Monday, September 26, 2011

Judging Books By Covers

Dear readers, you know I love style.  You know I love design and decor and dresses and pretty things and when these are all put together in one glorious image I generally get verklempt.  And so, as a result, although I sort of absolutely really dislike the concept of lifestyle blogs because I have a hard time with the idea of being one of those girls who lives a lifestyle (you know what/who I mean, don't you?), I will admit that I have tons o' them bookmarked on my beleaguered MacBook and I check them every five minutes for updates.  Yes, it is true, I do.

But.  (Aha, you knew that there was a "but" coming, you canny thing, you.)   I eagerly glean inspiration from the amazingly creative photoshoots that populate these blogs; it's great to see that painting the wall behind a white bookshelf can make the art displayed therein really pop, that a chandelier in the bedroom can add instant glamour, and that empty picture frames hung on a wall can be elegant in and of themselves.  At the same time, though, I find myself resenting the highly stylized rooms that are featured in online shelter magazines like Lonny and Rue.  People just don't actually live as is presented in these photos!  They're so incredibly conceptualized - to be honest, they make me uncomfortable.  For example: who the hell covers all of their books in brown wrapping paper to preserve the palette of white and beige?

These photos bring out the cynic in me, and I can't help but think of Catalogue Living.

In a recent New York Times article about judging people by their bookshelves and houses, Dr. Sam Gosling, a professor of psychology, says, "Places reflect long series of behavior... Your books, your chairs, your wall hangings represent an accumulation over many years.  A space distills repeated acts.  That's why it's hard to fake."  I think that this is part of the reason why the stylized rooms featured in these blogs and online magazines give me the heebie-jeebies; they've been so carefully crafted that you can't actually tell who lives there.  They present an image of who might live there, but it's not sincerely a real person.  Instead, it's a conceptualized version of how the person living there wants to be regarded.  It's a construct.

Please don't misunderstand me.  As I said, I pour over these websites and I make notes about what I like and what doesn't suit my taste so that I will be prepared when I have the money and the space to go wild.    However, I really think that there's something to be said for a bit of life in these images that isn't manufactured specifically for a photoshoot.  I'd love to see the personalities of the homeowners bursting through the screen, but I'm afraid that this kind of abandon simply isn't in vogue right now.  I don't know - what do you think?


  1. I am the same. Although I generally linger on rooms that are more lived in. I love the ones on Design Sponge's sneak peaks because more "real" people live in them. My friend also recently passed this on to me which you might enjoy

  2. What a cool site, Michelle! Thanks for sharing. As I live in a studio, my bedroom is completely on view to visitors all the time and so it loses a bit of its intimacy, I think... or maybe that intimacy is shared with all of my guests? I don't know! Something to think about, for sure :)

  3. Great post and a really interesting point about the lifestyle bloggers. I wonder if they try to maintain the Look even when no one is there -- visitors or photographers? Ugh.

    And really interesting point made by Gosling that places reflect a long series of behaviour. I wonder if that's why it feels so good sometimes to have a big clear out, a total redecoration--it's good for our psyches too.

    And I will admit that when I go to a person's house for the first time I will almost always be drawn to their bookshelves to see what they've collected. If they had brown paper over everything I would think it's really odd--I love books too much to over them up!


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