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Decor Wars

I will make you an admission, O Book of My Confessions—I am deeply amused by hysterical flame-wars fought in the comments on decorating sites.

When I am feeling the need for house porn, I wander over to Houzz.com, which is addictive and allows me to save the best bits to an on-site folder to drool over later. This is perfect for those times of year when I can’t get out in the garden, or have the flu or am in that weird MUST CHANGE ENTIRE LIFESTYLE mood that strikes occasionally. It’s also a lot cheaper than buying decor porn magazines, and I don’t have to find storage for them afterwards.

For the most part, this is a harmless and uncontroversial pastime. Most of the homes are pretty dull granite-countertop McMansion affairs, which I ignore, but occasionally they drag out the nifty Santa Fe pueblos or the funky cottages and I drool a bit.

The ones that are really funny, though, are when somebody posts a house that has brightly colored walls or weird knick-knacks, and the crazy people come out of the walls.

Seriously. You get five hundred generic houses with “Oh, nice counters,” or “What is that paint color in the bathroom?” and then somebody posts an artist’s studio and people lose their shit. All caps everywhere—”I FOUND THIS HOUSE TO BE REUPUNGNANT (sic) IN EVERY WAY.” People demanding that the site take down images and apologize for having posted them. “This is a hovel. It isn’t decorating, it’s unbounded filth and perversity.”

(At this point I tend to go back and look at the photos to see if I missed the tentacle porn shot. Hmm. No, not finding it. Apparently someone is very VERY upset that the site allowed a photo of a cat on a countertop to be shown on the site, as this is proof of filth, horror, depravity, doom, and possibly a incipient rain of chickens.)

Lots of demands that various places be de-cluttered to the commenter’s specifications (often couched as “I want to come in and edit that for you…”) that no one can live there, and that it must be filthy because…err…reasons. “How do they dust!?” people demand to know, with the air of one asking “But what kind of life will he have?” over someone with no brain activity and a pickaxe in their sternum.

Another place had shockingly vivid wall paintings, murals, and hand-made wallpaper. Not so much my thing, perhaps—I like vivid color, but I tend to like it in solid blocks. But the fact that this house exists and has such walls does not actually impact my life in any significant way, and I love what they’ve done with the kitchen.

Oh dear god, the screaming. The anguish over what paint had done to that poor innocent furniture. The concern trolling taken to levels generally reserved for discussions of breast-feeding. “I am a licensed COLOR THERAPIST and I am SO WORRIED about these POOR PEOPLE living in this house who will be driven TO MADNESS AND PSYCHOSIS because BRIGHT COLORS WILL MAKE YOU INSANE!!1!”

Don’t have taxidermy on the walls. Ever. Even if you explain ten times that you fished them out of a dumpster because you felt it dishonored the animal to throw them away like that, people will scream that you would chop the heads off their pets if left alone in the room for five minutes. (No word as to whether said pets would have to be on the counters.)

I love this stuff.

Really, I do. Not that people are nasty and hysterical on the internet, but I love the knowledge that there is no form of human endeavor so placid and personal that people will not FLIP THEIR SHIT IN ALL CAPS over it. It’s a train wreck with impeccable curtains and rather nice wainscoting.

Accusations of wallpaper-induced schizophrenia. (And it wasn’t even yellow wallpaper!) Accusations of perversity, because we all know that tile mosaics in the bathrooms is the gateway drug that leads to buggering dingos. Accusations of destroying the resale value (a sin significantly worse than dingo-buggering.) Accusations of hoarding.

Now, I have known hoarders. I have packed up houses that were deeply and profoundly filthy. (Occasionally I will help friends move and they will apologize, and I always shrug and say that I’ve seen worse, because I have.) Having excessive art on the walls is not hoarding. Having a great many kitchen spoons is not hoarding, unless they are piled ankle deep and you weep when someone throws one out. Trust me, if you have actually encountered hoarding, you will not call anyone who allows their home to be photographed for a home decor site a hoarder ever again.

Nevertheless, wander through the comments on some of these, and you will find the enthusiastic, the polite-but-not-for-me, and then you will find the rabid and offended that such a place dare exist as an affront to all that is right and good with the world.

I have a theory about this strange and baffling excess of emotion. (Ok, I have two theories, but one involves IKEA controlling people with birch-laminate mind rays, and I have no proof of that one.)

The first bit is that decor, like cooking and fashion (which I imagine also engenders such rage) are deeply personal. You live with it every single day. It is the next thing after the clothes against your skin. It is the one chunk of your environment you get to control absolutely. And yet, (second bit) like so many aspects of human endeavor, we believe on some level that we are Probably Doing It Wrong, and thus when we find something we think is Right, that which does not conform must be Wrong or else we ourselves might be Wrong, and therefore those who are Wrong must be told so, at increasing and hysterical volume, because…uh…

Okay, theory falls down a bit there. I do not actually care what goes on at other people’s houses, so long as they do not infect me with bedbugs or leprosy. Their wall colors do not reflect on my self-worth. But then again, I am not a Color Therapist On The Internet.

Does it make me a bad person to take such joy in hysterical internet rage? Oh, probably. Partly it’s because I can imagine these people going stark staring mad in my home, which has brightly colored walls, excessive art, and cats on the mantlepiece. (To say nothing of the skull collection, or the standard Artist Studio Decor of “Crap Tacked To The Walls Because I Might Want To Look At It Later.”)

Partly, though, it’s simply a pleasure to know that we scream at each other for such profoundly unimportant things, which makes all the screaming that goes on on a daily basis about politics, religion, whatever seem much less scary and much more like “THESE COUNTERTOPS ARE THE SIGN OF AN UNHEALTHY MIND!”

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

As usual, XKCD has a pertinent comic.

Anything people choose to spend their spare time on, no matter how trivial, is a fount of Serious Business.

Personally, I was looking at the photos and thinking "oh my gaw this is gorgeous", especially the bathroom. While the style is not really my thing (I tend to appreciate a more minimalist approach), I can certainly appreciate awesome, inventive and nifty housing. It reminds me of a live/work place near me that used to be a Masonic Hall until the artists moved in and now there's a 5-foot-square grimacing god face glaring at the street from above the door. They open up the studio every now and then for the local Open Studio event, and it's always fun to go in and look at the murals.

That mosaic in the bathroom! I had to realize that the flower-pattern was curved to figure out that the wall really curved like that!

I was sad they didn't have a better picture of the ship-ladder to the loft. O:(

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Design maps/floorplans for tabletop RPGs?

• http://e23.sjgames.com/item.html?id=DHCC01
• http://e23.sjgames.com/item.html?id=BEW023
• http://e23.sjgames.com/item.html?id=CMGPOSK

(Mostly useful if you're going to be doodling stuff anyway, on the grounds that you might as well tidy it up a little and see if it makes more money than just sitting on your desk.)

This just made me laugh and laugh!

This is much the same way I feel when the yarn forums get into raging debates about the suitability of acrylic for baby clothes, which brand of interchangeable needles is the One True Brand, and whether Noro is irredeemably scratchy. These things can get pretty nasty.

None (except maybe Plymouth Encore, and that's not entirely acrylic), none, EVER, and yes, it is.

There. Problems solved. :-D

What a gorgeous house that was! I loved the bathroom in particular, but all of it was amazing.

As for the violent reactions, I wonder if they're so extreme because the CAPSLOCKERS are secretly wishing they had the courage to express themselves that way too. It seems like an awful lot of people cut bits off themselves out of terror for what others will think, and I suspect there is a lot of repression involved the modern stark emptiness of a McMansion.

Indeed. Hell hath no fury like someone who is enraged that someone else is getting away with something they're scared to try.

I was once subjected to some design show or another on tv (in a situation where I had no control over the channel and the room was too small for me to ignore the blaring moving prey object dominating the waiting room). All I really got out of it, was the wonderful house full of nooks, crannies, oddities, and actual character, was unacceptable and purely incomprehensible to the "professional designers" hosting the show. They went on to demonstration their expertise by showing off some bland, soul-less piece of crap which looked pretty much like every other example of the breed you've ever seen.

Then again I'm more interested in a house in which I'd actually want to, you know, live, and not in an "investment."

There's some iconoclastic design out there in shows, but you have to look for it. However, most of the shows do seem to be aiming for the resale market, in which case I fully understand blanding your house out, because there's so many people out there--my mom included!--who are unable to look at, say, a room being used as a kid's playroom and envision it as an office. And you can tell from the comments on those posts that some people look at collections as clutter, and immediately assume it's dirty.

I'm slightly biased, however, as we bought our house from a couple who refused to repaint the walls to a bland color, and even though they took down 2/3 of the stuff they had hanging on the walls for the showings, there was still LOTS of stuff hanging up there (we assumed they left it all up--the neighbors told us no, they took most of it down!). As a result, it ended up on the market for months with no offers, during which they dropped their asking price three times, and we bargained them down some more. And we didn't repaint, as we loved the colors (dark, desaturated browns, greens, and reds for the most part).

We started calling it the Chilis house, because of the colors and all the stuff bolted to the walls. That broke our realtor.

Those places are lovely, but I find myself wondering "Where's the nice large flat surfaces I can dump random stuff on?"

The pressure to keep such an...intentional place looking the way it does would drive me batty.

Yes, that too. OTOH, if you can afford a house like that, you can also afford a cleaning service.

Personally, I don't know if I could sleep with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse hanging over my head, but it's an interesting space...

I enjoy Hysterical Internet Rage because otherwise I'd end up throwing my laptop off the window and becoming a hermit. Nail polish, hand-made hair-toys, famous (and not so famous) actors... and don't get me started about sports. *Everything* can be made into suitable CAPSLOCK RAGE fodder.

So no, you're not a bad person. Or, if you are, you're not alone.

I looked at both of those links, and my reaction to them is identical: that's lovely, but not for me.

The first one is a small space so filled with Stuff that it feels really, really cramped. (Also, I'd love to have seen a floor plan, because there seems to be much more space inside than 600 square feet would allow!) I would feel (1) claustrophobic and (2) like a bull in a china shop. Of course, if I had the same space, it would be decorated entirely differently -- far more bookshelves, for one thing!

The second one achieves the same cramped effect by the cacophonous use of color. I have no objection to bright colors per se, but pick one for any given area! When I got to the picture of the room with plain white walls, I could actually feel my brain relaxing into the space -- there was still plenty of color, but it didn't feel overwhelming. The spaces where one color predominated, like the orange in the bedroom, also didn't have that cramped feeling.

(Aside: I can just hear the howls of outrage about the painted-over antique furniture, although I didn't read far enough down in the comments to encounter any. I've noticed before that what antique dealers refer to as "a lovely patina" comes across to me as "ground-in dirt hiding the beauty of the wood, jeezus ghod didn't anybody ever clean this?")

Fish-eye lenses make anywhere look bigger. ;) Also, I suspect the attic addition is not legally permitted and probably doesn't count in the square footage.

I've been threatening to take a pallet-load of expanding house insulation foam spray cans and sculpt the main staircase into a Giger Alien hive tunnel. Should I ever do this and a picture goes up I imagine these people would climb through the screen a la The Ring/Ringu's angry ghost.

Sheath everything in plastic first. Make it a removable semi-permanent installation piece - still a chore to cut through all of it, but once (whoever) gets down to the plastic, it's just chop and pull to get it out again.

Unless you are living in something that should be torn down anyway - which is a lovely excuse to get destructively creative to your heart's content.

Also. That's a lot of spray foam. Yowsa.

Never enough bookshelves.
That's my problem.

I haunt http://www.ikeahackers.net/ myself.

Here, this'll help:


Quick install! Heavy-load-bearing! As long as your aim is good, anyway.

I thought both places were lovely, but wouldn't want to live in either one.

I've only recently got brave enough to use colour in my house. Now I am the proud owner of the Tomato Soup Kitchen:
From Renovations 2012

A Wedgwood Blue living room:
From Renovations 2012

(still needs the artwork hanging.)

and a Renaissance ManCave (computers, books, fiber arts stuff, no TV):
From Renovations 2012

(and I should take some better photos of it, it's changed a bit since then.)

Every time I walk in to the house (through the back door into the kitchen) I get this frisson of just how gorgeous it is and how happy I am that I went with colours instead of the pastels and off-whites I've lived with before. I don't care what other people think of it, it's mine and it makes me happy!

I get this frisson of just how gorgeous it is and how happy I am that I went with colours instead of the pastels and off-whites I've lived with before

Yeees. I've lived in my place for almost three years and occasionally I'll walk into my peacock green bedroom with the loud pink bedspread and go "God, I have amazing taste." Of course, the bedroom was originally puce, so it had to be something....

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I love spending time on Houzz.com, especially once we started house hunting. So many ideas!

I've never really read the comments before, though. And I've seen multiple dogs and cats (on counters or furniture or whatever else) in the pics, so that's just a sign to me that it's a real house and not some sort of company model project.

I also am still a member of a wedding community (and now a marriage) because I like to read other people's drama... so I'm a bad person right there with you!