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So many times on Instagram I’m drawn as much by the images themselves as the enthusiastic writing of someone who genuinely seems to enjoy explaining their craft, whether it is food-related, art-related, sports-related, something technical, and everything in between. The enthusiasm that sourdough baker Bryan Ford, known as Artisan Bryan, conveys in his posts is addictive! I couldn’t let the sun set on the In the Kitchen With column without featuring his upbeat, empowering recipe for Sweet Coconut Quick Bread — for those of us who love coconut but haven’t yet mastered sourdough. If you need tips or help with the recipe, reach out to Bryan on Instagram @artisanbryan or through his blog, Artisan Bryan, where you can also find his recipes in Spanish. —Kristina

Bryan Ford (aka Artisan Bryanis a Honduran-American ex-certified public accountant (CPA) turned baker and writer. Born in the Bronx to Honduran parents but raised in the largest Honduran community in the US, New Orleans, Bryan started his professional career as a CPA in the restaurant industry. During this time he began teaching cooking techniques to other students and eventually left accounting to follow his passion. He is currently working on his first book and will soon be opening Ironside Bakery with Toscana Divino in Miami. You can find Artisan Bryan on Instagram and Facebook.

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It wouldn’t be a proper final month of Design*Sponge (I’m not crying, you’re crying!) if we didn’t leave you with one more knock-your-socks-off DIY project. Today I’m thrilled to be sharing the work of one of my favorite collaborators over the years, producer/photographer/podcaster Caroline Lee. You’ll remember Caroline from the fantastic Atwater Village home she shares with photographer husband Jayden, and Light Lab, the vibrant and refreshing multi-purpose studio space the couple shares with author/stylist/blogger, Anne Sage. Caroline and Anne have teamed up multiple times to turn out effervescent spaces, including Caroline’s sister Margaret’s studio (with a superb painted checkered ceiling!).

When the time came to design the studio room of their A-frame home in Palm Springs, CA, Caroline and Jayden knew they wanted to bring big impact while maintaining a neutral, relaxing vibe at the same time. Since the A-frame will eventually be a place where workshops and gatherings are held, much thought went into both the aesthetic and functionality of the room. Caroline tapped Anne once again to help tackle the space — along with a team of handy friends — and pull off this stunning DIY PVC Pipe Wall studio. I’m handing it over to Caroline to take us through the design process and her steps for pulling off a PVC Pipe Wall look in your own home. Take it away, Caroline! —Kelli

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This room is the final space we designed at the A-frame, and it is our favorite! We call it the studio. It’s a space separate to the main house, and the vision was a space where relaxing and talking could happen, where people could sleep on the built-in beds if the house’s beds were full, and when workshops start happening at the house, this room can be a space where focused work can happen (think trauma-therapy type work, reiki, massage, etc.). It really depends on what type of workshop is happening, but I love that there’s a private space for quiet, intentional work to happen.

Anne and I got to work brainstorming and Pinning like fiends, trying to come up with something perfect to create here. We were super drawn to the built-in beds of Spain, Morocco and Greece, so that was the first step.

Anne created the design schematic, and then our dear friend Jonathan Gudino whipped together the bed bases (below) in a day’s work. He makes things look effortless.

Now, we had this perfect blank canvas, lots of dreams, and lots of questions. I had seen a lot of rad dowel walls in Australia, and, because Australia wins at all things interior design, of course they have a ready-made dowel paneling product you can buy. I searched high and low in the States — it doesn’t exist yet. (Mark my words, this will be made in the US in two years. We’re about two years behind … always.) I even got a quote from a few timber fabricators here who could make the paneling for me, but the quotes were all $8-10k, and, I’m gonna be honest, the pool at the A-frame drained every last dollar we had in our bank accounts. Oops.

Enter: The Home Depot, and my dear friend Ken (AKA the husband + co-conspirator of my other dear friend, Erin of Design for Mankind.) Ken makes everything. Like, builds entire homes everything — by himself.  So I texted him a few photos of the dowel lewk I was trying to create, and he replied with something like, “Oh… that’s easy! If it were me, I’d use PVC, and I’d glue the PVC to boards to make panels, and then I’d screw them into the drywall.”

He made it sound so easy.

I said, “How long do you think it’ll take to do this to one room?”

“About a full week’s work,” he said. My brother, Robert, and I got to work.

I’ve broken down the process into general steps below, and I highly recommend you find someone to cut/slice the PVC pipes in half (lengthwise) for you. If you give this project a try, let us know how it turns out! And please feel free to DM me on Instagram or comment below if you have any questions — I’ll do my best to help. Good luck! —Caroline

Photography by Jayden Lee of Echo and Earl / @echoandearl

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Photo by HomePolish

One of my earliest Design*Sponge memories involves a bit of unsolicited advice I received from a fellow design blogger. He pulled me aside at one of the first professional events I ever attended and said, “You’re making a HUGE mistake with how you’re running your ad program. You’ve gotta hire a guy to help you — and don’t worry about courting the little guys. Indie companies can’t pay.” I remember feeling shocked (I would later learn not to be surprised when this sort of thing happened) — and then wondering if I was doing everything wrong.

Over the years I’ve had a number of people “pull me aside” for a bit of unsolicited advice – usually about how I was doing everything wrong and how they were doing it right and just wanted to let me know. Sometimes that advice was rooted in truth (yes, I needed a better accountant), sometimes it was rooted in someone else’s truth (risks are easier when you have a lot of money to fall back on), and sometimes they were rooted in, well, not much at all.

Looking back, I’m grateful for some of the advice that people shared — because it helped me define what I didn’t want to be or how I didn’t want to run my business. And it reminded me of an essential truth (for life and business): everyone’s goals and needs are different. And most importantly: what works for one person may not work for another. So today I wanted to share 5 pieces of unsolicited advice I received again and again over the years that I’m glad I ignored — and what I learned from it.

  1. “Don’t Get Close to Your Team — They’re Not a Real Family.” Every time I’ve spoken at an industry event, someone has felt the need to remind me, with a worried face, that I seem “really close” to my team. They seem surprised that we know about each other’s personal lives and that I often take that into account when issues arise and people need support or time off. But in my experience, being close to our team and getting to know them as people (not just colleagues), has been one of the greatest rewards of working at Design*Sponge. It’s been challenging to figure out how to walk the line between friend/family/colleague at Design*Sponge — and I haven’t always done it well. But in my experience, even the stickiest moments have been worth it, because it means that at the end of the day, our team feels supported, appreciated, open, and close to each other. So many people have told me that I should “maintain an air of separation” or “make sure your team knows who is the boss.” And while I agree it’s important to be a clear leader and set boundaries, I think it’s possible to be both an empathetic person AND a clear leader. Does that mean you won’t run into issues now and then? Of course not. But for me, getting to know our team, supporting them in their work and dreams, and getting to actually connect with each other has been a gift. Seeing everyone support each other in tough times, visit each other outside of work and stay in touch beyond blogging has warmed my heart like nothing else.
  2. “You Should Really Get Married — Brands Will Feel You’re More Reliable.” I will never forget this statement. Ever. I remember where I was (Balthazar), what I was eating (Eggs Florentine), and the feeling of white hot anger that shot through my body like it was yesterday. I was having a friendly breakfast chat with a fellow blogger and he pointed out that if I was to get married (this was prior to my first marriage), I would see a huge change in ad support. This blogger had a feeling that I was coming off as “too young” and “too unsettled” for larger brands to want to invest in me. And that if I “made it official” I would see brands come running to back me and Design*Sponge. I repeated it out loud, “So you’re telling me you think I should get legally married in order to make more money” and him nodding, as if it was a totally normal thing to tell someone to do. No matter how you feel about love and marriage (and divorce), never let someone tell you to make a personal commitment just for the sake of business. Also, just an FYI, I did get married a few years later and I didn’t see any brands change their minds or suddenly come running with offers.
  3. “Focus On the Big Guys — Indie Biz Will Come and Go.” Most of the unsolicited advice I received over the past years was about how I run my team or how we’ve run our ad program. And I’ve ignored pretty much every piece of it. The thing I heard the most from people re: our ad program was that we “spent too much time focusing on the little guys” and not enough time “playing nice” with bigger brands. Caitlin has spent years perfecting and honing our ad program to do the best we can to make sponsorships and partnerships doable (and successful) for smaller independent businesses, and I am so grateful she has. Those business owners ARE our community. We started as a site to celebrate handmade and small-scale business and we will close up shop with the same mission at our core. Did taking the time to support those business owners mean we couldn’t work with larger companies? Of course not. But did it mean we got to actually understand what small businesses needed and how to better support them as an ad partner and as a fellow design community member? Absolutely.
  4. “Put Yourself Out There More! / Put Yourself Out There Less!” People have always told me, alternately, that I was putting too much or not enough of my personal life online. And to be honest, both camps have had good points at one time or another. I certainly learned how much was too much when I was going through a divorce and coming out and trying to process all that internally, but I also learned that not sharing anything personal for a while can lead some readers to feel disconnected or like I’ve pulled away. I understand both ends of this spectrum and feel like I’m always navigating my way toward the middle of that scale as much as I can. I think sharing parts of our personal lives online can lead to meaningful connection and representation, but it also opens you (and your loved ones) up for criticism and editorializing that can be hard to handle. So for me, listening to my gut about what feels right has always been the best guide.
  5. “You Should Sell Design*Sponge.” I talked about this a lot on the podcast episode I did with my wife Julia last week. Over the years, a lot of people have reached out to talk about when I would be selling Design*Sponge, not if, and for how much. And they would respond with shock when I would say I wasn’t interested. Since the beginning, Design*Sponge has been my most cherished creative project. And 99.9%** of the time I’ve been happy for it to stay that way (**listen to the podcast for more on that 0.1% moment). I never wanted to see this space turned into something it wasn’t intended to be — and I worried about how something so special to me could possibly be turned into something that didn’t match our values. That’s not to say that there couldn’t be a world where DS could be sold and still stay true to our goals, but the chances felt way too high to me to ever risk. I’ll never forget a meeting I had back in 2010, I believe (also at Balthazar, where apparently all my awkward meetings took place), where the owners of a now HUGE mega site (though it was much smaller then) took me out for a chat. I had no idea it was coming, but they opened quickly with an offer to buy Design*Sponge. I politely declined, moved on to a new topic, and they looked at me like I’d sprouted another head. I told them it just wasn’t something that I was interested in and well, let’s just say that friendly coffee meeting ended quickly when it was clear that what they thought would be an easy sale didn’t turn out to be one. Selling is right for some people. It’s also not right for others. And both are okay. I’m glad I listened to my gut and that we’re able to end on a note that feels right for us.

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The Taj Mahal

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The Taj Mahal | Carpenter, William | V Search the Collections

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An Industrial Loft in Philadelphia, PA Full of Wallpaper & Whimsy | Design*Sponge

An Industrial Loft in Philadelphia, PA Full of Wallpaper & Whimsy | Design*Sponge

After 15 years of featuring incredible homes on Design*Sponge, it can feel like every cool home we see has been featured here or elsewhere. But when this incredible Philadelphia, PA penthouse came across my desk, I gasped — it had all of the things I’m always scouting for: Color, pattern and a unique setting. The space designed by Michelle Gage Interiors goes against what I typically think of for an industrial loft and to me, that’s really wonderful. No matter how many homes I’ve seen, there’s always a new point-of-view I never would have thought of.

I’ve gotten to work with Michelle on Before & Afters of her own home and have appreciated her eye in seeing the potential for beauty in an empty space. That skill made her the perfect designer to work on this 2,000-square-foot loft. The exposed brick and concrete floors are cool, but they didn’t feel like the homeowner’s vintage style. Michelle and her team needed to create connection between the warehouse shell and the collected, luxe aesthetic the client was after. “The loft is amazing, but industrial. We didn’t really want to play that up, so instead we provided contrasting elements to create a cohesive vibe. The brick walls are balanced by amazing bird wallpaper. The concrete floors are met with soft, plush rugs. The exposed ceilings dangle crystal chandeliers down,” Michelle shares.

Making the homeowner and her son feel at home in the space was a priority. They needed a haven to retreat to as well as a space where they could entertain. Knowing her client’s love for vintage and eclectic style, Michelle created a space full of seating, vibrant colors and stunning accents. “As designers, we’re always thankful when clients not only have great style, but are also trusting of our vision. Our designs pulled out elements from the homeowner’s inspiration images, but we put our own twist on things,” Michelle explains. “All in all, our client was pretty trusting to move forward with what we envisioned for her space which always makes for the best end result.”

Jewel tones, pastels and bold brights all combine together in a refreshing palette. Patterned wallpaper and soft upholstery add whimsy and refinement. A mix of vintage and modern furniture styles, large-scale artwork and thrifted accents create a style that can’t be easily replicated. While the owner of the loft knew that she didn’t want to lean into the warehouse vibe, she wasn’t sure how to create the design she was after. Enlisting the help of Michelle and her team allowed her to achieve her signature style without stressing on how to do it. It’s a lovely home that suits this mother and son perfectly. Lauren

Photography by Rebecca McAlpin

Image above: The large, open space had great light and high ceilings to start with. Instead of covering up the brick and other industrial elements, Michelle chose to complement and contrast them with patterned wallpaper, vintage finds and modern pieces.

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When I started Design*Sponge back in 2004, I had no idea that city guides would become such a big part of what we published. DS City Guides (we have over 300 in our archives!) came about naturally as people asked for design recommendations. As we grew, these guides became another way for us to celebrate independent design and the businesses that we were featuring in the form of home tours or studio visits. But I had no idea how much they would teach me about the business of design and what it means to be a conscientious traveler. So I wanted to share some of what we’ve learned from these guides and how we hope you’ll consider using them while they’re still online (for at least the next 6 months).

  1. It’s hard out there for brick-and-mortar shops: One of the toughest parts of maintaining these city guides was keeping up with how quickly indie businesses opened and, sadly, closed. It’s no secret that the web has affected in-person sales, and in some cases stores we’d posted about in guides were closing (or going online only) less than a week after we wrote about them. Every time we got an email about a link being outdated or a shop closing, it was a sad reminder that it’s tough to maintain a brick-and-mortar shop today — especially if you’re independent. So the biggest lesson I learned from these guides was: if you’re able, try to shop in person when you can. Not only does it support local business and keep Main Streets alive, it keeps you connected to your community. You get to meet the people who own businesses, hear their stories, and hopefully make new friends.
  2. New business is just as important as older business: One of the mistakes I made early on with guides was not paying attention to how important it was to spread the love across all businesses in a town. I focused too closely on new “hip” shops, and sadly wasn’t realizing how important it was to celebrate and encourage visitors to check out existing businesses that had been around for a long time. We worked on making guides more inclusive and supportive of all communities and retail as they went on, but that mistake taught me how important it was not to forget the places that have been there, supporting and serving a community, for a long time. So if you’re traveling to a new town, try to spread the love and visit more established businesses as much as new ones. I’ve kept this in mind for the past few years and it’s introduced me to new neighborhoods and communities and points of views in ways I wouldn’t have gotten if I only went to the places that had big Instagram followings. Those are fun, too, but a mix of all different types of places will give you a fuller picture of a city.
  3. No one store is for everyone: Almost every city guide had at least a small dose of controversy. Whether it was people calling out (or defending) a store or restaurant owner for being too this or too that, or people claiming one place’s offerings were more “authentic” than another, we always saw a little bit of hometown scuffling in the comment sections. And what that taught me is: basically no store will make every visitor happy. So while I tended to love a lot of the places that people suggested we visit, I didn’t love them all. But that didn’t mean that there was a single thing wrong with that spot — it just wasn’t my style or wasn’t for me. I love the intense hometown pride that leads to heated conversation in comment sections (because it usually comes from a place of love and pride), but I hope DS travelers will keep in mind that what makes one visitor feel like a spot is “the best” may not be true for you, or someone else. Please keep in mind that these shops are someone’s pride and joy, and if you don’t like them (barring egregious or poor treatment from the staff), try to remember that they’re people like all of us, just trying to do their best to provide a service for their community.
  4. Slick branding does not equal great service: One of the things I didn’t expect to when we launched these guides was how we would become a go-between for readers and people featured in guides — particularly if someone didn’t enjoy a spot on our list. And the most common complaint? It usually boiled down to someone explaining that the “coolest” spots on a list (or the places getting the most buzz and social media attention) often didn’t follow through on quality customer service. I lost count of how many times I heard from people who said, “I couldn’t wait to go here after seeing it on Instagram… but they were so rude and didn’t even acknowledge us when we walked in the store.” And that’s not to say I didn’t hear the same about more established businesses now and then, but it became clear to me that we needed to pay more attention to the way a store treated its customers/clients than the way they branded themselves. So ultimately I hope travelers using our guides will consider looking beyond branding sometimes. I’ve found some of the best spots have older signage (or little signage at all) or branding that might come across as “dated” to fans of modern design/social media trends. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t have amazing things to offer, kind owners/employees, and a wonderful experience to offer. In short, give them all a shot and see where you feel most comfortable.
  5. Store Owners Are Doing Their Best: I’ve read hundreds of complaint emails and comments in guides over the years (usually seeking an apology from me about their experience at a spot), and one of the things it made me feel was empathy — for the owners of brick-and-mortar shops. These days people have SO many shopping options and we’ve come to expect (myself included) the same things of online shops and those offline. But indie stores can’t afford to offer the types of prices and shipping offers as giant mega brands (for good reason). But that doesn’t seem to stop a lot of us from giving shop owners an unfair ear full (or writing a scathing review) about what is perceived as poor service. Sure, I know lots of places do genuinely fail to treat people kindly or offer a good service (and yes, in those cases, let them know), but in general, I’ve found most store owners want to do their best to make customers happy and do what they can to offer fair prices or good experiences for guests. So if you find a place to perhaps not live up to the hype (which isn’t always something shops/restaurants ask for or even want), or they don’t have time to pose for pictures, or if they are out of something, extending them a little empathy is always a good idea. I’ve found sometimes a second visit (if you’re local) is the best way to really gauge if some place is off their game. We all have bad days, and giving businesses grace to have those (and hopefully move past them) is always kind.
  6. You Don’t Have to Buy to Support: My last lesson (that I learned) and closing hope to share is about how to support brick-and-mortar shops and indie businesses when you’re on the road. So often I’ve heard from people saying, “I love this shop, but couldn’t afford anything in there.” It’s not always a complaint, but rather a lament that they love a spot and want to support them, but it’s not in their budget. And the great news is, today there are so many ways to support a business you love (or a business owner you believe in), even if you can’t or don’t shop there. You can share some love on social media, suggest them to friends, register there for special occasions, leave a nice review about their service or staff or offerings, or just write them a nice note. I can’t always afford to buy things in shops I love and appreciate, but I do try to take pictures, share them on social, or recommend them when I think they might be in someone else’s budget range. It’s a small way to support retail in your area (or an area you visit) without having to dip into your purse. Design*Sponge travelers and city guide users have always been kind, curious, and enthusiastic supporters of the creative community, so I am excited to think about all the places you’ll travel years after we’re gone. xo, Grace

WANT TO START TRAVELING? You can search all 300+ guides by state, city, or country right here (just use the drop-down menus at the top). 

 

 

 

A big shout out to DS editors Anne Ditmeyer and Stephanie Todaro who oversaw years of publishing these guides and Kelli Kehler who took on the herculean task of editing them.

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Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

At our farewell celebration at Philadelphia’s Terrain last week, amidst steady laugher and clinking glasses, I met one of our readers who told me about her work advocating for accessible design. She mentioned her latest projects and the numerous times she’d shared our content with her cohorts and friends. As she spoke, a giant grin crossed my face, for more than any other topic we’ve covered in my five years on the Design*Sponge team, I’m most proud of our work celebrating the massively underrepresented community of those with disabilities (or as some prefer in the community, different abilities).

My work on the topic of accessibility began in 2016 when our team was looking to explore deeper issues related to design. Admittedly, I knew next to nothing about the field. I did, however, know that I was shocked by accessibility’s lack of representation within our community. Since then, families from across the country have graciously let me share their stories, homes, the challenges and the triumphs that have come from decorating for all. I can’t stress enough how much we truly appreciate their honesty and openness.

When I was thinking about how to wrap up our coverage of this topic, I admit I was at a bit of a loss. I quickly realized, however, that the best people to speak about the future of accessible and universal design are the families who have welcomed us into their homes. To each and every one of you who have lent your expertise to this piece (and our coverage over the years), I hope you know we truly see you. We love and value your voices and experiences. We celebrate them. We will always fight alongside you for inclusion. And today, we look to you to guide the future of design to be more welcoming than ever. It has been my distinct pleasure to share your voices. Thank you. Garrett

LeAnne & Derek Lavender

LeAnne and Derek Lavender remodeled their Mid-Century home in Indianapolis, IN and made it totally wheelchair-accessible.

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Portrait by Cory Philips

D*S: If homeowners could do one thing to make their home more welcoming to those of all abilities, what would it be?

LeAnne: If you have a guest coming to your home with a disability, literally put yourself [in] their shoes throughout your home. For instance, if you were to have us over for dinner, you could simply sit in your office chair and roll around the main parts of your home. Are your dog bowls sticking out in the hallway or does your table need to be lifted with a stack of books in order for you to roll under it? Just some simple changes can make a big difference! 

D*S: What current interior design/decor trend is the most accessible in your opinion? What trend is the least?

LeAnne: Most: Large, open bathrooms. Gone are the days of garden tubs and toilets enclosed in a closet in the bathroom. Goodbye and good riddance! 
Least: Tall, canopy-styled beds seem to be making a comeback. Although they can certainly be a statement piece in a bedroom, if you have to hop to get into bed at night, there’s no way someone with a disability can easily transfer. 

For beds, you ideally want the top of the mattress to be around 25” off the ground. Select a frame that also has at least a 3” gap from the floor so a Hoyer Lift can easily slide under the bed and assist the person.

Rachel Fox Kipphut

Rachel, her husband Scott, and their three children recently left their townhome in Raleigh, NC for Bentonville, AR – a state with schools that focus on the inclusion of differently-abled children.

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Portrait by Scott Kipphut

D*S: Is there anyone who is inspiring you right now with their inclusive work?

Rachel: I love Wolf + Friends. Their platform is designed to connect and highlight those in the special needs community as well as educate others who may not be. One of the great things about Wolf + Friends is that they have a focus on toys, clothing and design that is for children of all abilities that are actually fun and stylish… such as active seating, books for anxiety, picky-eater solutions, adaptive clothing, sensory-friendly kids bedroom ideas, modern furniture, sensory swings and more in one spot.

D*S: Describe a moment when you/your loved ones felt left out of the design conversation.

Rachel: Playgrounds were always a big bummer when Eva was little because she couldn’t do stairs and definitely not ladders until she was confident. Her peers could, and they would run and climb without her. She was left out. Within the last two years, we now have several inclusive playgrounds in the area, which is wonderful! Eva has since mastered stairs and climbing, so this would have been helpful in Eva’s toddler years. What these experiences have taught me (good and bad) is to talk about these experiences with those that are inquiring. That, and to have patience. This train is moving slow, but it is moving forward.

Amy Webb

Amy Webb inspired us all when she renovated her home’s bathroom to be wheelchair accessible.

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Portrait by Momoko Fritz

D*S: What is your outlook on the future of design as it relates to accessibility?

Amy: My outlook is a slightly pessimistic but hopeful [one]. It’s hard to imagine a future where people will actually design their homes with accessibility in mind, but that’s my dream. There is not one family member of ours who thought about making their home accessible for our daughter – their niece, granddaughter, cousin, etc. – when making design choices for their home. I’m not mad at or blaming them because I don’t think I would have either. It doesn’t feel like a “thing” yet. We’re not there. I’m hoping in the future it feels like a “thing” not just to make sure their home is accessible for all people, but also as an investment in themselves. If a person wants to have their “forever home” it makes sense to make it accessible for themselves down the road, or to at least have a plan in place to transition it down the road.

D*S: What advice would you give to someone who is just starting to make their home accessible?

Amy: In the case of your home, make it work best for your person or people. If you’re a parent designing around the needs of a child, try to think about the solutions that will work best for the present and the future. Hard, I know, but give their ability to access something in the future the benefit of the doubt. For example, I’m not sure if my daughter will be able to use the microwave independently in the future, but we placed the microwave low, underneath the counter so that she would at least have the opportunity to try.

D*S: What do you feel is the greatest hurdle we as a design community have to overcome in order for accessible design to be more commonplace?

Amy: First, representation. The disability community is the largest minority group in the world, but the least represented in the media. 1 in 5 people has a disability in the world. The second hurdle, as I see it, is a combination of choosing function over form. And a big part of the reason that happens is cost. Homes can be accessible and beautiful, but when you add affordability to the equation you’re back at square one. I hope that the design community can start to extend their ideas to the disability community and realize that, like anyone else, people with disabilities deserve beautiful and thoughtful design without the much higher price tag.

Homes can be accessible and beautiful, but when you add affordability to the equation you’re back at square one.

D*S: What current interior design/decor trend is the most accessible in your opinion? What trend is the least?

Amy: In general, a home that is more minimal with furnishings and clutter will be easier for people of all abilities to navigate than a home where there is a lot of stuff crammed into a space. I’m not saying that you have to be a hardcore minimalist to have an accessible home, but I would say that maximalist design would be pretty difficult for someone with a disability to navigate (depending on the disability, of course). Oh, and touch faucets are an amazing and accessible feature for any home.

Laura Dickson

Laura, who has a degree in interior design, optimized her mother’s home in order to make it beautiful in both form and function.

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Photo courtesy of Laura Dickson

D*S: In your opinion, has the design world made progress in being more inclusive of those with different abilities?

Laura: Yes! It has made great strides! People are more accepting, but there is still a lot of room to grow. What holds the design world back most is being stuck in the past and having a traditional mindset. We need to look beyond the standard layout and style of a home and rethink it it to be more inclusive. For example, the coffee table. What could you replace it with so that space can be left open for a wheelchair to pass through? The more designers can see the finished results in use, the more they will be able to revise and adjust to make [products] more functional and practical.

D*S: What is your outlook on the future of design as it relates to accessibility?

Laura: Every year technology gets better and is being incorporated into the home, which is awesome for accessibility.

Pati Robins

Pati Robins has infused the wheelchair-accessible home she shares with her husband Colin, a veteran, with her colorful and bold style.

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Portrait by Pati Robins

D*S: What is your outlook on the future of design as it relates to accessibility?

Pati: I think we have a long way to go when it comes to good design for accessible homes. Sure there are companies who make stunning items, but price points are a bit steep. What I do love is the fact that people who live in accessible homes are getting creative and adapting those (unglamorous) standard adaptations to perfectly blend in within their homes.

D*S: What advice would you give to someone who is just starting to make their home accessible?

Pati: Plan your adaptations well. Sometimes the bare minimum that you or your family member needs might not be enough in the long run. Over the last 13 years we have had our home turned into a building site by adding more things that needed to be fitted. It was messy and stressful.

Ludmila & Mario Guzman

Ludmila Guzman and her husband recently gave their kitchen a makeover that was equal parts eclectic and functional.

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Photo courtesy of Ludmila Guzman

D*S: Is there anyone who is inspiring you right now with their inclusive work?

Ludmila: […] When it comes to specific inclusive design, so far the best inspiration has been the hospitality industry. Mario and I love to travel extensively, and seeing what works and what doesn’t (Hello, super-high bed frames and terrifying showers!) has allowed [us] to incorporate some of their solutions in[to] our design.

There are plenty of differently-abled people who are very talented and lack opportunities for work, much less design work. Their voices should be heard.

D*S: What do you feel is the greatest hurdle we as a design community have to overcome in order for universal and accessible design to be more commonplace?

Ludmila: Lack of input from people who are actually disabled. Before my husband became ill, what I considered accessible was very far from the truth. There are plenty of differently-abled people who are very talented and lack opportunities for work, much less design work. Their voices should be heard.

D*S: What current interior design/decor trend is the most accessible in your opinion? What trend is the least?

Ludmila: The least one would be vintage/boho, which is a shame because I personally love it. But the reality is that most vintage furniture is not accessible, claw-feet tubs are dangerous even for an able-bodied person, and the emphasis [on] vignettes, rugs and accents make mobility a challenge when you have a mobility impairment.

Further Resources

  • Wolf + Friends – An app for connecting parents of differently-abled children.
  • Sea Chrome – A collection of innovative and accessible interior products.
  • The Accessible Home: Designing for All Ages and Abilities by Deborah Pierce – A book all about creating “wonderful places where people with disabilities can live comfortably and safely.”
  • Born Just Right – An upstart (and book) by mother-daughter duo Jen and Jordan Reeves focused on helping “build creative solutions that help kids with disabilities live a more enjoyable life.”
  • The House Designers – Ready-made, ADA-approved blueprints for building an accessible and/or universally designed home.

People To Follow

  • Wheel Chic Home – A compendium of modern, inclusive homes.
  • Jordan Reeves – A teen amputee whose ingenious, glitter-cannon prosthetic garnered her worldwide attention.
  • Maegan Blau – After renovating her first home to meet her accessibility needs, Maegan now works on spaces for clients with different abilities.

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Festival At Fatehpur Sikri by Edwin Lord Weeks

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So many times on Instagram I’m drawn as much by the images themselves as the enthusiastic writing of someone who genuinely seems to enjoy explaining their craft, whether it is food-related, art-related, sports-related, something technical, and everything in between. The enthusiasm that sourdough baker Bryan Ford, known as Artisan Bryan, conveys in his posts is addictive! I couldn’t let the sun set on the In the Kitchen With column without featuring his upbeat, empowering recipe for Sweet Coconut Quick Bread — for those of us who love coconut but haven’t yet mastered sourdough. If you need tips or help with the recipe, reach out to Bryan on Instagram @artisanbryan or through his blog, Artisan Bryan, where you can also find his recipes in Spanish. —Kristina

Bryan Ford (aka Artisan Bryanis a Honduran-American ex-certified public accountant (CPA) turned baker and writer. Born in the Bronx to Honduran parents but raised in the largest Honduran community in the US, New Orleans, Bryan started his professional career as a CPA in the restaurant industry. During this time he began teaching cooking techniques to other students and eventually left accounting to follow his passion. He is currently working on his first book and will soon be opening Ironside Bakery with Toscana Divino in Miami. You can find Artisan Bryan on Instagram and Facebook.

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It wouldn’t be a proper final month of Design*Sponge (I’m not crying, you’re crying!) if we didn’t leave you with one more knock-your-socks-off DIY project. Today I’m thrilled to be sharing the work of one of my favorite collaborators over the years, producer/photographer/podcaster Caroline Lee. You’ll remember Caroline from the fantastic Atwater Village home she shares with photographer husband Jayden, and Light Lab, the vibrant and refreshing multi-purpose studio space the couple shares with author/stylist/blogger, Anne Sage. Caroline and Anne have teamed up multiple times to turn out effervescent spaces, including Caroline’s sister Margaret’s studio (with a superb painted checkered ceiling!).

When the time came to design the studio room of their A-frame home in Palm Springs, CA, Caroline and Jayden knew they wanted to bring big impact while maintaining a neutral, relaxing vibe at the same time. Since the A-frame will eventually be a place where workshops and gatherings are held, much thought went into both the aesthetic and functionality of the room. Caroline tapped Anne once again to help tackle the space — along with a team of handy friends — and pull off this stunning DIY PVC Pipe Wall studio. I’m handing it over to Caroline to take us through the design process and her steps for pulling off a PVC Pipe Wall look in your own home. Take it away, Caroline! —Kelli

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This room is the final space we designed at the A-frame, and it is our favorite! We call it the studio. It’s a space separate to the main house, and the vision was a space where relaxing and talking could happen, where people could sleep on the built-in beds if the house’s beds were full, and when workshops start happening at the house, this room can be a space where focused work can happen (think trauma-therapy type work, reiki, massage, etc.). It really depends on what type of workshop is happening, but I love that there’s a private space for quiet, intentional work to happen.

Anne and I got to work brainstorming and Pinning like fiends, trying to come up with something perfect to create here. We were super drawn to the built-in beds of Spain, Morocco and Greece, so that was the first step.

Anne created the design schematic, and then our dear friend Jonathan Gudino whipped together the bed bases (below) in a day’s work. He makes things look effortless.

Now, we had this perfect blank canvas, lots of dreams, and lots of questions. I had seen a lot of rad dowel walls in Australia, and, because Australia wins at all things interior design, of course they have a ready-made dowel paneling product you can buy. I searched high and low in the States — it doesn’t exist yet. (Mark my words, this will be made in the US in two years. We’re about two years behind … always.) I even got a quote from a few timber fabricators here who could make the paneling for me, but the quotes were all $8-10k, and, I’m gonna be honest, the pool at the A-frame drained every last dollar we had in our bank accounts. Oops.

Enter: The Home Depot, and my dear friend Ken (AKA the husband + co-conspirator of my other dear friend, Erin of Design for Mankind.) Ken makes everything. Like, builds entire homes everything — by himself.  So I texted him a few photos of the dowel lewk I was trying to create, and he replied with something like, “Oh… that’s easy! If it were me, I’d use PVC, and I’d glue the PVC to boards to make panels, and then I’d screw them into the drywall.”

He made it sound so easy.

I said, “How long do you think it’ll take to do this to one room?”

“About a full week’s work,” he said. My brother, Robert, and I got to work.

I’ve broken down the process into general steps below, and I highly recommend you find someone to cut/slice the PVC pipes in half (lengthwise) for you. If you give this project a try, let us know how it turns out! And please feel free to DM me on Instagram or comment below if you have any questions — I’ll do my best to help. Good luck! —Caroline

Photography by Jayden Lee of Echo and Earl / @echoandearl

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Photo by HomePolish

One of my earliest Design*Sponge memories involves a bit of unsolicited advice I received from a fellow design blogger. He pulled me aside at one of the first professional events I ever attended and said, “You’re making a HUGE mistake with how you’re running your ad program. You’ve gotta hire a guy to help you — and don’t worry about courting the little guys. Indie companies can’t pay.” I remember feeling shocked (I would later learn not to be surprised when this sort of thing happened) — and then wondering if I was doing everything wrong.

Over the years I’ve had a number of people “pull me aside” for a bit of unsolicited advice – usually about how I was doing everything wrong and how they were doing it right and just wanted to let me know. Sometimes that advice was rooted in truth (yes, I needed a better accountant), sometimes it was rooted in someone else’s truth (risks are easier when you have a lot of money to fall back on), and sometimes they were rooted in, well, not much at all.

Looking back, I’m grateful for some of the advice that people shared — because it helped me define what I didn’t want to be or how I didn’t want to run my business. And it reminded me of an essential truth (for life and business): everyone’s goals and needs are different. And most importantly: what works for one person may not work for another. So today I wanted to share 5 pieces of unsolicited advice I received again and again over the years that I’m glad I ignored — and what I learned from it.

  1. “Don’t Get Close to Your Team — They’re Not a Real Family.” Every time I’ve spoken at an industry event, someone has felt the need to remind me, with a worried face, that I seem “really close” to my team. They seem surprised that we know about each other’s personal lives and that I often take that into account when issues arise and people need support or time off. But in my experience, being close to our team and getting to know them as people (not just colleagues), has been one of the greatest rewards of working at Design*Sponge. It’s been challenging to figure out how to walk the line between friend/family/colleague at Design*Sponge — and I haven’t always done it well. But in my experience, even the stickiest moments have been worth it, because it means that at the end of the day, our team feels supported, appreciated, open, and close to each other. So many people have told me that I should “maintain an air of separation” or “make sure your team knows who is the boss.” And while I agree it’s important to be a clear leader and set boundaries, I think it’s possible to be both an empathetic person AND a clear leader. Does that mean you won’t run into issues now and then? Of course not. But for me, getting to know our team, supporting them in their work and dreams, and getting to actually connect with each other has been a gift. Seeing everyone support each other in tough times, visit each other outside of work and stay in touch beyond blogging has warmed my heart like nothing else.
  2. “You Should Really Get Married — Brands Will Feel You’re More Reliable.” I will never forget this statement. Ever. I remember where I was (Balthazar), what I was eating (Eggs Florentine), and the feeling of white hot anger that shot through my body like it was yesterday. I was having a friendly breakfast chat with a fellow blogger and he pointed out that if I was to get married (this was prior to my first marriage), I would see a huge change in ad support. This blogger had a feeling that I was coming off as “too young” and “too unsettled” for larger brands to want to invest in me. And that if I “made it official” I would see brands come running to back me and Design*Sponge. I repeated it out loud, “So you’re telling me you think I should get legally married in order to make more money” and him nodding, as if it was a totally normal thing to tell someone to do. No matter how you feel about love and marriage (and divorce), never let someone tell you to make a personal commitment just for the sake of business. Also, just an FYI, I did get married a few years later and I didn’t see any brands change their minds or suddenly come running with offers.
  3. “Focus On the Big Guys — Indie Biz Will Come and Go.” Most of the unsolicited advice I received over the past years was about how I run my team or how we’ve run our ad program. And I’ve ignored pretty much every piece of it. The thing I heard the most from people re: our ad program was that we “spent too much time focusing on the little guys” and not enough time “playing nice” with bigger brands. Caitlin has spent years perfecting and honing our ad program to do the best we can to make sponsorships and partnerships doable (and successful) for smaller independent businesses, and I am so grateful she has. Those business owners ARE our community. We started as a site to celebrate handmade and small-scale business and we will close up shop with the same mission at our core. Did taking the time to support those business owners mean we couldn’t work with larger companies? Of course not. But did it mean we got to actually understand what small businesses needed and how to better support them as an ad partner and as a fellow design community member? Absolutely.
  4. “Put Yourself Out There More! / Put Yourself Out There Less!” People have always told me, alternately, that I was putting too much or not enough of my personal life online. And to be honest, both camps have had good points at one time or another. I certainly learned how much was too much when I was going through a divorce and coming out and trying to process all that internally, but I also learned that not sharing anything personal for a while can lead some readers to feel disconnected or like I’ve pulled away. I understand both ends of this spectrum and feel like I’m always navigating my way toward the middle of that scale as much as I can. I think sharing parts of our personal lives online can lead to meaningful connection and representation, but it also opens you (and your loved ones) up for criticism and editorializing that can be hard to handle. So for me, listening to my gut about what feels right has always been the best guide.
  5. “You Should Sell Design*Sponge.” I talked about this a lot on the podcast episode I did with my wife Julia last week. Over the years, a lot of people have reached out to talk about when I would be selling Design*Sponge, not if, and for how much. And they would respond with shock when I would say I wasn’t interested. Since the beginning, Design*Sponge has been my most cherished creative project. And 99.9%** of the time I’ve been happy for it to stay that way (**listen to the podcast for more on that 0.1% moment). I never wanted to see this space turned into something it wasn’t intended to be — and I worried about how something so special to me could possibly be turned into something that didn’t match our values. That’s not to say that there couldn’t be a world where DS could be sold and still stay true to our goals, but the chances felt way too high to me to ever risk. I’ll never forget a meeting I had back in 2010, I believe (also at Balthazar, where apparently all my awkward meetings took place), where the owners of a now HUGE mega site (though it was much smaller then) took me out for a chat. I had no idea it was coming, but they opened quickly with an offer to buy Design*Sponge. I politely declined, moved on to a new topic, and they looked at me like I’d sprouted another head. I told them it just wasn’t something that I was interested in and well, let’s just say that friendly coffee meeting ended quickly when it was clear that what they thought would be an easy sale didn’t turn out to be one. Selling is right for some people. It’s also not right for others. And both are okay. I’m glad I listened to my gut and that we’re able to end on a note that feels right for us.

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The Taj Mahal

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The Taj Mahal | Carpenter, William | V Search the Collections

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An Industrial Loft in Philadelphia, PA Full of Wallpaper & Whimsy | Design*Sponge

An Industrial Loft in Philadelphia, PA Full of Wallpaper & Whimsy | Design*Sponge

After 15 years of featuring incredible homes on Design*Sponge, it can feel like every cool home we see has been featured here or elsewhere. But when this incredible Philadelphia, PA penthouse came across my desk, I gasped — it had all of the things I’m always scouting for: Color, pattern and a unique setting. The space designed by Michelle Gage Interiors goes against what I typically think of for an industrial loft and to me, that’s really wonderful. No matter how many homes I’ve seen, there’s always a new point-of-view I never would have thought of.

I’ve gotten to work with Michelle on Before & Afters of her own home and have appreciated her eye in seeing the potential for beauty in an empty space. That skill made her the perfect designer to work on this 2,000-square-foot loft. The exposed brick and concrete floors are cool, but they didn’t feel like the homeowner’s vintage style. Michelle and her team needed to create connection between the warehouse shell and the collected, luxe aesthetic the client was after. “The loft is amazing, but industrial. We didn’t really want to play that up, so instead we provided contrasting elements to create a cohesive vibe. The brick walls are balanced by amazing bird wallpaper. The concrete floors are met with soft, plush rugs. The exposed ceilings dangle crystal chandeliers down,” Michelle shares.

Making the homeowner and her son feel at home in the space was a priority. They needed a haven to retreat to as well as a space where they could entertain. Knowing her client’s love for vintage and eclectic style, Michelle created a space full of seating, vibrant colors and stunning accents. “As designers, we’re always thankful when clients not only have great style, but are also trusting of our vision. Our designs pulled out elements from the homeowner’s inspiration images, but we put our own twist on things,” Michelle explains. “All in all, our client was pretty trusting to move forward with what we envisioned for her space which always makes for the best end result.”

Jewel tones, pastels and bold brights all combine together in a refreshing palette. Patterned wallpaper and soft upholstery add whimsy and refinement. A mix of vintage and modern furniture styles, large-scale artwork and thrifted accents create a style that can’t be easily replicated. While the owner of the loft knew that she didn’t want to lean into the warehouse vibe, she wasn’t sure how to create the design she was after. Enlisting the help of Michelle and her team allowed her to achieve her signature style without stressing on how to do it. It’s a lovely home that suits this mother and son perfectly. Lauren

Photography by Rebecca McAlpin

Image above: The large, open space had great light and high ceilings to start with. Instead of covering up the brick and other industrial elements, Michelle chose to complement and contrast them with patterned wallpaper, vintage finds and modern pieces.

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When I started Design*Sponge back in 2004, I had no idea that city guides would become such a big part of what we published. DS City Guides (we have over 300 in our archives!) came about naturally as people asked for design recommendations. As we grew, these guides became another way for us to celebrate independent design and the businesses that we were featuring in the form of home tours or studio visits. But I had no idea how much they would teach me about the business of design and what it means to be a conscientious traveler. So I wanted to share some of what we’ve learned from these guides and how we hope you’ll consider using them while they’re still online (for at least the next 6 months).

  1. It’s hard out there for brick-and-mortar shops: One of the toughest parts of maintaining these city guides was keeping up with how quickly indie businesses opened and, sadly, closed. It’s no secret that the web has affected in-person sales, and in some cases stores we’d posted about in guides were closing (or going online only) less than a week after we wrote about them. Every time we got an email about a link being outdated or a shop closing, it was a sad reminder that it’s tough to maintain a brick-and-mortar shop today — especially if you’re independent. So the biggest lesson I learned from these guides was: if you’re able, try to shop in person when you can. Not only does it support local business and keep Main Streets alive, it keeps you connected to your community. You get to meet the people who own businesses, hear their stories, and hopefully make new friends.
  2. New business is just as important as older business: One of the mistakes I made early on with guides was not paying attention to how important it was to spread the love across all businesses in a town. I focused too closely on new “hip” shops, and sadly wasn’t realizing how important it was to celebrate and encourage visitors to check out existing businesses that had been around for a long time. We worked on making guides more inclusive and supportive of all communities and retail as they went on, but that mistake taught me how important it was not to forget the places that have been there, supporting and serving a community, for a long time. So if you’re traveling to a new town, try to spread the love and visit more established businesses as much as new ones. I’ve kept this in mind for the past few years and it’s introduced me to new neighborhoods and communities and points of views in ways I wouldn’t have gotten if I only went to the places that had big Instagram followings. Those are fun, too, but a mix of all different types of places will give you a fuller picture of a city.
  3. No one store is for everyone: Almost every city guide had at least a small dose of controversy. Whether it was people calling out (or defending) a store or restaurant owner for being too this or too that, or people claiming one place’s offerings were more “authentic” than another, we always saw a little bit of hometown scuffling in the comment sections. And what that taught me is: basically no store will make every visitor happy. So while I tended to love a lot of the places that people suggested we visit, I didn’t love them all. But that didn’t mean that there was a single thing wrong with that spot — it just wasn’t my style or wasn’t for me. I love the intense hometown pride that leads to heated conversation in comment sections (because it usually comes from a place of love and pride), but I hope DS travelers will keep in mind that what makes one visitor feel like a spot is “the best” may not be true for you, or someone else. Please keep in mind that these shops are someone’s pride and joy, and if you don’t like them (barring egregious or poor treatment from the staff), try to remember that they’re people like all of us, just trying to do their best to provide a service for their community.
  4. Slick branding does not equal great service: One of the things I didn’t expect to when we launched these guides was how we would become a go-between for readers and people featured in guides — particularly if someone didn’t enjoy a spot on our list. And the most common complaint? It usually boiled down to someone explaining that the “coolest” spots on a list (or the places getting the most buzz and social media attention) often didn’t follow through on quality customer service. I lost count of how many times I heard from people who said, “I couldn’t wait to go here after seeing it on Instagram… but they were so rude and didn’t even acknowledge us when we walked in the store.” And that’s not to say I didn’t hear the same about more established businesses now and then, but it became clear to me that we needed to pay more attention to the way a store treated its customers/clients than the way they branded themselves. So ultimately I hope travelers using our guides will consider looking beyond branding sometimes. I’ve found some of the best spots have older signage (or little signage at all) or branding that might come across as “dated” to fans of modern design/social media trends. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t have amazing things to offer, kind owners/employees, and a wonderful experience to offer. In short, give them all a shot and see where you feel most comfortable.
  5. Store Owners Are Doing Their Best: I’ve read hundreds of complaint emails and comments in guides over the years (usually seeking an apology from me about their experience at a spot), and one of the things it made me feel was empathy — for the owners of brick-and-mortar shops. These days people have SO many shopping options and we’ve come to expect (myself included) the same things of online shops and those offline. But indie stores can’t afford to offer the types of prices and shipping offers as giant mega brands (for good reason). But that doesn’t seem to stop a lot of us from giving shop owners an unfair ear full (or writing a scathing review) about what is perceived as poor service. Sure, I know lots of places do genuinely fail to treat people kindly or offer a good service (and yes, in those cases, let them know), but in general, I’ve found most store owners want to do their best to make customers happy and do what they can to offer fair prices or good experiences for guests. So if you find a place to perhaps not live up to the hype (which isn’t always something shops/restaurants ask for or even want), or they don’t have time to pose for pictures, or if they are out of something, extending them a little empathy is always a good idea. I’ve found sometimes a second visit (if you’re local) is the best way to really gauge if some place is off their game. We all have bad days, and giving businesses grace to have those (and hopefully move past them) is always kind.
  6. You Don’t Have to Buy to Support: My last lesson (that I learned) and closing hope to share is about how to support brick-and-mortar shops and indie businesses when you’re on the road. So often I’ve heard from people saying, “I love this shop, but couldn’t afford anything in there.” It’s not always a complaint, but rather a lament that they love a spot and want to support them, but it’s not in their budget. And the great news is, today there are so many ways to support a business you love (or a business owner you believe in), even if you can’t or don’t shop there. You can share some love on social media, suggest them to friends, register there for special occasions, leave a nice review about their service or staff or offerings, or just write them a nice note. I can’t always afford to buy things in shops I love and appreciate, but I do try to take pictures, share them on social, or recommend them when I think they might be in someone else’s budget range. It’s a small way to support retail in your area (or an area you visit) without having to dip into your purse. Design*Sponge travelers and city guide users have always been kind, curious, and enthusiastic supporters of the creative community, so I am excited to think about all the places you’ll travel years after we’re gone. xo, Grace

WANT TO START TRAVELING? You can search all 300+ guides by state, city, or country right here (just use the drop-down menus at the top). 

 

 

 

A big shout out to DS editors Anne Ditmeyer and Stephanie Todaro who oversaw years of publishing these guides and Kelli Kehler who took on the herculean task of editing them.

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Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

At our farewell celebration at Philadelphia’s Terrain last week, amidst steady laugher and clinking glasses, I met one of our readers who told me about her work advocating for accessible design. She mentioned her latest projects and the numerous times she’d shared our content with her cohorts and friends. As she spoke, a giant grin crossed my face, for more than any other topic we’ve covered in my five years on the Design*Sponge team, I’m most proud of our work celebrating the massively underrepresented community of those with disabilities (or as some prefer in the community, different abilities).

My work on the topic of accessibility began in 2016 when our team was looking to explore deeper issues related to design. Admittedly, I knew next to nothing about the field. I did, however, know that I was shocked by accessibility’s lack of representation within our community. Since then, families from across the country have graciously let me share their stories, homes, the challenges and the triumphs that have come from decorating for all. I can’t stress enough how much we truly appreciate their honesty and openness.

When I was thinking about how to wrap up our coverage of this topic, I admit I was at a bit of a loss. I quickly realized, however, that the best people to speak about the future of accessible and universal design are the families who have welcomed us into their homes. To each and every one of you who have lent your expertise to this piece (and our coverage over the years), I hope you know we truly see you. We love and value your voices and experiences. We celebrate them. We will always fight alongside you for inclusion. And today, we look to you to guide the future of design to be more welcoming than ever. It has been my distinct pleasure to share your voices. Thank you. Garrett

LeAnne & Derek Lavender

LeAnne and Derek Lavender remodeled their Mid-Century home in Indianapolis, IN and made it totally wheelchair-accessible.

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Portrait by Cory Philips

D*S: If homeowners could do one thing to make their home more welcoming to those of all abilities, what would it be?

LeAnne: If you have a guest coming to your home with a disability, literally put yourself [in] their shoes throughout your home. For instance, if you were to have us over for dinner, you could simply sit in your office chair and roll around the main parts of your home. Are your dog bowls sticking out in the hallway or does your table need to be lifted with a stack of books in order for you to roll under it? Just some simple changes can make a big difference! 

D*S: What current interior design/decor trend is the most accessible in your opinion? What trend is the least?

LeAnne: Most: Large, open bathrooms. Gone are the days of garden tubs and toilets enclosed in a closet in the bathroom. Goodbye and good riddance! 
Least: Tall, canopy-styled beds seem to be making a comeback. Although they can certainly be a statement piece in a bedroom, if you have to hop to get into bed at night, there’s no way someone with a disability can easily transfer. 

For beds, you ideally want the top of the mattress to be around 25” off the ground. Select a frame that also has at least a 3” gap from the floor so a Hoyer Lift can easily slide under the bed and assist the person.

Rachel Fox Kipphut

Rachel, her husband Scott, and their three children recently left their townhome in Raleigh, NC for Bentonville, AR – a state with schools that focus on the inclusion of differently-abled children.

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Portrait by Scott Kipphut

D*S: Is there anyone who is inspiring you right now with their inclusive work?

Rachel: I love Wolf + Friends. Their platform is designed to connect and highlight those in the special needs community as well as educate others who may not be. One of the great things about Wolf + Friends is that they have a focus on toys, clothing and design that is for children of all abilities that are actually fun and stylish… such as active seating, books for anxiety, picky-eater solutions, adaptive clothing, sensory-friendly kids bedroom ideas, modern furniture, sensory swings and more in one spot.

D*S: Describe a moment when you/your loved ones felt left out of the design conversation.

Rachel: Playgrounds were always a big bummer when Eva was little because she couldn’t do stairs and definitely not ladders until she was confident. Her peers could, and they would run and climb without her. She was left out. Within the last two years, we now have several inclusive playgrounds in the area, which is wonderful! Eva has since mastered stairs and climbing, so this would have been helpful in Eva’s toddler years. What these experiences have taught me (good and bad) is to talk about these experiences with those that are inquiring. That, and to have patience. This train is moving slow, but it is moving forward.

Amy Webb

Amy Webb inspired us all when she renovated her home’s bathroom to be wheelchair accessible.

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Portrait by Momoko Fritz

D*S: What is your outlook on the future of design as it relates to accessibility?

Amy: My outlook is a slightly pessimistic but hopeful [one]. It’s hard to imagine a future where people will actually design their homes with accessibility in mind, but that’s my dream. There is not one family member of ours who thought about making their home accessible for our daughter – their niece, granddaughter, cousin, etc. – when making design choices for their home. I’m not mad at or blaming them because I don’t think I would have either. It doesn’t feel like a “thing” yet. We’re not there. I’m hoping in the future it feels like a “thing” not just to make sure their home is accessible for all people, but also as an investment in themselves. If a person wants to have their “forever home” it makes sense to make it accessible for themselves down the road, or to at least have a plan in place to transition it down the road.

D*S: What advice would you give to someone who is just starting to make their home accessible?

Amy: In the case of your home, make it work best for your person or people. If you’re a parent designing around the needs of a child, try to think about the solutions that will work best for the present and the future. Hard, I know, but give their ability to access something in the future the benefit of the doubt. For example, I’m not sure if my daughter will be able to use the microwave independently in the future, but we placed the microwave low, underneath the counter so that she would at least have the opportunity to try.

D*S: What do you feel is the greatest hurdle we as a design community have to overcome in order for accessible design to be more commonplace?

Amy: First, representation. The disability community is the largest minority group in the world, but the least represented in the media. 1 in 5 people has a disability in the world. The second hurdle, as I see it, is a combination of choosing function over form. And a big part of the reason that happens is cost. Homes can be accessible and beautiful, but when you add affordability to the equation you’re back at square one. I hope that the design community can start to extend their ideas to the disability community and realize that, like anyone else, people with disabilities deserve beautiful and thoughtful design without the much higher price tag.

Homes can be accessible and beautiful, but when you add affordability to the equation you’re back at square one.

D*S: What current interior design/decor trend is the most accessible in your opinion? What trend is the least?

Amy: In general, a home that is more minimal with furnishings and clutter will be easier for people of all abilities to navigate than a home where there is a lot of stuff crammed into a space. I’m not saying that you have to be a hardcore minimalist to have an accessible home, but I would say that maximalist design would be pretty difficult for someone with a disability to navigate (depending on the disability, of course). Oh, and touch faucets are an amazing and accessible feature for any home.

Laura Dickson

Laura, who has a degree in interior design, optimized her mother’s home in order to make it beautiful in both form and function.

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Photo courtesy of Laura Dickson

D*S: In your opinion, has the design world made progress in being more inclusive of those with different abilities?

Laura: Yes! It has made great strides! People are more accepting, but there is still a lot of room to grow. What holds the design world back most is being stuck in the past and having a traditional mindset. We need to look beyond the standard layout and style of a home and rethink it it to be more inclusive. For example, the coffee table. What could you replace it with so that space can be left open for a wheelchair to pass through? The more designers can see the finished results in use, the more they will be able to revise and adjust to make [products] more functional and practical.

D*S: What is your outlook on the future of design as it relates to accessibility?

Laura: Every year technology gets better and is being incorporated into the home, which is awesome for accessibility.

Pati Robins

Pati Robins has infused the wheelchair-accessible home she shares with her husband Colin, a veteran, with her colorful and bold style.

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Portrait by Pati Robins

D*S: What is your outlook on the future of design as it relates to accessibility?

Pati: I think we have a long way to go when it comes to good design for accessible homes. Sure there are companies who make stunning items, but price points are a bit steep. What I do love is the fact that people who live in accessible homes are getting creative and adapting those (unglamorous) standard adaptations to perfectly blend in within their homes.

D*S: What advice would you give to someone who is just starting to make their home accessible?

Pati: Plan your adaptations well. Sometimes the bare minimum that you or your family member needs might not be enough in the long run. Over the last 13 years we have had our home turned into a building site by adding more things that needed to be fitted. It was messy and stressful.

Ludmila & Mario Guzman

Ludmila Guzman and her husband recently gave their kitchen a makeover that was equal parts eclectic and functional.

Accessible Design in 2019 & Beyond, Design*Sponge

Photo courtesy of Ludmila Guzman

D*S: Is there anyone who is inspiring you right now with their inclusive work?

Ludmila: […] When it comes to specific inclusive design, so far the best inspiration has been the hospitality industry. Mario and I love to travel extensively, and seeing what works and what doesn’t (Hello, super-high bed frames and terrifying showers!) has allowed [us] to incorporate some of their solutions in[to] our design.

There are plenty of differently-abled people who are very talented and lack opportunities for work, much less design work. Their voices should be heard.

D*S: What do you feel is the greatest hurdle we as a design community have to overcome in order for universal and accessible design to be more commonplace?

Ludmila: Lack of input from people who are actually disabled. Before my husband became ill, what I considered accessible was very far from the truth. There are plenty of differently-abled people who are very talented and lack opportunities for work, much less design work. Their voices should be heard.

D*S: What current interior design/decor trend is the most accessible in your opinion? What trend is the least?

Ludmila: The least one would be vintage/boho, which is a shame because I personally love it. But the reality is that most vintage furniture is not accessible, claw-feet tubs are dangerous even for an able-bodied person, and the emphasis [on] vignettes, rugs and accents make mobility a challenge when you have a mobility impairment.

Further Resources

  • Wolf + Friends – An app for connecting parents of differently-abled children.
  • Sea Chrome – A collection of innovative and accessible interior products.
  • The Accessible Home: Designing for All Ages and Abilities by Deborah Pierce – A book all about creating “wonderful places where people with disabilities can live comfortably and safely.”
  • Born Just Right – An upstart (and book) by mother-daughter duo Jen and Jordan Reeves focused on helping “build creative solutions that help kids with disabilities live a more enjoyable life.”
  • The House Designers – Ready-made, ADA-approved blueprints for building an accessible and/or universally designed home.

People To Follow

  • Wheel Chic Home – A compendium of modern, inclusive homes.
  • Jordan Reeves – A teen amputee whose ingenious, glitter-cannon prosthetic garnered her worldwide attention.
  • Maegan Blau – After renovating her first home to meet her accessibility needs, Maegan now works on spaces for clients with different abilities.

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Festival At Fatehpur Sikri by Edwin Lord Weeks