Design*Sponge, a hugely popular design blogs, was one of the original inspirations for me back when I was starting Lovely Undergrad. Grace Bonney, the creator and blogger behind D*S, has worked as a contributor to House & Garden, Domino, and Craft Magazine. This September, the Design*Sponge at Home book will be released--it is jam-packed with 70 home tours, 50 DIY projects, 50 before and after makeovers, and tips on everything from hanging wallpaper to arranging flowers.
Grace Bonney was so gracious as to allow me to interview her for Lovely Undergrad. So read on for insight into dorm and apartment decor from Design*Sponge...
LU: In your college years, did you ever live in the dorms? If so, what was your dorm like? How did you decorate it?
D*S: Absolutely, and primarily while I was attending William & Mary, the school I transferred to after 2 years at NYU. I built an entire suite of furniture for our living room at Ludwell. I build storage cube ottomans, a wall unit with holes that you could poke your fingers through to turn on lights behind it, and I build an entire entertainment system to house or TV, books and my goldfish. I also broke the rules and painted one of our walls a crazy island green and hung curtains and sconces. I went a little nuts decorating the shared spaces ;)
Can you tell me about the challenges and triumphs of decorating your first apartment? What has changed about your style since then?
My style is constantly evolving and I think I'm learning to trust my gut and be swayed less by trends. When I was first out of college I got swept up in "cheap" brands like Ikea and Target and just bought everything pre-done. Then I realized it made my apartment feel so generic and sterile. So I started customizing things, painting them, stripping finishes- and those little touches started to make a big difference. Now I always encourage people to see inexpensive furniture as a jumping off point- you can always customize something after you take it home.
Describe your favorite apartment you've lived in. How was it decorated? Was there any memorable piece of furniture or art or a project that really set the space apart?
Well, my favorite room was my second apartment in Brooklyn. The apartment itself was a nightmare, but it was the apartment where I learned to embrace dark grey paint- which is now my go-to color. I painted my bedroom a gorgeous green grey ("Chelsea Gray" by Benjamin Moore) and it made everything else in the room look so sophisticated and grown up. I'd always gravitated towards darker colors, so learning to be less afraid of that risk (even in a smaller space) taught me a lot about how much color really can transform a room.
What tips and tricks would you pass on to dorm and apartment dwellers when it comes to decorating a small space on a budget?
Most of us in apartments (and dorms, too) can't paint, so I'm a big fan of area rugs and over-sized wall art. Walls are the most obvious canvas to work with, but people often overlook the floors. If you keep your furniture upholstery neutral, a really gorgeous striped or patterned rug can warm up a room just as quickly as a wall of paint can. Another common mistake people make in rentals is putting artwork on the wall that's too small for the space. Nothing reads as "rental" or "temporary" like sad, small art. If you prefer smaller pieces, try grouping them together in an asymmetrical arrangement, or going for fewer (but much larger) pieces that take up more space. The more of the wall you can fill cleanly, the more "homey" a space starts feeling. One of my favorite ways to get large art on a budget is to take photos or artwork to a copy store and have them blow it up. Then you can make your own frame or just hang it using tiny pins.
Can you think of a creative design solution that you think is perfect for college students---in terms of both time and money? What about a diy project that is perfect for students and small space dwellers?
I'm a big fan of rolling storage- something you can easily strap wheels onto that doubles as hidden storage and extra seating. I have a how-to project in Design*Sponge at Home that's perfect for renters or people in dorms- it helps you turn any large box into extra seating for guests and a great way to hide less attractive clutter (like video game equipment, etc)
My biggest advice is to never be afraid to experiment. Take advantage of thrift stores, flea markets, Craigslist and shops like Ikea to find inexpensive furniture that you can try customizing. Whether you paint, strip varnishes or just add little details to those pieces, they're going to feel more special to have in your home than any fancier pieces that are pre-made.
Grace, thank you so much for lending your valuable design wisdom to Lovely Undergrad!
Readers, check out the Design*Sponge blog (you're sure to get hooked!) and watch for the book to come out this September. Consider it your textbook to decorating and diy'ing. ;)
Great interview. I too am a fan of big artwork on the walls. The bigger the better. I also like the tip on if you cannot paint, use a rug to spruce it up.
I never really thought of a rug to decorate a room before. She shared a lot of great tips. Thanks for the interview!
I love how she talks about growing and learning to trust herself design wise. I think everyone goes through the phase where we trust trends more than we trust our own gut instincts it’s nice to see a designer go through the process as well.
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