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 clichΓ©-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 passΓ©? 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. I read this yesterday but I keep thinking about it. It’s fantastic. Really making me rethink why I have the things I have in my home.
    Also, as a geologist with way too many rocks, nothing was better than that brief period when rocks and minerals were a thing. I was suddenly so fashionable!

  2. Wait. People oprganise their books by spine colour? Do none of you guys have jobs any more?
    Also, who is thinking of the books feelings here? It would mean splitting up my collection of really hard to find Research publications and possibly putting a hardback photography book next to a well thumbed airport copy of a Terry Pratchett. It’s just all wrong. *shivers*

  3. A few years ago, my mother finally let me decorate my room the way I wanted it (jeez I sound really young). So I painted and pulled all the crap that I collected over the year (ages 8-21, at that time)and put it into my room. I had a friend come over and take one look and congratulate me for my Steampunk aesthetic. I guess I have been sheltered because at that point in my life I had no clue what the help that was and just smiled. Now I my room is trendy and I am being asked where I got that movie poster and what paint color I used. It kind of makes me feel that my room isn’t special anymore. So reading this made me happy because I LOVE the stuff I have amassed and I will continue to love it.

  4. Why all the F-bombs in the first paragraph? Made it hard to want to read the rest of the article… I wouldn’t want to be SEEN reading this by anyone.

    Sarah, you can do better than that…


    • Wretha, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts about the language that appears on Offbeat Home. The website is an outgrowth of my 2007 book, Offbeat Bride: Creative Alternatives for Independent Brides, which is filled with colorful and at times coarse language. The word “fuck” has appeared on Offbeat Empire sites many, many times since their founding in January of 2007.

      I absolutely respect each readers’ right to find websites and reading material that feel like a good, comfortable fit with their tastes and culture. I’m afraid to say that if you find swearing offensive, Offbeat Home may not feel like a good fit for you.

  5. I have been part of many ‘net discussions about judging (or not judging) other people, and like it or not, it is just a fact of life, everyone judges, it’s not a good or a bad thing, but is something we all do whether we want to admit it or not. The moment you see/meet someone, especially for the first time, you are judging, and are being judged, is this a person I can relate to? Is this a safe person? Is this someone I would like to get to know better or not? Is this a person who has the same or similar values as I do?

    That is not to say that my initial impression of someone is going to be the “be all – end all” of my complete opinion of that person, but it might go a long way in determining my opinion of that person in the long run. For now, my initial opinion of Sarah is that she is a writer who likes to cuss, and uses a word I particularly dislike (PERSONAL opinion here). I’m sure Sarah is probably a very nice person, but that is not my initial thoughts and feelings when I tried to read that article.

    Remember, you only get ONE first impression, make it what you will, it will probably stick with you for a long time.

    • I agree with you… BOTH. I’m not a fan of the f-word, not really offended by it, but rather find it overused and as a result lacking the power it once had. But it is what it is, this is 21st century America, and the first paragraph was a play on previous F-U uses in the design/internet sphere. It doesn’t bother me enough to be offended by it or to not read and like something because of it, but just enough to notice it and feel like it has lost a little bit of power each time.

      Just my 2 cents. I LOVE offbeathome and all the people here, and honestly, I read it for the pictures. πŸ˜‰

      • I suppose I haven’t been around people who overuse that word, so it hasn’t lost the “power” to offend to me. I sincerely hope I never have to become accustomed to hearing unnecessary swearing just for the sake of swearing.


  6. And here I thought you were talking about the horribly bland, identical looking, beige houses that seem to line the streets of every Canadian town and city where there’s been some sort of development in the last 15 years.
    When I drive through town nowadays, and I see a new-built house that isn’t beige, I get *very* excited. (“Hey! Honey, a house that’s blue!!”, “Yes, okay…that’s amazing?” – or, “You know, I don’t especially like the pastel-purple and blue house we just passed, but I totally give them props for not painting it frickin’ beige.”)

  7. Great posting… I just messed up my flooring by trying to “stain” it. I was desolated until your blog article brought me back to reality. So what if it looks like crap. The main purpose was get rid of the stupid carpet and at least I did that. Time for me to stop worrying about how my house look. I’ll never get that clean look I want. But as you point. I live indoors with stress in the word LIVE… thanks!

  8. *sigh* While I agree with most of the rants about what’s new in Design World, I’m loathe to admit that I, too, have succumbed to…wait a minute. I didn’t succumb. I GOT HERE FUCKING FIRST. I have had Doctor Who quotes on my wall since Wall Words was the only business in town (12 years or so?). I’ve collected maps since my first vacation with my then-boyfriend-now-husband – and we now have a 17 year old. I SAVED FOREVER to get that goddamned Noguchi table and I own a full set of Eames chairs that I’ve been using as dining room chairs for years, thankyouverymuch. Why was I ahead of the curve? SHEER GENIUS. These were awesome ideas inspired by awesome designers/people who take pictures of their house and others caught on. I mean, NOGUCHI??? It was sorta the classic table for anyone interested in that era – not just trendy now but a design classic for decades.
    I’ll agree with all the shit flung at AT house tours. They all suck. Loudly. Painting things Scandinavian white with Nordic birch and Icelandic grey means….common and dull unless you have loved that look forever and know how to make it sing. Go to these places and see how it is different, learn new things to love. (this is where I get insulting) We need to get people to see the world and not pretend to be worldy. Go have a drink in Norway (massive alcoholism rate, btw) and look at the cabinets. Go to Greece (GAH! The graffiti!!) and then tell me how you came to paint your room that color blue. Don’t cop it. Learn about life and design and history and books and people and architecture and food and all the other stuff in the world. Don’t let AT or Dwell or Architectural Digest (they kill me with their 32sq ft. Cottage with one bowl and a pillow). If you wind up collecting maps, tree branches, big clocks, wine crates, cow pictures then so be it. They’re yours. If the Nordic Cabinetry and Large Clock Police come to your house then tell them to fuck off because you’ve done the research and came by it naturally. Hang those pale cabinets with PRIDE!

  9. This just made me feel way better about the not-particularly-pulled-together style in our apartment. It’s mostly a mish-mash of his stuff and my stuff from before we moved in together, with a few things we bought together. Whenever I look at design blog I feel bad about our unstyled apartment, but maybe really it’s better this way. πŸ˜‰

    Also, “serial kill chic” made me think of one of my favorite things in our home… a knife rack in the shape of a person with the knives stabbed through him in various places. Best wedding present ever (wasn’t even on the registry, we just have awesome friends).

  10. I thought this post was going to be about how everyone has couches in their living rooms and tables in their dining rooms sort of “Wby does everyone’s apartment look alike.” Like it’d be some commentary on the monolithic furniture acquisition trends or something.

    It’s still a cool article, I just thought I’d share my very inaccurate expectations πŸ™‚

  11. I just want to live in a kick ass geodome i built myself… its innards are unimportant

  12. This article was great! I’ve always been a bit jealous of my friends’ home as they have this glorious cozy, sort of trendy, but “unique” style that if you looked at it, does look like every other apartment or home on Apartment Therapy. However when reading this, I realized I didn’t covet their home for all of their cool stuff, I coveted it because it was so uniquely *them* from the antique end tables inherited from one of their grandma’s to the window seats in their bedroom to the lamppost head that may or may not have been stolen from our college campus (they both were heavily involved in student activities/programming/politics while in college). I didn’t want their stuff. I wanted that feeling of “this is me and the things that describe me/are an extension of me.” Thanks for helping out! =)

  13. I agree with the posters who defend clean modern design, but I get your point that people should express themselves, and not just copy the “look” in a catalog or magazine. What bugs me is the advice that “designers” are dishing out all over the internet. Where is the hate for starburst mirrors? And bamboo shades? with formal curtains, no less?

  14. i noticed this same phenomenon when i was “nesting,” i got tired of seeing nursery pics on websites and blogs because they were all sterile, themed, and all looked the same! obviously they weren’t designed with the child in mind that would be living in that room possibly for years. the rooms were decorated for the parents. i wanted my daughters room not to be a nursery but to be her babycave! i wanted it to be a room she would appreciate even when she’s 7.

    confession though: i wanted one of those bare branch birch trees which i was going to hang family pictures on but i swear i didn’t know they were a “thing”! i actually thought i was being original! hah! when i found out, i still wanted one, after-all they didn’t stop being cool imo. but then i realized how much work it would be and figured screw it! i can’t draw and i hate peeling vinyl. she’d like glow-in-dark stars better anyway; i know i would have when i was a kid!

    and i think those little chandeliers are pretty… but not practical. i live in az… a ceiling fan makes much more sense and it’s suggested that you keep the air moving where the baby sleeps to help reduce the risk of SIDS. hopefully i can talk my husband into getting a rainbow colored one for the next house like i always wanted when i was a little girl hehe

  15. I really like the clean look and very intentionally-designed rooms you see in magazines and things. I grew up without being able to have any choice in my living area’s “look”. Everything was hand-me-down or cheap or old, and yes, it was very homey, but I couldn’t CHOOSE any of it. When I lived in an apartment on my own, again I had to deal with having no money and little space and hand-me-down stuff and non-paintable beige walls.

    Now that I have a house OF MY OWN, and a little money to spend on CHOOSING how it looks, I want to be able to look at the magazines and get the style and look I like in a room, right from the very beginning. I don’t want to have to work around things. I want to be able to control all the colors, all the items that are allowed or not on the coffee table or bookshelves, so that when I want to have the steampunk feeling in a room, or a springtime airiness, or an edgy, smoky cafe style, I know the room will look that way. I can help keep my life and house more organized by forcing myself to stick with the style. And, again, I just think it looks better. This is how I want people to percieve me. Why shouldn’t I be able to control that?

    Anyway, cool article that really makes you think. πŸ™‚

  16. Just had a look at that blog. ‘Fuck your hat branch’ is the best sentence I’ve ever read

  17. HA! This article is great. My husband and I grew up as thrifters and now have what is probably the coolest home of all our friends :). We do have a rotary phone (which we actually use because the portable phone broke), but we also live in a home that was built in the 70s so it works. Honestly, our house does kind of look like all the other “quirky” homes on Design Sponge, but almost everything has a story behind it: one of my 50 year old sewing machines was my grandmother-in-law’s, the hodgepodge quilt on our bed was my first quilting project and the red rotary phone (for when the mayor calls!) was my husband’s when he was growing up in this very house. Sure, we have stuff just because it is quirky or weird (giant framed unicorn puzzle anyone?) but it also makes our house a little less serious. Our home is not curated, it’s comfortable.
    Must dash, cat #1 is trying to eat some butter.

  18. My grandmother now has a habit of giving me her old stuff. Crystal tea servers, antique quilts made by generations of family members, eclectic religious things she gathered over the years my grandfather ministered all over north georgia, and just random trinkets passed down from family members. I already have just one collection of chafing dishes and fondue pots I literally find for pennies at thrift stores and yard sales. I’ve got wall candle holders from my grandma from a church that was being torn down deep in the blue ridge mountains that she helped build a new one.I have a torso mannequin I pulled out of the dumpster at a local mall that I clothed and pinned a Nautica t-shirt with a deer and anchor on it, oh and books? TONS of vintage cookbooks from goodwill, thrift stores, and even customers (I work at a kitchen appliance store) send them to me. I have a 1960’s webster dictionary bolted together and open half-way with a wreath of grapevines I put together myself one summer sitting on top of it.

    I think what the author may be trying to get across is that the charm of this style is that those eclectic things, materials tell a story in old homes. I can tell people many stories about the fun things I’ve collected or inherited, I’ve never had to go to an online store or chain retail store to get it either. When you do those things, it lacks depth and warmth. What we truly crave is a place to call our own, a place with familiar smells, memories, and surroundings. Things that don’t just look vintage, but feel vintage.. like they have precious history behind them. I hate to see friends going out of their way to go to world market to get items they could easily find themselves, make themselves, and feel pride of ownership of something that comes with a story.. not just something that looks pretty at target so you decided to grab it.

    But things go in a cycle like they always do..I just wish people would fill their homes with things that truly matter to them, that have a story behind them..fill their home with their own warmth and love. It doesn’t have to look like a better homes and garden’s magazine.. it just has to truly FEEL like home. And for anyone who enters it, hopefully feels the same way. =)

  19. It is definitely sometimes a it weird and awkward when the things you like become SUPER popular. We got card catalogues before they were A THING because a friend was librarian and hated to see them get pitched so she called us, some of her literary obsessed friends. I have a thing for maps and globes because I always had awful wanderlust and am travel obsessed (first time leaving the country solo was for Iceland and Scotland and decided on a whim after being cranky and stuck in a too-long-commute one day). So sometimes I second guess myself and wonder if I decorate this way because it’s trendy. And then I feel so much better because I realize I BENEFIT from it being trendy because it means that the design themes I like are actually available. Things that fit my style are in abundance for pretty much the first time ever. I figure, hell, better stock up while this shit is popular. Trends will come and go, but I will love travel and books forever. πŸ™‚

  20. I have a world map in my kitchen but it was put there for my kiddo to learn geography. Who know it would become a thing?

    I have mid-century tables because my husband spotted end tables just like the ones he grew up with. We got them for nostalgia, and they were dirt cheap. We thought we could find the matching coffee table real cheap too but we had no clue that our parents’ tacky ass furniture was about to explode in popularity. We eventually did find the coffee table for dirt cheap in Georgia.

    I just buy what I like when I like it. Trends be damned. But I do wonder, will the awful furniture of the 80s and 90s come back around? I hope not.

  21. Hah, I love this and it made me stop and think and appreciate what I have. I’ve always been jealous of friends with magazine perfect living spaces. Recently I caught a visiting friend of a friend looking around my place, and he said, “wow, this is like, a real apartment.” I didn’t think much of it at the time, but between that and reading this article, I’ll look a little more lovingly at our piles of books and records, our silly collectibles lining what were to be our “grown up” shelves, our hand me down furniture, and passed down wall hangings. So, thanks for that ^_^

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