people-pleasing-away my perspective.”

Favorite Post You Read/Wrote: “I think my favorite posts to read and to write were the essays.”

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An 1880s-era Church Turned Vacation Home in Ontario, Design*Sponge

An 1880s-era Church Turned Vacation Home in Ontario, Design*Sponge

Back in early 2018, art teacher Colin and his partner Matt, a banker, were nesting. They had finished renovating their Toronto loft and were thrilled to be sitting back, enjoying the fruits of their hard work. The second the pair laid eyes on this converted church in Ontario’s Warkworth area, however, everything changed: “When we saw the pictures we fell in love immediately and put in an offer the day we visited the property.”

The converted church hit the market following the previous owner’s death and, as Colin and Matt soon learned, had an interesting history. It was built in 1887 in the Gothic Revival style, complete with a collection of stained glass windows that would cast a rainbow of light onto its Anglican parishioners. For nearly 60 years it welcomed believers, until it was closed in the late 1950s. It then sat vacant for almost 15 years before being converted into a private residence.

Before they could truly begin adding their own chapter to the structure’s story, Colin and Matt had to update the basics and make the vacation house better fit their needs. For six months the couple went back and forth between their main home and Warkworth overseeing the installation of new plumbing, a new roof and the addition of a bedroom and bathroom. The additions were particularly important: only by expanding the overall footprint of the house could the pair host all of their friends when the weather was nice.

Once construction was complete, Colin and Matt then decorated using three key elements they knew would instantly modernize the 130-year-old building: bold wallpaper, a millennial pink front door and a matching pink bathroom. “Our goal in decorating was to keep all the magic and charm that the house had on our first visit but update it with our own touches,” the two explain. The aforementioned wallpaper can be found in two of the home’s bedrooms. In the lofted suite, a moody tree line further amplifies the sense of being above it all. While in the guest room, an astrological narrative plays out across the walls.

It’s been a year and a half since Colin and Matt took over the property, and still, barely a weekend goes by that the two aren’t driving the hour and a half to Warkworth. Nowadays, though, it’s not to meet with the contractor or review plans. It’s to relax. As the church’s pink front doors come into sight, their cares (and those of whichever lucky friends have tagged along) seem to melt away. Garrett

Photography by Laurel Munro

Image above: “We wanted to keep the warm space/spirit of the previous owner and decided to keep everything we found in the church for the time being. (The gilded accents) are a little over the top – even for us – but we couldn’t bear to part with them and now this room is designed around them!” Colin and Matt tell us.

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Design*Sponge | The Black Interior Designers Conference 2019 Recap

When I feel stuck, uninspired or just isolated in my work, I look to see if there are any conferences coming up. I was at a conference in 2014 when I got an email from Grace Bonney, asking me to submit a second tour sample for a possible interiors writing position for Design*Sponge. Had I not been in a place with endless inspiration and time away from my normal life to focus, I might not be writing this post five years later — who knows. Anyway, I love conferences. I love that they bring likeminded people together — they can create instant community. The information is there for the taking and there’s time to absorb it.

Keia McSwain inherited the Black Interior Designers Network (BID) from founder Kimberly Ward in 2017. She has taken the unexpected responsibility in-stride and has elevated the BID Conference with new ideas, inspiration and support for the community of designers. This year the Atlanta, GA conference was pared down in numbers to give the attendees a chance to make stronger connections with featured trade-only vendors, speakers and each other. The July event was stunning and well-produced, giving insight into everything from contracts to standing out in the industry. Keia has continued Kimberly’s vision beautifully. Today, in our last-ever Life & Business post, I’m talking with Keia about this year’s event — a conference that continues to champion industry inclusivity, empower entrepreneurs, and do it all with style. Lauren

Photography by Charles Dante

Image Above: An industry panel discussion with Cheryl Luckett, Laura Thurman, Veronica Solomon and Rasheeda Gray.

D*S: The conference looked incredible! How do you balance running the Black Interior Designers Network while also planning and prepping for the Conference? You do it all so beautifully.

Keia: Thank you! The conference is always a lot of fun, focus, and sleepless nights. Juggling Kimberly + Cameron Interiors plus the Black Interior Designer’s Network is no easy task. People don’t get to see me exhausted, stressed, or frustrated. Those are just a few perks of doing what I love. I think the “Endgame” is where I focus my heart and my attention. I keep a clear vision and when it gets frustrating, I pray and push through!

The network’s three values are Connect, Support & Empower and the conference is a big part of that. Was there an overall value or theme for the conference this year? 

This year’s conference was themed “The tools to succeed.” We wanted to provide attendees with everything they needed to get started, evolve, rise out of self-doubt, protect themselves legally, and how to take on other ventures within the industry.


Image above: Shavonda Gardner sharing about how to thrive as an interior design blogger.

The event was designed to be more intimate this year with a limited number of attendees. Tell me about how you and your team chose that route.

Intimacy is often overlooked and underrated. It can provide so much freedom for retaining, networking, and more. We wanted to ensure our attendees and both speakers had the opportunity to engage on a much more formidable level.

How has the conference changed over the years?

Everything grows, it’s destined to change. We’ve centered our focus around feedback and what our members and attendees need most. As we transition and evolve, I expect there to always be positive change within the network. I look back at previous conferences and think to myself, “What could be better? What could we do different to ensure a grand takeaway?”


Image above: Keia interviewing celebrity stylist J. Bolin about the intersection of fashion and interiors.

What were a few favorite moments from the conference this year? What makes those stick out?

One of my favorite moments from this year was having the opportunity to fellowship and engage new partners and sponsors. It’s nothing like being shy to start a relationship, then realizing it’s the best decision you could have ever made. My one-on-one [interview] with celebrity stylist J.Bolin was a total highlight for me. Having known him for over 10 years and having him share his testimony and evolution with our group was extremely inspiring and motivating for me.


Image above: BID was two days full of keynote speakers, panel discussions, trade-only vendor presentations and a closing party.

What feedback did you receive from attendees about the design industry? How does BID address those concerns? How can the design media address those concerns?

A lot of our members and attendees want to see more focus on how to elevate in general. They want to know that their features won’t be crammed together and individual focus can take the wheel. Our members understand that community and uplift starts at home. I think the design media can address our concerns by attending more of our events, getting to know more attendees, and digging deeper into the background of these designers and their stories.

What was your biggest takeaway from the event this year?

I noticed a few speakers were very motivational in their talks. I was grateful for that. Oftentimes it’s not about how to make the most money or how to pitch the best publication. We want to hear how we keep our heads on straight in today’s society or how our worth is not determined by our peers. My biggest takeaway from the event this year is simple… I  wholeheartedly agree with Audre Lorde when she says “Without community there is no liberation.” In order to rise, we must all stick together. Collaboration is key and Competition is… not for me.


Image above: Patti Carpenter spoke about incorporating global-inspired design into interior projects.

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Pattern above by Deanne Cheuk (download here)

This is the final week of Design*Sponge. I’ve been scared to write that sentence all summer, but the time is here, and I want to make these last few posts go beyond products or trends. For me, the heart of design has always been about the people behind the things we love — what makes them tick, what makes them feel inspired, and what we can all do to support the creative community we love. So as we close this chapter and look to the future, I wanted to share our hopes, wishes, and dreams for this community we’ve grown to know and love so well. But before I jump in, I’d love to know: what are your hopes for the future of design? What do you hope design looks, sounds, feels, and operates like in the future? What do you hope for from the future of design media? I’d love to know how you feel and what we can hopefully leave here for future bloggers, makers, and community leaders to take with them as they start new chapters.

  1. Inclusivity, across the board. The biggest mistake I made in my time at Design*Sponge was not creating a space that was welcoming to everyone in the community. I know better now, and I am still learning, but it’s the thing I still hope to see much more of in our community. From blogs and businesses to conferences and investment — our community deserves to see a greater diversity of voices, backgrounds, points of view, and needs supported. Here’s what I hope that will look like as things go forward:
    1. I’d love to see more design media outlets (print, radio, TV and online) run by (but also including the stories of) writers and creatives from underrepresented communities. I want to see more stories told from the points of view of people of color, disabled people, people living with chronic illness, people who have immigrated or come to this county from other places, LGBTQ+ people, people over 50, people living in rural areas, people living on lower or fixed incomes, and those with points of view or experiences that we just don’t see enough of. Design doesn’t move forward, evolve, or become as different and special as it can be if we only hear stories that look like our own.
    2. I’d love to see conferences include all of the people mentioned above in prominent (paid) positions at events. Celebrities are fine, I know they drive ticket sales, but we all benefit and learn more when there are more diverse points of view supported and highlighted.
    3. I’d love to see more inclusive hiring across the board. From the mastheads of print magazines to blog staffs, podcast teams, and at executive levels of trade fairs and trade companies. We don’t get to see industry change if more diverse points of view aren’t included in positions of power.
    4. The same goes for design publishing: I’d love to see more books, magazines, and newspaper columns going to people who can understand the design world from a different point of view and background.
    5. What does that mean for all of us? It means I hope we can all continue to speak up and take action to ensure everyone in our community is welcome, represented, supported, and compensated equally in our community. It might be uncomfortable at times, but it’s work I hope we all keep trying to do every chance we get. (Here are some ways to do that).
  2. A Better Understanding of Living Wages (and Prices). One of the things I struggle with as I end this chapter, is feeling like I wasn’t able to move the needle as much as I wanted when it comes to the idea of understanding why indie/handmade design costs more and why, even if we can’t afford it, we can learn to respect those rates. I understand why we all want more affordable design, but one of my biggest goals was to make sure everyone who read here understood why smaller design brands and makers needed to charge higher rates. I don’t know if we were able to do that, but I hope as time goes on, people will be able to hold both truths (that handmade work costs more and it won’t be in everyone’s budget) without judgement or shaming. I’d love to see that concept extend to all types of design: including box store. If we want to buy less expensive new furniture, I hope our community will keep digging into how these prices are lower and if they’re tied to unethical production or forced labor. And if they are, I hope we’ll band together to demand an end to unethical production methods and unfair labor practices.
  3. Environmental Sustainability. This is an issue that I have always looked to our blogging colleagues at Inhabitat for leadership in. So many of my early blogging colleagues led with eco-design and sustainability concerns and it’s an issue I wish I’d spent more time on. So much of my interest in that issue was connected to DIY and reuse, rather than new technology, but I am hopeful that as design moves forward, we’ll embrace and investigate ways to make new design more environmentally sustainable and work together to move away from design that puts our planet in danger.
  4. Less Judgement, More Enthusiasm for What’s Different. Like all style-based communities, design has always been about what’s new, cool, on-trend, and popular. But as we grow and evolve, I hope our community will always make room for voices and styles and designs that are different, not concerned with trends, or are standing out for doing something against “the rules.” Our world has a lot of rules and restrictions already. I hope as our community goes forward we embrace all of the different ways there are to build, decorate, and live in a home and move away from telling people that anything is “wrong” or a “mistake” or a “no no,” when it comes to expressing your personal style.
  5. MORE FUN. More than anything, I miss a little bit of the fun I used to feel around design when I first started out. And honestly, I think a lot of that is because any time you make what you love your job, it tends to lose a little bit of the shine. And that’s okay — that’s part of the process of building a business. But I used to feel like things were a little grittier, messier, less perfect, and less polished. I loved that DIY energy. I think social media has made it so that we expect brand new products and projects to be perfect and expertly branded from the second they’re launched. And that doesn’t always leave room for scrappiness — a quality I love in design. So I hope that perhaps as new social media channels grow and arrive, we’ll find space for design (products, projects, media, events) to be a little bit rougher around the edges when it starts out. That raw state is where some really special things happen.
  6. Knowing Our Sources of Inspiration: The internet moves so fast, and these days I see websites like Pinterest and Instagram listed as sources for images and ideas. But knowing where things come from — especially culturally — is important. Cultural Appropriation is a complex and nuanced issue, but it’s one that our design community would benefit from talking about more and really getting into. I want to see so many of the communities that have created popular styles (i.e: Otomi patterns, Mud Cloth, Shibori etc.) be studied, written about, credited, and appreciated as much as the people who are interpreting them in modern times. It expands our minds, worlds, and ability to be inspired when we look at and learn from cultures, backgrounds, and traditions that are different from our own. So as we move forward, I hope we’ll keep citing those sources of inspiration, celebrating them, and introducing those sources as part of any project or product that uses them as a point of inspiration or reference.
  7. Design to Give Back: Our community is rich with resources. From ideas and expertise to skills, education, experience, and financial backing — the design world is full of people and businesses that are in a position to help those in need. My greatest hope is that our community keeps doing more of what it’s already doing so well in so many spaces — giving back. Design has the power to connect people and not just tell stories, but to tell stories that better explain problems and pain points in our world, and how we can work together to fix them. I want to see us all band together and share whatever resources we have to help those in need in our community. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to plug in, but whenever you can, please do. Whether that’s volunteering locally with Habitat for Humanity or a local family shelter or donating your time, money, or skills to a community in need near you, or starting a product line or entire company that donates to a cause that’s important to you— don’t forget that at our core, we are a community of talented and creative problem solvers. Design is at its most beautiful when it is making sure that everyone feels safe and supported at home.

What do you hope to see as the design community grows and evolves into the future? xo, Grace

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When I started Design*Sponge, I had no idea just how many times I would royally stick my foot in my mouth. From poor internet behavior (I left my share of anonymous rude comments, like a proper asshole) and self-righteous stubbornness, to downright ignorance (I will never forgive myself for publishing a post inspired by Ken Burns’ Civil War Documentary), I feel like I’ve made every mistake one can make online — and then some.

And to be honest, it took me a very long time to handle being called out for those offenses. I would say it took me a solid six years to understand how — and why — it was so important for me to start truly opening myself up to what a gift (most) critical feedback is. I could write thousands of words about what it feels like to find message boards devoted to hating you online or reading posts from people who say they’d punch you in the face if they ever met you. It sucks. But honestly, as much as that matters from a human empathy point of view, at the end of the day, you can choose to learn from it and evolve (and also set boundaries), or you can stay stuck in place. And after six years, I wanted to stop being stuck in that place. I wanted to learn how to learn from it and do better. Here are four moments that taught me how to turn call-outs (both public and private) into fuel for change.

  1. The first big moment of call-out I ever got was in public and private. I’d gotten into a truly immature back and forth with another blogger in our community and, well, it was most definitely not me at my best. I was catty and childish and obsessed with feeling like I was being copied. And good grief, what a mess I got myself (and some of my friends) into. I finally walked away when friends online (and off) told me that it had all gone a little too far. They were right — and I was embarrassed. In hindsight, I’m so thankful this happened early. I was acting like the immature 23-year-old I was, and it was time to grow up. From this moment I learned that a) copying, real or perceived, usually isn’t worth the drama b) there’s plenty of room online for people to co-exist who don’t necessarily get along c) don’t write anything online (or in an email) that you wouldn’t feel comfortable being made public and d) time spent wrapped up in online drama is time spent away from work that’s actually important, so don’t waste your time.
  2. My second big moment of call-out happened in the New York Times. They wrote a big piece about design bloggers and the caption under my picture read, “Ms. Bonney does not disclose that she is paid by her PR clients to write about their work.” The second that story hit stands, my inbox and comment sections were flooded with furious readers who felt betrayed. That caption wasn’t true, but it didn’t matter — the damage was done. I wrote an apology message, clarified what I was and wasn’t paid for, and learned a valuable lesson in ALWAYS being 100% transparent about payment and sponsorship (although I did not have any at that time). It was painful and frustrating, but being called out on a national level taught me that few things are as valuable as trust and honesty with your community.
  3. A few months into my first radio show, I got the most important call-out moment of my life so far. Only just starting to notice the lack of inclusivity online, I decided to do a radio show on the topic. I had Tina Shoulders on as a guest and we met a week before recording to talk about the issue. It was there that Tina kindly, and with more patience than I deserved, reminded me that I had a role in that problem, too. I shamefully remember some of the excuses I tried to give and then thankfully, it all sunk in that my behavior was a huge part of the problem. And if I wanted to talk about working on a problem in our community, I had to work on my role in that problem, too. That moment, which happened in private, forever changed the way I looked at my work and personal life. I had a lot of mess to own and I’ve been working hard ever since to recognize and appreciate people’s feedback on this particular issue for exactly what it is — a  gift and an opportunity to do better.
  4. Max Tielman taught me a lot during his time at Design*Sponge. He showed me all the tricks and tools of Photoshop, but more importantly, he showed me the power of a true and sincere apology. I’ve mentioned this here before, but during a day when we were getting a lot of negative comments, I was complaining audibly about how much they were upsetting me and how little I wanted to back down. Max looked at me and simply said, “It doesn’t cost anything to say you’re sorry.” He went on to explain that it goes a long way toward open dialogue if I would acknowledge people’s feelings and let them know they’re heard. And from that day on, that’s been my main goal in the comment sections. He helped me see how much I was holding on to the idea of “being right” or what was “factually accurate,” when at the end of the day, none of that really mattered. In most cases, like all of us, people just want to be heard, have their feelings respected and acknowledged, and then once that happens, there is space for open, vulnerable dialogue. This was a tough lesson for me to learn, but I am so grateful I did. It allowed me to step back, give people space to talk, and then it truly led to conversations that I never would have had without that moment of listening and respect up front.

So what are the steps I take to handle, process, and appreciate call-outs (public and private) — and how can you do the same? Here’s what has worked for me in my experience of blogging and working on social media for 15 years:

  1. Take a deep breath. Determine if it’s dangerous or not. Step one is the most important. Is the comment or call-out you’re receiving an actual threat to you and your loved ones’ safety? If so, call in a professional and take it seriously. But if you can take a deep breath and see that it’s criticism or feedback and not an actual threat, it’s worth moving on to step 2.
  2. It’s not personal (even if it sounds like it). It’s a cliche for a reason, but hurt people hurt people. If someone is truly coming for you and attacking you personally or throwing barbs that sting, try to remember that in most cases, they’re doing that because it’s been done to them before. I would say in 90% of the cases where someone’s really attacked me online, if I can get us to a place of conversation that’s less heated, it usually ends up that the issue is more about something else they’ve experienced that is being triggered by something I’ve done/said/written. And they just want to be heard. Over time, it becomes easier to see anger for what it often is — fear or sadness. Breaking through all that and not getting lost in my personal feelings has allowed me to be part of some truly amazing conversations with people that could have gone down in flames if we hadn’t both taken the time to put our swords down and hear each other.
  3. Get to the point: What is the crux of what someone is telling you? It may be wrapped in layers of anger (or not, which is great!), but unwrap that feedback and get to the core of what they’re telling you. If you feel confused by the feedback or critique, talk to a friend or colleague. They may be able to better help you see what someone is pointing out and help you to learn where you can improve from that piece of feedback. In my experience, most sincere criticism is rooted in a bit of truth that is worth holding on to, processing, and growing from.
  4. Acknowledge someone’s feelings: It’s simple, but if someone says they’re hurt by something you did or said, it doesn’t cost anything to say you hear them and that you’re sorry they came away from your site/post/project feeling that way. You don’t have to agree with their take (see step 4 next), but it is important to acknowledge another human being who is trying to connect and share their feelings. A simple, “I hear you. I’m sorry you came away from this post feeling excluded,” is a good start.
  5. Ask for more information: One of the most powerful things that has helped me deal with being called out is remembering that it’s an opportunity to better understand how someone else from a different background may be experiencing what I’m putting out into the world. That’s not always an easy thing to stomach if you feel like you’re just sharing your life or experiences with their world with no bad intentions, but people with different life experiences will be triggered by things you share online. It’s just a given. We all have different lives and traumas and points of view. Does it mean you’re a bad person? No! It just means that when you ask someone to explain why they’re having the reaction they are, and invite them to share their point of view, you get to learn about what life feels like in someone else’s shoes. It creates empathy, compassion, and a real connection. That is a truly valuable thing to experience.
  6. Keep it private. When possible, I’ve found it’s best to respond to call-outs (whether public or private) in private. That means DMing someone, emailing them — whatever will give you the chance to talk in a safer space where things can’t escalate because other people jump on to defend or attack either side. Not everyone will be open to this, but I can speak from my experiences that this is almost ALWAYS a better way to approach the situation. People usually act differently one-on-one than they do in an open forum, and I’ve found they’re more likely to feel safe to open up and let you know what’s underneath a call-out. That emotional connection is important to really understanding and connecting with someone, so if it’s possible, follow up on the call-out in private. If they ask you not to do that privately, you can continue to talk in public, but I’ve found that sometimes leads to escalation from other readers, which can be counter-productive to actual connection.
  7. Remember: in most cases, people are telling you this because they think you’ll listen and care. People don’t usually waste their time yelling into a void. If they think no one is listening, they won’t bother leaving a comment. But if people feel you are listening and you do care, they’ll decide it’s worth showing up to share a critique, point of view, or feedback. It took me a while to see this as the gift that it is, but oh boy is it a gift. If you work hard to create a safe space for people to express themselves, they’re going to, well, express themselves! That’s part of the process. Remember this. Even on tough days, it’s important to remember that most people tell you they’re upset because they care about you, what you do, and your impact on your community. And that’s a role and responsibility to be appreciated and respected.
  8. When in doubt, talk to a friend. Look, handling call-outs, especially publicly, can be stressful. But the final step is to remember not to air that stress publicly if it’s not necessary. Tell a friend, a loved one, or a colleague who will understand. You can connect, commiserate, or just support each other in letting that steam out in a safe space where it won’t escalate the conversation someone is trying to have with you or your brand online.

Last but not least: Are you thinking about calling someone out? Consider a private message first. When things go public, it’s hard to control how they’ll evolve from there.  People are also more likely to feel defensive when you call them out publicly- and that’s rarely an emotional place where vulnerability and change can happen. Outside influence can cause things to escalate, legal matters can take effect, and all sorts of things can happen that lead to anything but a safe space to discuss a sensitive issue. If I’ve learned one thing from 15 years of working online, it’s that calling people out publicly rarely leads to the type of connection and change we’re hoping for. If you can, talk to someone in private (and give them fair time to respond) first before taking something into a public forum. It may not always feel better, but more often than not, it gives the other party time to react, take a breath, and respond with thoughtfulness. xo, Grace

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I started thinking about what my last recipe post would be in January when Grace told the team that Design*Sponge would be closing this summer. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted it to be representative of the work we do on the site, my most used recipe from the archives (Lena Corwin’s Pumpkin Bread, btw), or something personal…

Twelve years ago, Grace entrusted me with the In the Kitchen With column that I pitched to her. She gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted with it. The landscape of blogs was very different then. There were behemoths and there was Design*Sponge, run by one person. With each State of the Blog Union and significant external “shock,” I asked Grace about her business decisions. Her answers always started with her integrity and her readers. She would compromise neither in order to cover expenses. Her vision and ironclad character, her ability to apologize when wrong, to learn and grow in the face of adversity, to take care of her team and to be out there defending us (every day) are most of the reasons I knew I would stay until the end. The rest was about the friendships. Not just my friendship with Grace which predated the column, but with our team and the people featured in the column over the years who made it also a joy to edit.

We transformed In the Kitchen With from being a column focused on very personal, mostly carb-focused, recipes from our favorite indie designers to diverse recipes from everyone who pitched good food. I’ve eaten our featured recipes at home and served them at parties. Some of the people we’ve featured have moved from e-life to real life and have become my family. It’s always hard to name names because you don’t want to leave anyone out, but I can say that I’ve had turning points in my life thanks to Matt Armendariz, Nicole Taylor, Bryant Terry, Matt Lewis. My life is much richer for the time I’ve spent with Klancy Miller, Katie Quinn, Leela Cyd, Yossy Arefi, Anissa Helou, Y. Lee, Kerrin Rousset, Felicity Cloake, Gaby Dalkin, Prairie Rose, Emily Arden Wells. I can feel the smiles even over the long distances when I exchange messages with Vallery Lomas,  Jocelyn Delk Adams, Cheryl Day, and Julia Turshen, whose first recipe idea for the column I didn’t accept!! (But things turned out for the best in the end and hopefully she doesn’t even remember!) Actually, the list is 12 years long of special, indelible memories. I cherish and am grateful daily for what being a part of the Design*Sponge team has brought me, and when all of us editors showed up one by one for our farewell retreat, made the road trip from Brooklyn to Terrain in Philadelphia and back, and spent the weekend together, I felt like I was with family. And though it was sad for me to realize it was ending, I’ve learned over the years to be happy I had the good times and great memories rather than pining for them to continue.

So I decided on a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache by British chef and cookbook author, Harry Eastwood. Harry’s recipe for Heartache Chocolate Cake is how I have decided to end the column because I think Harry’s eloquent description of the cake is how my heart feels as I write this. Thanks to everyone who has followed over the years, who has pitched a recipe, who has helped get images and text to me for a recipe, who has reached out just to say they love the column, who has let me know they follow my work, and even those three cranky people who let me hear about it when I didn’t cross my t’s and dot all my i’s on their posts, I remember you all and it has been a pleasure. —@KristinaGillFood

Harry Eastwood is an international television host, New York Times best-selling author and culinary master. She first co-presented a popular prime-time television series, Cook Yourself Thin in 2007 and co-authored a book of the same title which debuted number one on the New York Times Bestseller List. Since her first cookbook in 2007, she has authored numerous best-sellers including Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache, The Skinny French KitchenA Salad For All Seasons and her most recent, Carneval.  Find Harry on Instagram at @harryeatsfood.

For a chance to win a copy of Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache, respond in the comments section below by August 29, 5PM EST to the following question: What recipe have you tried from our archives/what is your favorite recipe from our archivesWe will announce the winner in the comments section, so be sure to check back!

Image above: Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache; Food photography by Jean Cazals

Image above: Harry Eastwood, portrait by Laura Edwards

Image above: Heartache Chocolate Cake

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I feel so much gratitude for this site — for the ways Design*Sponge has helped shape other pockets of the internet and for the ways writing others’ stories has shaped me. I can look through the archives and remember working with each person and what their home/lives taught me. As I wrap up my last few posts, I’m reminded yet again, that design needs every voice, perspective and story to make the world more beautiful.

Maegan and Chris Blau’s kitchen stopped me in my tracks. The light wood, modern feel and gorgeous details made this space an instant favorite. I wasn’t surprised it belonged to an interior designer, but the design impressed me even more when I learned that the stunning space in Queen Creek, AZ is also accessible for Maegan, who uses a wheelchair. Instead of looking for pre-fab ADA-approved designs and products, Maegan took her requirements and personal style to create a home that works functionally and aesthetically for her and her family. Doing the same in her first home sparked a business designing for others and their unique needs. “I started my career when I needed to renovate my first home to accommodate my wheelchair. I have a spinal cord injury and have been a quadriplegic for 10 years now,” Maegan says. “As you can imagine, using a wheelchair in a home requires some different needs design-wise.”

Maegan and her husband, Chris, purchased their current home in 2016 sight-unseen after traveling the country in a fifth-wheel trailer for 10 months. When their realtor found an option with the size, location and layout that they wanted, a video tour was all they needed to move forward with the home. “My design goals were first, make this home work for you and your wheelchair. This means lowered beds, roll-in showers, accessible kitchens, etc. This does not mean that my home has to fit ADA guidelines,” Maegan shares. “After the functions were addressed, I wanted to keep my home neutral, bright, but with an homage to Southwest design. I have yet to come up with a style name for my home but I know one day it will come to me.” The Blaus’ home is a stunning space with thoughtful, beautiful design throughout. It doesn’t meet all the nation’s accessibility standards — it was designed to fit Maegan and Chris’ life. This home and design are inspiring in more than one way. Lauren

Photography by Nicole Bishop

Image Above: The Blau Family’s kitchen incorporates earthy, natural Southwestern elements in a modern and neutral way. The materials, patterns and finishes used make the space visually stunning. Kitchenwares stored in cabinets with drawers instead of doors, wide pathways and accessible appliances make it a functional and cool space for Chris and Maegan to prepare meals.