There Are No Rules: What We Believe About Design

by Grace Bonney

I’m a voracious consumer of home and lifestyle media. For as long as I can remember, I’ve collected magazines and saved, favorited, and followed as many home, garden and lifestyle blogs as I could fit on one screen. But recently, I read a headline that lured readers in with a promise of revealing the 10 major decorating mistakes they were making that were ruining their home. And something inside me snapped.

Ruining? Major? Are there actually major decorating mistakes that anyone makes at home that are such a big deal that you need to scare someone about them? I don’t think so.

I decided a long time ago that we would never run headlines that made people feel like they were doing something wrong. For me, design is about support, community and lifting each other up — not about intimidation. It’s what inspired me to write a mission statement for our 10th anniversary, and it’s what continues to inspire me to focus on content that is inclusive, open-minded and supportive. And while I’m consoled by the fact that there are indeed blogs and magazines that don’t follow that format, the majority of big publications do.

So today I wanted to stop our virtual presses for a moment and use our corner of the Internet to declare both our support for and dedication to one mission and one mission only: to inspire, support and build community around the idea of home.

Small steps and small decisions turn into big change, and I want to talk a little bit about the changes we’re making to ensure we focus on empowering people, rather than taking away their confidence to make great decisions for their homes.

*Images above are from our “What I Love Most About Our Home” post.


I often wonder why clickbait that lures us in with guilt and intimidation is so pervasive. But whenever I research why, the answer is clear: because it works. Maybe it’s the catchy title or the promise of solving “problems” we didn’t know we had, but people love to click on these types of articles- especially when they’re in list form.

I don’t have a problem with numbered lists as a concept (especially when they’re not geared toward ranking or judging). I love diving into a long list of great ideas, people to follow, and clever projects that help people get things done. But when lists seek to intimidate people, rather than empower or inspire them, that’s where things get problematic for me.

I’m aware we all have, collectively, much bigger fish to fry than the problem of guilt-inducing design headlines, but if you’re like the rest of us here at D*S, you want to create a home where you feel safe, welcomed, comforted and at peace. And articles that attempt to scare or guilt people into design or buying decisions aren’t doing that, period.

Here’s what we’ve learned from watching this upsetting trend — and listening to our readers for the past 12 years — and what we believe about design now:

  1. Home is a place where you should feel safe and supported. Anything that tries to make you feel otherwise isn’t focused on your happiness.
  2. Trends come and go: There are entire organizations of design professionals who are paid to determine color, pattern and style trends every year. These highly educated teams use a few primary tools to make those predications, the majority of them being rooted in the history of art and design. Almost all styles have their roots and inspirations in something that came before, and people who spend their time studying these cycles know better than anyone that nothing is every really “out” forever. Yes, you may not want to live with a hot pink sofa for the rest of your life, but convincing people that something is “out” or “bad” is often part of a commercialist/retail-based way of thinking that encourages people to buy more and think less about whether or not they actually like something. The bottom line is: if you love something and it matters to you, don’t let anyone make you feel bad about loving it. Only you know what’s best for your home.
  3. Design content can, and should, be something that makes everyone feel empowered, not intimidated: If there’s one thing I’ve learned about decorating after publishing thousands of home tours, it’s this: there is no one right way to do anything. Some of our most beloved home tours have trends, colors, layouts and design decisions that might be considered “wrong” or “out of style” on paper. But when you combine them together in a space that’s designed with love and personality, they always work. So rather than pointing out what doesn’t work, why not point out what does, and why?
  4. Telling people they’re doing something wrong doesn’t make anyone a design authority: My deepest suspicion about why a lot of publishers feel the need to publish negative titles like “10 Things You’re Doing To Ruin…” is that they feel it will make them seem like they know more than the person reading. Bloggers and editors are so often told by their own bosses, ad networks and colleagues that it’s important to have “an authoritative voice,” but that comes most naturally with confidence and experience. Keeping an open mind when I see someone create a home that I would have never thought to design or decorate a certain way always makes me feel inspired and excited. I don’t need to be the best or most authoritative design advice-giver online: I just want to be one that you feel comfortable and safe talking to.
  5. Mistakes are a part of learning: Of course, we all want to avoid costly mistakes whenever possible, but small mistakes are a part of life and they’re often the best way to learn what you like and what you don’t. And in the realm of big-time life mistakes, the wrong color paint on a wall isn’t one of them. (And if you DO end up with something costly that you need to fix without spending a lot of money, bloggers like us are always here to help with quick fixes and DIY repair ideas).

So, what does this mean for our content at Design*Sponge? While we’ve always focused on positivity as much as possible, going forward, we are committed to providing positive, constructive and supportive design and life ideas, advice and inspiration that will empower you to make changes at home and in your personal life. We don’t know all the “right” ways, but we do know a lot of people and projects that will give you the motivation you need to take risks and try things out in your home.

I always want to work harder to make DS a place where people feel safe to be themselves and share their ideas. Thank you for being a part of this community and working with us to push ourselves harder and keep improving on our goals to make everyone feel welcomed and celebrated here. xo, grace

*Thank you to our friend and woodworker, Jack Decker of Vernacular Design, for sharing some words of wisdom above. 


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  • I absolutely love this. I think I read the same mentioned article. We are so fortunate to live in a world where sharing thoughts, ideas and inspiration has never been easier, but with that has come so much negativity, and I find it so heavy and sad. SO glad to know DS is committed to being a happy and nothing but inspiring, positive place :)

  • Beautifully said Grace. As a LONG time reader and rare commenter, I appreciate the path of authenticity, empowerment, community and self-expression which this blog has been demonstrating again and again. It is truly an antidote to a shallow approach to design, and I find your blog’s integrity very encouraging and heart-warming.

  • i don’t want to overwrite my welcome, but i also saw that headline teaser and was bewildered. i mean, maybe having an live elephant in the middle of the living room might prove inconvenient and questionable, but otherwise? everyone has different taste and desires and all of those personal considerations need to be respected.

  • i was just telling my running partner about your site this morning and saying that i preferred the tours here because they are approachable livable design… meant to be intentionally lived in. we also have a tagline at our shop (a vintage home store) that reads “no rules, just passion” because we believe that your home should be about what speaks to your own soul and makes you happy. so i am sending you a virtual fist bump!

  • Thank you so much for this, Grace. While of course I love seeing all the beautiful spaces and talented designers that you profile on the blog, what keeps me coming back to DesignSponge is the thoughtfulness behind it, a quality that can sometimes be hard to find on the Internet.

  • Thank you! “design is about support, community and lifting each other up” This is important.

  • On the flipside, I’ve also read plenty of creative bloggers rail against mainstream trends like all-white decor and vintage signage, ordering people to “forget the kinfolk-aesthetic and just BE THEMSELVES!!” Today at my favorite local coffeeshop, I heard fellow customers share similar sentiments: “Oh, ha, cacti in vintage tins. [eye roll and sarcasm] Yeah, the owner really loves that Pinterest aesthetic.” I can relate to where the speakers are coming from (inner design critic be damned) but I’ve also learned to tone down my judgmental artistic side. (After all, it’s easy to complain about someone else’s vision but harder to realize one’s own.)

    Something I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older is how a lot of people appreciate design and fun decor but have trouble truly “synthesizing” it on their own. However, *recreating* a look is do-able and there’s nothing wrong with that! I may not turn to Pinterest for craft ideas but how awesome that it exists. I may be tired of typewriters and globes but how wonderful when people find ones they love and display them with pride. I realize I need to be a bit gentler with myself, too: so what if my home gallery wall is a bit passé?! As long as I enjoy it, accidentally crooked frames and all, I should be proud to share it with others and not feel a need to apologize for its being trite or “imperfect.”

    • That’s a beautiful point Lena. Some people don’t know what their style is but they see something they like and they can ‘copy’ it and gradually they find their own voice.

  • My favourite thing about DS is realizing that the elements of this site that I enjoy so much (responsiveness, inclusivity, the diversity of artists featured, the lack of prescriptives and clickbait, and much more) are not simply coincidences but intentional, considered choices to create a positive, supportive space.
    Thank you for doing that, and thank you even more for doing it so well that it takes a post like this for me to realize it.

  • I have to admit, I’ve unfollowed many of my favorite design magazines on Facebook because of the click bait. I don’t know why so many wonderful print publications are going down the negativity path, especially on social media.

    I love to see a home that’s considered and thoughtful. I want to see the story of the home owner and understand a bit of their history, and their future. Having a home that’s perfectly imperfect is what keeps me seeking.

  • What I love about this essay and Design Sponge in general is that no matter what the topic/post, there is an intent behind it that’s more than clickbait. Of course it’s a business and you need eyes on your content. But it’s content with a point-of-view. You and your contributors have opinions.

    It’s easy and sloppy and lazy to be negative, just churning out the content for as many clicks as possible. How so very tired I am of all that! I think many if not most of us share that weariness.

    I like reading the opinions and points-of-view that you share – I may not always agree but I always appreciate the thoughtfulness and time that went into creating it.

  • I couldn’t agree more. The whole concept of people following/abandoning trends bothers me. As an Interior Designer, I respect design, however I also realize that design is unique to each and every one of us. Nobody can tell you something is right or wrong in design, because if you strip everything down to the bottom line – there are no rules, humans create rules. I founded my website seven years ago on this very premise, I called it Inspire Bohemia for this very reason. Do what you love – decorate your space to fit your passions and your needs, not to fit some mold of the latest trend(s). To me, successful design is personal, it’s a reflection of ones personality.


  • Yes! Add my vote to all the lovely comments above. I so appreciate having a “happy space” to visit. Thank you DS!!!

  • Thank you for continuing to share this energy/philosophy and for affirming my design MO as well.

    Unfortunately, I also think the reason those articles exist is because they draw a lot of clicks and comments. Even if the topic is controversial and the majority of people are all riled up about “the rules,” that still equates to hits.

  • Hello Grace, I have been following along for around 8 years and I think this is my first comment! It has been amazing to see how your this blog has grown and changed over the years, I have always had a deep respect and trust for your opinions and your antennae for the ‘zeitgeist’ in the design world. I will continue to value and appreciate your input, exactly because it is so uplifting and inclusive, hopefully for many years to come. It is exactly the authenticity and the personality shining through that draws me to your subjects! How can those be mistakes?!

  • Thank you for creating this safe space filled with sharing, positive encouragement, fun ideas, and inspiration. It is always a joy to come here. Feeling empowered and inspired is clickbait too – and please keep doing it!

  • Thank you for this. You should live in an environment that makes you happy and feels like home, whether that’s what’s currently popular or not. There’s a fine line between expertise in a subject and expertise in being judgmental, and I’m trying to thoughtfully curate a life based on seeking out the former, and eliminating the second. You’re one of the design voices that’s still in my feed reader because of this – I’m thrilled that it’s intentional. I’m working on appreciating things that are thoughtfully well done but not my taste, and I think realizing that something can be gorgeous and perfect for someone else but still awful for me (see also: white couches) has helped me be more confident in making design choices for my own home that are not reflective of what I see in Internetland. So thank you.

  • Thank you for such great energy that you give us! It’s really amazing. I love design and everything about it. When i see a good design I can feel comfort and calm. In this reason I love to read your stories and to look at your pictures.