BOOK REVIEW: Design*Sponge at Home


SOMETIMES I THINK I have a case of arrested decorating development. At my age — a couple of generations past 30, which is the age of Grace Bonney, hugely successful design blogger and now author of a hefty new decorating and DIY book, Design*Sponge at Home (Artisan Books, $35) — shouldn’t I be more of a House Beautiful type? Shouldn’t I be gravitating toward wing chairs and Chinese ginger jar lamps and floor-to-ceiling drapes with valences?

Instead, I’m drawn to the very sorts of freewheeling, colorful, creative places featured in the first half of Bonney’s comprehensive, textbook-weighty book, many inhabited by designers, artists, and stylists.


These are places I can see myself actually living in, with cheerfully mismatched furniture and imperfect walls, full of thrift-shop discoveries and pieces that just happened to come to hand, almost always with (low) budget in mind.


The common thread here is that these homes don’t take themselves too seriously. Always a sucker for interior design and decorating books, I sucked up this one, which is particularly idea-full for renters and cottage dwellers such as myself — people who live comfortably with a sense of impermanence, who are willing to get down on their hands and knees rip up old linoleum, and who use the oldest, cheapest decorating trick in the book — paint  — to transform space with diamond-pattern wood floors, mustard yellow kitchen counters, walls of ash gray or black, or maybe Outrageous Orange.


At first I thought I would have no use for the second half of the book, a compendium of crafty DIY projects, some from readers, some from D*S editors — not having the skills required to sew my own slipcovers or the patience for creating starburst patterns on a dresser with small wooden dowels. But I was impressed with the overhaul of those easy-to-find Salvation Army staples — the boring brown wood dresser or armoire — into bright and appealing new pieces, merely by painting them with vivid flower or wave patterns. Now I’m itching to go out and find some on which to try my hand.


Design*Sponge at Home was published in early September. This review is a bit late because I lent the book out immediately upon receiving it to the 26-year-old daughter of a friend who’d just moved into a bare Brooklyn apartment. She called it “inspiring,” and that’s exactly what it  is: 400 pages of get-out-and-do-it design inspiration.


BROWNSTONE VOYEUR: Stylish Shoebox in Boerum Hill

BROWNSTONE VOYEUR is a joint project of casaCARA and Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.


THIS APARTMENT IS REALLY SMALL. If you drink and dance, I wouldn’t recommend doing it in Jane Rosenbaum’s apartment. You might just hit a wall.


Two rooms totaling 375 square feet in a pre-war State Street rental building, it’s nevertheless got a lot of charm and some good DIY ideas, yours for the copying.


  • A limited color palette — white and periwinkle blue — keeps the tiny space from looking too busy. (This takes discipline! I intended to use only blue and white in my Springs cottage, but keep bringing in things that are red, brown, green, orange…)
  • Secondhand furnishings were all painted periwinkle to unify them.
  • Round table folds to store against a wall. Open, it seats six for dinner.
  • There’s a Murphy bed behind a white curtain in the living room (and you thought they were only in Marx Brothers movies)
  • Salvaged chandelier in the living room is painted white and used with candles. Bookshelf up high makes use of every inch.


Moving on to the only other room, the kitchen:

  • Galvanized buckets organize utensils
  • The cabinets are painted with chalkboard paint; Jane uses them to display the menu for dinner parties.


Jane is an interior designer — her website is here, in case you missed it up top. She worked previously for Wolfman-Gold, the NYC housewares company known for its all-white look, and in display design at Henri Bendel in Ohio.


She ran this ad recently on the Boerum Hill listserv:

Don’t like the way a room looks? Change it now! Living Room, Bedrooms, Dining Room, Hall and Kitchen Spruce Ups include: paint colors, window treatments, rugs, accessories, fabric, lighting, and rearranging of furniture, if necessary. Dining Rooms, Halls and Kitchens: $300 each. Living Rooms and Bedrooms: $375 each. Bathrooms: $150-$275