A Q&A with Maxwell Ryan

Maxwell Ryan is a firm believer in the power of Home Making. For more than ten years, his blog Apartment Therapy has been celebrating even the tiniest homes and the positive impact they can have on our lives. Read our Q&A to hear why he quit his first design job and learn his favorite home-organization trick.

What was your very first job? 

My first job out of college was in a design studio on 7th Avenue in New York City. It was a busy, bustling place, and I was excited to be there. A few months into it, though, I started to feel like all of their designs had no purpose.

I’ll never forget the day my boss sent me to buy plastic fruit. When I brought it back to the office, we rolled all the fruit in glue and glitter. My boss loved it. He decided to send it to China to be manufactured. That was my turning point, when I realized it wasn’t the place for me.

After that I went back to school and became a teacher. 


Was there a defining moment when you decided to turn your passion into a profession?

As a teacher, I taught at a school where teachers sometimes visit the children at home. I saw a definite link between the home environment and the child's success. It wasn’t about money: the most well-adjusted kids weren’t the richest, but their homes were tidy, organized and well-lit. There was a place to gather together for a meal and a place to do homework.

That’s when I started wanting to help people achieve the kinds of homes that would allow them to live their best lives. I started helping friends and realized how gratifying it was to help them set up a healthy, beautiful and organized home that they loved living in.

So after seven years of teaching, I decided to take my amateur design business professional. 

If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice when you were just starting out, what would it be?

Look for your own path – and don’t worry if it’s twisty and turny. We’re all looking for our own road, and sometimes it’s not a straight shot. Mine has been full of unexpected detours, but I’ve followed my passion and am enjoying the ride.

When you meet people and tell them about your job, how do they react?

Most people ask questions right away about their own homes. Home is the most important place in our lives. It’s always evolving, and everyone is looking for resources and ideas to help make their own home more joyful and restful.

Starting an interior design project is fun but can be overwhelming.  What are your best tips for tackling projects?


I love a good DIY and for small paint or building projects, I usually like to just dive in headfirst and figure it out as I go. I like getting my hands dirty, and I enjoy the process as much as the product.

For bigger projects, though, I’ve learned to plan things out ahead of time. Like reading a recipe before you start cooking, you should understand all the steps, what you need and how long each part will take.

When I painted the floors in my small summer house, I completely messed it up by laying the second coat on too thick and painting on a rainy day – both of which totally ruined the finish I was going for. When I sanded it off and started over again, I knew to take my time, paint thinner coats and wait for a day with better weather.


What's your favorite at-home organizational or space-saving trick?

My best organization and de-cluttering trick is the landing strip, which has been one of Apartment Therapy’s core lessons since the beginning.

You’ll need a doormat and coat hooks or a closet. Set up a hook for your keys, a bowl for change and your wallet, and a surface to sort the mail and other items as they come in. Two other helpful components are a small wastebasket where you can recycle your discarded incoming stuff and a mirror for last minute checkups on your lovely smile and fashionable attire. :)

Your goal here is to stay ahead of the mail, bills and items coming into your home and, importantly, have smoother sailing on your way out.

Once you’ve set up your landing strip, use it every time you come home. You’ll see that it takes only a few minutes but reduces both stress and clutter – two things that take up too much space in any home.

Any clever tricks or favorite ways to use Mrs. Meyer’s products?

I respond a lot to scents, so I like to use Mrs. Meyer’s Lavender products on my laundry and as my Hand Soap – I really do find it to be a soothing, relaxing scent. For my Dish Soap, I like the Basil scent, and I’ve been using Lemon Verbena Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner for my counters.


If you could be a Mrs. Meyer’s product, which product would you be and why?

There’s nothing more sexy and delicious to me than clean sheets fresh out of the dryer. So I guess I’d be Mrs. Meyer’s Lavender Laundry Detergent.

How does Mrs. Meyer's inspire you and your Home Making?

I’ve always firmly believed that the best homes are clean, creative and environmentally-friendly. Mrs. Meyer’s products were created with that kind of home in mind – free of harsh chemicals and chemical smells.

The idea of taking pride in Home Making is also a dear one to me. Your home matters. It makes a difference every single day. I love seeing Mrs. Meyer’s inspiring people to take care and pride in their homes.


DIY Fall Leaf Bowl

Show off your Home Making skills this Thanksgiving with this creative DIY leaf bowl. Your guests will never guess how easy it was to make! Turn it into a centerpiece by filling it with small gourds, pinecones and some more fall leaves. Feeling extra festive? Coat your leaves with gold spray paint (and let dry) before you start.


A Q&A with Grace Bonney

Home Making takes real talent and Grace Bonney has it in spades. With her blog, Design*Sponge, she's taken that talent and her love for beautiful things and turned them into a successful career. Read our Q&A to hear how she got her start and why she doesn't believe in perfection.

What was your very first job?

My very first job was babysitting in my hometown of Virginia Beach. I've always loved taking care of other people and animals, so it was a great way to enter the working world. I had some less-than-enjoyable jobs as a waitress after that...

Was there a defining moment when you decided to turn your passion into a profession?

Around 2008, the print world took a big hit and we lost some of our most treasured home and design magazines. In that moment I realized that blogs might actually be the future (or at least have one!) and that I should turn my passion into something that might actually support me and anyone else who wanted to work alongside me. From that moment on, I've taken Design*Sponge more seriously and treated it like the dream job it really is.


If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice when you were just starting out, what would it be?

Relax. I worried so much about being perfect when I was younger that I forgot to learn how to recover from a mistake, say sorry and accept that all of us are imperfect, but that's ok — and great, actually. I've learned most in my life from the times things didn't work out, so I've learned now how to put things in perspective. No dinner party needs to be perfect enough for a magazine (or blog), and no room will ever be 100% "finished.” I love that our home — and life — is about embracing real life and what makes us happiest and most comfortable.


When you meet people and tell them about your job, how do they react?

Five years ago, most people didn't understand what I do. I did a lot of explaining about what a blog was and how you could make that a living, but now most people have heard of blogging, at least in theory. I'm 11 years into blogging now, and I find most people think it's great or exciting that I get to talk about the things I love every day. So getting to experience that through them every time I explain my job is a nice reminder to be thankful and appreciate what I do here at Design*Sponge.


What's the best homemade or DIY gift you've ever received?

A few years ago, my wife collected all of our early emails to each other and bound them into a book. That was easily the best DIY gift I've ever received.

What's the best homemade or DIY gift you've ever given?

It was a small one, but I decoupaged a clear phone cover with beautiful gold sparkles for my mom a few years ago. She loved it and told everyone that her daughter made it for her. That made my day.


Any clever tricks or favorite ways to use Mrs. Meyer’s products?

We have two rescue dogs who love to watch chipmunks from the downstairs windows. Their adorable, but messy, little paw and nose prints cover every downstairs window so I'm always running around with Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner to clean them up. But we also love to save leftover (washed) Scented Soy Candle jars and use them for making quick salad dressings. (Just add ingredients and shake!)


If you could be a Mrs. Meyer’s product, which product would you be and why?

I'd be Red Clover Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner for sure: a little sweet, a little spicy.

How does Mrs. Meyer's inspire you and your Home Making?

I share Thelma's garden inspiration and try to find a way to bring the outside in whenever I can. If I could find a way to live inside our garden, I would. It's my dream to build a greenhouse with a guest room in it one day.


A Q&A with Paul Lowe

Paul Lowe got his start as a Home Maker rather accidentally, but soon realized his talent and passion, eventually turning it into his very own magazine. Read our Q&A to hear his advice for other Makers and what food you’ll never catch him eating in January.

What was your very first job?

At 18, I started working in a flower shop in my hometown of Oslo, Norway. Initially it was just something to do to earn a bit of spending money – little did I know that I would love it so much and also have a natural talent for working with flowers. After just one year of working and learning the business, I opened my very own floral workshop, and I was a florist for more than 10 years!


Was there a defining moment when you decided to turn your passion into a profession?


Amazing food, easy crafts, beautiful decor… they’re all in my blood! Both my mother and my Mormor (grandmother) were very creative, and I like to think that I inherited even a fraction of their talent. Over the years that I owned my own flower shop, I began to branch out into other creative areas, like cooking, crafting and styling. I did this first for my friends and then for a growing list of companies and publications in Norway and Europe. After weighing the pros and cons of owning my flower shop, I decided to close the shop, take a risk and jump into the world of food and styling full time. I think that moment – taking a big risk and not being too afraid of change – that was the key. I believed in myself and my talent, and I decided that I was always just going to be nice to the people I work with and for, and I knew good things were bound to come from this.

If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice when you were just starting out, what would it be?


I wish I could tell the younger me to be smarter about money and not to undervalue my work and talent. We all work hard in our homes, in our professions, and there is nothing good that comes from not acknowledging that. If you’re working very hard at home, treat yourself to something nice to recognize your work. If you’re working hard trying to build a business, make sure you charge enough for your goods or services. The only other thing that I would mention to the young Sweet Paul would be, BUY LESS SHOES! 


When you meet people and tell them about your job, how do they react?

A lot of times people are in awe of what I’ve built with my magazine and brand, but you know what? Anyone can do what I’ve done. You just have to take what you’re good at, and focus time, effort, energy, and passion into it. You have to be persistent, and be nice. That’s what I tell everyone. There’s no secret to it, just a lot of satisfying work!


How do you incorporate seasonal flavors or ingredients into your cooking?


There are certain things I only eat in season – tomatoes, berries, etc. Nobody needs to eat strawberries in January! They never taste as good as the ones you get in peak season. I focus on what’s good, fresh, local and currently available. I think I learned this from growing up in Norway. If a certain food wasn’t in season, you just couldn’t get it. I often will go to the farmer’s market and buy whatever looks best. Then, the fun part is going home to my kitchen and experimenting and thinking of ways to use every ingredient!


What’s your go-to menu for large gatherings?

Roasted chicken with fingerling potatoes and parsley sauce. It’s so easy to roast chickens for a crowd, and everyone always leaves full and happy. I love to focus on a few simple ingredients and not try to get too fancy with meals when I’m entertaining. I’d much rather enjoy my guests over cocktails than be slaving away in the kitchen. Also, cake. Cake is so important! My version of the classic Norwegian “World’s Best Cake” is always a hit.


Any clever tricks or favorite ways to use Mrs. Meyer’s products?


I love that my hands smell like Basil after cleaning up with the Basil Dish Soap! You should really consider making a line of perfumes or colognes, I'd wear every single one!

If you could be a Mrs. Meyer’s product, which product would you be and why?

I would be the Basil Hand Soap—it’s my favorite. It’s sweet (just like me!), works hard (just like me!), and it looks pretty on my counter (just like me!).

How does Mrs. Meyer's inspire you and your Home Making?

As I get older, it gets more and more important to me to surround myself with only natural products. I try to eat as best I can with high quality, natural, and organic foods. I also want to only clean with products that I’m confident are safe, effective and smell great. Mrs. Meyer’s plays an important role in the life I’m curating for myself and my family. I think we all deserve the best of everything!


DIY Decoupage Recipe Box


There’s just something magical about a handwritten recipe card. Perhaps it’s because the same love that goes into cooking goes into writing each and every word. With this DIY from Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge, you can put that love into a gorgeous DIY decoupage recipe box. All you need is a plain wooden box and just a few other materials and tools.

Materials & Tools

  • Wooden box
  • Paint
  • Large and small paintbrushes
  • Botanical images
  • Precision knife
  • Decoupage gloss adhesive varnish
  • Sandpaper


Start by painting the box. Lightly sand between every few coats to give the box a smooth finish. 


Roughly cut out the images, then go around the edges more carefully using a precision knife. Continue to cut out images so you have a good range to choose from while placing your design.


Place the images over the top and sides of the box (situate in an arrangement you like).


Using the smaller paintbrush, spread a thin layer of gloss adhesive onto the back of each image and smooth down. Dab off any excess adhesive with a sponge. Repeat until all the images are secured. Don’t forget the sides!


Once everything is dry, run the precision knife between the top and bottom of the box, slicing any pictures that go over the two parts.


Using the larger brush, paint the gloss over the whole box. Keep the layers thin to avoid bumps. If you do get any buildup, just wait for the gloss to dry, and sand until smooth. Paint on three to four layers of gloss varnish, leaving each layer to fully dry between coats.


Once everything is dry, your new recipe box is ready to house your most beloved recipes. And the box itself may even become one of the most inspiring items in your kitchen.