before and after

Before & After: New Year, New Beginnings

by Grace Bonney

For the past five years, Design*Sponge has been all about makeovers. Every week we’ve chosen our favorite reader-submitted makeovers and posted their photos. We’ve seen everything from side tables and floors to cabinets and outdoor spaces go from boring to beautiful. Rather than plowing forward with the same old same old, I thought the New Year was a perfect time to stop and re-evaluate this section of the site. I brainstormed all the things I’d like to learn and then stopped to think about why I rarely have before & afters of my own. The reason I kept coming back to was simple: I don’t have a mastery of the tools, techniques and skills required to make projects seem less daunting. So for 2013, we’re kicking off Before & Afters with a new mission: education and confidence. I want every single one of us to know our toolkits inside and out and have the confidence that comes with developing a wide range of cleaning, preserving and updating skills that can be applied to everything from furniture to full rooms.

To start this new process, I’m going to share my trusted list of tools and resources that we’ve used at the site over the years to kickstart projects and makeovers. In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing expert advice on not only skills and techniques, but also basics like cleaning and removing stains to reveal a piece’s natural beauty. As great projects come along, I’ll share them as well, but our goal is to have everyone mastering these techniques in order to improve the overall quality of projects and makeovers we share here, starting with our own. Max, Amy and I are gathering inexpensive flea market finds, and we’ll be sharing our personal projects along the way, as well as reader-submitted projects. If you can’t wait to share yours (or think your project fits with this beginner’s theme), feel free to send it to us right here. Let’s get our toolboxes set up and our resource lists going! xo, grace

*Image above from Cynthia Warren’s “What’s in Your Toolbox” interview

These lists are excerpted from Design*Sponge at Home. Our team worked really hard on these lists and I figured it would be fun to share these great ideas and places, regardless of whether or not you have the book.

Essential Tools for Furniture and Home Makeovers

1. Toolbox (or a peg board tool wall like the one pictured above)
2. Hammer
3. Screwdriver (flathead and Phillips head)
4. Reversible, cordless electric drill
5. Adjustable wrenches
6. Level (I prefer a real level rather than the digital app for your phone)
7. Utility knife
8. Tape measure
9. Pliers
10. Handsaw (if you can swing it, a rotary saw is pretty sweet)
11. Wire cutters
12. Hot glue gun and glue sticks
13. Needle-nose pliers
14. Staple gun and staples (essential!)
15. Metal paint scraper
16. Paintbrushes
17. Wire stripper
18. Duct and electrical tape
19. Spray adhesive
20. Permanent marker
21. Chalk
22. Scissors
23. Work gloves
24. Sandpaper
25. Safety goggles
26. Dust and paint ventilation mask
27. Drop cloths
28. Vise grips
29. Sewing machine
30. Wood glue, superglue and epoxy for metals
31. Hardware (nails, screws, nailhead trim, etc.)
32. Iron

Resources for Before & After Materials

DIY/Crafting Supplies

Ace Hardware
Multiple locations across the country

Ace carries everything from basic crafting and building materials to stencils and metallic spray paint.

Multiple locations in Washington State

I love Impress’ rubber stamps. You can have custom stamps made or choose from a wide range of pre-made designs.

Kate’s Paperie
Locations in New York, New York, and Greenwich, Connecticut

Kate’s is my go-to shop for paper supplies, pens, and pencils.

Martha Stewart Craft Supplies
Stocked at Michael’s craft stores and online

Martha is the queen of craft, and her line of decorative papers and hole-punches is a favorite among our DIY team.

Multiple locations across the country

Michael’s has everything you could possibly need, from ribbons and glue guns to frames and scrapbooking supplies.

M&J Trimming
1008 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10018
(212) 391-620

If I could live inside one store for the rest of my life, it would be M&J Trimming. They have every ribbon, trim, bead and crystal you could imagine.

Pearl Paint
Locations in New York, New Jersey, Florida and California

If you make a trip to New York City, you’d me remiss not to pick up craft supplies at Pearl Paint. This beloved New York City institution carries everything from paints and brushes to canvases, tapes and clay.


Online only

I love shopping Etsy for up-and-coming fabric designers. Some of my favorite Etsy shops are: Skinny Laminx (skinnylaminx.etsy.com), WonderFluff (WonderFluffShop.etsy.com) and Swanky Swell (swankyswell.etsy.com)

Henry Road
3949 Laurelgrove Ave
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 762 8966

Designer Paula Smail’s colorful fabrics are perfect for upholstery or home décor projects. I love her bold floral patterns.

Locations across the globe

Ikea has a fantastic collection of fabric by the yard. Each store’s offerings are different, but you can buy yardage of some styles online. They frequently work with up-and-coming European designers, so if you check a few times a year, you’re bound to pick up some great budget-friendly patterns.

Kathryn M. Ireland
636 North Almont Drive
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(310) 246-1906

No, not that Kathy Ireland. Kathryn M. Ireland is a Los Angeles-based interior and textile designer who creates amazing fabric. I love her Moroccan and African-inspired textiles for interiors.

Kiitos Marimekko
1262 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10021
(800) 527-0624

It’s hard to beat this classic Finnish design house’s colorful fabrics, and Kiitos Marimekko offers a wide range of their designs by the yard.

Lotta Jansdotter
Online only

Lotta’s sweet prints are perfect for clothing and home décor accessories.

Mod Green Pod
Online only

I love Mod Green Pod’s colorful patterns and printed organic cotton.

Mood Fabrics
Los Angeles, California, and New York, New York

Most people will know Mood from its recurring role as Project Runway’s fabric supplier, but they’re also open to non-reality show contestants. You can find a huge range of fabrics here for clothing, crafts and even upholstery.

Purl Soho
459 Broome Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 420-8796

In addition to an amazing array of colorful fabrics from contemporary designers like Amy Butler and Joel Dewberry, Purl also stocks craft supplies, embroidery and needlepoint supplies and crochet tools.

Online only

Awesome indie-designed fabric- you can even print your own here!

Studio Bon
Online only

Designer Bonnee Sharp’s fabrics are a wonderful combination of fun and sophisticated. I love her combination of rich dark brown and black patterns on off-white linens.

Textile Arts
Online only

Textile Arts offers a great range of fabrics from Marimekko to Jungsbergs. Their Marimekko oilcloth fabric collections are great because of the moisture-repellent finishes.


Available at stores across the United States

Behr has a great collection of bright colors that are perfect for sunrooms, children’s rooms and any space that needs a bright splash of color.

Benjamin Moore
Available at stores across the United States

I trust Benjamin Moore paints for almost all my home projects. I love using warm gray colors at home, and their collection of grays is fantastic.

California Paints
Available at stores across the United States

California Paints offers a great range of eco-friendly paints (zero VOCs) and an impressive historical paint selection.

Farrow & Ball
Available at stores across the United States

Farrow & Ball is the Rolls-Royce of paints. I would blindly trust just about any color they make. They dry beautifully and come in classic, trusted colors.

Hudson Paint
Online only

Hudson Paint makes an amazing collection of colored chalkboard paint. I am obsessed with their “Mercantile Red” color — it’s so unexpected for a painted chalkboard.

Martha Stewart Living Paint
Available at Home Depot stores across the United States

Martha’s paint colors are as classic and fresh as her signature style.

Montana Spray Paint
Available at most art supply stores (check their website for listings)

Montana Spray Paint supplies one of the widest ranges of beautiful spray paint colors around. A must-have for any before & after makeover artist.


Changing out hardware is the fastest — and sometimes least expensive — way to update a piece of furniture. Here are some of my favorite places to pick up great decorative hardware.

Multiple locations across the United States

Anthropologie’s hardware is my first and last stop for hardware. They always have affordable decorative hardware in a wide range of styles.

886 17th Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
(877) 864-KNOB

Bauerware has a great collection of funky knobs and pulls.

House of Antique Hardware
Online only

If you’re craving something that feels antique, House of Antique Hardware has a great selection of reproduction hardware.

Online only

This website has a huge collection of knobs, pulls, door hardware and everything else in between. I love their twig- and branch-style pulls.

Urban Archeology
Locations in Boston, Massachusetts; New York, New York; and Chicago, Illinois

I love Urban Archeology’s collection of metal pulls.


Ann Sacks
Multiple showrooms across the United States

Ann Sacks penny tile is one of my favorite tile styles around. Her colorful collaboration with designer Angela Adams is a favorite, as well.

Habitus Architectural Finishes
166 East 108th Street
New York, New York 10029
(212) 426.5500

Habitus makes an amazing line of cork mosaic tiles (made from the refuse produced by cork bottle-stopper factories) that are available in natural cork colors or a wide range of custom colors.

Heath Ceramics
Locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sausalito California

Heath’s collection of handmade tiles is number one in my book. Their glazes are stunning, and I love their “Dimensional” collection tiles with raised patterns. Be sure to check out their Overstock and “Seconds” collections for discounts.


Allan the Gallant

These hand-drawn wallpapers are truly unique and remind me of a great sketchbook reproduced in full wall size.

Locations across the United States

Anthropologie stocks a great collection of wallpaper from a wide range of contemporary designers, and many are peel and stick papers!

Ferm Living

Ferm Living’s wallpapers combine bold graphic patterns with bright colors.

Fine Little Day

Artist Elisabeth Dunker’s hand-drawn wallpapers are a wonderful, non-traditional alternative to patterned papers. She even has a design that was a collaboration between her and her eight-year-old son, Otto.

Flavor Paper
216 Pacific Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

If you love bold ’70s-inspired Mylar papers, Flavor Paper is your company. Their electric colors and groovy patterns are cool enough for a club but feel equally at home in a cool downtown apartment.

Graham & Brown
Multiple locations across the United States and online

Graham & Brown recently did an amazing collection of wallpapers with Amy Butler that is wonderfully colorful. But they have a huge range of designs to suit any style.

Grow House Grow

Brooklyn-based designer Katie Deedy has created a beautiful wallpaper line inspired by nature, ocean life and female scientists.

Hygge & West

Hygge & West carries a great collection of wallpapers designed by independent artists like Julia Rothman (who did the illustrations for Design*Sponge at Home!), Joy Cho and Emily Marie Cox.

Jocelyn Warner
Various locations throughout the United States (check website for listings)

Jocelyn Warner’s metallic wallpaper patterns make me weak in the knees. They’re both feminine and sophisticated.

Madison and Grow
Various locations throughout the United States (check website for listings)

Madison and Grow’s colorful, slightly preppy patterns are the perfect solution for boring walls.


Portland, Oregon’s Makelike creates playful wallpaper designs with cactus-inspired imagery.

Miss Print
Multiple locations across the United States and Online

Miss Print is a London-based design studio that creates a charmingly retro line of wallpapers.

Mod Green Pod
Online only

In addition to their fabrics, Mod Green Pod also offers wallpaper versions of their designs.

Nama Rococo

Designer Karen Combs’ hand-painted wallpapers are worth the splurge. If I owned a home of my own (rather than renting), I would have covered a room in her magnificent designs already.

Secondhand Rose
New York

Secondhand Rose is a New York City gem. Their collection of vintage wallpapers is unparalleled.

Turner Peacock

Turner Peacock designs whimsical wallpaper with tennis, zebra and cricket patterns.

Walnut Wallpaper
7424 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
(323) 932-9166

Walnut Wallpaper is my one-stop shop for bold, bright and funky wallpaper designs. They have a great mix of vintage-inspired designs and unexpected contemporary designs.

Suggested For You


  • You’ve hit the nail on the head! I haven’t had the confidence to throw myself into starting a project like refurbishing the dining table that I grew up eating upon as a child because I didn’t know the first thing on how to strip a table let alone have the tools to do so. Thank you for creating this new column!

  • This is great! Thank you so much for this; I have decided that 2013 will be the year that I stop being intimidated by furniture and start getting to work in revitalizing gorgeous pieces. This will be a huge help!

  • Whoot Whoot! I don’t think I’ve ever commented here before; though I am a frequent visitor for the eye candy/inspiration. :) I’m sooo excited to here your plans for the *new and improved* before and after. I have always enjoyed the posts but sometimes struggle with the attempting to recreate. Good luck and thank you for what you are planning to undertake.

  • The best DIY advice I’ve ever received was from the guy in the tool section of Home Depot when I was buying a new drill. “Are you going to be using your drill up on your roof?” (No) “Then don’t buy a cordless drill. Buy an extension cord.” Best advice. I’ve had a million not exactly cheap cordless drills. Over time, the batteries always lose their ability to hold a charge and often run out of juice at a critical juncture. My corded drill was much cheaper, is much more powerful, never goes dead in the middle of a project, and has lasted much longer than any of my cordless drills. I’ve never been in a situation where the extension cord didn’t reach.

  • Great list! And I have all of it. Another great resource: friending a plant maintenance foreman, carpenter, and/or a shop teacher. I have one of each who willingly listen to my issues and provide wise counsel. And they let me borrow tools.

  • I like where this is headed. I still like seeing the Before and Afters and the details, but adding the education component will definitely be a welcome add.

  • Actually, frustrated by some very bad finishing jobs I saw on Craigslist, I did a couple of wood cleaning tutorials on my blog. I have tackled just about everything in our house with one of these two methods. Here’s for when you have a wood piece with a sealed finish that needs serious cleaning: http://piesandpuggles.blogspot.com/2012/09/project-refresh-wood-dresser.html and here’s for when you have a wood piece that has a finish on it that leaves wood pores open: http://piesandpuggles.blogspot.com/2012/09/caring-for-wood-part-1.html. It would be a true service for you to find an expert on wood refinishing and have them do some befores and afters for you. I don’t mind if people paint wood furniture. I only mind that they often do it so very badly.

    Anyway, for this list, for any kind of wood finishing/refinishing or painting project, I’d add disposable lint free painters cloths (can’t use old t-shirts if you want a dust-free finish) and 0000 steel wool at an absolute minimum. I use steel wool way more often than I use sandpaper.

  • Yes! Please include educational materials for reupholstering, and not just replacing the fabric–I mean building from the frame up. Too many times I see a great reupholstered piece online and when I go to the blog post nothing is mentioned about the actual rebuild (or they just sent it somewhere to be done). I would love more details and tips on really involved DIY projects!

  • WOW. This is spectacular. I am so excited to experience this new portion of D*S. Thank you for sharing! I do have some confidence but my boyfriend is so handy and loves to help (I have a keeper, don’t I?) so I usually let him do all the dirty work. But like a lot of us I want the total confidence and know-how to say to my boyfriend, “don’t worry, I got this!”

  • great list!! i would like to say that a rotary saw or some kind of electrical saw is a GREAT investment and saves a lot of time and frustration. i love handsaws, the aesthetics and using them is great but can sometimes be extremely frustrating for beginners. also, for workgloves i recommend checking out http://geierglove.com/ … it was really hard for me to find a pair of workgloves that fit right (aka weren’t bulky man gloves). on the geir site there is a fit guide, their gloves are made in the usa and available online through various retailers. they’re well made, not super expensive (anywhere between 40-70) and fit freakin perfectly! i look forward to this upcoming in depth series!!

  • Yay Grace! I didn’t think I could love Design Sponge any more, but this morning I’m experiencing a whole new wave of appreciation. This idea is great and the resources above are a treasure trove. Thank You!

  • What a super idea! There are so many skills I don’t possess and would love to learn. Looking very much forward to this series, mlise
    P.S. How do you clean vintage lacquer bowls???

  • Before starting any project always good to think of the clean up. I have had to throw away perfectly good paint brushes because I did not have any thinners in the house after varnishing.
    If you have the tool box also a good place to start stashing a little News paper, Old rags and a jar for re-using thinners (any glass jar with a well securing metal lid).

  • Don’t forget Clamps. Big, little, bar, “C” and absolutely a Kreg pocket hole jig. I’ve got the big guy in its case with a variety of screws. Which leads itself to the appropriate drill bits and screw tips!

    I don’t see a random, orbital sander on the list, which to those redoux-ing, is a God send. It can stop a beginner from being discouraged at muscle sanding fatigue!
    I also love my Compound Mitre saw, but that’s getting into less beginner DIY things.

    Something discussion regarding the right screw for the job. When I begain building and installing my own cabinets, I had no idea that drywall screws weren’t the only screw in town. Square head screws for joining cabinets, the correct screws for hanging them, wood vs. other material screws, etc.

    Really enjoying your site. :)

  • I have to say, the new and improved Before and After has been less than thrilling. Before and After was one of my favorite things about any given Thursday.

  • Grace, I, too, am sad that Before and After has changed. It was that feature that originally lured me to DesignSponge and kept me faithfully coming back. I keep checking every few Thursdays to see, if the furniture and room makeovers I so love have returned. Absolutely, there is a place for the new “how to” format, but I really hope you’ll consider making it it’s own thing and bring back the “real” Before and After! Thanks for a wonderful site!

    • monique and grace

      the “real” b&as are starting again tomorrow, as i said they would. i explained this new format was temporary until i felt we’d taught some basics.


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