Editor's Letter

What I Learned Over Christmas Break (Or What My Dog & The Container Store Taught Me About Change)

by Grace Bonney

For the past few years, I’ve spent my holiday break the exact same way: time at home in Virginia with my family followed by one solid (blissful) week of absolutely nothing. Just takeout, movies-on-demand and naps. But then at the beginning of last year I adopted Hope. Her schedule, physical challenges and puppy energy meant my days of sleeping in and spending breaks burrowed into my couch were long gone. But with it came a new-found sense of happiness, adventure and openness that I had never known. I truly believe it’s that openness that lead me to the person I would marry that same year and then build a home with in Brooklyn. As nice as it sounds to end things on a happy note there, there was a moment over this holiday break where I found myself having to stop, take a deep breath and truly learn to embrace the change that was surrounding me everywhere.

Like many frustrating stories, this one begins at Ikea. After sailing through what was easily a dozen smooth visits together, Julia and I each hit our personal limits and cracked. A few packets of Ikea gummy fruit later, we were on our way to the city for plan B: The Container Store. It was there, among Elfa shelving, that I learned to see not only my life and my home differently, but the challenging and exciting year of work that stands before me.

Read through for the full post…

I’m not proud of it, but I can be a real stick in the mud about change. While I’ve embraced great personal change over the past few years, when it comes to my house, I’ve been known to wait years until I find the perfect piece to replace or finish something in my apartment. I apply the same philosophy to work. If I don’t feel 100% about something, I won’t move forward. Like, at all. But thankfully I share my home with someone who understands and appreciates the value of functionality and just getting things done.

Julia was eager to get our living room pulled together (I’d been watching TV on top of a work bench for years) and find a home for the pile of books that had taken up residence in our apartment building’s hallway. So when Ikea didn’t work out, she suggested we try The Container Store. While the open ventilated shelving was pushing every button on my inner perfectionist (It wasn’t solid wood! We couldn’t fit symmetrical sections! The bottoms have visible screws– OH THE HORROR!), we placed our order and headed home.

The next morning I woke up and took Hope to the off-leash hour at our local park, just like every morning since last spring when she came to live with me. Except this morning was different. There was close to a foot of snow on the ground. Worried to death about Hope’s less than sturdy back legs (see the Youtube clip in first paragraph), I hesitated to let her into the deep snow. But before I could stop her, she leaped into the snow with reckless abandon. Here was a dog with such troubled medical history, so much surgery and without any experience in the snow, hurdling through the drifts with unbridled joy. Half-awake, I cleared my eyes and watched her bound over tiny snow hills, throwing herself into each one and gobbling up mouthfuls of snow as she went. An hour later she pranced home with me, grinning ear-to-ear, to meet our shelf installation guy.

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As the Elfa boxes were being unpacked, our faux-denzas (I just cannot quit that trend) were built and hung and I started to watch our living room go from an unfinished random space into a fully functional and cozy living room. Blank walls turned into functional spaces to house and showcase our favorite artwork and books, and chairs (next to the window sills we painted black that weekend) suddenly turned into cozy nooks next to rows of reading material. We sat on the couch across from it all, next to Hope and Turk, and marveled at how much we’d gotten done and how much of a difference that work had made. Sure, the pieces weren’t our first choice for everything (I’d still love for perfect solid wood shelves, but hey, these aren’t too shabby) but the work was done and the last BIG project in our apartment was finally finished.

While we were sitting there I glanced down and saw Hope passed out on the rug, twitching in the middle of some dream. Then it hit me. Between Hope’s ability to adapt to and love new challenges to finally seeing the value of making (and accepting) deviations from an original plan for the sake of overall success (ie: finally having a functional living room shelf and storage system), I had more life lessons staring me in the face than I could possibly miss. Hope didn’t let her past affect her future. She didn’t let new changes slow her down. She leaped into them like nothing else had ever come before. And not having the perfect solid wood shelves or symmetrical shelving didn’t mean our living room would be a disaster- it looks and feels like a real home and gives us places to display things that mean something to us- a vast improvement from the mess of boxes we’d be living in before. While I understand my nostalgia for what’s come before in my life, I feel like I’m living in a world of examples that prove change can be good, positive and so much better than you even imagined.

The blog world had changed (and continues to change) exponentially, and the way we do things has to constantly evolve to fit the online world in which we live and work. That’s been a tough change for me. But today is the day I put down my anger and frustration and leap forward into what is unknown. I don’t know know exactly how this year will go, but I can promise myself, and my team (and you reading), that this year we’re going to follow through on all of the ideas we have, projects we want to try and dreams we’ve had to make this site the best possible version of itself. 10 years after I first hit ‘publish’ on a post, I feel like I truly understand what a gift this job has been, and continues to be, and I’m so excited to embrace (and share the results of) all of the challenges that lie ahead. Love, Grace

*Just a note: Neither The Container Store nor Ikea sponsored this post or played any part in its creation.

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Hope waiting as the shelves are finished

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Painting all the trim and doors black

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The chandelier (which is being returned to my landlord) that was here when we arrived. It looks better here than in person. We’re hunting for a more streamlined and modern fixture to replace it.

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Bookshelf detail

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Pre-books and fauxdenza tops

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The tree of life that belonged to Julia’s family that we’ll be hanging above the TV.

Suggested For You


  • Everything looks so beautiful and organized! I’m jealous of the way it fits! Our living room desperately needs shelving, but like you I haven’t found the “perfect fit” yet! C’est la vie!

  • The beauty of life is in it’s lessons… as I’m turning 50 this year, I can assure everyone that we are eternal students and ‘change’ is to be embraced (good and bad). The lucky ones understand that there’s a silver lining in every cloud, albeit dark at first!

    Happy 2014 to you, Hope and DesignSponge

  • What is a tree of life? Or, that tree of like? It looks kind of like there are holes for candles? Either way, congrats – I love the way the faux-denza/shelf installation looks. Also congrats on the wedding! I wasn’t paying attention so if you mentioned it earlier…my bad?

  • Yes, yes, and YES! These are reminders we all need. And, for what it’s worth, I happen to think what you picked looks great in that space :)

  • I can relate to this and it’s so inspiring to read your perspective and experience. Thank you for sharing!

  • Love your spirit Grace! Can’t wait to see what 2014 brings as you leap into the unknown.

  • cheers to you, julia & the kiddos! this is heartwarming and a great way to start the monday morning. your story reminded me of when I was a freshman in college (10 years ago), I wanted to get ‘leap’ tattooed on the bottom of my foot, as a reminder to take chances. i never got the tatt, but maybe i’ll get it on nameplate-type necklace?

  • I completely missed your coming out post, wedding and move to Brooklyn .

    I consider myself a devoted reader but I guess a year of living thru my breakup distracted me from the wonders of others’ lives.

    Congratulations and here’s to accepting a wabi- sabi world in 2014.

  • This is a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    You mention the challenges that the changing blog world can bring, and I’m sure behind the scenes it leaves you all swirling at moments. But as a reader, I think of you as one of the people blazing a trail and deciding how things should be (and doing them that way) in blogging. You pull things together with authenticity. That’s a difference-maker. Thought you should know!

  • Thank you for writing this, Grace. It kind of reminds me of my struggles with anxiety and my own revelation that *I* am the only one responsible for my happiness, not anyone else, so either move forward and be happy or remain stuck in the gloomy past. Letting go of my fear is the best thing I’ve ever done. :)

    Anyway, I’ve been reading Design*Sponge for several years now and I’m super excited to see what 2014 holds for D*S!

  • Congrats Grace. It seems you are going through GOOD changes which is great and inspiring. You have such a supporting environment which is important.
    I’m sure 2014 will be a great year for you.

  • Warmest congrats, Grace. Being true to oneself is the only way the outside can reflect the inside, so the world responds to us as an integrated whole. [sorry if that sounds preachy; did NOT mean it to!] Seems you’ve done that, and opened yourself to the universe of possibility. Beautiful family, beautiful home, beautiful you. Can’t wait to read whatever you choose to share along the way. (I’ll take real life like this over contrived “Downton Abbey” any day!)

  • I got all misty-eyed reading this post; in particular your description of Hope’s adventures in the snow. I believe that dogs can be amazing teachers if we humans can take the time to listen to them. Rescue dogs especially can teach us a lot about the value of mindfulness and being present. Mine doesn’t think the glass is half empty or even half full. She’s joyful for the fact that she just HAS a glass and something is in the glass! I try to remember that often.

  • I’d never watched the youtube video of Hope before. What an inspiration. You are also an inspiration Grace, I truly “hope” you recognize how much, and how many people you touch. Sending loads of love your way.

  • The tree of life from Julia’s family looks amazing. I’d love to know more about it and see a pic of it when it’s hanging. Happy new year here, there and everywhere!

  • Congratulations to you and your family!! Thank you for all the interest and inspiration you bring – I’m sending all the very best wishes for 2014!

  • Thanks so much for sharing this…the symbolism of Hope’s willingness to bound through the snow is really meaningful and definitely something I needed to read today.

  • A beautiful story! And felicitations on your marriage! I’ve been reading here since 2006 – congratulations on an amazing 10 years of hard work!

  • Dogs are so special. Hope has taught you well ! I turn to my dogs every day for inspiration in many ways for my life and my art. Happy New Year, Grace .

  • Dear lovely Grace Bonney,

    You must know you inspire legions every single day. The fact that you continue to do so day after day is awesome. Thank you for all you do and for being gracious enough to share so much! I look forward to what 2014 has in store!

  • Dogs are the best for showing us how to live in the moment and enjoy life. You can learn so much from them – forgiveness, loyalty, courage and such a sense of fun. It’s so beautiful to see that while you rescued Hope, she is also bringing so much to your life.

  • The Elfa shelving looks fabulous, but I’m really writing to say how much I love the black window trim. I would never have thought to do something like that, and it looks AMAZING. (And I’m really actually writing to say how adorable Hope is. She looks an awful lot like my sweet Gertie.)

  • Congrats on all of this! Hope is gorgeous and I totally get
    your point about animals as teachers. I truly aspire to be more
    like my rescue kitty Fitz: always in the moment no matter what
    cruddy thing just happened (car rides, vet appts etc.) and
    approaching new experiences with unadulterated excitement. When the
    doorbell rings he races to the door to see what fabulous new person
    is on the other side. Not a bad way to go through life.

  • Beautiful post. And huge congratulations on your marriage
    (I”m still wiping a tear just thinking about your “coming out”
    post). Wishing you both every happiness, and please post “after”
    pictures of your living room transformation too!

  • I have stayed a subscriber but haven’t read a post for probably a year or more. Your authenticity and candor are bringing me back. Thanks for posting your ongoing story. All the best to you and Julia!!

  • No ways! You married Julia Turshen! How cool is that! This brit is a bit slow to catch on. Can’t wait to see what you get up to this year.

  • How on earth did I miss hearing about your wedding?! Surely there is a post and some pics that I missed along the way? Somebody link them, please. I obviously haven’t been paying attention. Congrats to you two, Grace!

  • The wedding + Hope + “Leaves of Grass” on the shelf – Who could ask for more?
    Congratulations :-)

  • After following your blog for 2 and half years I have never commented. Call me lazy. This post inspired me to say I too bought a dog into my life this year, a gorgeous poodle that I call king of the toys as he must be the biggest toy poodle on the planet as he is more like a mini poodle. No one wanted him and he was the last to be picked from his litter. Probably because of his incredible stature !! Anyway I have to say he has brought more joy and unexpected happiness into my life than I could possibly imagine. I have had to adapt and change my ways and Im now far more relaxed than I ever have been. He has taught me many things. Namely to not sweat the small stuff. Things break, get dirty and aren’t always perfect but everything can be fixed, cleaned or replaced if need be and absolutely nothing is worth more to me than seeing him have fun. How I spend my spare time has completely changed and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The unconditional love he gives is priceless. Keep up the beautiful and inspiring posts. This one is an absolute winner in my eyes.

  • Absolutely beautiful! Looks so clean and organized! Something I really need to do!! Happy new year!

  • Grace, wherever did you get that cool poster that says “I got an A+ in Art”? I love it! I was the only one in my high school to ever get an A+ in art! I suppose I could make it.

  • I just watched Hope’s video and I cried…and then hugged my dogs. So sweet. So happy she found someone to love her so she can be the awesome dog she is meant to be. I totally understand how dogs (pets) can change our lives and make us happier and more adventurous. Every day starts with a smile in our home because of the dogs :)

    And your living room looks great. I was searching Ikea for cabinets and Container Store shelving after you posted it (my apt is painfully small with ONE closet and my various projects and office are bursting at the seams).