The Washington Post

DIY Diva


If the new DIY movement has a fairy godmother, it’d be Grace Bonney, the Brooklyn blogger behind Design*Sponge (Designsponge.com), one of the Web’s most popular nesting sites. In her trademark “You can do it!” attitude, she and her staff chronicle home trends including alphabet rugs and zigzag curtains; reveal readers’ crafts (pillow sewing, chair painting); and peek into chic spaces. Her book, “Design*Sponge at Home” ($35, Artisan), shows off content from the site plus new projects such as flower-arranging and table-making. We chatted with her about flea markets, her handmade headboard and other stylish matters.

You were at the forefront of the DIY movement. What spurred it?
DIY has crept back into so many niches, including food. Primarily, it’s the economy. People have looked at a lot of things and found they weren’t essential. They want to spend a little less money and make their homes their own.

So if I haven’t DIYed before, how do you recommend getting started? Aren’t some things just too hard?
Really complicated upholstery does require a skilled hand. But for the most part, I think if you see something and think, “Maybe I should do that,” then you probably should try.

How have blogs and the crafting changed how we decorate our homes?
Blogs have made people look at flea markets, Ikea and other sources in a different way. Now they don’t always look at things and think, “What can I buy premade?” They’re more into buying a chair at a flea market, then stripping it, painting it or adding hardware.

You show a lot of cool projects in the book. Which one is your favorite?
The one where you take old wine crates, line them with wallpaper, and hang them on the wall. It’s on trend, and it makes a big impact.


In "Design*Sponge at Home," hip nesters show off innovative ways to use old things, like these vintage suitcases-turned-storage chests.

What’s the key to not messing up a project?
Be prepared. Approach it like a chef would cooking, with things laid out neatly.

What’s your favorite project you’ve done for your own space?
The headboard that I upholstered with a staple gun. It was validation that DIY upholstery can be beautiful.

You also show off a lot of very well-decorated homes. Any favorite elements worth stealing?
This one guy used skis as shelving, which has this wacky beauty to it. I like it when people use materials in an unexpected way.

There’s a big flower-arranging section in the book. What’s the key to doing it without spending a ton?
I think you just need to know three basic things to make an arrangement. You have to create a frame for the flowers out of woodsier stems, then put in medium-weight flowers, then delicate ones.

Are we seeing a trickle-up effect in decor? I keep noticing these chairs that look very Craigslist-meets-crafter at big-box stores.
Yes. I think that as the economy doesn’t do well, the big boxes have to offer something that appeals to the younger market. And we like things that feel handmade and things that are colorful.

What’s your own apartment like?

Well, right now I’m swinging the pendulum and going more minimalist. I’ve been bringing in a lot of aged wood, and I’ve been stripping out a lot of pattern and color.

What should I look for at the flea market?
People should try to scoop up antique demijohns [large glass jars]. They’re pretty inexpensive and you can use them to bring greenery in. If you put a bunch of dogwood blossoms in one, it’s like having a tree in your house.

Any tips on buying furniture on Craigslist or eBay?
On eBay and Craiglist, search on common terms but misspell them — you’ll get the best deals. People can’t spell Eames right!

Where do you get inspired?
I try to find inspiration outside of my own niche. I pay attention to food pubs a lot. There’s a beautiful new magazine, Lucky Peach, which is the most creative I’ve seen in awhile. For blogs, like this L.A.-based one about graphic design, Thefoxisblack.com. It’s really cutting-edge.

DIY Project: How to Make a Map Box
Designer/stylist Bettina Pedersen loved maps so much that she decided to incorporate them into her home decor. This simple box project uses a variety of maps, including countrywide themes and detailed city street layouts, and can be adapted to work with any type of map you like. (Excerpted from “Design*Sponge at Home” by Grace Bonney (Artisan Books). Copyright 2011.)

1) Measure the perimeter of the box bottom and the box height (without lid). Add 1/2 inch to the perimeter and 1 1/4 inches to the height. Cut a piece of map with these dimensions.

2) Brush an even layer of Mod Podge on the back of the map and wrap it around the box sides so there is 5/8 inch extra at top and bottom.

3) Miter corners and fold the 5/8 inch of extra paper over top edge and onto bottom; glue to secure.

4) Measure the height of the box lid. Place lid over the image chosen for the top and trace around it with a pencil. On each side of the resulting rectangle, add height of the box lid, plus 1/2 inch. Cut out piece of map.

5) Brush an even layer of Mod Podge on the rectangle you drew on the map and attach it to the top of the box. Add glue to the edges of the map and wrap the box top like a present. Miter the corners and fold the 1/2 inch of extra paper over the top edge of the lid.

Jennifer Barger is a stylist and personal shopper for DC Style Factory

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