How I Finally Found My Personal Style At Age 36

by Grace Bonney

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.


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    • This is so true! As a designer, I feel conflicted about not using my style as a form of expression. Thanks for sharing that it is OK to just be you. (:

  • This is such interesting insight and the timing is perfect–thank you, Grace. Last week you featured a fabulous home with soooooo much color and it spoke to me. At the end of the article was the home-owner who also looked fabulous with soooooo much color and I thought to myself, well that makes sense. But then it didn’t make sense, because some part of me loves Dolly Parton’s big hair and glitter and flamboyant personality, and yet I am the opposite of her and for years described my personal style as “early GAP”–jeans, black, minimal. It is an interesting dichotomy and one that I have struggled with and yet, I have given myself permission to be okay with it even if it does confuse me sometimes. Thanks for bringing it to light–one of the reasons I enjoy this blog so much is because it does not remain the same, and it is helpful to see others grow and evolve and share their experiences.

  • Nice post Grace. I think we all have different sides or even things that we’re aspiring towards. Part of any creative endeavour is to explore these and I personally think the two don’t need to fit together but are just facets of ourselves. There is enormous pressure these days to live in a perfect home, dress a certain way which to me becomes a little homogenous. I like that you crack this open and question it.

  • Great essay. I loathe the term “personal branding” because I’ve always felt it minimizes people and reduces them to a narrow, confined box. In my opinion, the most interesting people are often contradictory. Keep up the great work.

    • I agree, great article. I’m interested to understand what term might encapsulate ‘finding your style ‘ in a better way than ‘personal branding ‘…. which presented as you have, makes it sound restrictive rather than liberating…. which when identified correctly is so liberating, it’s more like ‘transformational’!

      • Hi Jackie: That’s a great question. I guess when I thought of “personal branding” I was thinking it was the opposite of “finding your style”. I was thinking that the former IS constricting in that people evolve, and many “brands” (For example, companies) sometimes have trouble evolving and can be constricted. When I think “finding your style” or “personal style” I feel like it naturally encompasses liberation. I see what your saying and I guess my not very cohesive answer is that I would have to think about that more!

  • Your personal style is awesome and shows the real you. Anyone who has an issue with it has an expectation that will probably never be met, no matter how you dress. Your blog is the most peaceful, informative sources for current trends available on line and as life evolves, so does Design Sponge, and that’s what keeps me reading. Congratulations, and thank you Grace, xxoo.

  • This is timely for me, and the following is slightly off-topic, but I think there’s a connection between aging, growing, and changing as a person to being comfortable enough with yourself to identify how clothing enhances your inner-self. Did that make sense?

    1. I’m in my 40’s and it was earlier this summer that I began to realize what “my style” really is: jeans, a nice t-shirt, and loafers. Maybe a simple silver necklace or leather bracelet, too.

    2. I’m also at a point in my life that I’m more open to the opinions and critiques of others regarding my artwork without getting defensive or feeling hurt.

    These have to be related.

    When I was younger, older people always told me that as you age, you “lose your competitive edge”. While that might be somewhat true, what they didn’t tell me was that your priorities will change, thus rendering the need to be competitive almost obsolete.

    So happy about that!

  • Every time I try to aspire to a particular personal style, I pretty much end up back in my mom jeans and sneakers. It’s not that I don’t want to be fabulous, it’s just that I can’t manage it and still, like, keep my children fed and clothed. Style is something that speaks to me, but it isn’t important enough to actually take up a big portion of my time. At least, not currently.

    In fact, sometimes I need to take a step back from all the style (I regularly delete Pinterest and Instagram from my phone) because I end up comparing myself harshly against these amazing examples online. I want to be all of them at once; pink and frilly and minimalist and oooooh, how about I buy, like, a thousand houseplants that I will immediately kill because I suck at plants? And then I get sad and spendy.

  • Thank you for sharing, Grace! I have had similar thoughts about my personal style percolating in my head this whole summer. In my artwork, I love to use a wide variety of color and pattern so I figured I should apply that same thinking to my clothing and dress the patterned part. Slowly, though, I have realized that a simpler personal clothing style allows for one less decision to make during the day so that I can put my focus elsewhere.

  • I am so thrilled you decided to write about this. If I remember correctly, I think I left this long, yammering comment on your last essay where I talked about this a little, but one of the things I really want to accomplish with my blog, which is unknown but totally fun to write, is providing a more realistic glimpse of what a “lifestyle” actually looks like. Which is not to put down other lifestyle blogs, by any means. I love the way you’ve curated the D*S style here. The photography is gorgeous. Of course, this is also more of a design blog than lifestyle, but I think the latter still applies to a degree. But since the focus here is on design I think it’s just business smart for you to have approached things the way you have, regardless of what your personal life looks like. Honestly, it’s interesting and refreshing to see that your life doesn’t look the way the lives in D*S’s home tours do. While they’re beautiful creations, they’re not realistic in terms of the day-to-day living experience. Life is messy, even for the neat freak. Ask my mom. That’s why it was very important for me to find a way to re-approach the idea of the “lifestyle” blog, so I came up with the phrase “literary lifestyle,” which is just to say that I’m using my love of literature (which is used to give voice to the beautiful if not challenging textures of life) in a way that is, yes, curated, but curated with a style of living that reflects the true aesthetic of the life I experience on a daily basis. Because I’ve always been uncomfortable with the genre of lifestyle blogs the way they’re typically visualized and written. Your essays are actually my favorite aspect of this space, because I prefer thought-provoking content married with thoughtful, well-crafted imagery. So, anyway, all of that was to say that I appreciate your openness about the issue. Please keep these essays coming. <3

  • I always steal the phrase “I’m an exhibitionist who wants to hide” by David Foster Wallace, which describes me perfectly. I love to be online and I’ve had blogs since the 90’s, however I rarely post selfies and I always write under a pseudonym.
    I started to create a line of leggings and scarves with watercolor designs that are super colorful and I wondered all the time if I would wear them, some I would, but I’m also a minimalist. I am a jeans and t-shirt (and blundstones) type of woman, but my Pinterest boards are full of color, high heels, Gentlewoman style. So this article resonates so much and mirrors many of the questions and doubts I’ve had as I put my work out into the world.
    Thank you for being so eloquent as usual :)

  • I would describe your style as classic. You can never go wrong with stripes, jeans, or a white shirt, IMO! I think you look pulled together and beautiful in every picture you posted with this essay.

  • Fantastic post – I think many people with a online presence struggle with the inevitable disparity between the their digital and physical selves.

    I’d encourage you to not feel like designsponge has to represent a specific aesthetic. I have a very different personal aesthetic than what is usually represented on designsponge, but I find myself logging in for the stories about people and how their homes reflect who they truly are. Being married to a certain aesthetic can sometimes lead to stagnancy, but human stories will ALWAYS be relevant.

    • Thanks, Erin.

      I honestly do feel like D*S represents a wider range of styles and looks, but my personal experience has been that most people seem to associate us with “all pink all the time“. I wish that wasn’t the case, but I’m glad to know that not everyone feels that way. I guess I gravitate toward and connect more with pieces we post that remind me of my personal aesthetic and other people with different aesthetics do the same, so I guess D*S can be and look like a lot of different things to different people ;)


  • Thanks so much for sharing this! I love what you post on the site but I totally get what you mean! I’ve been struggling with this and have spent the past year trying to reinvent my work wardrobe into something that’s equal parts functional, comfortable, fashionable (I work in the beauty industry), but still
    Feels simple and like myself. Turns out it’s hard! But so much more comfortable and rewarding. I feel myself go through the same imposter syndrome with my art, where everything I see and love is so wonderfully simple and minimalistic, but as soon as I start creating it seems to get cluttered and crazy. Thanks for talking about this, always good to hear ☺️

  • Thank you for this, Grace. It’s a really beautiful reminder for me (especially in conjunction with your last essay) that honesty is a graceful way to free yourself from fear of judgement.

  • Great post, Grace! I’ve always felt that great design is about finding the most elegant solution; not just finding the pretty, but getting to what fits the context, solves the problem (even if the ‘problem’ is that you just want to put glitter on something). So I don’t find it incongruous with D*S that you are a jeans-and-tee girl — if it fits your life, then it’s beautiful. (Side note: you and Julia look SO radiantly happy in your photos together that you could be wearing a potato sack and it wouldn’t matter!)

  • Funny, I’ve never imagined you in a pink tutu! Maybe because I follow you on Instagram I’ve seen your personal posts on occasion. Regardless, I think your personal style seems perfectly in tune with the style of the D*S brand. And even if it wasn’t, who cares!? Thanks for making D*S one of my favorite go-to’s for design inspiration!

    • Thanks, Kerry.

      I do think the nature of Instagram is much more frequent and personal and casual place for me to share things, so I do feel a bit more “myself’ there in a sense. :)


  • I read your wonderful article, and the comments that followed and I wonder why those in this era who write blog articles on design aren’t called “journalists” and how by virtue of the media, those authors are expected to become their subject matter, rather than present ideas for inspiration.
    As an older reader who grew up during the print media era, when our shelter design info was available only in periodicals written by well trained, professional journalists, I am naturally attracted to blogs that present this same level of professionalism. I find that lifestyle blogs are a different breed entirely, where personality and personal beauty of the author can make or break its success.
    I have always found your POV to be very intelligent, and your eye for detail exceptional, if not genius. You have an uncanny ability to call a trend years before it ‘arrives’. It’s your ‘cool hunter’ gift along with exceptional editorial ability that have made Design Sponge a cut above the cupcake lifestyle décor blogs.
    I don’t know where the pink reference is coming from, but I am guessing that if those readers actually spent time on Design Sponge and went back in time to get a better feel for your aesthetic, they wouldn’t be making that reference. In fact, you dress exactly how I would expect you to look, as a former Brooklynite (yes?) who brought the rustic, industrial, school house, traveler, greenery trends to light.
    And finally I have to comment on some of your readers perception that you should be dressing and living in the same design style, something I find to be an absurd notion. Anyone who understands the psychology of apparel and appearance wouldn’t be making that comparison. How we present ourselves may hint at what we like, but to theme dress is going overboard, and certainly that undermines how one is perceived by others. We all should choose comfort and styles that feel like who we are (look at Martha, she’s figured that out). You have proven design instincts and I look forward to another decade of cool things coming from Design Sponge!

  • Grace, one of the reasons I love Design Sponge is because of the diversity represented in the posts. It really is about style. It is not about your personal style, or anyone’s in particular, so for me it reflects a much greater sense of sophistication and appreciation for design in all its forms. Good design is not just about pretty, it is about functionality. I ride my bike 6 miles in the heat to work, so I find myself wearing the clothes that hold up and look presentable after being folder up in a basket, and that means that my wardrobe is minimal, and I feel really good about that! When I was younger, I wanted to have a home that was picture perfect and when the flooding that resulted from Hurricane Katrina destroyed the contents of my house, I re-calibrated all of the notions I had of what a beautiful home is, and it was a great lesson to learn. How lucky we are that we can evolve our views on style, design and how to live into the most suitable, comfortable and confident version of ourselves!

  • I am a graphic designer, and while I love fashion and interior design, sometimes I feel “designed out” when trying to apply what I do to all aspects of my life. I find it telling except for the ones I went to school with, I do not seek out designers/artists outside of work—I gravitate to those I feel comfortable with and don’t have to “put a show on” for. In fact I’m freaking out right now because I have an architect relative visiting me soon and I am desperately trying to get my house into some semblance that a designer lives in it—ha. Hard to do with two small kids : ) What I love and what I buy are often two totally different things, and when I try to dress how I “think I should” I often fail miserably. I’ve read your blog for years (met you on your first book tour) and was not surprised at all by your outfit or in-person persona. We should all feel free to dream big but live simply, or vice-versa!

  • Grace, if you owned most of the things you share on the blog where on earth would you put them? I know that’s not the point of the essay but I can’t seem to get the image of your house crammed full of stuff out of my head. For the record, I love your style.

    • Sunshine

      LOL. Good point. I had an era where my house was that cluttered about a decade ago. But then I dug a little deeper and realized I was buying things to stave off bigger, scarier feelings I wasn’t addressing in my life. Once I started to live more openly and honestly I found I needed fewer and fewer “things” around me…


  • Thank you so much for this post! I’m a graphic designer and have always struggled with my personal style. All the designers I know wear cute outfits or have a fantastic eclectic style. And then there is me: t-shirt, jeans and flats (or flip-flops). I gravitate towards comfort and like you said, do my best work when I’m not encumbered with bangles and really tight tights. I often fear I’m being judged and my abilities are overlooked. And here’s the kicker – I’m 45. So kudos to you for getting to this earlier. You continue to be a great inspiration. Go Grace!

    • Natalie

      Waving from NY with flip flops in my hands- I grew up in a beach town so they will ALWAYS be a part of my life. Even though I know some people find them totally gross. I think there is no more comfortable shoe than a flip flop ;)


  • Thank you for putting into words something I have struggled with for years. I completely identify with ‘imposter syndrome’ and have felt like a fraud/imposter most of my working life, waiting to be caught out! For years I have had people hassling me about always wearing black etc (I prefer the colour in my home than on me) but being an anxious person I just want to be comfortable so I can relax and focus on the work or play that I’m doing rather than constantly worrying about what I’m wearing. Your article has given me confidence to push forward with minimalism in my home/life and enjoy the freedom it will bring. Here’s to no longer feeling like a fraud but embracing the contradictions & complexities of our personalities!

  • You do you, Grace. That’s why we’re all here. (Meaning we all visit this corner of the internet because we love what you do. But also we’re all here in the world to be us and to do the things only we can do in the ways only we can do them.) xo

  • Very candid post Grace. It really resonates. I think it demonstrates that what we do, what we like, what we communicate, they’re aspects of our selves, but on their own they can’t wholly define us. It would be very dull if we were all just manifestations of our work. Thanks for sharing.

  • been reading D*S for years and never once thought PINK or CUPCAKE (if anyone has read your personal articles or books they would know better). D*S is the one site i’ve never stopped reading as my own style tastes have shifted… keep up the great work. ~a graphic designer who loves home design too.

  • One of the things I love most about D*S* is its authenticity and diversity — in the people, homes and businesses you feature and in your commentaries.

    I’ve never felt that D*S* espouses any given style over another. All that seems to matter is that it is real to the people live in them.

    It’s refreshing in this world of fads and trends to see lovely homes that really reflect their inhabitants and are unafraid to be themselves.

  • Michael Kors, a very brilliant and creative fashion designer, is himself dressed very simply; nothing wrong with that :)
    We just have to be authentic.

  • Pink? Cupcakes and tutus? Me thinks these people haven’t been paying attention because that isn’t my impression of this brand at all.

  • Great essay. Really surprised people give feedback that they aren’t happy with your personal style, I love your personal style!!! Although, to be fair, that shouldn’t matter either. I just appreciate a role model who keeps it simple and comfy. The work here is great and I appreciate the team profiling a variety of spaces and styles. Has anyone watched project runway? I think of how the designers usually don’t dress how they design, just because they like and create one way doesn’t mean that’s what they’re comfortable in. Good food for thought! And yay for more personal essays here at Design Sponge!

  • Hello Grace, I simply adore your blog. For me, it is a source of both visual and intellectual inspiration. I have only been a reader for one year and I was wondering have you ever showcased homes from different countries? As a child I always wanted to have a treehouse, I would love to see a treehouse featured on your blog. Grace, thank you for your gorgeous blog.

  • At the age of 59 (scarey) I have a couple of comments. Once I got over the ‘fashion thing’s I just went with what I love to wear (swizzy skirts, jeans, colour, texture & natural fibres) & felt my confidence grow in me. I’m a lover of design, hate pink but your blog is top of my list because you celebrate the individuality of how people live, love & navigate their world’s. Ps I live in what in Australia is an old house with stained glass windows & Baltic pine floors (c1920) but are a. mazed by your beautiful house, please show more. Some more of Julia’s great recipes would also be appreciated. Conclusion? It’s not about how you dress, it’s the content of what you share with us. Go girl!

  • Beautiful, thank you. I love the visuals of D*S but even more I come here for your heart, which comes through in your work. Thank you for again sharing it with us.

  • Great article. I can definitely relate. I was also reminded of a story from a popular chef, I can’t remember who now, but he said people would expect him to eat elaborate dinners at home but most nights he just had a bowl of cereal. Fans would be shocked when they heard but he just didn’t have the time or energy at home. Just because you love something or love doing something doesn’t mean who can do that thing or be that vision all the time.

  • I am one of those people who would love to be more put together in theory, but in reality almost always default to comfort. I sometimes feel frumpy or boring, and get down about myself about how I dress. But I finally realized that even on the rare occasions that I make more of an effort and buy nicer stuff, I still mostly end up choosing my same-old same-old clothes. I get resentful sometime about how much of our time and money we’re expected, as women, to pour into our appearance. Between skin care, makeup, hair care, clothing, jewelry, purses, shoes, etc., it’s so, so much. If those things make you really happy and thus the time and money are good investments for you, that’s wonderful! It’s the expectation that makes me angry. I finally let go of theory and decided to embrace my reality. Then, as soon as I did that, I started to feel like I couldn’t ever dress up, because I was letting go of all of that, wasn’t I? It occurred to me reading your essay that I’d fallen into the trap of thinking I can only be one way all of the time, as though it would be some weird inconsistency in identity to be a mostly jeans and t-shirts woman who occasionally enjoys a nice dress and heels. It’s not. We are all multitudes.

  • So much of this!!!! I’m a commercial interior designer. I may not have a blog but I feel a certain expectation to look a certain way, especially at work. Over the years, however, I settled into my style of jeans and a nice top (and generally a cardigan) for the office. I had to go onto construction sites and cute, designery clothes were just impractical anyway. When I changed jobs last year, I told my new boss up front that I wear jeans every day and she said was fine with it as long as they didn’t have holes. I’m pretty comfortable with my style now but still feel like I might be doing something wrong when I go to professional events. I came back from one saying everyone there was “shiny.” I’m just not a “shiny” person and I don’t think I could be one if I tried.

  • Grace,

    Thank you for being so honest, vulnerable, and human in your writing. Your essays like this bring me a sense of peace and relief.


  • so true ! i really don’t have your visibility for my blog, but in real life i work in a creative domain, and i often find myself awkward because my style is so easy to wear (same grey uniform :) and so different that i could propose to my clients. i suppose they are surprised (disappointed ?) when they see me.
    anyway, thank you to share that with us (and all these amazing and inspiring posts

  • Hi Grace! I’ve seen you in real life a few times over the years, and I think you have great style. It reminds me of the pictures I’ve seen of your apartment and house – very comfortable, and quietly stylish, without trying too hard. I love it. :D

  • If I had to guess your real life “style” I would’ve said, “kind. Someone you’d want for a friend. Someone who is thoughtful and smart.” Is that pink? ;)

    Grace, keep on keeping it real. I like the real you. You make this make believe world a nicer one.

    It’s ok to like it all, but not want to actually BE it all.

    Such good comments on this post :)

  • Such a great post! As we have all been bombarded with branding advice (find your niche, be consistent, narrow it down) in the past couple of years, we’re all now realizing that “hey! we’re actual people!”. We aren’t built to always follow a singular path that we display as our brand. We are ever-changing, growing, lesson-learning individuals! We aren’t brands. Companies can be a brand but probably not people. Thanks for sharing, all the best!

  • You know what’s funny is your “style” is exactly what I would it expect it to be. After reading your blog for years and years and years I’ve seen you grow into a more centered comfortable in your own skin kind of person (at least that is my perception of it). I actually find that instead of the two being contradictory it is actually complimentary. The yin and yang of life and in balance. You fill your desire for love of color, objects, maxamisim (sp?), attention and creativity, or as you say cupcakes and tutu’s, here on the blog. This results in a need/want for simplicity, function, minimalism in the everyday. You don’t want to make a hundred more decisions in the everyday since you already do that in your work. You instead prefer the calm to recharge, a personal self care. Your seeking and living a balanced harmonious life and I think that is awesome!

  • !!! I’ve been a reader of Design Sponge for a decent while and have never commented, but this really spoke to me so i’ve been inspired i guess !
    As someone with a passion for many things design, fashion, and style related i’ve had this exact same dilemma and similar realization that my personal style tends towards functionality, despite the wide range of styles i’m drawn to. I don’t know if anyone else commented this – but it made me think of all the fashion designers who wear minimal and functional clothing that is in complete contrast to their designs – they express their tastes through their design, not their personal clothing, and why should the two be identical or even conflated? Like you said – we’re all multifaceted human beings! our tastes don’t need to be reduced to a neat catch phrase.

    thank you for sharing this beautifully honest post! shout out to everyone evolving and learning while on their style journey

  • I love hearing this! I also have a love for all things shiny, glittery and ornate but tend to live more simply in my day to day life. While I do love to dress up, I keep my home more soft and comfortable than dressed up and pretty. At the same time, I love to create items that make a statement for the home. I’m a conundrum that way. It feels so good to hear that someone else is too!

  • I love this about you and Design Sponge! Recently I’ve grown a little disenchanted with the blog world because I feel like so many blogs have become inauthentic. I have never felt that about you and Design Sponge. You can wear jeans and a tee-shirt and still appreciate great design, the same way I can lust after pretty things while sitting on my couch covered in dog hair ;)

  • Grace you’re not alone in this. I design complicated surface pattern designs that I love and are truly my “art” style but my home is very much a pattern free zone. I think my brain needs a visual resting space and home is my chill out zone. I also love jewellery but don’t wear it. And I’m obsessed with colour theory but feel most comfortable in black clothes. As a long time reader of D*S I know you have always been authentic even when that’s been tricky. Cx

  • The best eyes for design often come from those who live in minimal. I remember seeing pictures of fashion designers dressed in the most basic outfit (I watch street fashion like a hobby) and being at first shocked and then grounded that their work is forefront and their personal is quiet. Simplicity is the building block of any good [ insert here ].

  • Grace, Thank you so much for sharing this. I was a huge (HUGE!) D*S fan for a number of years–I read everything–and then I gradually began to feel more and more disconnected from what I was seeing in the posts. I felt like the put-together, uber-inspired, minimalist world of these designers was out of reach. It felt out of sync with my messy, largely Target & Ikea life. And it was definitely beyond my means financially. I began to feel like an impostor (or really, more like the middle school term, a “poser”) for even calling myself a D*S reader or a design enthusiast who didn’t know the name of that pattern or who designed what or how to decorate my bedroom with anything beyond dirty laundry. And fashion? Wow, that’s a whole other conversation. Nevertheless, I’ve remained inspired by the creativity of your site and have often found myself reconnecting with some of the more personal, “real” content–in whatever form that may be. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who sometimes feels like this. I’m grateful for a reminder that the world is not always made up of two kinds of people–in this case, “true” design lovers and the rest of us. I’m reading a book right now by Franciscan contemplative Richard Rohr, a book that is challenging me to question the mode of dualistic thinking–so I am delighted by the serendipity of seeing your post this week. And I’m happy for you that you have found what makes you happy! Thank you again! And happy birthday, Design*Sponge!

  • Hooray for Blundstones! Great post – as a 35 year old outdoorsy/comfort-seeking artist I’ve finally found it easier to just dress however i damn well please – and freely flip back and forth between kooky vintage and jeans/fleece.

  • I have to say, knowing you are a messy person gives me hope for myself. I think there is this pervasive myth out there that successful people have everything all put together 100% of the time and I just don’t think that will ever be the case for me. That being said this year I rocked at work, have thrown nearly double digit dinner parties and have been refocusing my creative self. I think there’s this pressure to be “Complete” as a human, and I’m starting to realize that that won’t ever be me (and I don’t want it to be). I love the excitement and flurry and mess of learning new things, about myself and the world.

  • Many interior designers keep their own personal interiors quiet and calm while doing dramatic statements for their clients. Their peaceful environment is exactly why they’re able to bring the drama for others. I see no disconnect or lack of authenticity there. Whatever feeds a creative mind = authentic. Make no apologies for it.

    • I completely agree. I’m an architect who does mostly interiors. If my home/wardrobe/workspace are cluttered or overwhelmingly bold, I have less room in my brain to think of what best suits my clients. I like to think of it as maintaining a neutral palette in my mind and environment upon which many design ideas can grow. Though some would certainly argue that I’m just a boring architect who likes gray and black. :)

  • I respect and love this so much Grace! The less I own in my personal life, the more I can appreciate and honor great displays of art and beauty. Also, I’m happy that Design Sponge is here and that there are non-traditional styles, views and people here along with the fun of exploring styles we may not use IRL.

  • I have to say, that is exactly how I thought you would be/look/dress/and decorate. Years ago, when my sister introduced me to your site, she described the Design Sponge style as feminine, but not too girly. As I have viewed the site over the years, I would add inspiring, comfortable and real to the description. I love seeing the evolution of the site as you, yourself, have evolved as a person over the years.

  • It feels like once I hit 30 I “lost” my sense of style. In my 20s, especially early 20s, heels, dresses, and bright colors were my wardrobe staples. Slowly all of the items I used to wear no longer felt like me. Now I’m figuring out what I feel best in, and how to create a relaxed and professional look. Being in a creative field (luxury kitchen and bath sales/design) almost makes it harder. I have a lot of leeway on how to present a “professional” look, but sometimes that means I look at myself in the middle of the day and say, “You probably should have put a little more effort in your look” (I’m not a morning person, so sometimes it’s grab and go with clothing.) More and more I consider transitioning into all black because it’s easy…but I do love color. Maybe I’ll have it figured out by 36 too!
    By the way, I’m a naturally messy person too. I do best in organized chaos. I’ve controlled it to small piles here and there, and throwing my things into cabinets or decorative baskets. My wife likes to poke fun at me for it but I always respond with, “It’s because I’m creative!”

  • I’ve been reading this blog for a decade, and I’ve always felt like you have portrayed an authenticity and honesty through all of the evolutionary phases of your content, both the blog and social media. I think that’s what keeps your readers coming back for more.

  • This is why I keep coming back to DesignSponge year after year…because of pieces like this. Your honesty, your commitment, your vulnerability…all of it feels real in a way other sites don’t. I love seeing the houses and the decor, but more importantly, the stories of so many varied people and what they consider home. And I kept thinking of Whitman’s words from “Song Of Myself” as I read this because I think we can all relate (if we’re being honest): “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself; I am large, I contain multitudes.” Thank you – please keep doing what you are called to do – the truth of that resonates deeply.

  • This is awesome!- I think Bill Cunningham is a great example of this way of operating in the world!

  • What a relief! Thanks for sharing this perspective. I remember being so inspired by an After the Jump message years ago where you spoke about having a uniform. This post feels like a natural, relatable and beautiful evolution of your personal style. You affirmed for me again that the messy parts of our life are usually the most interesting and delightful.

  • I think both your blog style and personal style are very YOU! Isn’t it odd that we have such expectations of these characters we create from the glimpses we get into people’s lives? I’m in awe of how gracefully bloggers (like yourself) indulge such a variety inquiries…some of them quite presumptuous and invasive. This digital world is still so new in the scheme of things that we readers haven’t fully grasped our boundaries or rules of engagement. Readers demand free content, curation, and intrigue, but also a say in the process and permission to freely critique another’s work and authenticity while benefiting from the guise and anonymity of screen names. Tall order.

    Thanks for sharing your style and for taking us along on the ride.

    PS. Was in Kingston this weekend and saw Julia’s book for sale!

  • Loving this essay. Brave to go ahead and post this aspect of yourself/yourstyle/yourinterests. My husband is a high-end residential architect, but our home is rather humble and plain by comparison. As a librarian who reads ALOT, you’d think I’d have books piled from floor to ceiling in bookshelves, but I hardly have any books. Love the contradictions! (btw, I was one of those comments way back who asked you “grey blazer, huh? what? I’m confused.” hee hee. I ask for forgiveness!

  • I can identify with this so much! I have a lot of passions, and adore many things- but that doesn’t mean that my budget or my house can fit them! Even clothes, just because I like something doesn’t mean that I will feel good in it, and there are millions of DIY projects that I would just love to do- but expense and talent on my end are lacking in some areas. Thank you for this post so much! It is so easy to feel like an outsider or a fraud in your own skin. I think you’re more amazing for this post! I am 38 weeks pregnant with a little girl, and am already planning how to explain things like this to her, so hopefully she doesn’t have to feel as much awkwardness and uncomfort about these things as I have.

  • Great article. I would love to see your minimalist home one day. And I just need to say why can’t you like pink and fabulous colours one day and then black and white the next. I collect dolls and they are all pink and girlie and glittery. My vacations are hot, tropical and turquoise. My home and personal clothes style is however monochrome and simple. These styles are all me. All me. You be you :-)

  • Who we are changes over time as should our personal style! I read somewhere recently that one should never consider their home “finished” and the same applies elsewhere in life. I am also 36- and as a new mother I am SO grateful I have cultivated a daily wardrobe that doesn’t require a big effort to use.
    I see your role as aesthetic researchers and not living role models. I visit this site for inspiration to meld with my own ideas not to copy it.

  • I think you have great personal style, Grace. Blundstones, blue jeans, white T-Shirts, etc. are simple and timeless. As someone who lives in the world of design, I think it’s important to stay a little grounded and you seem to express this through your style. I would have enjoyed hearing more about what makes the things you wear and own “your personal style” and how they feel right for who you are (and how you figured that out at 36 and not 30).

  • I’ve experienced the same treatment my entire adult life, I am known for my uniqueness and people expect me to obsess over fashion and point blank I find it vapid and a serious waste of money. I tried playing the game for so long, and now I am happily wearing my uniform of rock n roll t-shirts, jeans and chucks…and well, I’m doing just fine. Thanks for the post Grace!

  • Bravo, Grace! You are YOU, and as always, delightful. I don’t know where the idea came from that says those involved in design should necessarily espouse a very particular or unique sense of style. Perhaps because so many who spend a lot of time and energy on their interiors and/or their clothing are folks with talents who choose fashion, design or other creative endeavors.

    Over the years, some of the most creative people I’ve observed (in person, online, etc.) who were involved in all aspects of fashion or design, were folks (of all ages, genders, etc) who wore what could be called a “uniform.” I never thought less of their capabilities or creativity. In fact, if anything, their focus on putting their creative energies into their work, instead of themselves, confirmed their devotion to the work and NOT personal PR.

    Along the way, I’ve met a number of folks who were incredibly creative (in terms of writing, and other things) who had either no personal style or were perhaps very disinterested in their clothing, hair, etc. (Both men and women. ) Again, to me it is about the work. I’ve known interior designers with some really incredibly wild, vibrant and unique POVs. One goes to their home and is perhaps surprised to see very simple, serene and low-key interiors.

    Many have said that in order to “see”/visualize in their work, they need to have very minimal and serene surroundings. That they focus more on functionality and don’t want to waste time in their personal life on clothing, etc. beyond some very good pieces of clothing.

    Many artists I’ve know, always wear simple, tailored black clothing. BUT…they have the most exquisite and unique jewelry or scarves or shoes.

    I love that your focus is on doing the work, presenting really thoughtful entries on the blog, and just being exactly who you are.
    You don’t have to be anything else.

    I’m amazed that anyone would expect you to have everything in your home that you like or choose to highlight on designsponge. I myself like many different types of decor/interiors. Doesn’t mean I’d want individual pieces or interiors for my own.

    People who obsess over their exterior appearance as if it was the ultimate expression of their interior and/or their level of creativity always make me a bit suspicious. When it’s all about “you” how much energy is there for the work?

    Real artists have little time to waste on what they might label the “frivolity” of clothing. And their interiors are often a hodge podge where there studios are far more relevant than a dining room or kitchen’s design.

    Nothing wrong with folks who do make statements with their homes, but honestly, is that what the real world is about?
    Or is it just having the people and some things you love around you whether a home is ready to be photographed or not?

    Designsponge always makes one feel as if any/all are accepted and labels and judgment are NOT being passed. As such, it’s a deeply engaging site. Keep up the good work, Grace and crew!

  • Oh my goodness. It’s 6 am in my Sydney hotel room, I can’t sleep from jetlag and I have stumbled across this piece randomly pre-coffee. It’s one of those landmark reads for me. I have a disjunct between my work and home lives and its so reassuring to read your story. At the moment I have massive blisters on the soles of my feet from having to wear shoes and walk on concrete for days on end. I work mostly from home and live rurally. My feet are usually bare or gumboot clad and are used to soil and sand!

  • We all come to your site for fantasy, ideas and input. Love your reality. Sometimes I feel like R2D2 needing creative input in my life just before I let the dog out, and go do the dishes until the dishwasher repair man shows up to fix the damn thing. It is called life and I think your are doing a superb job of it! I will continue to be a sponge of your site and create my own reality to fit my needs. Bottom line is you both look happy. AWESOME