Design*Sponge at Home (Grace Bonney)

Design Sponge at Home, cover

If you still think that wallpaper that mimics bookshelves is clever and just need help deciding between the Bertoia wire chairs and the Danish Modern wood ones, this is your book. It’ll even give you ideas for stenciling your accent wall and wrapping your gifts in reclaimed maps. But even though I bought this book shortly after it came out, I’m already starting to find it dated.

Credit where credit’s due: the production is beautiful. The cover is striking, you’ll definitely want to leave it out on your Noguchi coffee table. It’s a thick, heavy volume, with full color throughout. The photos on some pages are a little small, but they’re printed clearly and arranged well. Text is laid out well and easy to read – not always the case with interior decorating books. The first part of the book shows homes, the middle has projects and tutorials, and the last part has Before & Afters. There’s also a useful list of resources and a glossary in the back. The design and organization of this book are impeccable.

The featured homes show off an eclectic style that will be familiar to you if you read the design blogs. You’ll see every trend that was hot in 2011: chevron, vintage globes, lots of teal and grey, reclaimed wood floors, DIY woodblock prints, chandeliers, white-on-white, etc. What’s great is that these are real lived-in homes displayed by people just like you and me.

That’s also the problem. You start off feeling a pleasant kinship: “Hey, I too collect mercury glass and blanc de chine. This book is awesome.” Flip through a bit more and you’ll pause your Eames rocker, “Wait a minute, isn’t that the same Polaroid camera I just bought at a yardsale? And wow, I have that same Hayden Harnett satchel. ” Slog through 196 pages of this and message becomes clear: we’re all shopping at the same places, vying for the same vintage finds, tackling the same DIY projects. Sure, each home is its own quirky self. But to the casual eye, one snowflake looks an awful lot like another.

So let’s move on to the DIY section. Did you know you can make cake plates by gluing a saucer on a candlestick? Unless you’ve been living under a DIY rock this past year, I bet you did. You probably already have a fair understanding of what can be made from a reclaimed wood pallet, and more bunting and homemade wreaths than anyone has a right to possess. Even so, there are some neat projects, like a glass dome full of butterflies that only takes $300 in supplies – but it is beautiful. A disproportionate amount of the tutorial section is dedicated to floral arrangement, but it also includes slipcovers and… well, that’s about it. Slipcovers and flower arrangement.

Design Sponge at Home, butterfly dome

The Before & Afters are my favorite part. You can’t go wrong with a B&A, they’re fun if they’re inspiring and funny if they’re disastrous. This has a little of both and does not disappoint. I wouldn’t have minded if this section were bigger. Make sure to give this part a flip-through if you see it in a bookstore.

“Now wait just a minute,” I can hear you say. “We’re not all like that. I don’t have any chandeliers and I have never painted a single thing with chalkboard paint. I don’t read this Sponge Therapy blog or whatever it’s called. I just want decorating tips.” In that case, you’ll miss half the fun of this book. You may be better off looking at a decorating book that isn’t written by bloggers or designers du jour. But don’t ask me for recommendations, I can’t think of any.

Design Sponge at Home, inside

I’m not sad I bought this book. I fully intend to give it a careful read five or ten years from now and have a good laugh. By then I’ll see which ideas stand the test of time, the things that may be overdone and ubiquitous now but still have longterm resonance. For now, this will just sit on my bookshelf – real, not wallpaper.

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