Fear and Shaming in Home Design

Lately, I’ve noticed more and more articles with titles such as, “15 Things You Should Never Ever Have In Your Home After 30″, and, “Mistakes You’re Making That Drive Designers Crazy,” amongt others.

I’ve noticed it with more frequency over the past few months, and so have others. I saw blog leaders like Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge take to Facebook to question why, and it was even the main topic of discussion in the latest episode of Young House Love Has a Podcast (episode seven for anyone looking at this later).

It’s been on my radar as a minor annoyance, but it was only when a handful of people (neighbors, friends, family of mine) requested my design advice about their homes that I realized its potential down-side: More than seeking a second opinion, or even as a compliment to myself, a lot of these questions came at me saturated in fear.

One individual (whom was trying to hang a few photos on the wall) explained to me how many sites she had visited seeking picture-hanging rules, and how they only made her more confused and apprehensive. To hang at eye-level, or 8” above? Is stacking them is a no-no, or a yes-yes? To these requests, I gave my personal opinion before sheepishly capping my answers with, “Do whatever your heart desires — do what’s right for you, and use your best judgement,” which always makes me feel like I didn’t satisfy their needs —  as if by telling them that all but one of their choices was totally wrong would be preferable.

People today live in everything and anything from converted churches and auto-body shops to airstream trailers, shipping containers, and even tree-houses, so I think we can all agree that the traditional and conservative definition of home has been tossed out the window, so why haven’t the rules surrounding how you choose to make that home look?

I have a lot ambivalence surrounding this kind of click-bait-y headline. One one hand, I get it: In this saturated online world where opinions fly left and right, and the competition for readers is high, it’s a search-engine, lure-you-in success. Thanks to our natural masochistic need to see if — and how, exactly — we’re failing, it must drive a ton of traffic. And there’s nothing wrong with educating yourself on the basics of design.

But on the other hand, while I don’t see issue with sharing opinions, best practices, and even basic design rules for people to learn (which I totally acknowledge), I do have issue with how articles like these can alienate people, make them feel bad, and shame them into thinking they’re making ghastly mistakes. I don’t like how it perpetuates fear, or how it dictates opinions as hard-and-fast rules. 

People have a hard enough time actually getting a home, and the last thing we need to instill in them is pressure to have the best things, or make them feel embarrassed about their space — or nervous to hang a picture on a wall!

Home is not a contest. It is not something you have to live up to. It is not something others have to approve of. Home is yours. And home is whatever the heck you want it to be.

Instead of shoveling dirt on the situation, we should be clearing a path and making home design easier to understand and digest. We should be empowering people to make informed choices with confidence rather than shaming them for not having two nightstands, folding their clothing horizontal rather than vertically, and relying too much on a junk drawer (yes, all of these are “mistakes” that articles mentioned — I’m not making this stuff up). If I actually believed in these arbitrary rules, I’d be making some serious mistakes: I still have the pillows that came with my couch (on a side chair in the same room), I own a fake plant, and there’s a painted accent wall, right as you enter my home — yes, in 2016. Gasp!

Like art, how you design your home is subjective. And while some choices are made systematically, others are arbitrary — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Home should cater to your needs, how you function, and what you like. It should make you happy and comfort you at the end of a long day, not cause you heartache or make you nervous. And the real shame is that, admittedly, a lot of these articles are filled with good, digestible meat. Fortunately, many start and end their finger-pointing with the title, going on to list “taking it too seriously”, and “fear of commitment” as mistakes — which I can totally get behind. So why don’t we simply title these articles “Things To Consider…” or better yet, “Stop Taking Your Home Design Choices So Seriously and Stop Fearing Commitment or Making a Mistake”. (To long, that last one? You get my point.)

Don’t get me wrong either — I’m a designer, and I think great design is magic, but one thing I have learned is this: just as important as knowing the rules is knowing when and how to break them.

There’s nothing more powerful than design that is aware of the guidelines and basics, but breaks them intelligently. Design should evolve and ebb and flow — be it graphic design or interior design. So while I don’t know the exact cure for this, I do know that it starts with talking about it. And I do know that not taking it — or any internet article for that matter — too seriously is important.

I also know how powerful platforms are, and using them to foster positivity, celebrate our differences, and empower us is much more helpful than click-bait pieces that perpetuate fearful (which is why I can feel good working for blogs like Design*Sponge which make concerted efforts to seek out and share diverse homes and de-bunk crap like this). And I promise, as I head into the world of entertainment and TV, where I’ll become an “expert” that people will look to for advice and guidance, I will do my absolute best to squash shame and stand by just one rule: that there are no rules.

(PS: The photo I moified in the feature image was taken by Genevieve Garruppo for lonny and, according to an aggregate of these articles, the room is breaking over five “rules”.)