Most experienced homebuyers and homeowners know that when talk of remodeling and redecorating turns to action, damage to one’s checking account is never far behind. This is an especially hard lesson for young and/or first-time homeowners, who often don’t have the resources to finance both a mortgage and a series of pricey improvements.
Not to worry, all you millennials. Grace Bonney feels your pain, and she’s doing something about it. For seven years Bonney has written and managed the popular “Design Sponge” blog, named for her self-professed obsession with soaking up any and all things design-oriented. After hearing requests from her online readers, she has compiled a series of sample interiors and decorating strategies into a new book, Design Sponge at Home.
Consistent with Bonney’s approach to online content, the book aims for fresh and unexpected design choices for very low costs. Typically, this involves repurposing and restoring older or salvaged items, getting creative with simple and inexpensive materials, and using a lot of color to personalize a home. To paraphrase a current political slogan, it’s design for the 99 percent. You won’t find many rarefied antiquities or high-end custom goodies on these pages, which is not to say the homes shown aren’t appealing. Most are simple, charming and eclectic — and highly personalized for and by the owners.
The techniques and products are by their nature non-standard, so the book starts with a “Sneak Peeks” chapter of individual examples, 75 to be exact, of real-life interiors that Bonney believes illustrate affordable good design. Most were designed by the homeowners themselves, who prove to be a singularly capable and creative group. Many are New York locals that Bonney knows professionally, but other locations reflect a diverse palette of tastes and geography — France, Australia, Sweden, South Africa and Great Britain for the international crowd, and U.S. cities that include San Francisco, Philadelphia, Nashville, Los Angeles and Dallas.
Photos and descriptions of these interiors occupy nearly half the book, providing plenty of ideas and inspiration, but not much technical advice. Bonney addresses that in subsequent chapters, the first of which features 50 do-it-yourself projects that readers can adapt for their own homes. Here’s a small sampling:
• Recycled wine crates serve as wall-mount shelf modules after being lined inside with fabrics or wallpaper. Mix or match the liners, and vary orientation from horizontal to vertical. Mount directly to wall studs or other framing for best results.
• Concrete garden spheres get their interesting shapes thanks to spare glass globes from old light fixtures. Mix and pour concrete into the globes; allow a few days for curing, then carefully break the glass away to reveal the new concrete shape inside.
• Custom wall sconces look complex but are a simple assembly of wood cleats, a lighting fixture kit and several strips of translucent wood veneer.
• Curtain holdbacks make clever use of old silverware, bent into useful hardware for window treatments. These feature “free-range” forks and spoons that have gone AWOL from original sets.
• Spool library table had humble origins as a wooden utility spool for holding lengths of commercial cable and wire. With paint and some short wood dowels for dividers, it makes a funky table with room in the base to store your favorite books.
Bonney follows up the project section with chapters on common DIY tools and skills that readers will need for their own design adventures. Most of it is very basic — furniture stripping and refinishing, lamp wiring, sewing and upholstery, and wallpaper hanging. She even includes a comprehensive chapter on the art of flower arranging for dried and fresh-cut specimens.
The focus throughout the book is on simple, achievable, and mostly low-cost design ideas, so readers shouldn’t expect detailed help with complex construction skills. And in addition to generic advice about finding bargain furnishings and materials through estate and yard sales, secondhand stores, eBay, Craigslist and other common sources, there is a lengthy resource guide for specialty materials, hardware and other items. Prices for these goods are typically much higher than the bargains you might find locally through secondhand sources, but the guide does help steer readers to sources they would likely not otherwise find.
This is a fun and useful book, and likely to be especially helpful to anyone trying to decorate creatively on a modest budget.