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5 Clichés of… Shelter/Decor Blogs

April 7, 2011

[New series tackling all that is cheesy and ubiquitous in the world of niche blogging]

I spend a lot of time browsing shelter blogs while sipping hateraid in a tacky plastic tumbler. You know the kind I’m talking about: stackable, cheesy and usually 4/$1. Perhaps being more craft aspirational than crafty has made me resent the well styled, impeccably edited spaces I view day after day. Or maybe I’m just tired of feeling marginalized because I don’t worship at the church of mid-century modern (because the mid-century was so great for my people). Though perhaps it’s just that my decor choices are just never going to elicit “oohs” and “ahhs” from snotty, New Yorkers who live in 80 sqft of pretentious elegance and all seem to own “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters.

This picture was taken at 8:52!

1. MAC Flip Clock Screensaver – The first thing I noticed when I started vigorously consuming shelter blogs was the ubiquity of this particular screensaver. Maybe I don’t get it, given the only Apple product I own is an iPod purchased seven years ago. Perhaps this was initially clever, but seeing it in practically every home office featured on Apartment Therapy – a site whose catty, classist, community often pronounce what seems like every identically styled loft as “unique” and well decorated – suggests it’s past its sell-by date.

When its outlived its hipness I guess you can use it for cross country skiing.

2. Eames Rocker – You can’t swing a sheepskin – faux or real – without spotting an Eames Rocker or faithful reproduction (owners of reproductions must quickly acknowledge in order to receive their well deserved scolding to, “save up until they can buy the real thing.”) Never has so much self identity been wrapped up in a plastic chair, which isn’t particularly comfortable. I know I’m risking hot pokers and torches, but I’m just not that impressed with this chair. And you know I love me a plastic chair!

ooh! I have that lamp. Also, books, don't worry; we'll get you out of there!

3. Books as Decor – Call me old fashioned, but I tend to view books as reference materials or entertainment. I don’t tend to think of my streamlined book collection as something that brings instant chic to unused corners in my home. Besides, I have no idea what chair works best with James Baldwin’s Another Country. That said, I love when people arrange their books in creative ways on bookshelves, in crates and even on the floor. So long as it doesn’t involve filling a hurricane jar with colored pebbles and placing it whimsically on top of the stack.

I suspect there are probably rugs on the walls.

4. Frame Artwork Displayed on the Floor – I think the most confusing thing about this trend is how so many folks utilizing it do not lack for suitable wall space. I understand the very real concern regarding wall damage and landlords, but there is probably a display solution that doesn’t involve having your guests crawl on their bellies to view your collection.

I hope either that white couch or that adorable pup is photoshopped.

5. Pets on Furniture – I adore dogs, but I think this is one of those trends that ought to be put to sleep. I have nothing but my experience on which to base this, but I feel like these fabulous spaces are probably inhabited by the same people who will claim in their Craigslist ad to be both a pet free and smoke free home.

Do you peruse shelter blogs or magazines? What things are your tired of seeing featured? Upon hearing I was writing this post one of my friends said she never wanted to hear the word, “pop” as in: “white crown molding will pop against charcoal gray walls.” again.

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46 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2011 9:48 am

    pronounce what seems like every identically styled loft as “unique” and well decorated

    HAH! This is the thing I really notice with these types of blogs, which I dip into now and then rather than being a trained connoisseur like yourself. I keep thinking I’m looking at 10 front page posts about the same place!

  2. aliciamaud permalink
    April 7, 2011 9:56 am

    I hate the framed poster on the floor thing, too. It just makes me feel like the photographer showed up too early and the room isn’t done yet.

    Also, both of these are a little passe now, but for a while I was irritated by little shots of color/”whimsy” that are completely user-unfriendly (un-userfriendly?) and will be disastrous almost immediately after documenting the perfect room. Example: bowls of lemons (I blame Oprah for this one). Fruitflies could not be more annoying, and if you have a quirkly little bowl of lemons, they are on their way, and fast. Or, anything with sand, which you know is going to end up in my beverage or under my contact lens at some point very soon (i.e. zen garden end table decorations).

  3. evmaroon permalink
    April 7, 2011 10:51 am

    Are plastic fruit trashy? I don’t do a lot of shelter blog roaming, but I am addicted to HGTV and shows like Selling New York House Hunters and that show about property virgins. And I am so over:
    Travertine tile
    Stainless steel appliances
    Beige walls
    Pod lights
    Jacuzzi tubs
    These things are going to look so dated in 10 years, I promise. Great post, Snarky! I can’t wait for the other things you’ve noticed on these sites.

  4. hsofia permalink
    April 7, 2011 11:15 am

    I’ve had framed art on my floor for years (tho not currently) because of indecisiveness, procrastination, and lack of funds. I’m not sure why people would want to emulate these qualities, so I’m guessing it’s just a contrived “look” gleaned from real painters’ studios. I do find framed art on the floor acceptable if one has babies, such as in the Montessori style.

    I don’t mind mid-century modern; I think it’s nice even though it’s not my personal taste. The Frank Lloyd Wright room at the MET feels like a holy space to me; I try to make a pilgrimage there every time I visit NYC.

    I’m really tired of so many pillows on the sofa that no one could sit on the sofa without throwing the pillows on the floor or propping them awkwardly on other furniture.

    @aliciamaude – I don’t like glass bowl/jar ANYTHINGS. Those little clear glass bowls are a total pain in the ass to clean. I hate dusting. The other thing in that vein that puzzles me is empty vases lined up on a shelf or table. Why have a bunch of vases sitting around? Again, I’ve tried this, and the dust!

  5. aliciamaud permalink
    April 7, 2011 11:22 am

    @hsofia : two throw pillows are more than we can manage with a pup who thinks we should be willing to move to the floor and make room for him if he wants to snooze on the couch. More pillows=more constantly picking them up and putting them back where they belong.

    @evmaroon: trashy? Certainly not in beaded form!

    http://www.etsy.com/listing/64428914/a-bowl-full-of-vintage-beaded-fruit?ref=sr_gallery_2&ga_search_query=plastic+fruit&ga_page=8&ga_search_type=vintage&ga_facet=vintage

  6. April 7, 2011 11:27 am

    @aliciamaude – I don’t like glass bowl/jar ANYTHINGS. Those little clear glass bowls are a total pain in the ass to clean. I hate dusting. The other thing in that vein that puzzles me is empty vases lined up on a shelf or table. Why have a bunch of vases sitting around? Again, I’ve tried this, and the dust!

    Oh my god, these blogs never tell you how time these homeowners spend cleaning, dusting and making sure the art always has that “just so” look to it.

    Stainless steel appliances

    Stainless steel appliance are part of the “industrial” look these shelter blogs are constantly yammering about.

  7. April 7, 2011 11:30 am

    Also, both of these are a little passe now, but for a while I was irritated by little shots of color/”whimsy” that are completely user-unfriendly (un-userfriendly?) and will be disastrous almost immediately after documenting the perfect room. Example: bowls of lemons (I blame Oprah for this one).

    The bowl of fruitfly bait has been replaced with “vignettes” which are essentially groupings of worthless, pretty and generally expensive items of similar color, shape or texture which could actually be put to use, but almost never are. Ha. usually in the form of Jonathan Adler vases.

  8. April 7, 2011 11:32 am

    I hate dusting. The other thing in that vein that puzzles me is empty vases lined up on a shelf or table. Why have a bunch of vases sitting around? Again, I’ve tried this, and the dust!

    I dust regularly because I have allergies so I don’t have that problem. I love vases and yet oddly hate flowers because they die and get gross/attract bugs. And I hate arrangements of faux flowers even worse (blame Oprah) so I’m left with the vases which I have been carrying on a love affair with for years.

  9. April 7, 2011 11:34 am

    I’m starting to yearn for tacky, plastic fruit because (despite owning some myself) I’m rather tired of cheeky metallic or ceramic Adler pears, which Home Goods knocks off with aplomb!

  10. aliciamaud permalink
    April 7, 2011 11:40 am

    I would love a design blog that featured two shots of the living space—one nicey-nicey, dustfree one for the cover shot, and one (maybe that appears with a mouse hover) that shows the living space when people are actually *living* in it. I can still appreciate a cool living space that has a half-empty yogurt container abandoned on the coffee table.

    I suppose for some people those images might not be as disparate as I imagine…but I assume they are.

  11. April 7, 2011 11:45 am

    @aliciamaud from now on I will not clear off the coffee tables when I take photos in my place. I always do that. It probably gives a false sense of lived-in-ness when most people who visit know there’s a reason why have three coffee tables lined up in front of the click clack!

  12. evmaroon permalink
    April 7, 2011 11:47 am

    Maybe it’s just me, but I want my kitchen to draw me in, not push me away with metallic surfaces and clean lines. Clean lines in a kitchen! It doesn’t make any sense. I’m cooking, aren’t I? I’m breaking eggs people! Give me some nice butcherblock for food prep, a spot of marble for when I’m making pie dough, and lots and lots of cabinet space. A lovely Wolf gas stove wouldn’t hurt much, in a black powdercoat. Thanks.

  13. April 7, 2011 12:07 pm

    accent walls! I have no problem with this look in some places, but I feel like for awhile all anyone could talk about was accent walls, so much so I suspected people just painted one side, then got tired and gave up on the rest.

  14. April 7, 2011 12:08 pm

    It’s interesting to me that the tide against Ikea and buying new, cheaper reproductions has turned on Apartment Therapy. It’s amazing how bed bugs will make Brooklyn design snobs abandon their aesthetic.

  15. April 7, 2011 12:10 pm

    accent walls! I have no problem with this look in some places, but I feel like for awhile all anyone could talk about was accent walls, so much so I suspected people just painted one side, then got tired and gave up on the rest.

    GUILTY! Also a lot of these folks realized the color was fug and tried to play it off. I know I’ve been in that situation too.

  16. April 7, 2011 12:18 pm

    @Aliciamaud – As of today folks are doing fruit fly bait!

    from Apartment Therapy - Cory and Nick's Compact Hilltop whatever

  17. April 7, 2011 12:53 pm

    How about: if it’s vintage, it’s fabulous…
    No, sometimes, it’s just ugly and worn out.
    Vintage seems to be a phrase a lot of these blogs sprinkle through their posts like salt in bland soup.
    I admit to liking some vintage (wine) in my life, but I think most sites go overkill.

  18. aliciamaud permalink
    April 7, 2011 1:07 pm

    Oh, wow! I suddenly feel much more current than I did a few minutes ago…and here I thought it was merely time to swat around the kitchen and make banana bread!

  19. April 7, 2011 1:11 pm

    Ahaha this post has me giggling in appreciation. I don’t read too many design blogs so I can’t offer any other suggestions, but I completely agree with your comments here, especially regarding the books-as-decoration thing. I love when books are arranged interestingly and if you have a huge book collection (as I one day hope to achieve), there’s nothing wrong with wanting to show it off. But are these people just buying 2nd-hand books to stack up next to their couch as a conversation piece?

    I remember once in high school I was in some clothing store (I forget which) and they had a lot of old books lining shelves on the wall. I was looking through them and found one from my childhood that I’d lost and had had trouble finding in book stores, so I picked it up and asked if I could purchase it but they wouldn’t sell it to me, since it was just there to be a decoration. I think that’s the first time I encountered the concept, so it was confusing!

  20. aliciamaud permalink
    April 7, 2011 1:17 pm

    Silly Alex. Books are not for READING.

  21. April 7, 2011 1:25 pm

    something similar happened to me once, Alex! I did something weird like slip the book into my bag (i.e. stole it!), but bought some other item for a few bucks, then ‘accidentally’ left that item in the store and walked out quickly, never to return.

    I’m sure I confused some shopworker that day, but my conscience felt clear.

  22. Lani permalink
    April 7, 2011 1:41 pm

    Oh, this post! I’ve recently started reading some design blogs because I’ve moved and want ideas for setting up my new place. And this post rings SO TRUE. Especially about the artwork on the floor. If I’ve gone to the trouble and expense of framing artwork, it’s going on the wall. I’ve been in the spot where I couldn’t hang things up because of a landlord’s regulations, and I hate that place. (Incidentally, that place has also made me hate textured walls, but I digress.)

    I am always suspicious of the perfect design blog kitchen. My kitchen is the one space that gets cleaned daily and yet remains a mess. Because I’m using it, constantly! And I also have a gripe with stainless steel appliances, though not because of the look. They aren’t magnetized. My new rental came with a stainless steel fridge, and sadly I can no longer use my magnetic grocery list on the door. (I realize in the scheme of things, this is a stupid gripe, but I love putting things on my fridge!)

  23. April 7, 2011 1:45 pm

    I remember going to someone’s house and seeing all these great books stacked in various locations – even the bathroom – and whenever I asked the owner about the books my inquiries were met with a flash of confusion, which was quickly masked with, “Oh, it was FABULOUS.” Really? Versace’s Men W/o Ties was long on narrative intrigue?

  24. April 7, 2011 1:50 pm

    Yes! With the clean, kitchens. I rarely cook or use my kitchen, therefore it’s nearly always clean. I agree with stainless steel appliances with the additional annoyance of showing every single finger print, smudge and grease mark. You have to constantly baby sit those appliances and even then there’s no assurance of getting showroom finish.

  25. IrishUp permalink
    April 7, 2011 6:10 pm

    This thread is.on.FIRE!!!
    All of the IFMBloggers have been knocking it outta the park these days!!!

    Carry on…

  26. Q.V. permalink
    April 9, 2011 12:15 am

    I was introduced to the “you can have nice things” idea only a couple years ago or so and since have really appreciated the SM Eye for the Transguy. I think Snarky’s Machine is one of the only people I met who would know what I meant if I said I wanted my place to evoke a green 1978 Datsun 510 station wagon and I depend on the guidance as the spring free piles start their migration into my neighbourhood.

  27. April 9, 2011 4:08 am

    HA! As an interior design blogger. I pledge to not commit the crimes listed above, except #2….though I will try to tone that one down. Great post!

  28. April 9, 2011 11:46 am

    @Alice – I would love to see that rocker in green or aqua. Thank you for stopping by. And thanks for taking this in the spirit in which it was written. :)

  29. Nora permalink
    April 10, 2011 1:01 am

    The book thing!! OMG the book thing, how I hate it.

    My books go on shelves, where the belong, where they are read, where they are LOVED. Filling a wall/table/pile on the floor with books you will never crack open drives me insane. Coincidently, if you’ve fallen victim to this trend I’ll happily take the books off your hands and give them a new home (or trade them for things that are better to read).

    I will confess to having a pile of cookbooks in the kitchen and the only reason I keep them in a pile is they take up too much space in my cabinet and they do look nice. But I have actually read/do actually USE them.

  30. chris c. permalink
    April 10, 2011 9:51 am

    Man, I bought a Keep Calm and Carry On poster after a vicious break up and I felt like the sentiment was exactly what I needed when faced with decorating a plain white walls bedroom that had gone from ours to mine with her on the couch. I DIDN’T KNOW I WAS JOINING A TREND.

    That screen saver — I had that screen saver for a while 3 years? ago. When it was on lifehacker and made total sense.

    See how I justify? My framed Flagstaff poster is on the floor because I am out of nails. I am accidentally cliche! But only in this regard. Usually I’m cliche entirely on purpose.

  31. April 10, 2011 2:58 pm

    Man, I bought a Keep Calm and Carry On poster after a vicious break up and I felt like the sentiment was exactly what I needed when faced with decorating a plain white walls bedroom that had gone from ours to mine with her on the couch.

    This is exactlywhat I never see/hear from folks with these posters. Thanks for this perspective. I really like that it spoke to you. It speaks to me too, but it made me feel so bad to discover words of comfort could go in and out of fashion.

  32. Christine permalink
    April 10, 2011 3:47 pm

    I’m allergic to design blogs for basically all of the reasons described here, but can I just point out that one of the books trapped in that glass box is called “Billy Baldwin Decorates”? I would’ve thought ostentatious stacks of books would contain things that you would WANT people to know you own…

  33. April 10, 2011 9:35 pm

    In Apartment Therapy bingo is the Eames rocker the center tile?

  34. April 11, 2011 1:24 am

    Oh my lord I’ve become what I hate. D:

    I have…
    1) That damn screensaver on my somewhat crappy PC because I thought it was cute (also I plead functionality, it’s the only clock upstairs and it’s easy to see *looks shifty and thinks of more excuses*).
    2) Traitorous chairs. I hate mid-century modern (which seems to have finally made it to NZ. Urgh, sorry local shops, it wore out its welcome for me online a long time ago) AND YET I have only just realised that the two cheap white plastic chairs I bought are clearly based on Eames (don’t ask why it took me so long to figure the stunningly obvious out. Denial?). They’re very similar to the chairs in the bowl of apples photo in your comment.
    3) Framed prints on the ground. Out of laziness and lack of a working stud finder, but combined with above and…
    4) Book shelf ordered by colour (I plead that it is cute) and…
    5) Stainless steel appliances (came with our apartment and yes, they are impossible to keep clean) and…
    6) Obsession with pillows (I like to nest on the sofa) likely reads as Apartment Therapy design snobbery.

    Need to go rethink my life and clearly dubious loyalties.

  35. April 11, 2011 6:49 am

    When I moved last spring, I spent a lot of time looking at design blogs, mostly AT. I second the idea of everyone’s spaces looking so perfect and not lived in.

    Another cliché I noticed was the “X affordable y-things” post that I’d click on to discover the cheapest y-thing was a lot more than I’d ever spend, Snarky’s Machine posts excepted.

    I am guilty of framed art on the floors for reasons others have mentioned: I’m away from home 13 hrs a day and then it’s too late to pound nails in the wall and bother the neighbor babies. And each frame takes 30 minutes to hang: measure, find stud and 50 lb nail for 2 lb painting because of cautious spouse, remeasure, add right doohickeys to frame, hang, check level, and put tools away. So leaving the art on the floor where I can see it and dream about putting it on the walls beats hiding it in a closet. But if my house were being photographed for a blog? I would postpone the photo shoot till they were hung.

  36. April 11, 2011 1:14 pm

    @Octavia – now you know, I love me some cheap, plastic chairs! :) and I’m sure every single one I own is based on an Eames design. (Does ikea do anything else?).

    4) Book shelf ordered by colour (I plead that it is cute) and…

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE bookcases arranged by color. It’s really the only way I roll. But then with the old synesthesia it’s really easy for me to find things that way.

    Does the flip clock screen saver make that flip clock noise? I might be willing to reconsider if it made that menacing noise, announcing that you’re life is getting away from you one minute at a time.

    Oh yeah. I reserve a shelf or table top for stacking my “to be mounted” framed pieces, which most likely will never find themselves in close proximity to a wall!

  37. April 11, 2011 1:18 pm

    @TG. Aww thank you. I feel the same way about those dubious “bargain” posts. I’m sorry, but spending $700 on a couch is not a bargain much.

    As for framed art. I’m getting more and more in love with the idea of lining one wall with lack tables and leaning the art against the wall or in front of the tables, coupled with a lamp, and some other decorative items. I’ve seen it done really nicely, though of course, when I want to post a pic of this done well I can’t find one. Would this work for you?

  38. hsofia permalink
    April 11, 2011 7:36 pm

    That last comment reminded me of a trend I see in “affordable” design posts/shows: We got this GREAT crappy upholstered sofa for a MERE $300, and then we got our carpenter friend to redo the arms and legs and reinforce the frame, and then we got our upholstering friend to put on a new FABULOUS cover that we plucked out of an antique store blowout bin for only $75, and then we magically transported it for free via magic carpet to so-and-so’s third story unit. You, too, can design on a budget!

    It’s like, wow, not only do I have crappy furnishings and bad taste, but I’m poor and my friends are useless. ;D

  39. April 11, 2011 9:36 pm

    You know I’m not sure if it makes that noise. That would be a whole lot more awesome. I’ll have to see (very rarely have the sound on my PC).

    Though I am heartened to realise that I no longer need to be embarrassed about the picture frames leaning about when people come over. I can say it’s a Thing and I am On Trend. I do like the idea of pictures leaning against a wall from a table more than from straight on the floor.

    @hsofia: Ha! Yeah I need me some of those friends. Best I’ve got is a couple can knit.

  40. April 11, 2011 9:52 pm

    Damn. I’m still working on making friends with someone who owns a truck! I have a long ways to go.

  41. April 11, 2011 9:54 pm

    It’s like, wow, not only do I have crappy furnishings and bad taste, but I’m poor and my friends are useless. ;D

    Seriously. 99% of the walls I’ve painted have been solo efforts. I’m not sure where to look for that cache of friends who jump at the chance to help you move, paint or haul furniture liberated from dumpsters or vintage shops.

  42. Q.V. permalink
    April 12, 2011 12:04 am

    I see random Dudes hanging doors in each other’s garages and painting together, so I spent a long time grilling the friend who got people to help him gut and reno his whole apartment and still didn’t discover what motivates Dudes to spend the weekend helping out other Dudes for fun.

    When I joined carshare, all I wanted was their truck to go cruising for rich-people cast-offs in this trickle-down city–it’s parked three blocks from my house! Most of that shit takes two people to load though, and I shoo off the agitated-looking strangers who offer to help because every single stranger who has tried to help me (and some of the more-action-less-listening people I know personally) has broken the very thing they try to help me with. Dammit. This is why we can’t have nice things.

  43. April 12, 2011 2:01 pm

    . I’m getting more and more in love with the idea of lining one wall with lack tables and leaning the art against the wall or in front of the tables, coupled with a lamp, and some other decorative items.

    Ooh, I like that idea. We have the Expedit that has different size cubbies in our LR by the front door. Right now the mail sorter, the spouse’s Commodore 64, a turntable with broken needle, Karaoke machine, and one photo of our niece grace the top. And then there’s five feet of empty wall space above it. I bet if we cleared that off to just the wooden mail sorter* (need that near the door), we could put our tall frames on top. If we do it, I’ll send pics.

    *A 7th grade woodworking unit project that turned out decent.

  44. hsofia permalink
    April 12, 2011 2:08 pm

    I, too, have an opening for a Friend-with-a-Truck (or van). Damn city people. I loved when my suburban in-laws owned a Durango, but when the price of gas went up, the Durango got traded in for an Altima.

  45. Q.V. permalink
    April 13, 2011 9:29 pm

    I’m just writing to report that at work we got a division-wide e-mail announcing an easter-egg hunt, and it started with that poster modified to say “KEEP CALM AND HOP ON”.

    I think to see the humour in this, you’d have to know the university where I work got rid of almost 2,000 rabbits in the last year, and the e-mail prompted major conflict when someone replied that the Easter Bunny was “exterminated”.

  46. lisa permalink
    October 13, 2011 2:59 am

    I hate when they say that a colour makes something “pop”.

    Another visual cliche that I am so over is those tram stop posters, often from cities on the other side of the world that no longer have trams.

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