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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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I’ve been struggling a lot over the past few years to reckon with how big of a role my work life plays in my self confidence and identity. I don’t think I realized until just a year or two ago that I judge and define myself based almost entirely on my professional output. How good I feel about myself and my future seems to be so wrapped up in how much I work and how much I can churn out.

That’s right — churn out. Because not every creative project has been easy, smooth, or exactly what I was hoping. Sometimes things were a slog and the end result felt that way. But still, it was something to put out there. And that something meant I was being a productive member of society. And since so much of our society praises business, I felt like I was being a “good,” productive person. It wasn’t until I went through some really tough times personally that I realized that if I define myself by the “good” professional items on my list, then I have to define myself by the “bad” items on my personal list, too. And then I started to feel dizzy.

Therapy has been a powerful support system in my life for a long time now (one that I wish everyone could have access to, if they want it), and it’s one of the places I’ve felt safe to grapple with this idea of good vs. bad and productive vs. unproductive (and also why I shouldn’t say “vs.” either). I don’t know that I’ve figured it all out yet, but I came to an important learning moment when I re-read a quote from In the Company of Women that Ashley C. Ford shared with us:

Portrait by Sasha Israel 

Ashley reminded us that we are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. And I started thinking that by that logic (which I hold true), we are all more than the best things we’ve ever done, too.

If we’re lucky, life is long and complicated and full of ups and downs. And it’s so easy to get pigeonholed into thinking we are defined by our biggest achievements or our biggest failures. And in reality, they’re all just parts of us. Small pieces that are part of a big whole. That doesn’t mean we get to fully forget the parts we wish we could or live only by the praise we’ve received, but rather they all come together to form something more complicated — more human.

I have a feeling I’m not the only one out there who may need to hear this today. If you’re struggling with where you are in life, in your work, or, like me, trying to figure out how to move on from something that you feel may define you, remember Ashley’s advice above. We are all more than a single thing we do, produce, or conceive of. We are capable of so many things, so many new chapters, so many ups and downs, and so many wonderful moments. I’m so grateful that all of you have given me the space to experience all of these here, it has been such a wild and wonderful ride. xo, Grace

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Artwork by Nick Misani

When I posted on Instagram about these final essay spots in our calendar, so many of you wanted to know how I knew it was time to close Design*Sponge and what ending a chapter feels like. I’ve been sharing some of the ups and downs on social media since we first made our announcement in January, and honestly — it’s been rollercoaster. I knew that when I made the decision to announce our closing, but still post for 8 months afterward, it would mean really living in those feelings for a while. I wanted to take time to soak in this end of an era for us and not miss a second of what this would all feel like — both the good and the sad. I am so glad I waited to do things both in this way and not until it felt absolutely right.

I’ve gotten so many kind and honest emails from a lot of you in similar places. A lot of us are wondering how to know when it’s time move on to the next chapter. I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t. The truth is, you just have to know what feels right for you. But what I can do is share my story and what helped me get to this decision — and what it’s felt like.

I think the most powerful tool in making any decision like this is knowing why you decided to start something in the first place. For me, Design*Sponge was always about creating a space to connect with likeminded people (ie: design geeks). Nothing more, nothing less. It grew to be more (for which I am so thankful), but I never had dreams of it turning it into a giant company. I knew I wanted to follow a model like Merge Records and focus on getting bigger on our own terms — while still staying small. And every step of the way, that “why” has informed our choices. Were all my choices perfect? Definitely not. But the overall course of Design*Sponge is one I’m proud of: we worked hard to stay true to our mission and evolve with and for our community.

But as the community around us changed (and the financial systems most media rely on to stay afloat), it became clear that staying true to our mission (and staying afloat) would be harder. And for a few years that was okay. We adapted, we stayed small, we made cuts in places that made sense, and we kept our minds open to expansion that made sense for us. But nothing ever felt quite right. We considered all sorts of additional revenue sources: product lines, a conference series, DS branded materials, consulting, online classes, Patreon pages, crowd funding, venture capital, and bank loans. But ultimately we found ourselves in situations time and time again where we felt like a round peg trying to fit in a square hole. And honestly, nothing is wrong with a round peg. Or a square hole. Both are okay. It’s just that when things stop fitting naturally, it can be a sign that it’s time to move on.

I would say it took me a few years of feeling these “maybe it’s time to go” feelings before I decided to act on them. Julia has listened to hours upon hours of me worrying about how to make things work, how to handle it with love, and, most importantly, how to support my team in the process. It wasn’t until I read Tavi Gevinson’s closing letter at Rookie that I knew my time was here. She outlined all the issues we were facing and all the possible solutions and none of them felt right to me, either. But what I was struck by was the vacuum that swift closing left and watching the Rookie community talk to each other and wish for just a few more weeks or months with the community they loved. That’s when I realized: why couldn’t we share our decision now, but stay open for a bit longer, as a sort of homecoming for people to connect, talk, and share one last time? That time period would also allow our team time to adjust, find new work homes, and, hopefully, have a less strenuous transition.

Once I made the decision in my head, I knew it was time. I told our team, worked on the announcement and within a few weeks, it was public. And since then, it’s been a wild mix of feelings. Here’s what they’ve been:

Telling our team: This was honestly the single hardest part. I expected that everyone would be a bit sad, but that they’d be in a similar place of knowing that it was probably time for us to move on. But they had a more emotional and surprised response than I imagined. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I got off the call and cried. A lot. I felt so awful. I felt like I’d let everyone down. I had thought staying open for 8 more months would be some sort of immediate band aid for the news, but I don’t think it felt that way. In reality, I should have known better. They hadn’t been listening to me worry and wonder how I was going to make this all work for years. I didn’t want them to know (or worry) about any of that. But that meant that my decision would, of course, be more of a surprise. So I guess my thoughts here for anyone in the same place are: be prepared to support and love and connect with your team as much as possible when you close. Those connections and being there to thank and be grateful for the people who have made any project possible are a really important part of ending a chapter.

Telling the world: For some reason, this part was easier. Not because I didn’t care (quite the opposite), but because I’d been imagining this part for some time. I knew it would be a mix of responses, and that’s exactly what I experienced. What I didn’t expect was how many people would come out of out the woodwork (people from my high school or teachers from college!) to tell me they’d been quietly reading for years and then sharing their thoughts on what we’d all built together here. Those notes were so meaningful and special. And having them trickle in slowly over the past 8 months has allowed me to soak in so many different points of views and responses. I am so grateful for that. One small hitch has been this: tons of people missed our first (and subsequent) closing announcements. So any time I’ve mentioned this since January I’ve needed to answer the same questions and relive that moment over and over. That was a tough part I didn’t anticipate.

Leaving a “platform” behind: I’ve never felt Design*Sponge was some sort of behemoth of a site, but I’m very aware and very (very) grateful for the large numbers of people we’ve been able to access and connect with on a daily basis for 15 years. When I first told my friends we were closing, one of them said, “Woah, what’s it gonna feel like when people don’t know who you are or care what you have to say as much?” I laughed and rolled my eyes and then… that last part stuck with me a bit.

I have benefitted so much from being able to launch projects and share ideas or points of view with a large number of people who have chosen to follow Design*Sponge on different platforms. In these last years, it’s been so meaningful to have deeper conversations about life, loss, race, class, disability, and inclusion with a wide range of people from different backgrounds. And I know that some of you weren’t coming for those types of talks, but because you came for other things originally, we were fortunate enough to still have your ears and eyes in ways we might not have had without the platform of Design*Sponge. What I care most about these days is being of service to people in need. And I always assumed I’d find some way to do that after DS closed. But it’s started to creep in that I won’t have the same type of access to people and the possibility of change and big impact in the same way.

And if I’m being brutally honest, that scares me. And it makes me wonder if I’m making a mistake and if I’m giving up something important that I could have worked harder to transform. Those are worries that still pop into my head at night. Because I’ve been able to connect with our community in such meaningful ways over the years that have allowed us to work together to raise large amounts of money and supplies for people in need and various non-profits. You’ve all banded together through our social platforms or posts here to stand up for families that need support, businesses and people that could benefit from your time and expertise, and all types of tough situations that Design*Sponge readers have heard about and come together to help with in overwhelming numbers. I’m going to keep doing my best to do meaningful work and support communities in need, but I can’t pretend that probably losing these larger groups of people (or not? I have no idea.) who used to follow us will mean we may not be able to help out on the scale we used to. And for that, I’m really still struggling with a lot of feelings of guilt.

Self-Worth: As you can tell from above, I’m still struggling also with not finding all of my self-worth in work. It’s an ongoing battle — and a high percentage of what I talk about in therapy. But I’ve found things that have helped me counteract this. Because it’s no secret that leaving (or losing) a job can have a huge impact on your self-esteem. One thing that has helped me is making volunteering a weekly part of my life. Julia introduced us to Angel Food, and that led to our late friend Georgine and well, everything that we’ve experienced from this part of our lives has been a complete gift.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to get out of my head, use my hands, be of service to others, and connect with people who did not know (or care) about my work life. But those friendships started teaching me, at least a year before closing Design*Sponge, that I had worth and value outside of what I do and what people may know me for in my work life. I did a talk about this for Creative Mornings earlier this year that gets to the core of how powerful this all was for me. I cannot recommend regular volunteering more highly— it has had the most powerful and positive impact on my life. For anyone wondering about self-worth and closing a chapter, please know that building a support system of people who don’t know you as your job is so valuable and so meaningful — and volunteering is a great way to do this.

The Unknown: My very patient therapist has listened to me go back and forth and back and forth all year about whether or not I know what I’m doing after Design*Sponge. Spoiler alert: I have no plans and no idea. And worrying about whether I did or not all year hasn’t changed a darn thing. For letting go and trusting it will just all work out is not an easy (or practical) thing for most people. It’s financially risky, health insurance costs a ton (especially if you have a chronic disease like I do), and sometimes that “letting go” can turn into depression really quickly.

I’ve been worrying about all of these things, and dealing with bouts of depression, off and on since January. But I have been remembering a piece of advice from one kind woman at my Creative Mornings talk. She said, “I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but THIS is the juiciest time. Don’t rush through it. The freedom of the unknown is something you’ll come to enjoy more as you get older. Don’t try to make it go faster. Breathe it all in.” I’m not exactly luxuriating in the unknown right now, but I am starting to understand what she said a bit more in these final weeks. I know I’ll have to find a job sooner than later, but I should let my mind stay open and imagine a future that perhaps I didn’t even realize was possible. That is indeed a juicy and exciting possibility. And one that she and my therapist are right about — it shouldn’t be rushed, if possible.

A Final Goodbye: I have no idea how I will feel on August 30th, when our site turns 15 years old and is all officially closed. It happens to be the day before my Mom’s birthday, so I’ll probably be calling her and celebrating that, but otherwise, I have no idea what that day will feel like. I can tell you that our final team retreat with everyone in one place felt glorious. I felt freer to be myself and relax a bit and I relished watching how our team has become friends and knows so much about each other’s lives. I loved making plans to go visit them and trying to find times to get around the world to see them all as soon as possible. I drove home feeling so loved and full of love for them all.

Then the next day I couldn’t get off the couch. I was deeply sad and felt like I was drowning. So the ups and downs have been real. Julia kindly offered to distract me from my sadness that day but I remember saying, “Thanks, but I think I need to feel this.” And if I can offer one bit of advice for anyone else in this place, it’s this: try as best as you can to feel it all. Don’t rush your goodbyes if you can avoid it. Soak them all in. Say thank you to everyone you can. Hug everyone you can. Take time to see people in person. Stay present for all the sweet moments in this bittersweet time. You will get through this. New chapters will come. But for now, stay in gratitude as often as you can and don’t be afraid to ask for a hug of your own when you need one. xo, Grace

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Nicole Cole for Design*Sponge

Nicole Cole for Design*Sponge

A few years ago, I found this amazing woodworker on Instagram and immediately fell in love with her work. I asked my husband for a piece she had created for my birthday that year, and have been following her ever since. We’ve developed a friendship since then (mainly me completely geeking out on her aesthetics), and I’ve gone on to write about her previous home here on Design*Sponge as well. I’m talking about Nicole Cole of Vestige Home. She and her husband Adam have since moved into a new home, which I had hoped to feature in a full-home tour, but as the site winds down you will just have to find her on Instagram to get a look at all the sweat she is putting into to transforming their new space. Today, though, we have the joy of sharing Nicole and Adam’s transformed kitchen with you in their 1900s stone home in Philadelphia, PA.

“When we moved into the home last fall I knew I needed to make some functional changes to the space so it would work better for our family,” Nicole begins. “And of course, being a designer, I am always imagining a room with a new look and feel. I decided that while we saved up enough money to do a more extensive renovation on the kitchen (likely several years off), that I could do a ‘kitchen refresh’ to add in some of the functionality and style that the space needed.” Having always admired moody, English kitchens with original details, Nicole knew that was the look she wanted to create in their new space. “There are large banks of windows in the space, and the room is flooded with light most of the day, so it felt like the perfect space to be able to try some dark colors. I have loved Farrow & Ball’s Dead Salmon paint color for years and have been on the lookout for the perfect space to be able to use it in. With the existing wainscoting in the space to create a two-tone look in the room, this felt like the perfect place to try out my favorite muddy pink,” Nicole shares. 

As she began work on the remodel — which Nicole did all herself (other than plumbing and electrical) — she had to consider the need for increased functionality in the space. That included adding a dishwasher and garbage disposal, installation of cabinets on either side of the stove, a narrow island for storage and workspace/prep by the stove, and adding a ventilation hood for task lighting over the stove and to ventilate while cooking. “As a designer I am constantly evaluating the functionality of spaces and this kitchen had many problems to be solved,” she says. “When we moved in there wasn’t a dishwasher and I was able to create an opening in an existing bank of cabinets to make room for one with minimal construction and rework of the existing cabinets. Using a panel-ready dishwasher whose style can be matched when we remodel the kitchen allows us to reuse the appliance and gives us a built-in look. When we added the dishwasher, we were able to see that there are original hardwood fir floors underneath and we ended up tearing up five layers of old flooring, plywood and hundreds of nails to get to them. It was worth it.”

We agree, Nicole! This refresh is as complete as a Before & After, in my opinion. Scroll below for the full transformation of the space. Erin 

Photography by Rebecca McAlpin/ @mcbecks_pix

Image above: The final outcome of the kitchen brings in a more muted palette that’s more inline with the 1900s stone home. “The statement lighting piece above the sink (I love how it blends in a modern aesthetic) is from one of my favorite lighting brands, Troy Lighting,” Nicole notes. 

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When I first learned about vision/inspiration boards years ago, I was a major skeptic. I didn’t see how cutting images out of a magazine could actually lead to any sort of substantive clarity — until it did. The simple act of letting your mind and heart react to things and collect them without judgement or a clear goal ended up leading me to important ideas and decisions I hadn’t realized would be so important to me. Sometimes these boards have been the reminder that I was ready to dig into a new work project; sometimes they’ve been a loud and clear voice that says, “You want to spend more time away from working.” Every person is different, every stage of life is different, and so every board is different. But the best part of making these little projects is that there is no “wrong” way to make one. I find they not only connect me to myself, but they help me connect with my friends and family when I share them, too.

Several of you reached out to me on social media to ask if I would make one last (during my time at Design*Sponge) vision board and share it here today. It sounded like a fun idea, and a nice way for me to mark and memorialize this chapter ending — so this weekend I dove right in! I have no idea what I am going to do after we close this month, but working on this board really helped me clarify what my heart had already been whispering to me: I want to spend more time in nature, with animals, focusing on quality (not quantity) of life and seeing how I can help others do the same. Want to join in? Here’s the (very easy!) way to make your own vision board:

*First: I find it most helpful to go into a vision board with no clear goal. When I’ve done that before, it felt forced. Try to let go of expectations, goals, and ideas of what you think your board should be or how it should look.

  1. Collect a small pile of magazines, newspapers, and any other printed or visual material you find inspiring.
  2. Clip out anything from these materials that grabs or tugs at your heart and mind. DO NOT OVERTHINK IT! There is no “wrong” answer and what may not make sense when you first clip it will have a funny way of making itself understood by the time you go to place things.
  3. Get yourself a large board you can attach things to — I like to use a glue stick on foam core, but you can always use a cork surface and push pins if you want things to be more flexible.
  4. Start grouping and attaching things! I find sometimes I end up creating sections I didn’t predict and then the words or phrases I clip out start feeling right next to certain images. I love when I clip two words or sentences that weren’t together that end up becoming an entire new sentence (with new meaning) when combined.
  5. Feel free to add other pieces that make you happy — like a flower clipping, feather, or a bit of patterned paper. But don’t feel pressured to decorate your board, make it prettier, or neaten it up. This isn’t about creating something for anyone else — it’s about helping you get in touch with what your subconscious is trying to tell you.
  6. Once it’s done, sit back and spend some time with it. Do you notice any themes? Any feelings? Any clear ideas? Again, there’s no right and wrong, just take note. Some parts will reveal themselves to you or make more sense as you spend more time with them. I sometimes share mine with friends and loved ones who notice things I didn’t!
  7. Place your board in a spot where you’ll see it frequently — this will help you stay in touch and stay inspired by the images, words, and feelings you felt drawn to when imagining your future.


This was my first shot at arranging things. It was a mess, but this feels truest to how the images and text all wanted to fit together in my mind…


Then I started gluing and placing items down. Not everything fit, so I had to smoosh or edit or cut some things down a bit.


The finished piece hanging above my dresser. I cleared everything else off the wall to make room. I’d had old vision boards up and realized I needed to make room for a new chapter by letting go of the old. I keep all my old vision boards in the office Julia and I share — I don’t want to forget them, but I think I needed this clearing out to make room for new doors to open.

What I see: A whole lot of nature. A desire to find a calling. Some travel. A desire to feel things, learn things, ask questions and be brave and curious. Now, let’s see where this leads me… xo, Grace

 

 

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Last week I mentioned that I only had a few spots left in our Design*Sponge calendar before we closed up shop. I asked what YOU wanted to hear about — or if you had any questions left that you wanted answered before I retired my blogging hat for good. And you had SO many good ideas (thank you!). I’ve answered a few already, but today I wanted to try one of the ideas a few people suggested and see if you all would join me, too?

Several of you suggested that you’d like to hear what I would tell my younger self and what a letter to that younger self might look like. My first thought was, “Oh lord, I would not have listened to anyone at that age.” But my second thought was, I would love to hear what other people would say. So, if you’re game, would you share YOUR letter to your younger self with us here today? You can post it in full in the comment section below or post a link to it on your blog or social media page. I would love to know what we would all tell ourselves looking back 10, 15, 20, or 50+ years. Thanks for sharing. Here is mine. xo, Grace

Dear 23-Year-Old Grace,

Hey, it’s me. Hold on, let me shift into a style you’ll recognize.

hi, it’s me, grace. right now you’re really into writing in all-lowercase letters because you think it looks cool and it will set you apart. please let me save you (and your readers) from years of tough reading — may i please suggest you consider embracing capitalization?

Whew, that’s better. First off, I know you probably won’t listen to any of this. You’re young, angrier than you want to be (but don’t yet understand why), and are out to prove everyone wrong that said you couldn’t do what you want to do. You’re fueled by a scathing senior fine art critique and a professor who told you that you weren’t an artist. But I want you to know that that’s okay. You aren’t an artist (at least not as far as I know now). But that’s okay! You are creative and you love being around artists. And you’ll be able to be a part of the creative community in ways you haven’t imagined yet, and that is something to be excited and hopeful about. But pay closer attention to that anger and the way you’re fueled by proving people wrong. It can be a dangerous weapon and the victim is almost always yourself. Start opening up to someone as soon as you can. Figuring out why you have that anger is crucial to healing and growing up.

The next 15 years of your life are going to be a roller coaster. You’re going to know joy and success and happiness in ways you didn’t know possible. You’re also going to know pain and shame and guilt in ways you didn’t know possible. You will learn that perfectionism is not a worthy pursuit (it was never possible anyway).

You’re going to develop a very thick skin. That will hurt at first, like all callouses do. But it will be a valuable thing for you to have. It will let you have conversations you need to have and will let you take chances that are necessary to evolve. You’ll fight that evolution for a while, but give up that fight as soon as you can. It’s one battle that’s good to lose.

I know your attention span is already starting to wane, so I’ll leave you with this. You are okay just the way you are. But never give up wanting to know better and do better. You love learning, and that will serve you well. Own your best and worst decisions. They’re a part of you. Do the same for the people in your life. You’re going to make mistakes — a lot of them. It’s okay to say you’re sorry. But don’t say it when you’re asking for what you need. Speaking up and standing up for yourself will become more and more important. But learn to listen as much as you speak, it’s an important skill and will let you grow closer to people. You need more of that.

Always leave room for yourself to grow, fall down, get back up and don’t forget to ask for help. It’s okay to soften your edges and let people in. You like being alone, but you’ll learn that having friends (and pets) will make you happier than you’ve ever been. Finally, you don’t need to “win” anything to matter. You don’t need to be “busy” to matter. You matter already.

Love, 38-Year-Old Grace

Photo by Paul Jun for Creative Mornings

 

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Heather Swallow and Atom Willard are no strangers to exploratory DIY projects — whether they’re reviving vintage pieces (and giving them a totally new spin), building a couch together, or deciding to rip all the upper kitchen cabinets off the walls to see what it looks like while the other is out of town (ahem, Heather). This shared quality in Heather, a furniture reviver/designer, and Atom, a musician, is exactly what makes their Los Angeles, CA home so refreshingly unique.

Married for 18 years, Heather and Atom bought this 1,248-square-foot 1948 house 14 years ago after it passed their wishlist requirements (central air, a garage behind the house, and no upgrades — “be careful what you wish for,” they joke) and the avid thrifters have been updating it bit by bit ever since. The distinctly personal and custom feeling their home evokes is a testament to their willingness to express their creativity to try something new, or master a new skill — and the support they have for each other in just going for it.

“We learned that no matter what, our first idea isn’t going to be the end result,” Heather begins. “We will try things and if we’re not completely happy, we just start over. One time when Atom was on tour, I decided that ‘we’ wanted open shelving in the kitchen. I promptly removed all the upper cabinets, patched and painted the walls so that when he came home we could build the open shelving. Then there was the time I thought ‘we’ would really enjoy a pink and red dining room… that was not the case. You really don’t know until you try. I guess we are always evolving in our design style and choices, and are both openminded and patient enough to let the other give it a go, or to listen when one of us says, ‘So, I was thinking…’.”

The outcome of these creative conquests results in a home that had very little detail when they moved in, now thoughtfully layered with their curated collections and clever upgrades. The single-story post-war house features two bedrooms and one bathroom, and has been heavily influenced by both the vision and handiwork of these two DIY go-getters. “We have done 99.6% of all the work here ourselves,” they tell us. “For better or worse, we will take on anything! From major plumbing to wall relocation, from flooring to the concrete countertops and concrete porch and steps, to the structural steel supporting the overhangs front and back. Countless gallons of paint, hours in the attic re-ducting the HVAC system, installing recessed lighting and the landscape design in the front yard. We naively think we can do it all, and we do, just usually takes twice or three times as long.” They add, jokingly, “Please don’t call the city.”

This unfettered approach to home upgrades has boded well for these two, because inevitably the more projects they try their hands at, or more skills they learn and hone, the more their one-of-a-kind style shines through this home. It’s a quality that we’ve always sought after at Design*Sponge over the years, but something that’s always been hard to find. That free-fall into creativity and DIY ambition, and unwavering confidence in what “home” means to those who live there — and no one else.

Heather shares, “We are avid ‘thrifters’ looking to create a beautiful environment with quality pieces on a budget. Which is totally doable, if you are patient. For me, I’m always looking to create that ‘feeling.’ We want our home to be the best it can be through our eyes! It’s a reflection of our aesthetic and our ability to build what we think is a beautiful environment.” I hope you enjoy this truly special home as much as I did. —Kelli

Photography by Atom Willard and John Swallow / @atomwillardisme

Image above: The living room. Heather shares, “The day we finished this couch in our garage was really special. It was the first full sized couch I had done and a true collaboration between the two of us; with the legs and walnut sides being hard-sought solutions on how to frame the fabric portions.”

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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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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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I’ve been struggling a lot over the past few years to reckon with how big of a role my work life plays in my self confidence and identity. I don’t think I realized until just a year or two ago that I judge and define myself based almost entirely on my professional output. How good I feel about myself and my future seems to be so wrapped up in how much I work and how much I can churn out.

That’s right — churn out. Because not every creative project has been easy, smooth, or exactly what I was hoping. Sometimes things were a slog and the end result felt that way. But still, it was something to put out there. And that something meant I was being a productive member of society. And since so much of our society praises business, I felt like I was being a “good,” productive person. It wasn’t until I went through some really tough times personally that I realized that if I define myself by the “good” professional items on my list, then I have to define myself by the “bad” items on my personal list, too. And then I started to feel dizzy.

Therapy has been a powerful support system in my life for a long time now (one that I wish everyone could have access to, if they want it), and it’s one of the places I’ve felt safe to grapple with this idea of good vs. bad and productive vs. unproductive (and also why I shouldn’t say “vs.” either). I don’t know that I’ve figured it all out yet, but I came to an important learning moment when I re-read a quote from In the Company of Women that Ashley C. Ford shared with us:

Portrait by Sasha Israel 

Ashley reminded us that we are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. And I started thinking that by that logic (which I hold true), we are all more than the best things we’ve ever done, too.

If we’re lucky, life is long and complicated and full of ups and downs. And it’s so easy to get pigeonholed into thinking we are defined by our biggest achievements or our biggest failures. And in reality, they’re all just parts of us. Small pieces that are part of a big whole. That doesn’t mean we get to fully forget the parts we wish we could or live only by the praise we’ve received, but rather they all come together to form something more complicated — more human.

I have a feeling I’m not the only one out there who may need to hear this today. If you’re struggling with where you are in life, in your work, or, like me, trying to figure out how to move on from something that you feel may define you, remember Ashley’s advice above. We are all more than a single thing we do, produce, or conceive of. We are capable of so many things, so many new chapters, so many ups and downs, and so many wonderful moments. I’m so grateful that all of you have given me the space to experience all of these here, it has been such a wild and wonderful ride. xo, Grace

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Artwork by Nick Misani

When I posted on Instagram about these final essay spots in our calendar, so many of you wanted to know how I knew it was time to close Design*Sponge and what ending a chapter feels like. I’ve been sharing some of the ups and downs on social media since we first made our announcement in January, and honestly — it’s been rollercoaster. I knew that when I made the decision to announce our closing, but still post for 8 months afterward, it would mean really living in those feelings for a while. I wanted to take time to soak in this end of an era for us and not miss a second of what this would all feel like — both the good and the sad. I am so glad I waited to do things both in this way and not until it felt absolutely right.

I’ve gotten so many kind and honest emails from a lot of you in similar places. A lot of us are wondering how to know when it’s time move on to the next chapter. I wish I had an easy answer, but I don’t. The truth is, you just have to know what feels right for you. But what I can do is share my story and what helped me get to this decision — and what it’s felt like.

I think the most powerful tool in making any decision like this is knowing why you decided to start something in the first place. For me, Design*Sponge was always about creating a space to connect with likeminded people (ie: design geeks). Nothing more, nothing less. It grew to be more (for which I am so thankful), but I never had dreams of it turning it into a giant company. I knew I wanted to follow a model like Merge Records and focus on getting bigger on our own terms — while still staying small. And every step of the way, that “why” has informed our choices. Were all my choices perfect? Definitely not. But the overall course of Design*Sponge is one I’m proud of: we worked hard to stay true to our mission and evolve with and for our community.

But as the community around us changed (and the financial systems most media rely on to stay afloat), it became clear that staying true to our mission (and staying afloat) would be harder. And for a few years that was okay. We adapted, we stayed small, we made cuts in places that made sense, and we kept our minds open to expansion that made sense for us. But nothing ever felt quite right. We considered all sorts of additional revenue sources: product lines, a conference series, DS branded materials, consulting, online classes, Patreon pages, crowd funding, venture capital, and bank loans. But ultimately we found ourselves in situations time and time again where we felt like a round peg trying to fit in a square hole. And honestly, nothing is wrong with a round peg. Or a square hole. Both are okay. It’s just that when things stop fitting naturally, it can be a sign that it’s time to move on.

I would say it took me a few years of feeling these “maybe it’s time to go” feelings before I decided to act on them. Julia has listened to hours upon hours of me worrying about how to make things work, how to handle it with love, and, most importantly, how to support my team in the process. It wasn’t until I read Tavi Gevinson’s closing letter at Rookie that I knew my time was here. She outlined all the issues we were facing and all the possible solutions and none of them felt right to me, either. But what I was struck by was the vacuum that swift closing left and watching the Rookie community talk to each other and wish for just a few more weeks or months with the community they loved. That’s when I realized: why couldn’t we share our decision now, but stay open for a bit longer, as a sort of homecoming for people to connect, talk, and share one last time? That time period would also allow our team time to adjust, find new work homes, and, hopefully, have a less strenuous transition.

Once I made the decision in my head, I knew it was time. I told our team, worked on the announcement and within a few weeks, it was public. And since then, it’s been a wild mix of feelings. Here’s what they’ve been:

Telling our team: This was honestly the single hardest part. I expected that everyone would be a bit sad, but that they’d be in a similar place of knowing that it was probably time for us to move on. But they had a more emotional and surprised response than I imagined. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I got off the call and cried. A lot. I felt so awful. I felt like I’d let everyone down. I had thought staying open for 8 more months would be some sort of immediate band aid for the news, but I don’t think it felt that way. In reality, I should have known better. They hadn’t been listening to me worry and wonder how I was going to make this all work for years. I didn’t want them to know (or worry) about any of that. But that meant that my decision would, of course, be more of a surprise. So I guess my thoughts here for anyone in the same place are: be prepared to support and love and connect with your team as much as possible when you close. Those connections and being there to thank and be grateful for the people who have made any project possible are a really important part of ending a chapter.

Telling the world: For some reason, this part was easier. Not because I didn’t care (quite the opposite), but because I’d been imagining this part for some time. I knew it would be a mix of responses, and that’s exactly what I experienced. What I didn’t expect was how many people would come out of out the woodwork (people from my high school or teachers from college!) to tell me they’d been quietly reading for years and then sharing their thoughts on what we’d all built together here. Those notes were so meaningful and special. And having them trickle in slowly over the past 8 months has allowed me to soak in so many different points of views and responses. I am so grateful for that. One small hitch has been this: tons of people missed our first (and subsequent) closing announcements. So any time I’ve mentioned this since January I’ve needed to answer the same questions and relive that moment over and over. That was a tough part I didn’t anticipate.

Leaving a “platform” behind: I’ve never felt Design*Sponge was some sort of behemoth of a site, but I’m very aware and very (very) grateful for the large numbers of people we’ve been able to access and connect with on a daily basis for 15 years. When I first told my friends we were closing, one of them said, “Woah, what’s it gonna feel like when people don’t know who you are or care what you have to say as much?” I laughed and rolled my eyes and then… that last part stuck with me a bit.

I have benefitted so much from being able to launch projects and share ideas or points of view with a large number of people who have chosen to follow Design*Sponge on different platforms. In these last years, it’s been so meaningful to have deeper conversations about life, loss, race, class, disability, and inclusion with a wide range of people from different backgrounds. And I know that some of you weren’t coming for those types of talks, but because you came for other things originally, we were fortunate enough to still have your ears and eyes in ways we might not have had without the platform of Design*Sponge. What I care most about these days is being of service to people in need. And I always assumed I’d find some way to do that after DS closed. But it’s started to creep in that I won’t have the same type of access to people and the possibility of change and big impact in the same way.

And if I’m being brutally honest, that scares me. And it makes me wonder if I’m making a mistake and if I’m giving up something important that I could have worked harder to transform. Those are worries that still pop into my head at night. Because I’ve been able to connect with our community in such meaningful ways over the years that have allowed us to work together to raise large amounts of money and supplies for people in need and various non-profits. You’ve all banded together through our social platforms or posts here to stand up for families that need support, businesses and people that could benefit from your time and expertise, and all types of tough situations that Design*Sponge readers have heard about and come together to help with in overwhelming numbers. I’m going to keep doing my best to do meaningful work and support communities in need, but I can’t pretend that probably losing these larger groups of people (or not? I have no idea.) who used to follow us will mean we may not be able to help out on the scale we used to. And for that, I’m really still struggling with a lot of feelings of guilt.

Self-Worth: As you can tell from above, I’m still struggling also with not finding all of my self-worth in work. It’s an ongoing battle — and a high percentage of what I talk about in therapy. But I’ve found things that have helped me counteract this. Because it’s no secret that leaving (or losing) a job can have a huge impact on your self-esteem. One thing that has helped me is making volunteering a weekly part of my life. Julia introduced us to Angel Food, and that led to our late friend Georgine and well, everything that we’ve experienced from this part of our lives has been a complete gift.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to get out of my head, use my hands, be of service to others, and connect with people who did not know (or care) about my work life. But those friendships started teaching me, at least a year before closing Design*Sponge, that I had worth and value outside of what I do and what people may know me for in my work life. I did a talk about this for Creative Mornings earlier this year that gets to the core of how powerful this all was for me. I cannot recommend regular volunteering more highly— it has had the most powerful and positive impact on my life. For anyone wondering about self-worth and closing a chapter, please know that building a support system of people who don’t know you as your job is so valuable and so meaningful — and volunteering is a great way to do this.

The Unknown: My very patient therapist has listened to me go back and forth and back and forth all year about whether or not I know what I’m doing after Design*Sponge. Spoiler alert: I have no plans and no idea. And worrying about whether I did or not all year hasn’t changed a darn thing. For letting go and trusting it will just all work out is not an easy (or practical) thing for most people. It’s financially risky, health insurance costs a ton (especially if you have a chronic disease like I do), and sometimes that “letting go” can turn into depression really quickly.

I’ve been worrying about all of these things, and dealing with bouts of depression, off and on since January. But I have been remembering a piece of advice from one kind woman at my Creative Mornings talk. She said, “I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but THIS is the juiciest time. Don’t rush through it. The freedom of the unknown is something you’ll come to enjoy more as you get older. Don’t try to make it go faster. Breathe it all in.” I’m not exactly luxuriating in the unknown right now, but I am starting to understand what she said a bit more in these final weeks. I know I’ll have to find a job sooner than later, but I should let my mind stay open and imagine a future that perhaps I didn’t even realize was possible. That is indeed a juicy and exciting possibility. And one that she and my therapist are right about — it shouldn’t be rushed, if possible.

A Final Goodbye: I have no idea how I will feel on August 30th, when our site turns 15 years old and is all officially closed. It happens to be the day before my Mom’s birthday, so I’ll probably be calling her and celebrating that, but otherwise, I have no idea what that day will feel like. I can tell you that our final team retreat with everyone in one place felt glorious. I felt freer to be myself and relax a bit and I relished watching how our team has become friends and knows so much about each other’s lives. I loved making plans to go visit them and trying to find times to get around the world to see them all as soon as possible. I drove home feeling so loved and full of love for them all.

Then the next day I couldn’t get off the couch. I was deeply sad and felt like I was drowning. So the ups and downs have been real. Julia kindly offered to distract me from my sadness that day but I remember saying, “Thanks, but I think I need to feel this.” And if I can offer one bit of advice for anyone else in this place, it’s this: try as best as you can to feel it all. Don’t rush your goodbyes if you can avoid it. Soak them all in. Say thank you to everyone you can. Hug everyone you can. Take time to see people in person. Stay present for all the sweet moments in this bittersweet time. You will get through this. New chapters will come. But for now, stay in gratitude as often as you can and don’t be afraid to ask for a hug of your own when you need one. xo, Grace

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Nicole Cole for Design*Sponge

Nicole Cole for Design*Sponge

A few years ago, I found this amazing woodworker on Instagram and immediately fell in love with her work. I asked my husband for a piece she had created for my birthday that year, and have been following her ever since. We’ve developed a friendship since then (mainly me completely geeking out on her aesthetics), and I’ve gone on to write about her previous home here on Design*Sponge as well. I’m talking about Nicole Cole of Vestige Home. She and her husband Adam have since moved into a new home, which I had hoped to feature in a full-home tour, but as the site winds down you will just have to find her on Instagram to get a look at all the sweat she is putting into to transforming their new space. Today, though, we have the joy of sharing Nicole and Adam’s transformed kitchen with you in their 1900s stone home in Philadelphia, PA.

“When we moved into the home last fall I knew I needed to make some functional changes to the space so it would work better for our family,” Nicole begins. “And of course, being a designer, I am always imagining a room with a new look and feel. I decided that while we saved up enough money to do a more extensive renovation on the kitchen (likely several years off), that I could do a ‘kitchen refresh’ to add in some of the functionality and style that the space needed.” Having always admired moody, English kitchens with original details, Nicole knew that was the look she wanted to create in their new space. “There are large banks of windows in the space, and the room is flooded with light most of the day, so it felt like the perfect space to be able to try some dark colors. I have loved Farrow & Ball’s Dead Salmon paint color for years and have been on the lookout for the perfect space to be able to use it in. With the existing wainscoting in the space to create a two-tone look in the room, this felt like the perfect place to try out my favorite muddy pink,” Nicole shares. 

As she began work on the remodel — which Nicole did all herself (other than plumbing and electrical) — she had to consider the need for increased functionality in the space. That included adding a dishwasher and garbage disposal, installation of cabinets on either side of the stove, a narrow island for storage and workspace/prep by the stove, and adding a ventilation hood for task lighting over the stove and to ventilate while cooking. “As a designer I am constantly evaluating the functionality of spaces and this kitchen had many problems to be solved,” she says. “When we moved in there wasn’t a dishwasher and I was able to create an opening in an existing bank of cabinets to make room for one with minimal construction and rework of the existing cabinets. Using a panel-ready dishwasher whose style can be matched when we remodel the kitchen allows us to reuse the appliance and gives us a built-in look. When we added the dishwasher, we were able to see that there are original hardwood fir floors underneath and we ended up tearing up five layers of old flooring, plywood and hundreds of nails to get to them. It was worth it.”

We agree, Nicole! This refresh is as complete as a Before & After, in my opinion. Scroll below for the full transformation of the space. Erin 

Photography by Rebecca McAlpin/ @mcbecks_pix

Image above: The final outcome of the kitchen brings in a more muted palette that’s more inline with the 1900s stone home. “The statement lighting piece above the sink (I love how it blends in a modern aesthetic) is from one of my favorite lighting brands, Troy Lighting,” Nicole notes. 

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When I first learned about vision/inspiration boards years ago, I was a major skeptic. I didn’t see how cutting images out of a magazine could actually lead to any sort of substantive clarity — until it did. The simple act of letting your mind and heart react to things and collect them without judgement or a clear goal ended up leading me to important ideas and decisions I hadn’t realized would be so important to me. Sometimes these boards have been the reminder that I was ready to dig into a new work project; sometimes they’ve been a loud and clear voice that says, “You want to spend more time away from working.” Every person is different, every stage of life is different, and so every board is different. But the best part of making these little projects is that there is no “wrong” way to make one. I find they not only connect me to myself, but they help me connect with my friends and family when I share them, too.

Several of you reached out to me on social media to ask if I would make one last (during my time at Design*Sponge) vision board and share it here today. It sounded like a fun idea, and a nice way for me to mark and memorialize this chapter ending — so this weekend I dove right in! I have no idea what I am going to do after we close this month, but working on this board really helped me clarify what my heart had already been whispering to me: I want to spend more time in nature, with animals, focusing on quality (not quantity) of life and seeing how I can help others do the same. Want to join in? Here’s the (very easy!) way to make your own vision board:

*First: I find it most helpful to go into a vision board with no clear goal. When I’ve done that before, it felt forced. Try to let go of expectations, goals, and ideas of what you think your board should be or how it should look.

  1. Collect a small pile of magazines, newspapers, and any other printed or visual material you find inspiring.
  2. Clip out anything from these materials that grabs or tugs at your heart and mind. DO NOT OVERTHINK IT! There is no “wrong” answer and what may not make sense when you first clip it will have a funny way of making itself understood by the time you go to place things.
  3. Get yourself a large board you can attach things to — I like to use a glue stick on foam core, but you can always use a cork surface and push pins if you want things to be more flexible.
  4. Start grouping and attaching things! I find sometimes I end up creating sections I didn’t predict and then the words or phrases I clip out start feeling right next to certain images. I love when I clip two words or sentences that weren’t together that end up becoming an entire new sentence (with new meaning) when combined.
  5. Feel free to add other pieces that make you happy — like a flower clipping, feather, or a bit of patterned paper. But don’t feel pressured to decorate your board, make it prettier, or neaten it up. This isn’t about creating something for anyone else — it’s about helping you get in touch with what your subconscious is trying to tell you.
  6. Once it’s done, sit back and spend some time with it. Do you notice any themes? Any feelings? Any clear ideas? Again, there’s no right and wrong, just take note. Some parts will reveal themselves to you or make more sense as you spend more time with them. I sometimes share mine with friends and loved ones who notice things I didn’t!
  7. Place your board in a spot where you’ll see it frequently — this will help you stay in touch and stay inspired by the images, words, and feelings you felt drawn to when imagining your future.


This was my first shot at arranging things. It was a mess, but this feels truest to how the images and text all wanted to fit together in my mind…


Then I started gluing and placing items down. Not everything fit, so I had to smoosh or edit or cut some things down a bit.


The finished piece hanging above my dresser. I cleared everything else off the wall to make room. I’d had old vision boards up and realized I needed to make room for a new chapter by letting go of the old. I keep all my old vision boards in the office Julia and I share — I don’t want to forget them, but I think I needed this clearing out to make room for new doors to open.

What I see: A whole lot of nature. A desire to find a calling. Some travel. A desire to feel things, learn things, ask questions and be brave and curious. Now, let’s see where this leads me… xo, Grace

 

 

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Last week I mentioned that I only had a few spots left in our Design*Sponge calendar before we closed up shop. I asked what YOU wanted to hear about — or if you had any questions left that you wanted answered before I retired my blogging hat for good. And you had SO many good ideas (thank you!). I’ve answered a few already, but today I wanted to try one of the ideas a few people suggested and see if you all would join me, too?

Several of you suggested that you’d like to hear what I would tell my younger self and what a letter to that younger self might look like. My first thought was, “Oh lord, I would not have listened to anyone at that age.” But my second thought was, I would love to hear what other people would say. So, if you’re game, would you share YOUR letter to your younger self with us here today? You can post it in full in the comment section below or post a link to it on your blog or social media page. I would love to know what we would all tell ourselves looking back 10, 15, 20, or 50+ years. Thanks for sharing. Here is mine. xo, Grace

Dear 23-Year-Old Grace,

Hey, it’s me. Hold on, let me shift into a style you’ll recognize.

hi, it’s me, grace. right now you’re really into writing in all-lowercase letters because you think it looks cool and it will set you apart. please let me save you (and your readers) from years of tough reading — may i please suggest you consider embracing capitalization?

Whew, that’s better. First off, I know you probably won’t listen to any of this. You’re young, angrier than you want to be (but don’t yet understand why), and are out to prove everyone wrong that said you couldn’t do what you want to do. You’re fueled by a scathing senior fine art critique and a professor who told you that you weren’t an artist. But I want you to know that that’s okay. You aren’t an artist (at least not as far as I know now). But that’s okay! You are creative and you love being around artists. And you’ll be able to be a part of the creative community in ways you haven’t imagined yet, and that is something to be excited and hopeful about. But pay closer attention to that anger and the way you’re fueled by proving people wrong. It can be a dangerous weapon and the victim is almost always yourself. Start opening up to someone as soon as you can. Figuring out why you have that anger is crucial to healing and growing up.

The next 15 years of your life are going to be a roller coaster. You’re going to know joy and success and happiness in ways you didn’t know possible. You’re also going to know pain and shame and guilt in ways you didn’t know possible. You will learn that perfectionism is not a worthy pursuit (it was never possible anyway).

You’re going to develop a very thick skin. That will hurt at first, like all callouses do. But it will be a valuable thing for you to have. It will let you have conversations you need to have and will let you take chances that are necessary to evolve. You’ll fight that evolution for a while, but give up that fight as soon as you can. It’s one battle that’s good to lose.

I know your attention span is already starting to wane, so I’ll leave you with this. You are okay just the way you are. But never give up wanting to know better and do better. You love learning, and that will serve you well. Own your best and worst decisions. They’re a part of you. Do the same for the people in your life. You’re going to make mistakes — a lot of them. It’s okay to say you’re sorry. But don’t say it when you’re asking for what you need. Speaking up and standing up for yourself will become more and more important. But learn to listen as much as you speak, it’s an important skill and will let you grow closer to people. You need more of that.

Always leave room for yourself to grow, fall down, get back up and don’t forget to ask for help. It’s okay to soften your edges and let people in. You like being alone, but you’ll learn that having friends (and pets) will make you happier than you’ve ever been. Finally, you don’t need to “win” anything to matter. You don’t need to be “busy” to matter. You matter already.

Love, 38-Year-Old Grace

Photo by Paul Jun for Creative Mornings

 

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Heather Swallow and Atom Willard are no strangers to exploratory DIY projects — whether they’re reviving vintage pieces (and giving them a totally new spin), building a couch together, or deciding to rip all the upper kitchen cabinets off the walls to see what it looks like while the other is out of town (ahem, Heather). This shared quality in Heather, a furniture reviver/designer, and Atom, a musician, is exactly what makes their Los Angeles, CA home so refreshingly unique.

Married for 18 years, Heather and Atom bought this 1,248-square-foot 1948 house 14 years ago after it passed their wishlist requirements (central air, a garage behind the house, and no upgrades — “be careful what you wish for,” they joke) and the avid thrifters have been updating it bit by bit ever since. The distinctly personal and custom feeling their home evokes is a testament to their willingness to express their creativity to try something new, or master a new skill — and the support they have for each other in just going for it.

“We learned that no matter what, our first idea isn’t going to be the end result,” Heather begins. “We will try things and if we’re not completely happy, we just start over. One time when Atom was on tour, I decided that ‘we’ wanted open shelving in the kitchen. I promptly removed all the upper cabinets, patched and painted the walls so that when he came home we could build the open shelving. Then there was the time I thought ‘we’ would really enjoy a pink and red dining room… that was not the case. You really don’t know until you try. I guess we are always evolving in our design style and choices, and are both openminded and patient enough to let the other give it a go, or to listen when one of us says, ‘So, I was thinking…’.”

The outcome of these creative conquests results in a home that had very little detail when they moved in, now thoughtfully layered with their curated collections and clever upgrades. The single-story post-war house features two bedrooms and one bathroom, and has been heavily influenced by both the vision and handiwork of these two DIY go-getters. “We have done 99.6% of all the work here ourselves,” they tell us. “For better or worse, we will take on anything! From major plumbing to wall relocation, from flooring to the concrete countertops and concrete porch and steps, to the structural steel supporting the overhangs front and back. Countless gallons of paint, hours in the attic re-ducting the HVAC system, installing recessed lighting and the landscape design in the front yard. We naively think we can do it all, and we do, just usually takes twice or three times as long.” They add, jokingly, “Please don’t call the city.”

This unfettered approach to home upgrades has boded well for these two, because inevitably the more projects they try their hands at, or more skills they learn and hone, the more their one-of-a-kind style shines through this home. It’s a quality that we’ve always sought after at Design*Sponge over the years, but something that’s always been hard to find. That free-fall into creativity and DIY ambition, and unwavering confidence in what “home” means to those who live there — and no one else.

Heather shares, “We are avid ‘thrifters’ looking to create a beautiful environment with quality pieces on a budget. Which is totally doable, if you are patient. For me, I’m always looking to create that ‘feeling.’ We want our home to be the best it can be through our eyes! It’s a reflection of our aesthetic and our ability to build what we think is a beautiful environment.” I hope you enjoy this truly special home as much as I did. —Kelli

Photography by Atom Willard and John Swallow / @atomwillardisme

Image above: The living room. Heather shares, “The day we finished this couch in our garage was really special. It was the first full sized couch I had done and a true collaboration between the two of us; with the legs and walnut sides being hard-sought solutions on how to frame the fabric portions.”

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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