One of Grace Bonney’s favorite parts of running the popular Design Sponge blog is discovering creative and inspiring women.
Her second book, “In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice From Over 100 Makers, Artists and Entrepreneurs,” published by Artisan Books this week, celebrates this diverse group. The ceramists, crafters, furniture makers, tattoo artists and prop stylists profiled in the book range in age from 19 to 78.
Bonney, 35, grew up in Virginia Beach and went to the College of William & Mary before she moved to New York. She founded Design Sponge in 2004, learning quickly how to connect with readers looking for inspiration in home design, cooking and DIY projects. She realized early on how important it was to support other female entrepreneurs.
In 2009, Bonney published her first book, “Design Sponge at Home.” Her business has continued to grow, and Bonney says Design Sponge reaches nearly 2 million readers per day. She has 818,000 followers on Instagram.
I spoke with Bonney this week just before she took off on her national book tour. Here is an edited excerpt of our conversation.
Is the “maker” movement still growing?
The handmade movement has had a resurgence. For some it is an ethical choice, and that usually comes with a price tag. There are things that are made of organic materials and are fair trade. You can spend thousands of dollars on a handmade item. This is not possible for most millennials. But things sold at craft fairs or flea markets are as admirable to have in your home as high-end craft pieces.
Why did you focus on women in your book?
Women are absolutely as successful as men in a lot of fields but not given equal stance in things like loans, investment capital or media coverage. I wanted to inspire women to follow their dreams and flood the market with women-owned businesses. There needs to be a greater amount of women doing that, and that critical tipping point is about to happen. I really wanted to highlight people doing things at home and show the resurgence of handmade things across the board and in all age groups.
How did you find the fascinating group of women you profiled?
They are people I have followed from afar or up close. It made sense also to reach out to people I admire and ask them whom they admire. Women are happy to shine a light on others. I had 200 and edited them down. I wanted a lot of paths highlighted.
How has design blogging changed in 12 years?
The story of Design Sponge is that in the beginning, we were an early adopter. We were blogging when there were only two or three design blogs. We all had very different aesthetics. We grew quickly. Then social media exploded onto the scene. We jumped on that quickly, and early. I had to figure out what these new platforms were and how they feel genuine for us. We have an exciting and vocal community. It’s my job to communicate and share content, whether on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or Pinterest. I like Instagram because it celebrates people on where they live and their points of view. Instagram has this informal, fun, of-the-moment feeling that you don’t really get with a blog anymore. We plan our content to be more serious, but this is our lighthearted companion.
What’s the future of Design Sponge?
Design Sponge is a hand with multiple fingers in different directions doing different things: social media, video, books. There are areas we get to explore and have fun with. But we will continue to shift our gears toward a deeper and more meaningful conversation with people about home, things like people behind the products we love and buy for our houses, and the deeper issues that get discussed at home. Now that I own a home and have a family [Bonney moved to the Hudson Valley area with her wife and three pets a couple years ago], I am sort of growing up. I have become less interested in talking about things, but the bigger issues and feelings come up when you try and build a home, whether financial or emotional.
Are younger people changing the concept of entertaining?
Millennials are interested in how to do more in a small space. As people’s pay scales go down and the cost of living in metropolitan areas goes up, people are sharing communal spaces. If you live in a small space, it’s often difficult or impractical to entertain. So people are entertaining differently. When people don’t have big kitchens, it’s not an option to cook a five-course dinner. People like potlucks or picnics or going on outdoor adventures that take advantage of open public spaces.
Entertaining is part of Southern hospitality, and I know you grew up in Virginia. Do you consider yourself Southern?
My mother was an incredible entertainer, host and decorator. She taught me all that at an early age. Southerners do have that sense of hospitality, and that is what I try to get across: Everyone is welcome in my home and in my online home. We live in a small town, and my wife and I love having people over. It’s our desire to feed and take care of people and make them feel comfortable. And that has extended to the Internet as well. I’m starting to say I am three-quarters Southern and one-quarter New Yorker, but I will always be a Virginian.
Bonney will be at Dock5 at Union Market on Oct. 25 to talk about her book and lead a conversation with four local female entrepreneurs. For tickets, contact Kramerbooks & Afterwards.