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Essay

Let’s Stop Making Excuses for Our Spaces (and Love Them As-Is)

by Grace Bonney

I’ve been in reflective mode ever since we announced our final year in January. I’ve been looking back at the old Design*Sponge at Home book (It’s so fun! I had totally forgotten how much I loved that book) and old posts and even old comments from way back in the day. It’s been fun to think about how much the site has changed, how much we’ve all changed, and how much I’ve learned working and living online for the past 15 years. One particular lesson I’ve learned stood out today and I wanted to talk about it here. Maybe I’m the only one, but has anyone else ever found themselves making excuses for their home?

I’m not proud of it, but at times when I’ve had guests over (or especially if anyone has ever come to take a picture at home), I’ve found myself doing the, “Oh don’t look at this, we’re going to be changing this to…” type of talk when I’m worried someone else won’t think something is up to snuff. I’ve made excuses for everything from paint colors and half-finished wallpaper to empty walls and mismatched furniture. Some things were legitimately in transition, but most were exactly the way they still are (or were, in my old apartments) — by choice. So why did I do that?

I know part of my worry was related to feeling like I was the design blog version of “the cobbler’s children have no shoes.” I rarely cared about my own home as much as I enjoyed helping other people with theirs and, as a result, my spaces have often been on the empty side, half-finished, or just kind of neutral. In the beginning I used to make excuses because I felt embarrassed of their “less than perfect” aesthetic, but over time I made excuses because I didn’t want to reveal something more telling: that I was actually 100% okay with these unfinished or empty-ish spaces because that actually felt good to me. Filling them with design-y things didn’t matter much to me anymore. I just wanted to live in a home that didn’t need to be anything other than a safe, warm space to be with my family. But what would that say about someone whose job was to talk about design and filling homes with design-y things all day?

The vast majority of people who’ve been to any of my old apartments or our home now were never judging or worrying about what an empty wall meant (don’t get me started on that one photoshoot for a book cover though…). But I pre-empted the possibility of judgement with a slew of stories about what things were going to look like one day. And I think in the process, I not only shaded my own spaces (all of which I’ve mostly loved), I also created a distance between myself and those people who probably would have been fine to know that, like most people, my home wasn’t “done” and I was totally okay with that.

My favorite home tours anywhere these days are those belonging to people in their later years of life. Homes that are the result of 40, 50, or 60+ years of collecting, editing, and decorating. You simply can’t recreate that type of character and individuality in a space as a younger person. It takes life and experience to make something that feels that real. So if there’s one message I want to send to anyone reading who is younger or working on their first space, it’s this:

Love your home for exactly what it is right now.

Be thankful for it. Love it. Celebrate all of its unfinished nooks and crannies and uneven bits. They don’t need to be excused. And when we’re honest about those spaces and love them in all their imperfectness, we help other people feel comfortable to do the same. And isn’t that what we all want for each other — to feel comfortable in our homes?

Do you have any home habits from younger years you want to leave in the past? I’d love to know what things about home, decorating, or design you’ve come to better understand over the years, too. xo, Grace

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Comments

  • I agree with not apologizing, although for myself I’ve come to see that finishing something fixes down and eliminates all the other potential spaces I could see in my head. It silly, because we can keep changing them, but as a procrastinator, I’ve been trying to figure out why. Even when I get something done, I then undo it partway as a new idea or improvement pops into my mind.

  • thank you. thank you so much for posting this. I am a lifelong creator+collector and love making each space I live in feel good and comfortable and alive. however, I am also a lifelong renter who lives on a shoestring budget. as much as I love the internet and the loads of home inspiration it provides, it often feels like an endless, thunderous reminder of what I don’t have, and will probably never have. but I am thankful for what I have (even if it is a split level rental with brown carpet and brown everything)– I am thankful to have a home and I’m proud of how I’ve made it ours and I love it, warts and all. thank you for the reminder. xo

  • Thank you for this beautiful message. I have been an adult with my own space for sixteen years now, and I was just saying to my husband the other day that I am so thankful for the stuff we didn’t buy and things we didn’t do ten years ago. So many of the decisions we would have made back then would probably be things we would be redoing or replacing today. We were/are guilty of apologizing for things in our home that we assume other people are judging us on, but I am glad for the all the things I didn’t “fix” because I assumed someone else wanted me to do so.

  • I’ve learned something that seems so obvious now (closely related to the points Grace made in her post). I no longer seek to fill empty space just because the space is open. A cute trinket from Target will never mean the same as a little statue my boyfriend brought back from Mexico or the glass jar my two year old decorated with hot glue and “gems.” You can’t force life to happen – it happens just a slowly or quickly as it pleases. This applies to physical objects in my life as well as relationships and life events.

  • A habit of mine in relation to home design is that I have never followed or subscribed to home trends. I have always decorated my home according to what appeals to me, even if what appeals to me is deemed “uncool or not trendy” by the design world.

  • I do this too! We own our first home and I even find myself doing it to friends who live in rentals in Brooklyn – making excuses for the 90’s bathroom and kitchen we purchased “and need to redo” as if they aren’t just happy to visit and stay over out of the city. As if they are judging my decor because I’m a visual person and interior decor has always been important to me. This makes me feel better though – and also silly. I am privileged and grateful just to own a house. Things to stop in 2019!!!

  • Thank you so much for this article. For years I lived in a huge old house with all the bells and whistles, I was cleaning all the time making sure it looked and lived up to its grandeur. Then in 2017, I had a heart attack, and everything changed for the better. I could no longer function in that house, I could not even walk up the stairs. My wonderful daughter decided that the only option was for me to move in with her. So she renovated her basement into a lovely studio apartment,. My friends thought I was crazy, but it was no longer about the house in my life it was the life I had left to live. I could not be happier, this small space has allowed me to do big things, and I am so grateful.

  • At the lower end of your spectrum, but I am about to frame (for protection) a mask from Papua New Guinea that I bought 37 years ago in a village on the Sepik. My house is full of stories I tell myself – and others when they ask – and while few items are worth much on the open market, it feels like a rich tapestry of a home to me and to most who enter.

    It does have some empty walls, however. One quite large one above the couch…it is waiting. There is some lovely art out there, pieces I would love to live with but either can’t afford yet or haven’t quite fallen for enough to commit. One day…

    In the mean time, homes evolve. I have discovered, as I let go of the need for perfection, that inviting people to muse with me about what I might do with a wall, or corner, or paint job – or kitchen – produces both better ideas and a joint ownership. I have been in my house for three years and just put the kitchen in. People who got the photos after having contributed to the planning felt like part of the story. I can’t wait to have them all over, to feed them there, and to cement their part of the home’s history and future in their memories as well as in mine.

    Next? the slowest room of all – the garden courtyard. Lots of common mistakes there to ponder and play with over time.

  • Oh I’m ashamed to say I have done this. Apologised for my homes imperfections. However we recently redecorated and decided to keep our old beaten floorboards rather than replace them with new pristine parquet flooring. I also filled the shelves with books, photos and a bit of clutter, after living with all this stuff hidden for a few years because I had fallen into the Instagram aesthetic of minimal shelving. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still easy on the eye. I think I’m finally old enough to surround myself with all the things I love regardless of what anyone else thinks. x

  • I can’t help but wonder if this is part of the reason why design/lifestyle media is having an identity crisis. As a millennial I sometimes selfishly feel like the internet has grown up at the same pace as myself. I moved into my first apartment when the food porn trend really took off and had my children at the heyday of mom blogging. I remember getting out of college when most design blogs/media was all about DIY and cheap fixes. I’m talking things like Ready-made magazine. Yes there was Martha Stewart for my middle-class mom and architectural digest for people in even higher income brackets. But now I am my mother’s age when she was reading Martha Stewart and I look at a website like Lonny and feel that everything is much more polished than even what Martha Stewart was peddling back in the 90s. Nowadays it seems to be split into two camps: the five minute tutorials from Pinterest/BuzzFeed that feel a little bit dinky and mostly made for consumption, not to actually do (for example planters with no drainage for a plant that is happier outside than indoors, etc.) and the Gracie wallpaper covered pictures I see on design blogs and in print. Design media has gotten very sophisticated, and the middle has been carved out. At one point I thought that my tastes would become more sophisticated as I got older. But what happened is that as I got older my priorities shifted and design is less and less a priority for me as I focus more on my kids, self care, wellness, and saving money, etc. But I also have tastes that are beyond the level of a Pinterest style design “snack.” Now that I am in my mid-30s I see how design trends cycle and I am ready to get off the carousel. I’m okay with my house looking dated because I’ve started to realize that all homes look dated. All of this just means I spend my online in fewer spots. If it doesn’t look doable, I rarely click. Or I spend more of my time watching This Old House instead of reading design blogs because at this point I really need to know how to maintain a house more than how to decorate it. A few years ago there were a lot of bloggers talking about how toxic it can be to put your house tour/recipe/project online and have it branded as “unrealistic”or “unrelatable.” I agree that it is not fair to criticize people for putting these projects online. At the same time I have scaled back my consumption of this media because it doesn’t really serve my life. Strangely enough though most design media tries to get more readers by making their projects more and more “design-y,” which actually perpetuates the problem! I think I consumed more lifestyle media before I had a home to maintain. Ironically these days the only recipes I even attempt online are simple ones like one bowl banana bread, etc. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like this! But that’s sort of boring stuff surely does not generate the type of cliques that can sustain a publication…

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