Oh man. I am so excited about this one. Finally today I get to share an interview with a full-time blogger who needs no introduction – Grace Bonney!
I was, of course, planning to post this whilst I was in NY, after meeting the lovely lady myself. But you know how it is when you’re on holiday… so much to do, so little time, such unreliable internet access. So instead I will wrap up my travel coverage with this fantastic insight into the inner workings of the Design*Sponge mastermind!
I have to say a huge thankyou to Grace for her time… because she’s one busy lady! She’s shared so much fantastic detail about her background and the day to day running Design*Sponge in this very candid interview… aren’t we lucky!?
Tell me a little about your background – what path led you to what you’re doing now?
Looking back, my past managed to combine in a way that makes total sense, but living through it at the time I felt pretty all over the place. I always loved art and writing, so I majored in Journalism at NYU for two years. Then I decided to transfer to a smaller school in VA and changed my major to Fine Art, with a focus in Printmaking. After a year there I could feel that my future wasn’t going to be with traditional fine art. I remember the day I discovered “Trading Spaces” on television – it opened my eyes to the idea of design, furniture design, and interior design. I didn’t even really think about those as fields I could go into. So I focused my printmaking on drawing interiors and spent my free time making over friends’ dorm rooms and designing (and building) my own furniture for our room.
When I graduated I decided to pursue music (because I was also a radio DJ in college) and quickly learned that wasn’t for me. So after a summer spent following the bass player from Phish around (I worked on his solo album in 2003) I left the label and went to work in for a tiny PR agency that dealt with mid-century design firms. I loved working with the artists but hated PR, so I started the blog for fun. I never, ever expected it to take off. When it became a profitable site, I was able to leave my job and take freelance jobs with House & Garden, Domino and Craft Magazines. All of those have since closed so now D*S is my full-time job.
Design*Sponge is the ultimate craft / design blog. Your site is one of the most popular in this genre, and you have a loyal fanbase to whom you are a huge inspiration (me included!). What were your initial goals for Design*Sponge? Did you ever expect the site to grow in the way that it has?
Thanks! When I started blogging in 2004 there was only a handful of us talking about design, so I thought about it purely as a place to meet people who loved the same things I did. I’ve focused really hard on keeping that spirit over the years and it’s helped me keep a level head about the site’s growth. So I tend to avoid long-term goals and just go with my gut. I rarely plan content more than a month ahead of time so I like to keep the site an accurate reflection of what I’m loving at the moment – so it’s definitely changed as my interests expand to include craft projects, cooking and gardening. Overall I hope it just remains a place where people can go to find interesting design-related content. I try not to lean too heavily on the blog – I definitely see a life for myself outside of the laptop so I’m always trying to find a way to learn new things and share them with other people, in whatever form that may take.
You generate a huge amount of content daily – it must be an incredible juggling act balancing the research / writing and emailing and follow ups! How do you structure your week to ensure everything gets done efficiently? Do you allocate certain tasks to certain times / days?
Each week is different, but it’s a definitely full-time job. At least 6 days a week, from 7am to 8pm. I feel strongly about giving readers content that they haven’t seen everywhere else, so I place a premium on original content. So, I had to branch out to bring in a few editors who could help with regular columns. I quite simply couldn’t keep things going without Anne (Sneak Peeks and Regional Roundup columns), Lauren and Derek (DIY projects), Kate (DIY projects), Kristina (Recipes), and Sarah (Weeder’s Digest gardening/floral column).
I basically pre-load half of the day’s content the night before, and finish the rest in the morning. Then the rest of the day is devoted to email, research, filming videos out in the city, meeting with designers, and conducting interviews. These days the biz ladies series takes a fair chunk of time too- it’s tough, but worth the effort, to find experts who are willing to share their time for free. I’m so grateful that many of them to- it’s really great to be able to offer some support to independent designers.
Which significant tasks do you outsource to help you manage the demands of running the site?
The editors I mentioned above handle 4 major weekly columns like the home tours, diy projects, floral projects and recipes and I handle any other content that appears. I’m not a fan of advertising networks so we now have a small in-house team that handles the advertising part of the site – I like to stay as far away from that part of things as I can. So without those people I’d be a mess. I’m still a mess, but they help me find a few hours a week to do non-work activities. I think this team we work with now is ideal and I’m not looking to grow anymore – I just wish there were more hours in the day for me to chip in some more. I’m always thinking of some other project or column I want to work on, but simply don’t have the time or energy for.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
It changes every week, but here are some predictable tasks:
1. Email (all day, every day, giving advice, helping people find affordable design objects, giving interior design tips, reading submissions, etc.)
2. Research (this takes place all week, on weekends, when I’m in bed – I always have a laptop or iPhone attached to me, looking things up or sending emails about new columns or people/places to feature.)
3. Coding/Writing (i try to pre-load content so I can clear out my inbox as often as possible. but I normally hit my gmail file size quota once a month. it’s a zoo with all those big image files)
4. Interviews/videos (i usually email/phone/visit someone to interview them about a column or there work a few times a week- it’s my favorite part of the job)
5. Biz Ladies (i’m running this column right now so i’m always emailing business advisers, accountants, store owners and artists to work with them on their columns. then i have to code and upload their work)
6. Biz Admin (payroll, taxes, etc. running a small business means there’s always paperwork to do)
7. Real Life (i try to get in an hour or two of cheesy tv while i work- it makes me feel more normal. lately i’m trying to replace those hours with coffee and friends. it’s much healthier. still no room for the gym. whoops)
What is the best thing about your job?
Setting my own schedule. Hands down. I work all day every day, but I can start that day or end that day when I want- and at least no one’s leaning over my shoulder telling me what to do. It’s usually just my cats leaning over my shoulder crying for me to give them treats.
And the worst?
Not knowing when to stop or say no. I’m getting better, but I need to balance my life a little. I think when we start a family in the coming years I’ll be forced to slow down – that’s my plan. Until then I plan to work as hard as I can for as long as I can. I really enjoy working so it’s not a bad “worst” to have.
You do such a great job of promoting independent creative business, local designers and artists. I know it’s hard to choose favourites, but at the moment, which designers, artists and/or creative people are you inspired by?
Where do you find inspiration outside of the blogging community – ie books, fine art, your environment, travel, your family and friends?
Books, fine art and travel have, for good and bad, become part of my blogging life, so the only thing I keep separate tends to be my friends and family- so they mean everything to me. I try to meet up with friends who live in my area a few times a week- they provide a much needed dose of life-outside-the-laptop.
What are you looking forward to?
My honeymoon in Montana. We leave to go camping right after ICFF, the stationery show and surtex so it will be a much needed break from the madness that is design season in nyc.
What and where was the last great meal you ate in your local area?
Hmm…I eat out a lot so that’s a tough one. I never leave Little D Eatery without a smile on my face so I’d say the coca-cola ribs at Little D. Followed by apple caramel bread pudding. delicious. Worth the trip to Park Slope from anywhere else in the city.
You favourite shopping strip in NYC for a dose of design eye candy?
Oh man, my favorites aren’t close to each other to be honest. Williamsburg would be an easy pick – but right now I prefer Red Hook. I like to visit Saipua, the vintage stores there, Erie Basin, Baked bakery and the artists studios that are sometimes open. Then you can get dinner at the Good Fork - perfect day.
*oh yes I was so disappointed to find out that Hable Construction had closed when I visited NYC! So sad :( – Lucy
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Picking up wildflowers and fresh food at the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket in Brooklyn. If it’s nice out I’ll try to get in a good scooter ride with Aaron, but most of the time we end up working. That’s why vacations are important to us – we spend so much of our weekend working that it’s tough to get long stretches of relaxation.
NYC’s best kept secret?
I feel like nothing in ny is secret anymore. Blogs, daily newsletters and the internet in general means nothing is an insider secret – everyone blogs, twitters, or emails about a new place the second it opens (or the weeks before it opens). But in general I love to walk neighborhoods that aren’t as packed – like Red Hook or State Street in Boerum Hill. In Manhattan? No idea- everything there feels packed so I try to stick to the outer boroughs.