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Essay

The D*S Team Reflects: Looking Back On Lessons Learned

by Kelli Kehler

It feels like a lifetime ago when I was sitting in the newsroom at my previous job on my lunch break, scrolling through Design*Sponge, relishing in the inspiration laid before me through beautiful home tours, DIY projects, and the like. Two things always struck me about D*S — even from the very beginning of my time reading faithfully, about 11 years ago — was the sense of belonging I felt, and the community attached to the site. These two ideas could, at a quick glance, be lumped together as the same thing, but I assure you they’re not.

The community of makers, creatives, design-lovers, DIY aficionados (or first-timers), future business owners — the list goes on and on — is this strong current that has always held D*S up over the years. It’s all of us who keep coming back, whether it’s every day or once a week or once a month, to learn something new or tour a fascinating home or seek out inspiration. The sense of belonging I felt — which I have since learned over time after speaking with so many of you and all of my teammates is a shared feeling — is this acceptance to be ourselves wholly in our love of all things creative, and to come here to feel safe in our self-expression and curiosity.

Since joining the team, that sense of belonging only intensified, and I could fill a book with the lessons I’ve learned in those nearly six years of being on the other side. My biggest takeaway from this time spent working here is that the world around you is always so much larger, more dynamic, and more diverse than the one you experience daily. Opening our eyes, hearts, and minds to someone else to hear their story — or see what “home” means to them — will always bring forth greater understanding and connection. Life is about connection. The rest of it is just stuff.

In the thousands (yes, thousands) of posts I’ve edited in my time here, it’s very hard to choose a favorite one that I’ve read. But one that always stands out to me in my mind and is still very timeless is Grace’s essay, “There Are No Rules: What We Believe About Design.” As far as posts I’ve written, my absolute favorite is “Eulogizing A Home: How to Say Goodbye to A Place With Memories.” The reason this one is paramount for me is twofold: It gave me a place to understand and release the feelings I had associated with my grief, and it also (still to this day) gives me a community that feels the same way as I do. This post has generated so many comments from others going through the same thing, or sharing their stories of grief with me, and I have been incredibly grateful for their openness and sincerity. It’s that sense of belonging and community at work once again: that feeling of not being alone.

I asked my dear teammates to share with me their biggest takeaways in working for D*S, and their favorite posts they’ve read and/or written. I hope you enjoy taking a closer look at what we learned and loved from this place where we’ve all felt so lucky to work. —Kelli

Image above by Penelope Dullaghan

CAITLIN

Biggest Takeaway: “I learned to say what you mean, mean what you say but don’t say it mean. Period.”

Favorite Post You’ve Read: “My favorite post, though it’s so hard to choose, is the one Grace wrote “What We Believe: The Design*Sponge Mission Statement,” because for me it marked a turning point where expressed our values and burst the bubble of ‘perfect’ in a clear and powerful way. I needed that personally at that time as well. It allowed me to articulate my own list of what I believe that I update each year, or as needed!”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “My own written post is my ‘That One Piece: The Sea Green Table at the End of the Rainbow‘ because it’s so warm and nostalgic as I return to the restaurant business in my small town post Design*Sponge. It’s all coming full circle and I can’t wait to take my D*S mojo to my new position as Kitchen Manager at Town Run Tap House & Community Pub.


Illustration above by by Viola Guerrero

GRACE

Biggest Takeaway: “My biggest takeaway is that you get out of a community what you put in. I’ve learned from moderating (and leaving my own) comments over all these years that if you listen first, ask questions, and stay open to understanding someone else’s point of view, you (and your community as a whole) are better off for it. And this community is what has kept me going for so many years — and I’m so grateful for everyone here.”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “One of my favorite posts I’ve had the chance to write was about trying to balance economic and budget needs personally and as a community. I tried to break down our support for, and issues with, both box store design and indie design. It was tough and generated a lot of strong responses, but that type of dialogue is so important and what I’ve always strived to encourage at D*S.”

GARRETT

Biggest Takeaway: “I’ve learned to seek out the voices that aren’t being heard and give them a platform.”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “When I look back on my time with Design*Sponge, I’m most proud of our work with those who are disabled. So it goes without saying that my favorite post I’ve written was the one that kickstarted the initiative: ‘Decorating for your Differently-Abled Child’.”

Favorite Post You’ve Read: “My favorite post we’ve done was our ‘Living In: Fantastic Mr. Fox‘ feature, because it was the very first post I ever read on Design*Sponge. Who knew that four years after reading it I’d be working for D*S?!”


Image above by by Rachel Fox Kipphut

SOFIA

Biggest Takeaway: “Thanks to everyone who trusted me to share their homes and stories, I’m walking away from this experience with my heart so much fuller than when I started. I’m also so proud to have had the opportunity to be part of something good. Instead of telling people what mistakes to avoid, what trends to follow or forget, the underlying motto has been to celebrate all people and all homes, just as they are. That’s what makes D*S so special. From a personal perspective, I’ve learned that I can do a lot more than I ever thought I could.”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “Sarah Andrews and Captains Rest, her cottage in Tasmania, is a special one for me. I’m going to go ahead and just say it — I really like the writing! As someone who never dreamt of being a writer of any kind, I can proudly pat myself on the back and say that I did a good job. Needless to say, Sarah’s amazing story, talent, and creative eye are the real reasons why that post turned out so wonderful.”

Favorite Post You’ve Read: “I loved Kelli’s ‘Anatomy of a Home Tour,’ where we went behind the scenes to show readers how our home tours actually come about. It’s real and honest, qualities we’ve focused on highlighting in all our posts and stories.”


Image above by Sarah Andrews

ERIN

Biggest Takeaway: “What I’ve learned from Design*Sponge, as a reader and then as a writer, is that we are all looking for similar things. We feel connected by the warmth of homes and are drawn to the function of design. We share similar backgrounds and interests. So for the 13 years that I’ve been connected to Design*Sponge, it’s allowed me to always know I’m not alone. As an introvert, knowing you aren’t alone is an important thing and each time there was a new post, it brought the readers a little bit closer. Bonding in the comments and then with social media, finding one another to follow there, too. It has introduced me to some of my best friends. It’s also taught me to never shy away from color in your home. Some of the most beautiful homes are full of color and patterns.

Favorite Post You Wrote: “One of my favorite posts that I wrote was ‘The Art of Collecting.'”


Image above by Ann Wood

KRISTINA

Biggest Takeaway: “How deeply people can connect with an online presence and how meaningful that presence can become in a person’s life. Grace IS Design*Sponge, but the site as a whole, in and of itself, also filled an important part in many of our readers’ lives.”

Favorite Post You’ve Read: “Each post on Design*Sponge was striking in a different way. But I think I like the home tour ‘How My Mom’s Aesthetic Inspired My Love of Design,’ written by Erin about her Mom, because the hundreds (thousands?) of books on shelves that flexed under their weight, wedged into the home, seemed to match perfectly the story of her career and what she lived for. Everything was just… perfect, and expressed a sense of satisfaction with her achievements. It seemed to match seamlessly and like a glove to her life. The same of the home featured in ‘In New Jersey, an 1890s-Era Home Honoring Black Heritage‘ because the owners, Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Handy, seemed to have found the perfect balance of history and constant change in the pieces they’ve chosen which reflect their lives and interests seamlessly, mixed with other pieces. I loved it.”

Favorite Post You Wrote: “Even though the styling wasn’t the best, the post with the late Jonathan Gold’s favorite recipe, Spaghetti alla Gricia. It was always exhilarating when I made ‘cold calls’ to well-known food people to seek their favorite recipe and they answered. He was nice, supportive, and fit every positive thing people said of him. I am happy we were able to include him in the column.”


Image above by Kiyanna Stewart & Laquan Brinson-St.Pierre

LAUREN

Biggest Takeaway: “I’ve learned a lot about self-expression during my time at Design*Sponge. I’ve always been timid about sharing my point of view — whether related to design or speaking up about social issues. Grace and my D*S teammates, whether they realized it or not, have given me tools to use my voice and stand behind it. I have rooms with green cabinets, rooms with pink walls and the ability to have vulnerable conversations without people-pleasing-away my perspective.”

Favorite Post You Read/Wrote: “I think my favorite posts to read and to write were the essays.”

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Comments

  • The other day I was scrolling around on the internet looking for a blog to “replace” DesignSponge. There isn’t one. But that search led me to understand why I have enjoyed this space so much over the years. Many of these reasons are mentioned above––community, connection, diversity, approach to design etc., but there is also the ambiance that Design Sponge is PERSONAL and not CORPORATE and that’s exactly how I like to design/create/enhance my own living and working spaces as some place that is personal and speaks to me as an individual and welcomes those I love into my space. Thank all of you a million times over for all the sharing and caring and wonderful inspiration over these years. “you will be missed” is oh so inadequate for how I feel.

  • Dear DS team: Today is the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. As you know, the flooding damaged so many homes and took a toll on New Orleans in ways that cannot be repaired. My home flooded, and going through the exercise of putting 90% of my belongings on the curb to be discarded left me with an inclination to be less of a consumer, to put less stock in material things, and ultimately changed the way that I think about what a home is. Over the last few days I have been thinking about how much it has meant to me to have this beautiful blog to look forward to, especially given how you showcased the many ways that people can be family, what the meaning of home can be, and why it is so important to talk about equity when we talk about design. DS has been a friend, and a parallel universe to my experience in New Orleans during post-Katrina rebuilding. I think that reading about what people love most about their home has been a great constant reminder of why I love mine. Thanks for being there for so many readers and for giving me so much inspiration.

  • I’ve really enjoyed and looked forward to the ideas and inspiration I get from the images of DS, yet what I’ve come to appreciate more about this particular blog is the writing that accompanies the home tours. And the thoughtful, often timely, essays. As I was reading through this post I started remembering essays and tours that have happily stuck with me. Thanks to all of you. I will miss your voices and ideas.

  • Grace and company,
    I have been reading this blog for probably almost as long has it has existed. You have been part of my Saturday morning coffee reads for many years. I have enjoyed the variety of articles, illustrating how design touches our lives in so many ways. It is a wonderful community you have all created. I will miss you greatly, although I understand there comes a time were sometimes you have to move on. Best of luck for your next endevaours.