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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forever grateful and always here—

Love,
Grace

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

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

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

 

Photographs by Erin Austen Abbott and Sofia Tuovinen

Scenes from our final team retreat in Brooklyn

The beautiful farewell party that Terrain threw for our community. 

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

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

Grace Bonney is the founder of Design*Sponge

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Kristina’s Recommendations:

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

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

Kelli Kehler is Design*Sponge’s Executive Editor

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

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

Garrett Fleming is Design*Sponge’s Head Interiors Writer

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

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

Sofia Tuovinen is a Senior Writer at Design*Sponge

Sofia’s Recommendations: 

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

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

Lauren Chorpening is a home tour writer at Design*Sponge

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

People who I’ll be following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photography by Fiona Murray

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image above by Penelope Dullaghan

CAITLIN

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

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

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


Illustration above by by Viola Guerrero

GRACE

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

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

GARRETT

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

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

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


Image above by by Rachel Fox Kipphut

SOFIA

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

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

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


Image above by Sarah Andrews

ERIN

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

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


Image above by Ann Wood

KRISTINA

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

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

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


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

LAUREN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photography by Laurel Munro

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

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Design*Sponge | The Black Interior Designers Conference 2019 Recap

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

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

Photography by Charles Dante

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

How has the conference changed over the years?

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

What was your biggest takeaway from the event this year?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forever grateful and always here—

Love,
Grace

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

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

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

 

Photographs by Erin Austen Abbott and Sofia Tuovinen

Scenes from our final team retreat in Brooklyn

The beautiful farewell party that Terrain threw for our community. 

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

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

Grace Bonney is the founder of Design*Sponge

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Kristina’s Recommendations:

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

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

Kelli Kehler is Design*Sponge’s Executive Editor

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

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

Garrett Fleming is Design*Sponge’s Head Interiors Writer

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

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

Sofia Tuovinen is a Senior Writer at Design*Sponge

Sofia’s Recommendations: 

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

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

Lauren Chorpening is a home tour writer at Design*Sponge

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

People who I’ll be following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photography by Fiona Murray

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image above by Penelope Dullaghan

CAITLIN

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

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

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


Illustration above by by Viola Guerrero

GRACE

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

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

GARRETT

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

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

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


Image above by by Rachel Fox Kipphut

SOFIA

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

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

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


Image above by Sarah Andrews

ERIN

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

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


Image above by Ann Wood

KRISTINA

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

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

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


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

LAUREN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photography by Laurel Munro

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

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Design*Sponge | The Black Interior Designers Conference 2019 Recap

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

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

Photography by Charles Dante

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

How has the conference changed over the years?

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

What was your biggest takeaway from the event this year?

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


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