Why does everyone’s house look the same?

Guest post by Sarah Brown
By: Elisa SelfCC BY 2.0

Fuck your frame cluster. Fuck your decorative typewriter. Fuck your Eames rocker, your vintage map, your rotary phone and your card catalog. Fuck every inch of your sterile, homogeneous,”curated” apartment. Also, where did you get that throw pillow? It’s gorgeous.

The design cliché-skewering Tumblr Fuck Your Noguchi Coffee Table has existed for a little over a month and already has thousands of followers. It targets everything from the very tired (please god no more “Keep Calm and Carry On” variations) to the close-to-home (did each one of us really think we were the only ones to covet an old card catalog?), and every post hits the nail on its vintage, forced-whimsy head.

By: Martin BurnsCC BY 2.0

My friends have terrariums and chalkboard paint and Arco floor lamps. I own a topographic map of Brooklyn and a framed drawing of animals in human clothing. I think I know more people who have their bookcases arranged in rainbow order than don’t. I’m in my 30s, I live in a major metropolitan area, and my personal taste isn’t quite as personal as I used to think.

Several months ago I signed up for Fab.com’s daily deal emails. After two weeks, I realized my passion for old globes was not unique — was I possibly passé? Vintage maps are the new bird silhouettes. Bird silhouettes were the new trucker hats. Etsy and the internet have sped up the half-life of all our trends and fads to the point that they’re everywhere before we even realize we’re into them.

It’s inevitable that all the homes on Apartment Therapy start to look alike; every design trend that gets popular also gets dated. It’s like visiting a doctor’s office waiting room that was clearly decorated in ’80s mauve and powder blue, or ’90s burgundy and hunter green. The gold veined marble counter in your grandparents’ bathroom, or the dark wood paneling and decorative geese in your childhood best friend’s kitchen.

But what happens when the trend is for faux-personalized whimsical collections? Or when everyone wants their house to look like they’re world-traveling, eccentric millionaire from the ’40s? (Or, as one of my favorite Twitter users, Millie De Chirico recently said: “The Restoration Hardware catalog = going over to the home of Howard Hughes, if he were a giant robot & married to a gay solider from WWII.”)

I guess our generation’s design motif will be not-unfairly stereotyped by our passion for typography and leafless trees, just like our parents’ is often summed up with disco colors or shag carpet. But hey, if typography and leafless trees are your thing, what a wonderful time for you to be alive and living indoors!

Writer Danielle Henderson raises the point that the reasons our grandparents’ houses looked so cool and lived-in is because they were just that. She writes:

Don’t aim for anything — collect meaningful stuff.

This is my problem with this sort of decor — everyone is in a rush to cultivate a design personality instead of developing one. The cool shit in our grandparents’ house? It’s there because they bought it in 1945 and never threw it away. These apartments and Dwell spreads always look cold, mainly because there’s no personality, no life, no anima (what’s up Grosse Pointe). Buying an old sewing box to hold your decorative arrows because you saw it in a magazine and it looked cool isn’t as exciting to me as someone who went to a local furniture store and picked out some plain old wooden box they liked. Rooms like the one pictured above say nothing to me about the owner’s style or interests — it only tells me that they read Apartment Therapy and have an eBay account.

Our grandparents’ homes had soul. We don’t have soul — we have blueprints for style, and it feels empty.

“Curated” is a huge design buzzword currently. No one just picks something they like anymore; they curate it. Frankly, curating your home sounds a bit more stuffy than an actual labor of love, but the real nugget is that “curate” also invokes the slow, drawn-out, almost museum-like process of acquiring just the right item, not buying the entire set complete and insta-ready on Etsy or Fab. That might look nice in a photo, but where’s the fun in that?

But fuck YOU, we might say: we really like old maps and globes! We liked them long before they were de rigueur in every spread in Dwell. That’s fine then; we’ll just keep liking them. We’ll freeze everyone else out, wait for them to move on to the next thing (which I hope to god is serial killer chic, all ornamental bowls of toenail clippings and walls covered in unsettling newspaper clippings) and we’ll keep our old maps and globes long enough that our grandchildren associate them solely with our living rooms. But some of our neighbors’ grandkids will do the same. It’ll be A Thing.

…Which will be okay with us, because we genuinely loved them in the first place.

Comments on Why does everyone’s house look the same?

  1. My husband and I were just commenting on how the new trend in accent furniture and wall hangings seems to be ones with branches, leaves, metal birds or insects, etc. We were discussing what could make our generation as a whole move away from clean lines and embrace a more ornate style that reflects nature. We also decided that if our grand kids look at all of our metal-branched accent pieces and roll their eyes, we’d be perfectly ok with that. We are just honestly embracing the current trends while also buying what we genuinely like.

    • The thing is, I have wanted stuff like that my whole life, since I was a little girl in the 50’s and 60’s, and never saw any in the stores. Now it’s here, and I can’t afford any of it. Now I have to wait still more years for it to go out of fashion so that I can cheaply buy furnishings that look like they’re coming alive. I’m running out of years!

  2. Dang, I checked out Fk yr Noguchi and the first pic is a mirror ball. I didn’t know they were a thing and I love the one hanging in my lounge because the sunlight it throws around is too cool. I bought it years ago as a joke because hubster was doing up an old car in pimp style. There’s now nowhere else to put it and I like shiny shit. I’ll put a bloody bird on it and be done.
    Which reminds me that I coveted old birdcages for ages, even though I hate birds in cages. I gave myself a serious talking too but the yearning still pops up now and again.

  3. I don’t know, it is articles like this that really turn me off, even if the fuck your ___ is tongue in cheek. I come to Offbeat home because I enjoy not having to justify my design choices in the comment section, like I see a lot of people doing here. I felt similarly about the post where the author slammed people for having black rooms. It doesn’t seem very “to each their own” to add the caveat “to each their own unless I’ve seen it too many times.”

    • Interesting. To me, my take-away from this article was “Like whatever you like, regardless of trends.” The last line of the piece sums it up for me:

      …Which will be okay with us, because we genuinely loved them in the first place.

      In some ways, I’m reminded of this post from Offbeat Bride. I love trends. I love watching them, participating in them, and playing with them. Sometimes I feel like others who don’t have this same playful relationship with trends see any discussion of being part of a trend as an insult. Trends are rad. I love them for being what they are: cultural shifts in influence and taste. No justifications necessary!

    • i feel the same way & i think i would agree with ariel if it wasn’t done in such an aggressive way.

      it’s ok to say hey, why are there so many people B? people B are sooooo stupid. I’m a person A & will never be a person B because i’m snarky & cool. but hey even if you are a person B, follow you’re heart & your dreams … everyone is different lalala. but i kinda feel like you can’t say ugh this is stupid & to each their own at the same time. one negates the other.

  4. i worried about this a lot for awhile. i tend to always go for the same three colors when i see anything i like: green, brown, and blue. and it definitely looks intentional. i was considering painting my walls a completely off color just so i could say i’m not all “matchy” or contrived. but that would be achieving the exact opposite of what i want to do. but then…i also have a fantastically nerdy side that i worry about showing too much because it will look “out of place”. i think i need to just stop worrying about it all together and get the brown couch and bird table when i love it….and hang up the dalek victory poster because i love that too.

    • You like nature colors. Nothing wrong with that. Would people think it conformist if you did a green, brown, and blue swamp theme? That might be kind of cool, especially if you could contrive draperies resembling Spanish moss.

  5. I made a frame cluster (of the vintage postcards used to decorate our wedding, which you can see somewhere over on Offbeat Bride) long after frame clusters were cool, but living in Taiwan I didn’t know they were cool, and I liked it not knowing that everyone had one…and most of the frames came from IKEA or Daiso (the Japanese dollar store, which has branches in Taipei).

    So I’m keeping it, thank you very much.

    I also have a vintage map – from the late 19th century. But I bought it in the late ’90s, long before vintage maps were a thing. And it’s also in an IKEA frame.

    So I’m keeping that too.

    Otherwise I think I’m safe from birds and motivational typography.

  6. This is a great article. I’m fortunate to have a father who collect antiques & pickee his entire life & still does. He passed this onto me. Every time I visit, I bring back something that was special from my childhood or has meaning or a story. I think this type of thing is missing from many homes today, sad many people’s homes are lifeless.

  7. Thank you for this! Although I LOVE our house and the pretty random things we’ve accumulated over the years, I sometimes get a little jealous when I see these perfectly “curated” spaces on Pinterest or the internet in general. I realize my home will never look so well-planned and put together because I can’t just start from scratch and rebuild with a well defined theme in mind. I am too attached to our random crap and the stories each thing tells to do something like that!

  8. I’m one of these people who loves Old Maps. My Dad has them hanging on the wall, and they just seem like home to me. Also, I’m studying public history and pres, so, you know. Old stuff.

    I’m really excited that they’re popular now. It makes them much easier to come by.

  9. I have new maps, old maps, my grandfather’s atlases, globes, pillows with star maps and ocean maps, globe paper weights and stress balls, and so many more; geography seriously threw up all over our home. It is also what my entire career is based on, how the husband and I met, and how I relate to everything in life because it all fits on a map. I spend so much time relating things to geographry and even help with programs in my local public schools but the last few years I have been ecstatic that people were finally getting on board!! ::sigh:: Now you’re telling me it’s just trendy? Back on my soap box I go – after I cover it in wrapping paper made to look like vintage maps and attach an old strip of leather for a handle because I saw these old suitcases on Pinterest…

  10. I have a massive amount of random collections in my little apartment. the only thing is, I don’t like having them in shadow boxes or displayed in museum-like cases (which can be cool, don’t get me wrong). I like having things that people can reach out and touch and pick up. Feel free to pretend to play my accordion, bobble my bobble-heads, take pictures with my cameras, play with action figures, read my comics!
    I love these things, and I want to share them. Yes, they are individually beautiful, but part of their beauty (to me) is the hands-on aspect of them and watching my friends amusement as they discover something new in my house.
    Sometimes I wish i had those lovely well-planned houses with everything in it’s place, but I realize that just isn’t me or my husband. We’re loud, and busy, and we lend out books and movies and share everything we love with people we think would love it also. So, maybe I have the perfect house for us and hadn’t realized until now? 😀

  11. I have just kept so much stuff from when I was young that I am seeing it come back into style – I don’t know if I should be happy or sad about that. My boyfriend just laughs at me for it, but hey I guess it’s eco-friendly this way 😉 and yes we totally have a sepia toned globe on the top of our book shelf, but it’s his and he insists it’s because we’re “old” not “hip” lol!

  12. my personal guess is that the trend here is much like the wedding trends we see. i think many people got sick of being sold the same big box, cookie cutter packages.

    people long for something a bit more personal, even if it’s copying someone else’s persona. not everyone is good at expressing themselves that way. i’m thinking the offbeat community as a whole will have to come to terms with this. artists in general have to come to terms with it. if you are okay with expressing yourself & enjoy being a little off, get ready for being copied & just consider it a complement b/c that’s how style works.

    i mean think of coco chanel. every thing the woman DID was copied. she was basically a hooker turned kept woman who cross dressed, very offbeat. how ridiculous would it have been if she was like oh, yes i just invented flapper style, but “f-you loose clothing” i’m going back to the corsets i hate b/c everyone i know is dressing like me! no, instead she continued to be herself, evolve & watch the crowds follow. she made a empire & actually BECAME a classic.

    i think too often, those of us who are offbeat, get so comfortable with being the odd one out, that when our THINGS, IDEAS, VALUES start to be shared, we get uncomfortable. like maybe something about sharing what we love makes it less special, less real. it’s a natural reaction, but it’s one that could use some maturing.

    & anyway … when the trend you loved years before dies, enjoy the sale.

    • “it’s a natural reaction, but it’s one that could use some maturing.”

      This is it exactly. As I wrote over on that Offbeat Bride post I referenced up-thread:

      We are all sheeple

      The trend-averse reactive response — I totally get it. It doesn’t always feel good to feel like a sheep. We’re all special snowflakes, aren’t we? Yes, we’re all snowflakes — exactly the same in our perceptions of our somehow-differentness. The truly amazing book/photo project Exactitudes pretty much nailed that discussion for me. I was flipping through the book, laughing at all the “we’re all different in the same way!” studies of sheeple, and then I came to this page:

      The description of the set read, in its charming ESL poetry:

      Children of the flouro force, creative DIY girls, running up hip outfits, spontaneous fruits in the chill-out room, spaced out on laughing gas.

      I blinked. I stammered. This identity that I had worked so hard for, that I had molded and carefully tended like a bonsai tree, that I thought of as truly ME — it was summed up by some photographers in Rotterdam, describing a bunch of girls who had tended their own careful bonsai trees. These weren’t my people — these were people on the other side of the planet doing the EXACT SAME FUCKING THING AS ME! I was in my late-20s when I had this realization: we’re all sheep in some form or another. We are social creatures, and we are navigating through our lives in proximity to each other, and this proximity translates into cultural trends.

      I feel like the defensiveness around trends faded a lot for me as I got increasingly comfortable with who I was. I lost the drive to prove how special a snowflake I was, and settled into just being happy with who I am.

  13. While I love the idea of being ” the first” realistically no one thought is unique. Multiple lotto winners come to mind. Any who I kind of find comfort in people who share my love for stuff. My thing is old radios. If nobody else in the whole world liked old radios they would all be in a landfill. That makes me sad. Now I know there are cool ones waiting at garage sales and displayed in diners.

  14. I’ve read the article & all the comments with much interest! My neighbor shared it on Facebook; I have to admit I’d never come across Offbeat Mama, Home, or Bride before. I believe everyone’s priorities are so different; some people rarely give their personal surroundings a whole lot of thought, while others, like um, me, usually are thinking of little else.

    My story is a little different. I was decorating and trending by about age 5. I can’t imagine I had much influence other than the occasional Better Homes and Gardens; we certainly weren’t well-to-do. My mother was busy raising four children, and I can’t say as I remember her having the time to read any of her own magazines.

    As a little girl, I rearranged the living room furniture once when my mother was grocery shopping & Dad was building goose decoys in the basement. I dusted with lemon Pledge, (ahh, the scent of memories) stacked all the magazines oh-so-neatly, and when Mom and the younger sibs arrived back home, I threatened them all with,”Don’t touch it! Don’t mess it up!”

    Riding in the car with Mom, I’d look at houses, imagining the interiors, and at night, gaze into lighted windows, catching glimpses of draperies or furniture as we drove by. When I got my first bedroom all to myself at age 10, I was asked what color I wanted the walls painted. I replied, “Lavender! And I want all dark wood furniture!” Mom was aghast. “Purple! You want purple? I was going to paint that dresser white, too.” “NO, Mom, lavender. And DON’T paint the furniture! I want dark wood.”

    Until I was married 10 years ago, that was my basic bedroom scheme, allowing for a growing, developing sense of style. Now it makes a fabulous guest bedroom. I loved the combination of purples and greens as far back as I can remember. Seriously. Purples are still my fave color, greens are second, and they comprise a good deal of my home’s color palette, including the exterior. (1875 Folk Victorian. Gorgeous tones of sages with accents in shades of purple.)

    Now, in the last decade or so, everyone wants to copy ME? It only took them 40-some years to catch up. I’ve collected all kinds of things, forever, it seems. Troll dolls instead of Barbies, seashells later on, and in my first house, the real collecting began. Antique kitchen tools and utensils from the early 20’s and 30’s, my first old, hand-made teddy bear, my first antique clock. In the second, much larger house, I began to collect Wallace Nutting hand-colorized B&W photographs, flow blue plates, and agate wear. Then, I finally had an opportunity to work as a decorator in a fabric store. (now, THAT was an interesting interview! Q:Have you ever decorated before? A:Not professionally. Q:Why should we hire you? A:Because I have great taste, I love color,& fabrics, & I can pull a look together! It’s what I AM. Q:Oh? O.K., you’re perky, we’ll hire you.) I decorated for almost 20 years (and did very well) before the declining economy (and an employer who said she didn’t want to continue paying my salary) landed me back into Retail Management.

    But over the years, my tastes have grown & changed; I’ve become more sharply focused on the things I’m consistently drawn to. These are the things I want to surround myself with. Luckily, I met & married a fantastic guy with many of the same tastes in collections & collecting as I. Our furniture has been drawn together over time, but we’ve worked towards a look. I wanted the interiors of our old house to reflect casual elegance of a family who’ve perhaps inherited the place from parents or grandparents; and that things that have been in the family are still there. We’ve added my husband’s immense collection of antique crocks, our combined collections of Blue Willow, and a very large collection of different-colors of crackle glass. We use a lot of these items every day in very practical ways. Our (combined) bear collection is VERY large, and every one is unique and well-loved. We use tons of them to decorate with at Christmastime. (My favorite is a 38″ tall golden mohair teddy with a growler box, dating to about 1920.) And since color IS my religion, I choose all the house’s color schemes. I’ve also designed & chosen fabrics for all the window treatments. It helps that my husband is color blind, so I get my way by default. It doesn’t help, however, when I begin (again) to wax poetic to him about a certain shade of some color, and have to stop myself (again) because I sadly realize he can’t relate to the passion I have for it. Does our home look like everyone else’s? Not even a little. We don’t have a single map on the wall, but we do have a collection of antique typewriters, antique toasters, and antique Ball Mason jars in that fabulous turquoise colored glass. We even have, along with our slick, portable multi-room phones, a reproduction kitchen wall and living room table rotary phone.

    Are we materialistic, self-centered folk? Nope. But we do get immense joy from sharing these things that bring us such pleasure with those we love; our families and friends. For us, home is where our hearts are.

      • Molly (and all), I’d like to point out that I have been to Mary Alice’s house and it is just like she described it. And I love it. If teddy bears and gnomes ever come to life, though, I really hope they are friendly.

  15. I have a few related/unrelated thoughts…

    Is there any such thing as an original idea any more? Are we not influenced by things surrounding us on the daily? Too stark? Fill it up! Too full? Minimize! Too bold? Go neutral! Too bland? Add stripes! Design, in all forms, is an ebb and flow.

    It is interesting to me that the popularity of design blogs and on-line magazines have given us the ability to see interior design in a highly saturated way. The upshot of this digital transition is that it allows us to see endless amounts of spaces, including the close up shot of the charming vintage *fill in the blank*. Is the down side that we get to see endless amounts of spaces including the close up shot of the charming vintage *fill in the blank*? Does it make the design less special somehow because we are seeing so much more of it? Before the digital media explosion, we were limited to what, 4-6 pictures of a space design (which would have been considered the best shots) and then 4 pages of advertising? And how many magazines actually contained design ideas we were even interested in? Now, how many frame clusters have you seen on Pinterest? As a side note – I love a good frame cluster.

    Finally, it is my greatest sadness in life when I see a space not “lived” in but merely existed in. I think that adding elements that bring a sense of happiness and warmth in a space are good things no matter who else has it, or how no longer original the idea may be. I can’t imagine not having my antique wood letter blocks I got from an antique store in Sri Lanka or my crazy 70’s peacocks that hang on my wall. I love them!! In general, I minimally respect all things vintage. Partially because it’s utilizing things that would otherwise go into a landfill, partially because good design is good design – regardless of what decade you chose to use it in. I suspect bell bottoms will make yet another come back before I die. At the end of the day, I want things in my space that inspires me and brings me happiness.

    • There hasn’t been an original idea for a long time, particularly when it comes to decorating with retro kitsch!

  16. Fads have come and gone with me being too busy/lazy/unmotivated to participate even if I wanted to. My old map I bought in the early 90s has spent all of the 21st century thus far rolled up and in a closet. Somewhere I have a disco ball. I always liked the birdcages but never really had the money to invest in something as useless as a birdcage sans bird. I still have my terrariums that died years ago – now I have an excuse to hold off re-planting them again… until they are uncool… which will make them cool… right???

    I’m really excited to hear that stacks of books are in – I have lots of those. Does anyone know if piles of matchbox cars are making their way back?

  17. I wonder when disorganized clutter and copious amounts of cat figurines will become the new trend. Because I’m totally ahead of that one!

  18. If I ever say that I am “curating” my home will someone please have the presence of mind to smack me? It’s just the word, it sounds painful.

    In 20 years, when people ask where I got my clay bowls, middle earth map, or jar of knick knacks, I will be happy to have a story, and not just a receipt. Not that cool for the sake of cool is always bad, but when it becomes a whole “lifestyle” I think it can feel empty.

  19. I love this! I recently went to a friends new apartment for a party and it was decorated perfectly. Everyone kept saying how nice it was and blah blah blah. But you know what people say when they come to my apartment? You’ve really made this feel like a home.

  20. Also, some of these things are trendy, but like another poster said, it’s because they are pretty. And I think it’s fine to have a terrarium, or a frame cluster, or an Eames chair, if you so desire, but if you have every. single. trendy. thing. and nothing else, it does not reflect your personality. Or your lifestyle, for that matter, unless you sit around all day making terrariums and looking at out-of-date maps for use in your time travel machine while talking to your invisible birds.

  21. I just buy things I love; I don’t even think about “designing” a room.

    And I have a faux-Eames chair because growing up my Oma had a real one, and I have wanted one since I was about 3 years old. I try not to be annoyed that they are now everywhere and just appreciate that I got it for a heck of a lot less than a real one.

  22. Posts like this area always sad to me because people are all over it trying to justify their taste is the “real” taste and everyone is a copycat. My own tastes:nature, wabi-sabi, minimalism developed in part as a reaction to growing up in 80’s suburbia. I would bet a good chunk of the “followers” also grew up dreaming of the same things as I did.

  23. I think that when I finally move out of the ‘rent’s house, most of my furnishings will be determined by one question: can I use it to store/display stuff relating to my hobbies/collections? And I think my style is heavily determined by functionality and storage capabilities as well. As cool as a desk made out of an old door would be, I wouldn’t use it if it didn’t have a bunch of drawers for all my computer junk.

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