As a blogger who writes about design, one of the questions I’m asked the most is to define my personal style. I’ve been asked to define it “using only three words” or “if it was an animal” or, my personal favorite, “if it was a food!” (I said “ham sandwich” for some reason.)
While this question is never asked with any maliciousness, it’s always felt like someone poking at a bruise I didn’t want anyone to see. Because for a long time I’ve felt like an impostor. My personal life looks different than the things I post about here at Design*Sponge. And that seems to really upset and unhinge some people — and for a while, it unhinged me, too.
A few months ago I was having a discussion with someone in the comment section here where I mentioned that I don’t own most of the things that we post. Not because I don’t love or support those things (I do, deeply), but because I simply don’t decorate in the exact same way I post online. This upset the commenter a lot and left me wondering if I really was betraying people for not being the living embodiment of the company I run online. It made me wonder, can I love a certain style and run a brand that’s known for it without actually carrying it through to my real life?
After this exchange I thought back to all of the awkward exchanges I’ve had with people at work events over the years. Some people seem to visibly wither when they realize that I’m not dressed in head-to-toe pink, like a human cupcake. They actually say that sometimes. “I imagined you’d be in some sort of hot pink tutu, like a cupcake.”
I understand that there’s always a bit of a disconnect when you see someone or something in real life after being introduced to it online. I’ve found myself saying things like, “Oh, they’re so much taller in real life!” or “I didn’t expect them to be so quiet!” It’s as if hearing, “they’re exactly how I thought they’d be,” would be the the biggest compliment anyone could receive.
But very few people are 100% of what you see online. Even if someone’s brand and personal style go perfectly hand-in-hand (which feels like what most readers and advertisers want from bloggers), you’re still not getting the full picture. But celebrating that concept doesn’t make for a neat and tidy post or Instagram photo. It’s hard to fit, “I’m a complex person, like we all are, and while I really enjoy glitter and hot pink and stripes, in my personal life I tend to be too overwhelmed with business decisions and personal stress, so I live minimally and wear the same white, black and grey uniform every day and leave most of my things in piles around the house!” into a cute, hashtaggable image.
I recognize this isn’t anywhere near a serious problem in comparison to survival issues facing so many people in our community and the world at large, but sometimes when I’m quiet and on my own, I worry if people would trust me or the more serious work we’re trying to do at Design*Sponge less if they find out I’m not a super pulled together person (I’m actually really messy, just ask Julia) with great personal style. I worry that I’ll do my team and the essays and the people sharing their voices here a disservice if I don’t step up and play the visual part I think people want me to.
I know deep down it’s okay to be a complicated and perhaps contradictory person, internally and externally. But I’ve always wanted to find a better way to encapsulate the way I feel. So when I came across designer Nick Misani’s Instagram feed and read his bio line, something clicked.
His bio said: “Minimalist obsessed with ornament.”
In that moment I felt like I’d finally figured out how to describe the difference between my life and work self. At home I’m a minimalist who finds it calming to be around simple things that get the job done and don’t require much thought. But when it comes to work and inspiration and fun, my eye will ALWAYS be drawn toward shine and color and detail and texture and pattern (stripes!). I just don’t want to live around those things all day. I like to admire them in small doses and talk about them and celebrate people who do enjoy incorporating that exuberant style into their daily life. But at home I’ve grown into a style that feels more about function than form. One isn’t any better than the other, they’re just different. And I love them both.
Above: my style go-tos: jeans, stripes and black and white. When I’m comfortable I do my best work.
I recognize that the styles I’ve grown comfortable with at home and work may change over time, but I also know that there is a style that people have come to expect here at Design*Sponge, and want to feel comfortable knowing they can return here years later. I want to deliver consistency and trust and honesty here, and I will always work toward that. I think there’s room to grow and evolve Design*Sponge into a place that honors our historic love of pink but also makes more room for styles that are simpler and don’t have a lot of ornamentation.
I’m still working on finding that balance and making it interesting enough to make people click through to read — even if it doesn’t lead with a shiny, colorful picture. I haven’t quite figured it out, but I am so thankful to those of you who return here on a daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly basis. Your support has helped so many of us here, on both sides of the blog, to find ourselves and our styles and embrace them as they change over the years. So while my personal style may change and our site may evolve in its visual presentation, I can promise you consistency in one important area: We will always provide a safe and supportive space for you to share your homes, your lives and your stories. And whenever we fail to do that, we will work hard to change and improve anything we need to make you all feel welcome here. xo, Grace
*The top photo of my shoes was taken in a cab on the way to a work meeting. I’d taken an early bus into the city and completely forgotten to change out of my “home” clothes into “professional” clothes and panicked a little. But the end result was me feeling most like myself in that meeting and having the confidence to say and ask for what I really needed. So while I will probably not always arrive muddy from a dog walk, I learned that I’m more comfortable (and do my best work) when I’m not dressing up and trying to be someone I’m not.